On this April 17th, International Day of Peasant Struggle, Grassroots International joins La Vía Campesina and other movement partners and allies across the globe in commemorating two interlinked anniversaries of great importance to our movements.
First, it has been 25 years since the event originally sparking this day. On April 17, 1996, 21 members of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, the MST, were brutally murdered, and an additional 69 injured, by military police in the state of Pará. In a poignant interview, MST spokesperson Ayala Ferreira shares details of this atrocity, known as the Eldorado do Carajás Massacre, and reflects on its relevance today. As Ferreira describes, some of the slain comrades were killed with their own farming implements. This was a visceral demonstration of the attitude of the state toward rural movements and the vision of comprehensive agrarian reform for which they were struggling.
Ferreira stresses that such acts of violence against rural communities and their movements – and the impunity accompanying the violence – have continued in Brazil, with an alarming resurgence under the Bolsonaro regime. And, as we are continually reminded by our partners on the frontlines, such occurrences are by no means limited to Brazil but seen all over the world. For this reason, we take April 17th as an opportunity to commit to redoubling our efforts in defense of rural communities and movements worldwide.
While April 17th is a day of remembrance, it is also a celebration of resistance, and there is much to celebrate. This year also marks 25 years since La Vía Campesina launched the concept of food sovereignty onto the world stage, igniting a movement that continues to grow in strength, number and diversity. In 1996, when the World Food Summit was being held in Rome, the organizers failed to invite those most directly impacted by the policies being discussed – the small-scale food providers responsible for growing the majority of the world’s food. Undeterred, they self organized under the banner of La Vía Campesina and showed up in force outside the UN Food and Agriculture Organization where the meetings were being held. Decrying increased corporate control of the food system under neoliberal policies as a form of social violence, they called for food sovereignty.
Grassroots International is proud to have accompanied the growing global movement for food sovereignty in the decades that have followed, as the movement has continuously evolved and reimagined itself to meet new global realities, from climate chaos to global pandemic. And we echo the assertion of La Vía Campesina that as the world reels from both the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fall-out from it, food sovereignty offers a powerful path forward from the havoc of the present into the other world that we know is possible – the world that our movements have been building toward all along.
On this April 17th, let us look back – to the losses we will never forget and the victories that have been hard fought – in order to take a collective stride forward.