As the Brazilian government refuses to protect citizens from COVID-19, communities have been forced to dig mass graves to bury the virus’s victims. But rather than tackle the virus, wealthy elites and their government lackeys have used the opportunity to seize land from Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) families.
On the heels of threats against the Quilombola community at Alcântara, COVID-19 has given cover to more clampdowns in Brazil — even as the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro talks about “freedom.”
In recent months, two MST communities have faced evictions and drawn international attention. With one, international solidarity helped them win a court suspension. With the other, after 56 hours of resistance and countless international activists raising their voices, the military police threw 14 families out of their homes and demolished the Eduardo Galeano Popular School — but the encampment endures.
“International solidarity has been of fundamental importance.” — MST São Paulo
Beating back an eviction
After receiving hundreds of letters from around the world — including Grassroots International supporters — the Brazilian Federal Regional Court (TRF) ruled in favor of 77 MST families from Gália, Brazil. Instead of carrying through the April 20, 2020 order that would have destroyed the families’ homes in the Luiz Beltrame de Castro settlement, the court suspended the eviction indefinitely.
“We are grateful for all the solidarity actions that were taken in relation to the fight against the eviction of Luiz Beltrame Settlement,” wrote the MST São Paulo when the court first announced its suspension order. “We are convinced that international solidarity has been of fundamental importance.”
People Power vs. Wealth and Connections
After years fighting for agrarian reform, the de Castro families officially founded their settlement in 2013. The government body INCRA (The National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform) recognized the settlement soon after. Over the seven years since, the community transformed the land, rooting their work in social justice, solidarity, and agroecology.
But the land’s former owner, Ivan Cassaro, petitioned the courts to get these families evicted. Cassaro is one of the wealthiest bosses in Brazil’s printing industry and has close ties to Bolsonaro. He tried using his wealth and political connections to get his way, no matter who might have gotten hurt or sick. But people power and global solidarity won.
Though the MST families are celebrating their victory, they also recognize the struggle is far from over: “We need to remain attentive and mobilized, as other battles will be faced.”
The MST faced its next battle in Minas Gerais, at Quilombo Campo Grande. Governor Romeu Zema and the courts dispatched military police to evict 14 families to make way for agribusiness investors.
“We prepared ourselves, but deep down, we didn’t believe that such cowardice would be possible in the midst of this whole pandemic,” Silvio Netto, National Director of the MST, reported in a video message.
For over 20 years, the families, organized within the MST, worked together to restore the lands of a former ethanol sugarcane plantation in Brazil into a thriving community that produces enough food to feed all 450 families living there. The community was also able to generate additional income by selling coffee, vegetables, and livestock to the surrounding communities in the State of Minas Gerais.
These families were not going to let regional and military police kick them off their land. For 56 straight hours, they blocked the roads into Quilombo Campo Grande, faced down tear gas, and called out an international solidarity movement. They courageously and nonviolently stood up to the violent repression ordered by the Brazilian elite.
When the tear gas cleared, 14 families lost their homes. After police forces demolished the Eduardo Galeano School, families rushed in to recover textbooks and school desks. And even today, tractors encroach on more lands in the encampment.
“The fight will not stop. Never!”
Losing a home is even more dangerous in the middle of this pandemic. Building strong movements is even more challenging. Still, the MST resists. They promise to rebuild the Eduardo Galeano school and to never stop fighting.
In the MST’s words, the crisis of Brazilian capitalism amid the pandemic is driving further attacks on working-class and rural movements. The system is trying to right its ship through far-right populism, and movements like the MST are remaining at the ready to resist.
As the battle to defend and expand human rights continues, we thank all those who, through Grassroots International, stood with the Luiz Beltrame settlement and the Quilombo Campo Grande encampment. Let’s continue to build a global counter-weight of solidarity together by financing the frontlines.