With the new year comes a new victory from our Brazilian partner the Landless Workers Movement (MST). After three years of occupation on public land, rural families have won a recognized settlement near São Cristóvão do Sul.
The local government is providing 23 hectares of public land for the new Agroecological Settlement of Filhos do Conquistado in a 20-year concession with the possibility to renew. As a result, 27 families now have a way to grow food, generate income, and live a dignified life.
The families themselves, organized with the MST, made this victory possible. Over the past three years, they occupied public land (a civil right under Brazil’s constitution) and grew vegetables. Beyond just feeding themselves, they have donated food to families in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filhos do Conquistado settlement is just one of the 146 MST settlements in the state of Santa Catarina, with 7,000 families in MST settlements and another 300 to 400 families in MST encampments.
Partnering for Power
The right-wing Bolsonaro regime has continually upset the lives of communities connected to the MST and other rural movements. The federal government has continually put the needs of agribusiness, like Santa Catarina’s many pine plantations used for paper products, ahead of families needing land and a dignified life. As a result, the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (INCRA), the government body responsible for carrying out agrarian reform, was completely absent from the Filhos do Conquistado settlement process.
Instead, the MST families partnered with the nearby municipality, São Cristóvão do Sul, to establish their new homes. The outgoing mayor, Sisi Blind, is an ally and worked with the movement to identify public land for settlement.
Though the size of each plot is relatively small, this is without a doubt a victory. The families will have easy access to clean water and they will be able to wind down their agriculture projects on their previous encampment over the next year. The agreement guarantees all production will be based on agroecological principles in a region surrounded by single-crop industrial agriculture. Already the families are excitedly discussing a strategic plan for their new homes.
“We will never stop fighting for land, and we will recreate the fight for land and build a new settlement model, in line with popular land reform,” said Vilson Santin, an activist for the MST in Santa Catarina. He emphasizes that families won this by organizing.
Moving the Model Forward
This is just one more victory in a long struggle, and the MST hopes this can serve as a model in the region. They are already in conversation with other local governments and mayors who are allies of the movement.