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VIDEO: A Conversation with Flavio Barbosa, MST

July 2018

On June 20th, Flavio Barbosa visited Grassroots International’s office in Boston. Flavio is an activist in Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST) in the state of Ceará. In the interview below, he discusses past and present struggles in the region, and how the MST has organized an effective movement.



My name is Flavio and I’m part of the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil. I live in the northeast of Brazil in the state of Ceara, on the western coast. There we plant different kinds of crops, like coconut and cashews, connected with that ecosystem.

That area in the eighties, 1984 to 1986, faced a lot of problems and struggles between communities and corporate interests. These agribusiness corporations sought to plant coconut monocultures. The coconut has always been a survival crop for local families, but the agribusinesses wanted to destroy that traditional farming and do monoculture production.

These corporate projects offered a single job to watch over two acres. But how many families could live and produce on that same land?

That was the beginning of the land conflict in that area, and the beginning of the struggle to defend the land and have rights to it. Through that struggle, we were able to win victories, to free the land. People living there, they started fighting against the destruction of their traditional ways of living. So I come from a region where the people fought to stay on their land.

Today, this land isn’t totally free. There are still conflicts because a lot of corporations want to use the area’s water for aquaculture — like shrimp and fish farms. Other corporations are also interested in constructing wind turbines. In another part of the struggle, corporate megaprojects have proposed to take over the beaches for tourism.

So we have three or four land conflicts in the region. We are suffering threats. But we’ve seen a lot of resistance coming from the families living in this territory.

Another threat the communities are facing, the federal government is pushing a project to use ocean water to grow fish and algae with aquaculture. If that happens, it will destroy the traditional way of life for the fishing people in the area.

The corporations are claiming that all these projects will help the community because they will create jobs. But we have been doing research. If the aquaculture project to grow shrimp in the rivers happens, we’re going to lose our access to the river, because the corporations don’t respect environmental laws.

Part of the law is that if they’re going to have such a project, they need to build a dam to purify the water after production, and send it back into the river. But we’ve realized a lot of corporations don’t actually purify the water in these projects. They just send the polluted water back into the river.

That killed all the fish. The birds that eat those fish have been dying too. And all of this has been happening for ten years. But now, the shrimp aquaculture faces the ongoing economic crisis in Brazil. Now, because that kind of aquaculture has stopped in the middle of the crisis, the rivers have started to return to the way it used to be. People can see the difference — more fish have returned.

We also discovered during all the years of aquaculture here, that all the jobs promised were just security jobs — just to defend the corporations. These jobs destroyed the culture we had before. Weapons started entering the community; we didn’t have weapons before this kind of job. Men who took these jobs became more violent towards their families. They felt they had more power with these weapons.

These corporate projects offered a single job to watch over two acres. But how many families could live and produce on that same land?

This was just one direct example of how these aquaculture projects impact families. But indirectly, all the families in the region are impacted. They’re fisherpeople, but they don’t have access to the river. All these ten years of aquaculture, of the corporations taking over, hugely affected the community.

That’s what we’re facing in the territory. Where I live we have two projects in conflict.

One project is our project: The project that comes from the peasants, indigenous, quilombolas, and traditional communities defending their land. The other project is the project of the corporate interests. Agribusinesses and other corporations want to take the land, the beautiful things, the natural resources we have, just for profit. Most of these corporations are connected to foreign capital.

An important part of our resistance has been working with the youth, so they see themselves as part of this land and they can be at the forefront to defend it. My role is in education.

We are working in the secondary schools, where we teach youth agroecological practices. They also learn traditional ways of eating and growing, the ways of their grandparents. This includes natural medicines. They are learning how to take care of the seeds, and also how to value the traditions and culture of the community.

The struggle needs a continuity. The youth will be the future champions keeping the struggle going and defending the gains of the struggles in the eighties.

Another important part of our work is our work with women. The MST believes in the active political participation of women. It’s especially important in our region, as we live under a patriarchal system.

We also have a lot of activities with children, because we want to cultivate the landless worker identity. When we talk about a “landless culture,” we say this acknowledging they now have land. But it’s important for them to learn that they are the daughters and sons of the landless that fought and won land for them.

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