Brazil's Lula in land reform talks - Landless Movement leaders presented Lula with a series of demands

July 3, 2003


Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has told landless workers' leaders that he is committed to wide-ranging land reform.

The president - commonly known as Lula - held an emergency meeting in Brasilia with leaders of the Landless Movement (MST), amid an increasingly tense conflict over land.

Recently, the Landless Movement has been invading farms and imposing blockades to try to force the government to adhere to its election promises of land reform.

MST leaders presented Lula with a series of demands, including settling more than a million landless people on land by the end of 2006.

The movement warned it would step up its action if land reforms were not accelerated.

Lula has appealed to the MST to be patient and stop its occupations.

List of demands

The MST launched a fresh wave of occupations in March, saying its members were too hungry to wait for land reforms to take effect.

According to Gercino Jose da Silva, Lula's agricultural ombudsman, the government has taken over 593,000 acres (240,000 hectares) since 1 January, 2003.

He said about 60,000 families should be settled on land of their own by the end of the year.

As well as the demand for settling land, the MST wants to take action against landlords, who hire militias to protect their farms.

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Sao Paolo says Brazil's powerful farmers' lobby is pushing hard for Lula to take action to rein in the MST.

Lula's main problem, he says, is a lack of resources to acquire land and then provide electricity, water, credit and other facilities to families that are settled.

Meeting 'unacceptable'

The vast majority of arable land in Brazil is owned by a small number of landowners.

The MST is currently occupying more than 100 sites and is staging protests in 20 states.

It says it will continue invasions and other protests until the government complies with its demands.

Lula has come under fire from some quarters for meeting the peasant leaders.

"It is totally unacceptable that the government opened its doors to a violent guerrilla group like the MST, while it has never sought to establish a dialogue with rural producers," said Humberto Sa, of the Movement of Anti-MST Rural Producers.

He said many ranchers were forming armed militias to defend themselves.


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