Rich and Poor in Brazil (11-22-15)

"Socialism for the rich"...That's how Dumbarton's Miguel Carter characterized today's Brazil in the Nov.. 22 Adult Ed. Political scientist Carter has contributed to and translated a new book on this subject-- "Challenging Social Inequality: The Landless Rural Workers Movement in Agrarian Reform" (Duke University Press).    .
Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world*, is run by an elite few, Carter told Dumbartonians.  Approximately three percent of the population owns two-thirds of arable land. There were no unions until 1962 nor a right to vote until 1985. Today, Brazil has a highly advanced voting method, but the landed elite receive 5,000 times more representation in government than landless peasants.
"We have to look at progress in light of no land reform," Carter said. Large land holdings and mammoth agribusiness trusts have greatly increased the use of pesticides and forced the importation of daily commodities. Said Carter: "Brazil has even been importing black beans from China."  An estimated 42 million Brazilians live in poverty, but land reform is largely absent in anti-poverty programs. Huge transfers of public money go to financial investors or speculators which, according to Carter, are too big to fail, too big to prosecute, and too big to hold accountable.
For more than 30 years the 1.5 million members of the Landless Workers Movement have been struggling to reverse this grim phenomenon. They've won some territory, trained thosands of teachers, even built their own university using volunteer labor. Every leadership role is divided equally between men and women. They joined forces with doctors in a nationwide campaign against pesticides, pointing out, as they did this, that smaller land holdings would reduce the use of pesticides by as much as 74 percent.  
Underlying the movement's efforts is the memory of Amazon Rain Forest activists "Chico" Mendez, murdered by cattle rancers in 1988, and Sister Dorothy Stand, assassinated in 2005. Violence in Brazil continues unabated, but the 1.5 million members of MST are undaunted. As they keep up their efforts on land reform they have widened their scope, linking with international groups on such global issues as racism, sexism, and workers rights.

*Fifth largest both by population and land mass

--By Ginny Finch