"The struggle for agrarian reform is a political struggle"
Source: Choike

"Agrarian Reform and Strategies of Struggle for Land and Natural Resources" was the title of the seminar carried out on Thursday, January 27, 2005, in one of the warehouses at Cais do Porto, one of the areas where the World Social Forum (WSF) 2005 activities are taking place. Leaders from Brazil, Indonesia, Honduras, Egypt and South Africa shared their experiences and impressions with regards to the struggle for the right to land and the access to natural resources. Several aspects of this issue were analysed, including the participation of women, the neoliberal policies, the recent historical processes and the main challenges and goals that should be outlined by global mobilisation.

Plinio de Arruda Sampaio, President of ABRA, made the first presentation, pointing out the main points that - according to him - should be taken into account while defining a strategy of struggle for land and natural resources. He stated that the agricultural problem is closely linked to the problem of poverty and deterioration of natural resources. And this it is due to the monopoly according to which a few landowners and big businesspeople are owners of the land. Sampaio said that this "disqualifies the work of people, either farmers or rural workers".

"The first strategy of struggle to be taken into account is the fact that the struggle for agrarian reform is a political struggle", stated Sampaio, "so, those who are willing to struggle for agrarian reform should be prepared for a political struggle". On account of this, the leader pointed out that it is necessary to establish a co-relation of political forces, "to clearly identify our forces and that of our opponents and to identify our allies, that is to say, organizations or movements not directly related to the agrarian reform but with common interests".

By referring to the definition of "strategy" from a military point of view, Sampaio expressed that a "strategy is the way in which we move our forces to make our opponents move against their own interests". That is why it is fundamental - he added - to avoid becoming dominated or destroyed by the system, and to have the ability to start achieving "partial victories as a way to achieve the final victory".

Peasants at the front

The presentation of the Honduran Rafael Alegría turned out to be a very energetic one. Alegría is coordinator of the International Secretariat of Via Campesina, a global movement that gathers peasant men and women from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe.

Alegría started by expressing his agreement with Sampaio with regards to the fact that the struggle for agrarian reform is a political struggle. In particular "the agrarian reform processes in Latin America historically bore political components". He mentioned as an example the 1959 Cuban Revolution, which prompted agrarian reform processes in several Latin American countries (such as Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela), but which were mostly aimed at the promotion of raw material by both industries and capital. According to Alegría, "that was not about a revolutionary reform".

At the same time, social movements throughout the continent, particularly indigenous and women's movements, were growing and gaining strength.

"However, by the 1990s everything changed, and the neoliberal movement started to focus directly on the issues of land, food sovereignty, trade, natural resources, and water through modernisation processes imposed by the World Bank. The agrarian reform was substituted by a series of policies where the land started to be considered as an item of commercial value".

Alegría adds that this change also brought another component forward: to destroy those social movements that had been struggling for the agrarian reform. "But they failed to do so" he stated. "And now, upon the failure of the neoliberal model, the agrarian reform issue returns with full strength". The Honduran leader pointed out that previously it was about an almost exclusively male struggle, but now, women are also actively participating (Alegría referred ironically to the paradox of not having any woman present at the table, which motivated the applause of the large audience attending the event).

But, uniting men and women is not enough. "Before a global model, it is necessary a global struggle", expressed Alegría, adding that the coordination between peasants from all over the world who share the same problems should be strengthened. He also warned about the increase in the repression against rural men and women. And he advocated to strengthen the global campaign, with focus on land, biodiversity and natural resources, by joining efforts with social movements in general, not only with peasant ones.

Several struggles, common strategy

Leaders from Indonesia, Egypt, Cuba and South Africa gave a brief account of the situation of peasants in their respective countries. Afterwards, Joao Pedro Stedile, from the MST, presented - by way of conclusions - a series of strategic points he found useful to make a global call for mobilisation.

Stedile stated that, in the last meeting of Via Campesina held in June 2004, it was evidenced that the same reality is repeated in all countries ("with the exception of Cuba") "as if it were about the same chapter of a novel. Agriculture is being dominated by the interests of international capital and its financial mechanisms, resulting in an enormous concentration of capital in no more than ten corporations". In this way, he added, a few large corporations try to control a mode of production, of agricultural trade and even of price fixation, which are determined by a monopoly power.

The Brazilian leader also said that it is about a process of internationalisation that tends towards a domination in food production. "It is no longer about peasants having to deal with the tradesman around the corner, not event with the local or national government, because even governments lose autonomy to develop public policies in terms of agrarian reform in the face of the advance of this unified model".

Because of these reasons, Stedile highlighted four key points to be taken into account:

- The defence of the land as a fundamental right so that millions of human beings could lead a decent life.
- To assume the struggle for food sovereignty since food products are not commercial goods but a fundamental condition for human survival and dignity.
- The non-acceptance of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as regulator of the agricultural market; the WTO lacks legitimacy, is a weapon of the large capital and efforts should not be directed at having influence on its decision-making processes but at denouncing its legitimacy.
- Vindication of seeds as heritage of humankind.

Stedile also announced a series of key dates for this year, as part of the mobilisation agenda: in April, a global day against transnational companies, GMOs and the WTO is going to be carried out; a call to organize demonstrations, occupy lands and symbols of these "enemies" of peasants around the world is going to be made. On October 16, the International Day of Struggle for Food Sovereignty is going to be celebrated again. Emphasis will be laid on the struggle against GMOs by means of raising awareness among the people who eat without really knowing about the food contents - or what consequences food products might have on their health.

The event was organized by Via Campesina, Movimiento de Trabajadores Sin Tierra (MST), Red Social de Justicia y Derechos Humanos, Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano (CECCAM), Asociación Brasilera de Reforma Agraria (ABRA), Food First International Action Network (FIAN), Comisión Pastoral de la Tierra (CPT), Land Research Action Network and Focus on the Global South.

It will not be the last time the agrarian reform issue is dealt with during this World Social Forum: a conference about the World Forum on Agrarian Reform, held in Valencia, Spain, on December 5-8, 2004, is scheduled for Sunday 29. During the conference, the analysis and proposals put forward at Valencia's Forum through three plenary conferences and 25 workshops that took place there, will be disseminated.

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