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BRAZIL’S LAND REFORM MOVEMENT SEEKS AWARENESS, SOLIDARITY

October 3, 2001, NEW YORK CITY -- A representative of Brazil’s Landless Farmers’ Movement is on a three-week U.S. speaking tour, describing both the struggles and successes of a growing effort against rural hunger and poverty and for environmental protection, especially of the Amazon rainforest.

"We need the American people to know that we are dying of hunger in Brazil because of our government’s policy, which, in turn, is imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund," said Katia Grams de Lima, with the Movimiento Sem Terra (MST), based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

That policy includes high interest rates, opening of the country to foreign capital, freezing of wages, privatization of national industries and reduction of public services, she said, speaking October 3 in New York City. Most of Brazil’s rich agricultural land is concentrated in a few wealthy hands, leaving nearly five million rural workers landless.

MST has organized 1.5 million landless and rural workers for "land reform from below" and helped hundreds of thousands of families gain access to productive land. It provides health care and education to landless families and organizes occupations of idle land, transforming them into productive agricultural cooperatives focused on local consumption, not export. Some 400 such groups are now operating.

Ms. Gram’s seven-city tour is co-sponsored by Agricultural Missions, Inc.; the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and Church World Service, the global service and witness ministry of the (U.S.) National Council of Churches. The tour began September 27 in Washington, D.C., and continued on to Philadelphia, New York City, Cleveland, and Chicago. She is addressing denominational, ecumenical and community organizations.

Ms. Grams continues on to Des Moines, Iowa, October 9-10 (contact Bob Gronsky, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 515-270-2634); St. Louis, Mo., October 11 (contact Margaret Hill, 314-721-2977), and Louisville, Ky., October 12-16 (contact Stephen Bartlett at louisville402@yahoo.com.mx or phone Agricultural Missions at 212-870-2553). Ms. Grams stops back in Washington, D.C., on October 17 before returning to Sao Paulo on the 18th.

Viewed favorably by an overwhelming majority of Brazilians, the MST also has suffered assassinations, defamation and even massacres at the hands of police and paramilitary groups. In April 1996, more than 2,000 military police attacked 1,500 landless workers and their children as they blocked a highway, killing 19 and severely injuring 51.

Ms. Grams urged North Americans to become part of MST’s information network "so that when things happen, we can get the word out through this network and help rally the international community to put pressure on Brazil." The MST is asking North Americans to "defend their right to struggle" and to "struggle with them" in the halls of governments, human rights offices and international financial institutions.

At the foundation of the struggle, she said, the debate, is, "What’s the meaning and value of life? How do we organize our societies to promote life? A society can’t just keep feeding the whims of those who are in power."

MST members’ "Ten Commitments" include environmental protection and reforestation, avoiding monocultures and the use of agricultural poisons. MST favors producing food to eliminate hunger and rejection of "injustices and violence against people, communities or nature." Members commit to "struggle against land concentration in few hands so that all can have land, bread, education and freedom."

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