Violent Settlements Are Good for Brazil

     Violent Settlements Are 
Good for Brazil

    "More than 90
    percent of the settlers we interviewed were involved
    in a conflict for the land that they work. These conflicts are
    what create the conditions necessary for the landowner to
    cede the area. Without pressure from these movements, land
    reform does not move forward as there are a thousand obstacles."
    by: Mário
    Augusto Jakobskind

    Without the fight for the land there would be no agrarian reform in Brazil.
    Thanks to settlements throughout the country, rural workers while still poor
    can have better access to health and education services.

    In monoculture zones as
    the ones in which sugarcane is the only crop, settlements help diversify the
    culture, specially growing vegetables and fruits that are sold in the local
    market. In turn, these settled workers with the money they make are able to
    buy consumer goods like TVs and refrigerators.

    These are some of the
    findings of the study coordinated by Leonilde Medeiros, Sérgio Leite,
    Moacir Palmeira, Beatriz Heredia, all professors at Rio’s Universidade Federal
    Rural and by Rosângela Cintrão, a researcher.

    Sociologist Leonilde Medeiros
    talks in this interview about hers and her colleagues’ work that resulted
    in the newly published book Impacto dos Assentamentos: um estudo sobre
    o meio rural brasileiro (The Impacts of Settlements: A Study of Brazilian
    Rural Life).

    The word "settlement"
    (in Portuguese, assentamento) connotes a very specific context in Brazil.
    Generally, this is an area of land for which a group of people, who previously
    were landless, struggled. First the people occupy the land, and then hopefully
    gain title to it after a period of time. The process is difficult and often
    involves violence.

    Can you explain to
    us how your study of Brazilian rural life was conducted?

    The idea for the study
    began when we saw that there was much research done on settlements, but not
    much on what all of it means. Actually, we did two studies. In the first one,
    we studied six states—Rio Grande do Sul, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro,
    Sergipe, Mato Grosso and Acre, from 2000-2001. We worked with settlements
    created between 1985 and 1997. The other study was about the impact of these

    What were the conclusions
    of the studies?

    The first thing that was
    impressive was that the settlements generate jobs. Each of them creates an
    average of three jobs per family. It is important to highlight here that the
    jobs created are not field or farm jobs; rather they are jobs like clerks
    at small markets located on the settlement. Another interesting fact is that
    80 percent of the settlers came from the region where the settlement is located
    and were rural workers.

    So the common understanding
    that settlements are made up of people from the cities is a misconception?

    Well, many of those who
    have rural roots are people who did spend some time in the city, looking for
    a job, but then decided to return to the rural life.

    What changed in the
    life of the settlers?

    We tried to compare the
    situation of settlers before and after becoming part of a settlement, seeing
    if their life improved or not in relation to health, education, communication,
    living conditions, access to food, possession of household goods, etc.

    The greater part of those
    interviewed felt their life improved. Even though their current situation
    is very precarious, compared to their former lives, there is a significant
    improvement. They have houses, food which often comes from the actual settlement,
    better access to education and health.

    They are able to afford
    appliances such as refrigerators and televisions. This led us to conclude
    that the settlements have a very important role in the insertion of families
    in the marketplace as well as in the social arena. These are families who
    before becoming part of a settlement led extremely precarious lives and had
    no alternatives for working.

    Of those interviewed,
    87 percent have no more than a fourth grade education, and a great majority
    of these still cannot read and write. Before, they could not enter into the
    workplace because they did not even have the minimum requirements or training
    for jobs.

    What was the age range
    of those you interviewed?

    Most were between the
    ages of 40 and 60. Normally, a typical nuclear family occupies one piece of
    property. However, once the family was well-established on the lot, then other
    relatives began to show up—in-laws, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
    etc.—people who were also coming from precarious living situations….

    What else would you
    highlight in your studies?

    More than 90 percent of
    the settlers we interviewed were involved in a conflict for the land that
    they work. We came to the conclusion that these conflicts are what create
    the conditions necessary for the landowner to cede the area, and that these
    conflicts create other settlements. That is, there is a conflict, the land
    is ceded, the neighbors in the area see what happened, and then they go after
    another piece of land.

    So the MST (Movement
    of Rural Workers Without Land) is doing the right thing?

    Yes. Truthfully, without
    pressure from these movements, land reform does not move forward as there
    are a thousand obstacles to hurdle if you go through bureaucratic channels.
    Another thing to say here is that settlements often happen as a result of
    some crisis. For example, in the sugarcane country of the Northeast, the sugar
    industry went through hard times, and many factories were shut down. People
    then began occupations.

    Any other thing you
    would highlight?

    There is tremendous agricultural
    diversity on the land of the settlements. Areas which were once single crop
    fields become areas which enrich local food markets. Some products, such as
    beans, manioc, and corn are cultivated on every settlement. There is also
    always some small animal-raising.

    They grow these products
    because they easily sell in the local market. In the sugarcane region of Pernambuco,
    there has been a multiplication of street fairs as a result of production
    from settlements. So, this diversity is significant in boosting local trade
    and commerce.

    Why is this production
    not officially recognized?

    It does not appear in
    the national statistics because most of the produce is sold in the informal
    sector—in street fairs, small markets, etc. Also, the great majority
    of settlers have never had access to certain farming practices, like receiving
    credit from the government. But there is no denying that their production
    has become an important factor in local economies.

    Mário Augusto Jakobskind is a Brazilian journalist. This interview
    appeared originally in Portuguese in the newspaper Brasil de Fato –
    You can contact the author writing to

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