The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.63/No.20           May 24, 1999 
Brazil Peasant Leader Meets Florida Farmers  

MIAMI - "Land in Brazil means power. When you concentrate land you concentrate power. When you distribute land you distribute power. We seek to eliminate the social inequality of land."

Augusto Olsson, a leader of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) of Brazil, was speaking with a group of farmers in the central Florida town of Wildwood during a tour of Florida in mid-April. Olsson spoke not only with farmers, but farm workers, students, and other workers during his April 15-19 visit. Previously, he visited with farmers and others in Georgia.

Olsson, 27, is a member of the MST's National Coordinating Committee from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. He is a leader of an MST-run cooperative farm involving 28 families in Piratini, near the border with Uruguay.

The MST has organized tens of thousands of landless peasants to take over and occupy land throughout the country and to press for a genuine land reform that will challenge the power of the big landowners and capitalists in the countryside.

Olsson spoke to 35 farmers and political activists at the meeting in Wildwood. The meeting was opened by local watermelon farmers who are Black, who reported on the status of their crops. The farmers noted many have been in a fight to keep their own land and win compensation from the U.S. government for decades of racist discrimination in granting loans and disaster relief.

After the event Frances Sesler, referring to the fight of the MST for land in Brazil and that of farmers in the United States to hold on to their land, said, "I think this meeting shows we are all in a fight together and have to continue. It was very informative to let us know what is happening in Brazil and Augusto appreciated learning about our struggle. We need to do more of these things."

Welcoming Olsson, Irving Forestier, a leader of the Orlando chapter of the National Committee to Free the Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners remarked, "We know what it is like to lose your land, to be landless in your own land," referring to U.S. domination of Puerto Rico.

The next morning Olsson had breakfast with members of the committee. Among other things, they discussed their work in the fight to free the Puerto Rican political prisoners in U.S. jails. There are 17 such prisoners today who are locked up for their involvement in the fight to win Puerto Rico's independence from the U.S. control over their territory.

At a meeting with a dozen farm workers at the offices of the Farmworker Association of Florida in Homestead, Olsson explained that the MST seeks to build a mass organization that links up with the struggles of workers all over the country. To accomplish this the MST also participates in actions with trade unionists and other working people.

"We came to the support of Ford workers who were being laid off a few months ago," Olsson stated. While the auto workers occupied their plant in protest, "we occupied the dealerships for two days to explain what was going on and be in solidarity with the fight of workers at Ford."

Members of the MST also carried out a national day of fasting in 20 cities in April to bring attention to the fight for agrarian reform, while at the same time they have been stepping up their land occupations. MST members occupied 244 sites in the first four months of this year.

Speaking to students and faculty members at Florida International University in Miami, Olsson said the goal of the MST was to fight for true agrarian reform and to "create a more just society in Brazil.... Our goal is to fight for better conditions of life in the countryside in education, health care, and to fight for a more dignified life for workers."

The MST has also had to struggle against repression and attacks from the government and the police.

In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Olsson was asked about the conditions of rural workers under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso regime.

"It's gotten much worse. It's precisely under this government that the largest number of slaughters of rural workers has occurred," Olsson answered. "We had the slaughter in Curumbiará, where 20 people died; also three years ago, we had the massacre at El Dorado dos Caraja's when the police and big landowners murdered 19 workers who were walking toward the capital of Pará."

Featured at the Militant Labor Forum in Miami, Olsson explained that Brazil is first in the world in terms of concentration of land in a few hands. "When the country was first colonized, millions of people were slaughtered to acquire the land," he said. While Brazil will soon be celebrating 500 years since the discovery of the country by Europeans, "in all of those 500 years we have not had the right to land," Olsson declared.

"Land should benefit those who work it, and not be the object of speculation," the MST leader maintained.

"Brazil is a country that is extremely rich in resources but has never been able to develop itself as a nation. We are not independent," Olsson stated, pointing to its domination by U.S. imperialism and other powers. "Brazil has the capacity to end poverty and create a society based on solidarity" if fundamental social changes are carried out, he said. "Brazil needs a social transformation, and the fight of workers will determine that transformation."

Noting the $228 billion debt the Brazilian government owes to the International Monetary Fund and other imperialist interests, Olsson asserted, "Our position is that this debt has been paid many times over because of the massive interest rates we have been charged. The MST believes that by the year 2000 the debt should be pardoned."

Asked about his view of U.S. society at the end of his first visit to the United States, Olsson said, "As I discussed politics with workers and farmers here, I realized everything they raised were also problems in Brazil - that we have the same problems and challenges.

"I go back with a different picture of the United States - with a feeling of respect and solidarity for working people here."

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