Magazine article New Internationalist

Of Guns and Governments: "He Was Sentenced to 26-and-a-Half Years Imprisonment for a Murder Which He Did Not Commit" [Jose Rainha Case]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Of Guns and Governments: "He Was Sentenced to 26-and-a-Half Years Imprisonment for a Murder Which He Did Not Commit" [Jose Rainha Case]

Article excerpt

Diolinda de Souza of the Movement for Landless Workers in Brazil has lost a husband - but not her courage to continue, as David Ransom found out.

'IF you talk of human rights in Brazil,' says Diolinda de Souza,' we say we have no human rights.'

This may sound a little extreme. After all, the terrible years of military repression that began with a coup in 1964 and left a trail of brutal human-rights abuses in their wake, do seem finally to be over. Current President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a celebrated sociologist, was democratically elected in a clean election and makes soothing noises, even about the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon.

But soothing noises are one thing, the daily lives of rural Brazilians quite another. Nowhere else on earth are such vast tracts of land still owned by such a tiny oligarchy of landowners - fazendeiros - with quite such deeply entrenched powers; nowhere else are so many millions of rural people left landless and destitute in a country of such fabulous natural wealth. The last serious attempt at land reform in Brazil was, precisely, in 1964, providing an immediate motive for the military coup. Very little has changed since - except in the mood of rural Brazilians.

'For one thing there's a lot more popular mobilization today,' says Diolinda. 'Also, we live under a "democratic" regime and the Government would not want to threaten the appearance, at least, of democracy. But what the Government does is to try to weaken popular mobilization by persecuting and even killing members of the MST.'

The MST (Movement of Landless Rural Workers) was founded in 1985, though peasant and rural workers' organizations have been around in one form or another for just about as long as the demand for land reform. But in recent years it has gathered fresh momentum, staging land invasions, marches and demonstrations and attracting literally hundreds of thousands of rural Brazilians into its ranks.

'My family is from a background of small farmers,' explains Diolinda, whose striking face, in its maturity, reflects a youthful charm. 'My father is a small farmer in the South East. I first became aware of the MST in 1985, when I was 15 years old. My family stopped working for the fazendeiros and began to occupy land. In 1986 we settled on land set aside for "research". Having the land meant that I was able to go to school and I studied for the first grade until 1988, when I began to work as a volunteer for the MST.

'Now I live in a settlement in the western region of S? …

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