Agrarian reform in brazil: a series of missed appointments between social movements and state policies

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Estudos Sociedade e Agricultura
versão impressa ISSN 1413-0580

Estud.soc.agric. v.4 Rio de Janeiro 2008

Agrarian Reform in Brazil: a series of missed appointments between social movements and state policies

Eric Sabourin Translated by Giuliano Olivatti Menegazzi Translation fromEstudos Sociedade e Agricultura, Rio de Janeiro, vol. 16 no. 2, p. 151-184, Abril 2008.

ABSTRACT President Luís Ignacio Lula da Silva was elected with the proposal for an important program of agrarian reform, family agriculture support and struggle against poverty. Paradoxically, the support to the agrarian reform seems to have stagnated even with the great influence of landless workers'movements. How to explain that this seems at first to be a contradiction and, furthermore, how do we evaluate debates within Brazilian society and the federal government on this theme? The article analyzes the tensions, debates, advances and impasses of the past ten years of agrarian reform policy in Brazil looking at the interaction between social movements and public policies. Key words: Brazil, agrarianreform, Government Lula, public policies, rural development.


The Second National Plan for Agrarian Reform (II Plano Nacional de Reforma Agrária - PNRA), designed by the Worker's Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) and the first Lula da Silva administration, was ambitious and aimed at innovation. Its objectives were to rectify property deeds, to make familiar units viableand to support production, instead of limiting itself to distributing land which would take years to be assigned and regulated, which was the main mistake of the Cardoso Administrations' agrarian policy (Sampaio, 2001; INCRA, 2003). In fact, taking advantage of a depression of the agrarian market in the end of the 1990's, the Cardoso Administration distributed land to almost 400.000 families,often in precarious conditions of settlement and support to production. Surely, the pace of such distributions was difficult to maintain during the two first years of the Lula Administration. The agrarian reform plan was entrusted to the Agrarian Reorganization Bureau (Secretaria de Reorganização Agrária – SRA) – notice the disappearance of the word reform – of the Ministry of Agrarian Development(Ministério do Desenvolvimento Agrário – MDA), which houses the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e de Reforma Agrária – INCRA). The main debate inside the government around the modalities of agrarian reform was limited to a dispute between granting access to land by means of redistribution (after expropriation) and granting access to land bymeans of the market (with reimbursement through a special credit line). The absence of updated and trustworthy statistics from INCRA doesn't make the debate any easier. But, apart from the war of numbers between administrations, the opposition and social movements, it is clear that the Lula Administration was not able to implement its Agrarian Reform Plan, in spite of the MDA's strong allianceswith the Landless Workers' Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra –MST) and the National Confederation of the Workers in Agriculture (Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores da Agricultura – CONTAG). Actually, more than financing, it were INCRA's administrative limitations and the legal obstacles to expropriation and distribution of new land which led to the reduction of the government'spredictions. This article makes a balance of the agrarian reform in Brazil in 2006 by the end of President Lula's first mandate. The first part comprises a historic account of the struggles for and attempts at agrarian reform since the 1960's, interpreted as a succession of missed apointments between the State, society and its movements. It presents the evolution of the results of the last ten...
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