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MST action in Brazillian president's farm

Brazilian Peasants Abandon President's Farm
March 24, 2002 09:07 AM ET  
By Katherine Baldwin 

FAZENDA CORREGO DA PONTE, Brazil (Reuters) - Hundreds of peasants who invaded a 
farm belonging to Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso abandoned the 
property early on Sunday under the watch of armed soldiers after the government 
agreed to hear their demands for more land and agricultural credits. 

Despite their peaceful departure, 16 peasant leaders who had stayed behind to 
negotiate with the government at the farm's main house were handcuffed and 
placed on the floor before being whisked away in a police van heading to the 
capital, Brasilia, witnesses said. 

About 450 members of the radical Landless Workers Movement had occupied the 
farm early on Saturday, saying the government had failed to listen to their 

The movement, known by the acronym MST, regularly invades unused land to draw 
attention to the vast unequal distribution of land in this country of 170 
million people, where a rich few own huge swathes of the most arable land. 

Calling the invasion an act of terrorism, the government deployed more than 200 
army troops to join federal police at the farm in Minas Gerais state outside 
the city of Buritis, which is about 100 miles from Brasilia. 

Both sides had played tough, with the MST promising a fight if police forced 
them to leave. 

Television images showed MST members sitting in what appeared to be the living 
room of Cardoso's house, using his phone before it was cut off and placing 
their red flag over a coffee table. Newspapers on Sunday showed pictures of the
MST peasants waving machetes in front of the farm house. 

The standoff ended after the MST was promised a meeting with the Minister of 
Agrarian Development Raul Jungmann to discuss demands for land, agricultural 
credits and the elimination of judicial actions against some of their members.

But local media said two negotiators from the Ministry of Agrarian Development 
would ask to step down after the police arrest, saying they had promised the 
MST no one would be detained if they left the property peacefully. 

Although the MST had threatened to invade the property before, Saturday's 
occupation was the first time they stepped onto Cardoso's land. MST members 
said the invasion was a show of force. 

"This time it really hit the government," said Gilmar de Oliveira, an MST 
regional coordinator. 

With just seven months to general elections, the invasion triggered a bout of 
political sparring between the government and the leftist opposition Workers 
Party, which Justice Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira said was "intimately tied" 
to the MST. The PT, whose presidential candidate is ahead in opinion polls, 
denied the charge. 

MST | Brasil | FMI/BM | AGP/PGA