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Viewing cable 09SAOPAULO317, The MST Method: Work the State, Alienate the Locals

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09SAOPAULO317 2009-05-29 13:01 2010-12-19 00:12 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Sao Paulo
VZCZCXRO5979
RR RUEHRG
DE RUEHSO #0317/01 1491355
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 291355Z MAY 09
FM AMCONSUL SAO PAULO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9243
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0391
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 4373
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 9159
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 3516
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 3763
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 2917
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 2763
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ 4114
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SAO PAULO 000317 

STATE PASS TO DRL FOR MMITTELHAUSER 

SIPDIS 
SENSITIVE 

E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PGOV EAGR ELAB PHUM PINS EINV SOCI ASEC BR

SUBJECT: The MST Method: Work the State, Alienate the Locals 

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED--PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY 

1. (SBU) Summary: The Landless Rural Worker's Movement (MST) follows a pre-planned methodology in its land seizures that includes leveraging contacts within the GOB's National Institute of Colonization and Agricultural Reform (INCRA) to help select targets, according to MST expert Clifford Welch, a U.S. professor based in Presidente Prudente, an interior city in Sao Paulo State. A visit by EconOff to this region provided a snapshot of the mechanics of how the MST has operated in this area. Once MST members occupy the land, the organization negotiates with the police and the GOB to convert the land into a permanent MST settlement. The MST then distributes plots of land to their followers. In a practice, both cynical and ironic, MST members sometimes wind up renting to agribusinesses the very lands they seized. The demographic profile of MST members shows them to be primarily small families and retired couples. Non-MST locals would prefer their MST neighbors leave, fearful that MST tactics will scare off foreign investment. End summary. 

--------------------------- An Up-Close View of the MST--------------------------- 

2. (SBU) On April 7, EconOff met with Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) expert Professor Clifford Welch, from the State University of Sao Paulo (UNESTE) in Presidente Prudente (a regional city in the interior of Sao Paulo State, pop. 230,000) and on loan from the University of Michigan. Welch has been teaching about the MST movement for the last three years at the UNESTE agrarian reform center called NERA. His students compile information on MST, usually by closely monitoring newspaper articles, and they also directly interact with the movement's members and visit their camps. Welch himself has spent extensive time in MST camps and has a good understanding of the organization. He has a decidedly pro-MST view, calling the movement, "The Fight for Land." EconOff got Welch's view of how the MST operates in that area while on a visit to Presidente Prudente. 

------------------------------ The MST Method: Work the State ------------------------------ 

3. (SBU) The MST uses its contacts inside the federal agency INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agricultural Reform) to determine which land is next up for expropriation, Welch said. This agency is charged with designating private land for government seizure, usually by deeming it "unproductive." Welch told EconOff that INCRA does not make this information publically available and that the only way MST could access it would be through informants inside INCRA. (Note: There is at least one public case of a retired INCRA employee, Ivan Carlos Bueno, later joining MST. End note.) Once MST chooses its land target from INCRA's list, it then gives INCRA a deadline to expropriate the land--usually five days--or else MST threatens to expropriate it for them. 

4. (SBU) INCRA normally cannot expropriate land with such a short deadline, so MST invades the land as promised. They follow up by constructing what they call a camp, essentially a makeshift settlement. The police usually arrive shortly after and begin negotiations for the squatters to leave. MST supporters, overmatched by armed police, evacuate the camp, wait for the police leave, and then return. This process repeats, sometimes indefinitely. 

----------------------------- Life inside an MST Settlement ----------------------------- 

5. (SBU) A legal MST settlement is formed on parcels of land that INCRA has officially expropriated and then opened for public use. MST settlers live on many of them, but not all. Once on the land, MST farmers usually produce beef, dairy products, castor oil, or coffee. They sell their crops on the open market. Anyone who owns a parcel of land has complete control over it and does not share it with other settlement workers. Some farmers even choose to rent the land to agribusiness. A local agribusiness leader who has rented from MST "landowners" told EconOff that many of the settlers are remarkably good businesspeople. 

6. (SBU) It takes approximately five years for a new MST recruit to earn a piece of land. He or she performs menial tasks for the  community while waiting. As new workers join the movement and this wait time grows, the pressure to find more settlements grows with it. A 10 percent tax (the MST prefer to call it a tithe) from the farmers supports these laborers while they wait for their parcel of land. 

7. (SBU) NERA has determined that invasions directly resulted in legalization of 80 percent of the MST's settlements. Welch would not speculate on what would have happened if the movement had tried to take that same land with peaceful action. He did indicate that MST uses NERA's study to justify its continued invasions. INCRA uses the judicial process to expropriate peacefully the remaining 20 percent of settlements. 

--------------------------- The MST Participant Profile --------------------------- 

8. (SBU) According to Welch, the driving force behind agrarian reform is the desire to move out of poverty. The principal demographic of those who join the movement are retired couples in their 40s and 50s, many of whom are former sugarcane laborers. Welch told EconOff that Brazilian law entitles these sugarcane cutters to a pension after 20 years of work, leaving many of them to early retirement. Since a large portion of these workers has always wanted their own parcel of land, they join the MST. (Note: While the GOB officially counts MST family size at five per person, Welch estimates a number close to three, due to this demographic and his experience in the camps. This means MST membership self-estimates of 1.5 million people are at least 40 percent too high. End note.) 

--------------------- Public Support Waning --------------------- 

9. (SBU) Conversations with citizens in the city of Presidente Prudente in the interior of Sao Paulo State indicated that few people in the community support the MST. The president of the President Prudente chapter of the Sao Paulo Federation of Businesses (FIESP) told Econoff that fears of land seizures had pushed the real estate price for the fertile land down to one-third of what similar land costs in non-MST threatened areas in Sao Paulo State. FIESP board members agreed, citing the movement's decline as a principal reason that local land value had just recently begun to rise. Presidente Prudente's vice-mayor and city manager both echoed FIESP's sentiments. 

10. (SBU) Comment: The MST's practice of distributing fertile parcels of land to the faithful and the subsequent ability for these individuals to rent the land back to agribusiness is ironic, to say the least. President Lula has been conspicuously silent on his early-career promises to support the MST for a good reason: An organization that seizes land in the name of the landless and then rents it back to the very same sorts of people from whom they took it has a serious credibility problem. End comment. 

11. (U) This cable was coordinated with and cleared by Embassy Brasilia. 

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