“Dialogue among family,” says MST leader on meeting with Colombian Vice President Francia Márquez

Agrarian reform, agro-ecology, and integration were topics discussed between the MST and the vice-president-elect of Colombia

August 02, 2022 by Michele de Mello
Francia Márquez met with leaders of Brazilian popular movements on July 26, in São Paulo - Photo: Vinícius Poço de Toledo

The Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) was one of the organizations that met with the Vice President-elect of Colombia, Francia Márquez, during her visit to Brazil on July 26. The meeting at the Perseu Abramo Foundation, in São Paulo, was a “dialogue among family,” said MST leader Messilene Gorete, adding, “it served to introduce ourselves and to put ourselves at the disposal of the people’s government of Colombia.

The Landless Movement is present in 24 Brazilian states, with around 450,000 families who have acquired land through collective and organized peasant struggle. Created in 1984, the Movement’s principal demand is the right to the social purpose of the land: land for those who live and produce on it, with respect for the environment and a guarantee of food sovereignty and a call for structural changes in the country.

Today, one of the main issues is Popular Agrarian Reform, guaranteeing land tenure and use for Indigenous, riverine, and quilombolas communities, and organizing national agricultural production with the goal of delivering healthy food, free of pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to the population. This year alone, the MST carried out around 60 actions, including 28 occupations of areas considered unproductive.

With support from MST militants, Comuna El Maizal produces native corn seeds for national distribution / Comuna El Maizal

Like Brazil, Colombia has one of the highest land ownership inequalities in the region. Independent surveys indicate that 5% of the Colombian population owns 87% of the land.

Data from the last National Agricultural Census in Colombia indicates that of the 113 million hectares of arable land in the country, about 75% of the productive units have less than 5 hectares and represent 2.1% of the area covered by the census. Properties larger than 500 hectares represent 0.4% of the units and account for 41.1% of the territory.

The dispute over territory is what gave rise to the armed conflict that has lasted 58 years. To defend the land on which they lived and made a living, Colombian small farmers began to organize themselves into peasant leagues, which gave rise to the two largest guerrillas in the country: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

One of the main proposals of the new government is to carry out comprehensive agrarian reform, as provided for in the Peace Accords, signed in 2016 between then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the defunct FARC-EP guerrillas. It was agreed that seven million hectares were to be granted to the former Colombian guerrillas, which has not happened.

The proposal of the Historic Pact, the group under which Gustavo Petro was elected, is to move forward with agreements made to the former FARC-EP and to advance in land concessions and the demarcation of Indigenous and quilombola lands. “If they manage to carry out agrarian reform in this context, it will be a great model for us to carry out agrarian reform in Brazil,” argues Messilene Gorete.

In the conversation with the MST, Francia Márquez showed interest in learning about the local experience in order to bring examples to Colombia, and reiterated that agrarian reform is a priority for her government.

“To hear this from a Vice President, knowing what it means for Colombia and for us, a movement that fights for agrarian reform as its central goal, inspires us to put pressure on the Brazilian government to consider this agenda as a priority, because it is a great need. There will only be justice and equality in Brazil if there is true agrarian reform,” says Messilene Gorete.

Food distribution in Pernambuco; During the pandemic, the MST donated more than six thousand tons of food produced in the settlements / Ana Olívia Godoy/MST-PE

Through cooperativism and projects based on the solidarity economy, the MST has become the largest producer of agro-ecologically grown rice in Latin America, with an annual production of more than 3,000 hectares and 15,000 tons of rice. Nationwide, the MST has created 160 cooperatives, 120 agro-industries and 1,900 associations.

For this reason, one of the points agreed upon with the Colombian Vice President was training on agro-ecological production within political and technical education. This will occur within the scope of the boosting of rice production, based on the experience of the MST. “From the Florestan Fernandes School we want to help them build agroecology schools in Colombia,” said Messilene.

For the former coordinator of the Internationalist Brigade Apolônio de Carvalho, the inauguration of a leftist government in Colombia and the possibility of Lula da Silva’s victory in Brazil marks a new moment for Latin America.

“We can think of a new cycle of progressive governments that bet on Latin American integration, based on joint work mechanisms such as UNASUR, MERCOSUR and ALBA. It will certainly be a new chapter in the history of Latin America and a chapter in favor of the people,” concludes the MST leader.

This article was originally published in Brasil de Fato.