The urban poor may seize land to create homes, but land seizures both historically and today are primarily a strategy by struggling farmers and landless agricultural workers to enable them to cultivate the land. In Europe peasant seizure of land has often been part of a wider revolutionary upsurge, as in France in 1789, Russia 1905 and 1919, Italy 1919 and Spain in 1936-37, but today (unlike urban forms of resistance) is not central to Western protest movements. There is a particularly strong tradition in Latin America of peasant farmers seizing land (with varying degree of nonviolence or violence) from absentee or large landowners and planting crops on the land. Sometimes land seizures were retrospectively legalized by government laws or by sale of land, or even encouraged by leftist politicians, Peasant leagues in Colombia in the 1930s created an independent communist republic in the mountains based on land seized. In the 1950s and 1960s peasants seized land in Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela.
More recently the best known landless movement has been Movimento Sem Terra (MST) in Brazil, founded in 1984, but arising out of the rural and industrial militancy of the 1970s when there were many land seizures. It has continued to organize the landless and unemployed in taking over land from large landowners and multinationals and setting up cooperative farms, as well as organizing slum dwellers in large cities in the southeast, providing them with allotments. But hunger for land, and resistance to its use by large corporations, extends to other parts of Latin America (for example Honduras) and many countries in Africa and Asia.
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A.3.a. Land Occupations and Demands for Land Reform
Covers transnational farmer resistance to WTO and other global institutions and high profile global alliances such as the small farmer organization Via Campesina. Case studies include Indonesian forest dwellers chopping down rubber plants to grow rice to eat, and Mexican migrants returning home to transform their communities. Also includes information on early 20th century agrarian movements.
Well researched account of MST.
Examines impact of modernization and globalization on agriculture and explores alternative forms of development and the evolution of an international peasant voice in Via Campesina, formed in 1993 to challenge the neoliberal economic agenda.
See also Hammond, John L., The MST and the media: Competing images of the Brazilian Landless Farmworkers’ Movement Latin American Politics and Society, 2004, pp. 61-90
The author, who founded a US support group for the landless, provides excerpts from her journal of visiting sites of land struggle in 1987. She notes intensified confrontations in 1980s between the landed elite and the landless, who resorted to lawsuits, demonstrations, fasts, vigils, marches, mock funerals and, above all, land occupations.
The whole issue is dedicated to ‘Peasant Movements in Latin America’ including 2 articles on MST.
Includes chapters on Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, India, Mexico, South Africa and Zimbabwe (the latter refrains from discussing the human rights issues of the government sponsored post 1996 land occupations). Not all chapters discuss social movements, but the book does cover gender and indigenous issues.
Examines 200 peasant occupations in 1972 (assertion of a tradition of ‘les recuparaciones’) in context of developing forms of protest since the ‘great strike’ against United Fruit Company in 1954.
Pays special attention to Ekta Parishad (an Indian land rights organization), the Assembly of the Poor in Thailand and MST in Brazil.
Account by participant in evolution of land seizures and of how MST eventually achieved legal possession.
Situates MST in the broader context of Brazilian history but also based on first hand research at MST settlements.