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Cablegate: Brazil Landless Activists Stage Large March In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. As part of its continuous campaign for
agrarian reform, Brazil's Landless Movement (MST) often
schedules a wave of land occupations and other activities in
the month of April. But 2005 has been a slow year for MST,
and the traditional "Red April" events were delayed and
downsized into a two-week 150-mile march that reached
Brasilia this week. On May 17, some 12,000 rural activists
waving flags and sporting MST's trademark red caps and
t-shirts marched down Brasilia's main avenue agitating for
greater GoB attention to agrarian reform and rural
development, as well as an array of leftist political and
economic causes. The marchers held protests at the US
embassy, the Finance Ministry and the Congress, while their
leaders met for three hours with President Lula. 5,500
police were on hand to keep the peace, including 200 at the
US embassy. The march was generally peaceful, although a
scuffle with mounted police at the end of the day resulted in
some minor injuries. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) During their meeting, MST leaders presented
President Lula with a cap and t-shirt (Lula was criticized in
2003 for donning an MST cap, but he showed no hesitation in
wearing it for the cameras this time). MST's principal
demand is for President Lula to fulfill his campaign promise
to resettle 430,000 landless families during his four-year
term. Two and a half years in, the administration has
resettled 118,000 families and is limited by budget
constraints from moving faster. Other MST positions include:
greater funding for family farming; defending the
biodiversity of the Amazon region against "transnational
interests"; reducing the prime lending rate to "US levels";
redirecting the primary surplus from foreign debt repayment
to housing and health programs; opposition to FTAA; and
withdrawing US troops from Iraq and Brazilian troops from

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3. (SBU) Marchers conducted noisy protests at the Finance
Ministry and at the US embassy (which closed for the
afternoon), where they threw garbage and burned a US flag.
Later they moved to the lawn in front of the Congress
building. When some marchers threatened to storm the Senate,
police brought in a mounted unit that scuffled with the
activists until two leftist senators (Heloisa Helena and
Eduardo Suplicy) took the microphones and calmed the

4. (SBU) COMMENT. This has been a relatively quiet year for
landless activists. To date in 2005, there have been 95 land
and building occupations (compared to 165 by this date last
year). Yet, MST is a fact of life in Brazil. The reduction
in invasions has been variously interpreted as a "period of
truce" with the Lula government (unlikely) or a natural lull
and a chance for the landless to reorganize (more likely).
MST's principal leader, Joao Pedro Stedile, standing atop a
sound truck during yesterday's events told the marchers, "The
militants have to raise their consciousness and do more
invasions." Since its founding in the early 1980s MST has
evolved into a media-savvy (if politically tone-deaf)
organization happy to agitate for a buffet of leftist causes.
Yesterday's events illustrate both MST's strengths and
weaknesses: a powerful grass-roots organization capable of
mobilizing large crowds and attracting great press attention,
coupled with a dissonant array of policy demands and a lack
of political sophistication.

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