The US embassy in Brazil wrote a cable in October 2005 describing the efforts of a US-based agribusiness to evict land reform activists from its property and strongly suggests that the judicial system was interfered with in the process. The Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) is a movement of about 1.5 million impoverished peasants with a presence in 23 of Brazil’s 26 states. The movement says it interprets the Brazilian constitution’s declaration that land should serve a “larger social function” as a call to action. It often initiates and takes part in invasions and occupations of private farms for the purpose of either protesting certain policies or for direct redistribution from large landowners to the poor. The cable comments that “the group regularly employs the tactic of occupying farmland by hundreds of landless families until the government cedes title.” Brazil, like most Latin American countries, is marked by massive social inequality with 3% of the population owning more than two-thirds of the arable land.
In September 2005, the MST was engaged in a “Red September” initiative to pressure president Lula da Silva into supporting agrarian reform and “fulfill his promise to resettle 400,000 families on undeveloped land by 2006.” A description of the MST’s actions which concerned the US embassy is worth quoting in full (emphasis mine):
On September 25, AgroReservas do Brazil, an American-owned farm, was invaded by 300-500 MST members who moved into employees’ homes, blocked access roads, cut down trees, and demanded 10,000 hectares of the property’s farmable land. The 70,000 hectare farm is owned by the Farm Management Company in Salt Lake City, Utah, and employs 300 Brazilians and four Americans. Although farm employees have not been able to access the housing area since the invasion began, they have been able to feed 7,000 cattle by entering the farm through neighboring farms, the farm’s manager Macedo Genevil told Embassy Agricultural Attache. According to Genevil, military police officials have confined the MST to the housing area on the property, and farming equipment has not been damaged.
The Minas Gerais state government has agreed to send an undisclosed number of military police to the farm, but before the police can be mobilized, a state judge must issue an eviction order against the MST. During the week of September 26, the state judge decided to negotiate with MST leaders before issuing an eviction order, and Minas Gerais military police agreed to remain on the farm until the negotiations have concluded. A Police Commander told Embassy Legal Attache on September 30 that the judicial process to evict the MST could be lengthy, and labor union laws and inadequate staffing may require the state government to cease police protection in the near future.
Genevil subsequently told Embassy Agricultural Attache that the judge who wanted to negotiate with the MST has been replaced by a “new, more reasonable judge.” Genevil sounded pleased with this decision and believed that an eviction order would be issued during the week of October 10. According to Genevil, the police will remain on the property until after farm managers meet with the military police chief to request a one week extension for police protection on October 5.
The farm manager’s claim about the state judge being replaced strongly suggests some form of intervention in the judicial system of the Minas Gerais. It is no secret that large business interests have always had a way of getting governments–especially Third World governments–to see it their way. Even the much-lauded notion of “judicial independence” is not sacred when it comes to desire of US multinationals.
The cable, suggesting a great deal of US government sympathy for the Farm Management Company, asserts that “if the judicial process delays eviction of the MST and police protection ceases, the farm will remain unattended, leaving the farming system and its profits in jeopardy.”