The emergence and development of rural organisations claiming to represent landless workers and the rural poor in Brazil, and their ensuing political visibility and growing capacity to bring a vast array of forms of pressure to bear on Brazil’s political structures has been one of the most intriguing social processes following democratisation, after the end of the military regime, in 1985.
This article discusses the most vocal of the landless organisations existing in Brazil, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Movement of Rural Landless Workers, MST) and the relationship between the history of the MST and the (possible) materialisation of rights in Brazilian rural areas. The article provides a brief overview of the landless movement in Brazil, and particularly the MST, from its inception to the present day. The second section includes some recent facts about landless militants and rural families coming from settlements under the control of the MST in order to highlight the relation between social struggles of the MST and the formation and enforcement of rights. Drawing on recent attention on the MST in the national press, this article asks if rights for the rural poor become visibly rooted and are transformed into social practices as a direct result of social actions promoted by the MST. This direct connection between social struggles, processes of democratisation and the creation of rights is supported by recent literature. As Brazil has experienced very vigorous processes of democratisation since the end of military rule in 1988, it is important to investigate whether social changes and political processes in rural areas actually produce new rights for the most destitute in those social spheres. It is also crucial to evaluate whether social organisations claiming to represent the poor have been successful in their efforts to democratise rural regions and implant new rights.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.1 (2005) Transforming Rights into Social Practices? The Landless Movement and Land Reform in Brazil