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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Organizacion Lucha por la Tierra

On Friday we met with the Organizacion Lucha por la Tierra (OLT) in Capiibary. We met with Blas Flores who is the youth coordinator of OLT. He gave us some background on the organization and its struggle gain land for those without any. He identified the primary enemy as Brazilian large landholders who are increasingly taking over land for monoculture soybean production. They conceptualize their struggle as a broad one, including an attempt to recover national sovereignty from Brazilian incursions and to control transgenic crops and fumigation which is overrunning neighboring small landholdings.

OLT builds on the model of the Landless Workers Movements (MST) in Brazil. 84 people in OLT have gone to jail for their actions, 5 remain in prison, and others are under house arrest, including risking imprisonment if they continue their political actions. The government goal is to decapitate the organization, thereby halting the organization's efforts. The charges they face include invasion of land and disturbing the peace. Three people have been killed in the struggles.

We then went up the road to a small camp that is building their efforts to recuperate an estate. The process usually takes 3-4 years, including building a political formation among those who plan to occupy the land. 15 people are at the camp, and they rotate through on two-week cycles. Others have to go work jobs to survive financially while they carry on their struggles.

Some of the rhetoric of national sovereignty and whipping up nationalist sentiments against Brazil bothers me as being dangerously nativist. At the same time, the OLT's connections with MST provide an interesting example of transanational grassroots organizing.

People in OLT allied with Fernando Lugo in his presidential campaign last year because of his history of working with rural movements. But Lugo is just one person who doesn't represent taking power. Campesinos have few friends in power, so occupying land is the only way to improve their lives. The Ministry of Agriculture still wants to implement a neoliberal model. Lugo doesn't make change, the OLT militants told us, we have to make these changes from the bottom up. The struggle continues because the same structures are still in place as before under previous presidents. In addition to the need for agrarian reform, the supreme court is also very strong that keeps the exclusionary dominant structures in place.

The dominant culture including the press present the land occupations in very negative terms as invasions by people who do not want to work. The OLT faces constant propaganda, which means that they have to explain sustainable agriculture to people to confront the capitalist model. The police also try to infiltrate people into the movement to destroy it from within.

After visiting this small camp we continued on to another much larger camp Aldo Brisuela named after a one year old child who was killed in the struggle. 1500 people are trying to occupy 47,000 hectares owned by General Rodriguez who acquired it through corrupt means after overthrowing Stroessner in 1989. Unfortunately, the road was too rough and we had not planned enough time and we just saw the camp at a distance.

We're spending the nite in the Hotel International in CaaguazĂș which doesn't have Internet, so I guess it is not very international. So I hiked into the center of town along a busy road to find some Internet. The best Internet I've had so far in this country was in the rural retreat center where we spent last nite.

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