Authorities controlled by politicians in the state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil that have received support from the Finnish-Swedish transnational company Stora Enso are now closing schools for landless claiming they must do this according to federal law. The sudden decision to close the schools that have been started in encampments by the MST has come after a growing conflict between Stora Enso and the MST, a movement that defends food sovereignity, ecological agriculture as a sustainable form of agriculture and biological diversity against the monoculture plantations promoted by the transnational cellulose corporation.
A representative of the same authorities that are now closing the schools have simultaneously attacked the World Social Forum (WSF) that started in the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, and for many years have been held there. The WSF is widely respected in Brazil and globally as a strong inspiration for global democracy, including showing how the South can democratise the world. But it is now accused by officials in Rio Grande do Sul of being a gathering place for terrorists and forces of no interest to the majority.
In early 2009, Gilberto Thums, a member of the Superior Council at the ministry in the state of Rio Grande do Sul responsible for education simultaneously attacked both the WSF and the landless movement MST. In a statement in the journal Expansão, he described the WSF as a meeting place for ”terrorists and marginals”. A year or so earlier, in December 2007, Thums was behind a plan where a group of prosecutors would put MST on trial with the aim to “dissolve MST and declare it as illegal”. That plan was unveiled but the authorities are now making new attempts to attack the movement. In February 2009, Thums and the governor of the state Yeda Crusius were behind the closure of seven schools in MST encampments. A five-year-old article in the magazine Veja is cited in a report that has now been used as argument for the closure. The article accused schools in MST encampments and settlements for “defending socialism”, ”developing a revolutionary ideology”, and “supporting intolerance”. The “aggressive ideology” of the MST is now being used as an official argument for closing the schools.
The MST in Rio Grande do Sul was a pioneer twelve years ago in implementing a Brazilian law that supported schools in the countryside, and has become a model for the rest of the country. UNICEF Brazil have awarded the educational work which has developed due to MST as a model for education among children in vulnerable socio-economic conditions. The teacher’s union in Rio Grande do Sul has also awarded a prize to these schools. Almost 200,000 pupils attend the schools in the MST encampments and settlements. Slightly more than half of the schools are run on public money, and the rest voluntarily by MST.
MST is not only struggling for implementing agrarian reform and education in the countryside but is also engaged in work of importance to the survival of the planet. The 1.5 million participants in the movement are aiming at ecological agriculture. This work of theirs is a direct threat to transnational companies who wish to make profit from gene-manipulated plants and monoculture plantations for the cellulose and agrofuel industries. One of the main opponents of MST is Stora Enso. To strengthen its political influence, Stora Enso has given financial support in the election to those political forces that are now trying to stop the landless movement and to make it impossible for MST to continue its struggle for agrarian reform. Governor Yeda, who has been directly supported by Stora Enso, has now declared – immediately after closing the schools of the landless – that everything should be done to help Stora Enso forest industry to get established in the state – ”that is the road to development and we will not abdicate from that”.
We oppose this politics in the interest of Northern transnational corporations and the accusation that the WSF is an illegitimate, undemocratic force.
Undersigned organisations thus request that all who want to defend both the WSF and schools for landless in Brazil support –
• The four demands below
• The statement issued by the MST in Rio Grande do Sul against the closure of schools in MST encampments in the state
Friends of the Earth Brazil
Friends of the Earth Uruguay
Friends of the Earth Finland
Friends of the Earth Sweden
Maattomien ystävät – Friends of Landless Finland
Friends of MST Sweden
http://www.revistaexpansao.com.br (only latest issue)
Expansão, quotes from January 2009 issue:
Material on the attempts at criminalising MST:
Information about the documents on the attempt at dissolving MST:
Official ministerial Rio Grande do Sul web page with a clipping from a newspaper stating the role of Thums in attempting at dissolving MST:
Manifestations against criminalisation of MST 20 minutes video:
Material on closing schools at all MST acampements in Rio Grande do Sul:
Fundamentalismo d direita fecha escolas inierantes do MST e deixa 310 criancas sem educacao, Leandro Scalabrin, membro da comissão de direitos humanos OAB – Passo Fundo – RS, Longer text with quotes from official documents and reference to Veja article:
Madraçais do MST:
Comissão Pastoral da Terra; Terrorismo cultural no Rio Grande do Sul: fechamento de escolas em Acampamentos:
Escolas itinerantes do MST. Um crime é fechá-las. Entrevista especial com Altair Morback e Isabela Braga, Do Instituto Humanitas Unisinos:
Opinion: Por que Yeda acabou com a Escola Itinerante?
Câmara dos Deputados manifesta repúdio ao fechamento de escolas no RS; Comissão de Direitos Humanos e Minorias Brasília, 19 de fevereiro de 2009,
Material on Stora Enso support of Yeda:
Official report on contributions in elections at:
Material on corrupcion accusations against Yeda:
Ex-assessor de Yeda Crusius é encontrado morto no lago Paranoá, em Brasília, Folha de S. Paulo,
General on MST:
Branford, Sue and Rocha, Jan. Cutting the Wire: The story of the landless movement in Brazil. 2002. Latin American Bureau, London.
Harnecker, Marta; Landless people: building a social movement, Editora Expressão Popular
Kjörling, Lennart, Så länge det finns hunger, Ordfront, review of book: http://dagensbok.com/index.php?s=+&mf_key=dbc_legacy_id&mf_value=1037
Linton, Magnus, Americanos, Atlas, review of book: http://dagensbok.com/2006/01/09/magnus-linton-americanos/
Review of video: “Cutting the Wire” http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2005/12/brazil_cutting.html#
Review of Video in spanish/portuguese with english subtitles: Landless Workers’ Movement: History did not end. http://www.visualab.org/index.php/history
MST: Los Sin Tierra por los caminos de America, video by AbyaYalaUnida: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=AbyaYalaUnida&view=videos&start=340
Landreform i Brasilien och Movimento dos Sem Terra – MST, Sveriges ambassad Brasilien, PM, 2007-07-03, 1(10) Brasilia, Karin Wallensteen (Report on MST by Swedish embassy in Brasilia)
Friends of MST, US with english material:
Official MST web site:
Official UDR web site, opponent to MST:
Information on Stora Enso and plantations:
“Dossier Stora Enso” (in spanish) REDES – Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay:
Friends of the Earth exhibition (in english) Eycalyptus, Paper and the social struggle:
Information on MST mobilisation against Stora Enso (in portuguese):
Agencia de Noticias Chasque: http://www.agenciachasque.com.br
Jornal Brasil de Fato: http://www.brasildefato.com.br
Radio Mundo Real (RMR): http://www.radiomundoreal.fm