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Civil Unrest in Brazil

South American Crop Watch

Brazilian farmers protest expansion of native reservations

Published on: June 20, 2013

Coverage of Brazilians protesting in the streets has blanketed the U.S. news lately, so here's a quick look at where Brazilian farmers stand.

While the whole mess of public protests in the major cities began with an increase in bus fares, it's now about lots of things, like endemic corruption and lavish spending on the World Cup and upcoming Olympics while everyday Brazilians, who are paying the costs of these things, deal with poor roads, spotty public services and ever-higher costs for living.

And while Brazilian farmers face all those same problems—particularly issues with insufficient port and transportation infrastructure—you're unlikely to see any of them among the urban middle lower classes clogging the streets of major cities.

But that's probably because most producers have been too busy protesting more specific policies. While transportation and port infrastructure are ongoing complaints for Brazilian farmers, the immediate issue right now has been the expansion of native reservations at the expense of Brazilian farms and rural communities nationwide.

Here's the thing: Funai, which is Brazil's Indian affairs agency, has recently expanded native reservations across the nation. They've done it, reports go, based on their own studies and without any consultation with affected communities. And the orders are, well, rather peremptory.

There are stories of Mato Grosso farmers with crops in the field—and even machinery parked in those fields—who can neither harvest those crops nor retrieve the equipment, as the land suddenly was declared part of an expanded reservation.

As a result, thousands of producers across 11 of Brazil's 26 states have launched peaceful protests. They've not blocked traffic so much as they've slowed it down in order to distribute pamphlets explaining their dilemma to motorists. Mato Grosso producers even gave a sack of rice to the occupants of each of the cars they stopped.

President Rousseff, who was elected with 56% of the vote in elections no serious person would contest, was booed by farmers at an event in Mato Grosso do Sul state after the native affairs agency unilaterally took more land from farmers and rural communities. That was a month before she got booed at the opening of the Confederations Cup soccer game in Brasília, and two months before protesters took to the streets

But the big question, of course, is whether the so-called "Arab Spring" has spread to the Americas. In my opinion, not at all. If you want a point of reference, think more about the "Occupy" movement in the U.S. (or have you forgotten about it already?).

Brazil has an estimated 817,000 native persons occupying 4.2 million acres of Brazilian land—about the size of Lake Ontario.

The thing is, few Brazilian farmers deny them that. But the undemocratic way those lands are taken has caused problems, and producers in Brazil appear unlikely to get involved in city marches until the native reservation issue is resolved.