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Rough Cut: Brazil: Cutting the Wire
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about Brazil's powerhouse agricultural economy and the contentious debate over the country's land reform efforts.

Background Facts

Brazil is the largest and most populous country in South America, comprising almost half the continent with a total land area only slightly smaller than the United States. The country's 186.1 million inhabitants occupy such a large share of South America that Brazil has common borders with every country on the continent except Chile and Ecuador.

Brazil was ruled for three centuries by Portugal before gaining its independence in 1822. Portuguese is the country's official language. The nation is known for its production of world-class soccer players, coffee beans, and samba and bossa nova music.

The country has a predominantly young population, with 62 percent of the people under 29 years old. From the 1950s to the 1970s, approximately 20 million people moved from rural to urban areas. By 2002, 81 percent of Brazil's population was living in megacities, such as Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city and home to approximately 25 million people.

Much of the Amazon rain forest, the world's largest, lies within Brazil's borders. Exploitation of this resource, including slash-and-burn deforestation, is a major concern -- more than a fifth of the forest has already been destroyed. This destruction impacts not only the biodiversity of plants and animals, but also the indigenous tribes that have long populated these areas. The release of carbon into the atmosphere when trees are cut down has contributed to global warming, according to climate change scientists.

Much of the country's land is controlled by a small percentage of wealthy families while peasants struggle under harsh economic and social conditions. A third of Brazil's population lives in favelas, or slums. The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or Landless Rural Workers' Movement, seeks to address this problem by peacefully occupying land to redistribute it among Brazil's poor.

SOURCES: CIA Factbook: Brazil; BBC; Wikipedia; The Economist; The New York Times.
(Note: Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia -- bear in mind that it is written collaboratively by people from around the world.)

Related Links


This comprehensive portal provides links to political and economic information about the country and human rights and environmental issues and also contains a list of mainstream and alternative media outlets.

Launched in 1999, this English-language site offers independent analysis and opinion on Brazilian current affairs.

Folha de Sao Paulo

This is the Web site of Brazil's largest daily newspaper (in Portuguese).

CMI Brasil (Centro de Midia Independente)
In English, Spanish and Portuguese, this alternative media site offers information, news and participatory journalism covering social issues from land occupations to public works projects. Its aim is to give voice to Brazilian people and issues generally underrepresented in mainstream media.

Land Occupation

Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra
(Landless Rural Workers' Movement)
The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) is the largest social movement in Latin America. The movement has an estimated 1.5 million members. The MST's official Web site offers extensive information about the movement and its mandate to bring about agrarian reform. Learn more about the history and politics of the organization and the challenges it faces.

"The Harnessing of Nature's Bounty"
This November 2005 article from The Economist reports on the rise of Brazil as an agricultural superpower.

"Brazil's Ideology-Based Land Grab: A Pointless, Wasteful Exercise"
This article, written by Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, national president of the Ruralist Democratic Union, a national association of agricultural landowners, lays out the case for why the MST's policy of land occupation is the wrong approach to solving Brazil's land distribution inequality issues.

"The Great Brazilian Land Grab"
This July 2005 article from Forbes magazine attributes Brazil's agricultural rise to "an epic 19th-century land grab occurring at a 21st-century pace."

"Interview With Brazilian President Lula"
In the same July 2005 issue of Forbes magazine, Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is interviewed via email by Richard C. Morais.

Zero Hunger: A Food Security Policy for Brazil
This section of the Web site of the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C., provides information on President Lula's Zero Hunger plan to alleviate extreme poverty.

International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the government of Brazil are preparing this international conference to review agrarian reform and rural development issues worldwide and to identify sustainable rural development options that can contribute to reducing rural poverty and hunger. The conference will be held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in March 2006.

Related Articles

"Brazil Land Invasion 'Terrorism'"
This November 2005 story from the BBC details how a congressional inquiry in Brazil has called for land invasions to be declared acts of terrorism.

"Two Brazil Landless Leaders Slain; MST Cries Foul"
In October 2005, two Brazilian landless peasant leaders were murdered. Reuters reports that "MST leaders say conservative judges and opposition parties are trying to criminalize their movement."

"Brazil Landless Stage 'Red September' Invasions"
Reuters reports that the MST launched a massive wave of protests in September 2005, dubbing the land invasions "Red September" for the movement's red flag showing a machete-wielding peasant.

"What Is Happening in Brazil?"
In this September 2005 article from Inter Press Service News Agency, Joao Stedile, one of the MST's leading figures, writes that despite President Lula's dedication to the political right, he has not been able to clear the danger of electoral defeat in 2006.

"No End: The Crisis of Brazil's Workers' Party", a global Web magazine created to provide an alternative to corporate media, published this article in September 2005 about how corruption in Brazil's Workers' Party is hampering social change.


Angus Lindsay Wright and Wendy Wolford, To Inherit the Earth: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil (Oakland, CA: Food First, 2003).

Sue Branford and Jan Rocha, Cutting the Wire: The Story of the Landless Movement in Brazil (London: Latin America Bureau, 2002).