Over the past fifteen years, as I have been following the mst in Santa
Catarina and in Pernambuco, something extraordinary has happened. Af-
ter a nearly forty-year hiatus, land reform—as an economic and social
policy of development—is back on the political and economic agenda
around the world. These reforms are not always progressive in the tradi-
tional sense, but countries from Brazil to Hungary are reconfiguring rural
land tenure structures in an attempt to address a variety of issues such as
production bottlenecks, unequal land ownership, rural poverty, and more:
in Latin America, the return to democracy in the 1980s led to the in-
creased demand for social justice and access to land; in South Africa, the
end of apartheid in the mid-1990s brought together calls for land rights as
a key element of citizenship in the new ‘‘rainbow nation’’; in the former
Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the end of state-led socialism turned on
the restitution and redistribution of property held in state farms and
collectives; and finally, in Mexico, what one could call the ‘‘end of popu-
lism’’ led to a dramatic rethinking of the relationship between land titles
and social distribution. At the last United Nations World Forum on Agrar-
ian Reform, held in Valencia, Spain, in 2004, there were over sixty coun-
tries represented. In all of these countries, one has emerged as the ac-
knowledged leader: Brazil.
The struggle for land in Brazil has ignited strong passions for and
against state-led distribution, but by the late 1990s there was arguably a
consensus. At least in theory, a majority of people across the country
supported agrarian reform (although many objected very strongly to hav-
ing their own land expropriated). During interviews on the subject, large
farmers, small farmers, plantation owners, sugarcane factory operators,
landless people, members of the urban middle class, and politicians all
supported the idea that the vast levels of inequality in Brazil might be
addressed through a more equitable distribution of land (Wolford 2007;
see also Ondetti 2006 and Pereira 2007).∞
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