The Significance of Land Seizures in the Brazilian State of Rondônia

By the Editorial Board

When the deepest masses rise up, the Old States tremble and panic; each step taken by this section of the masses is met with a wave of reaction to force the people as a whole to cower. However, each step taken lights a fire in the hearts of millions, and the oppressed of the world feel themselves moving forward. In the Brazilian state of Rondônia, a single spark has lit a prairie fire.

On August 9, 1995, 600 Brazilian peasants fought the Old State, conquering most of the 20,000 hectare Santa Elina Farm. The conquest of the farm is an event of historical proportions for the peasants in northern Brazil, who are among the most poor of the country. All things are won through revolutionary violence, and the conquests of Santa Elina were no exception. Through labor, battle, and blood, the peasants laid claim to the lands—except for one part which remained in the control of the landlord class. The Old State, in its desperate bid to halt the land seizures attacked the peasants with cruel repression, resulting in what is sometimes called the “slaughter of Corumbiara ” but was in reality a battle between the peasants and the forces of reaction. The landlords had recruited armed reactionaries who stood beside the state with their faces covered, fearing mass reprisal. In their efforts to drown the movement in blood, they murdered more than ten peasant organizers and injured up to 200 more.

The battles at Santa Elina Farm are held in honor and glory by the peasants and workers in Brazil. In the winter of 2010, the seizure of the majority of the farm was celebrated with about 500 people gathering in commemoration, most of whom had to walk long distances due to bad road conditions. This could not prevent the commemoration due to the reverence for the occasion held by the people. The commemorative event went on for three days, and it included large collective meals, a fireworks display, sports matches, plays, study, and speakers from across Brazil.

Democratic and revolutionary organizations gave speeches. The most important talks were provided by the peasants in the LCP (League of Poor Peasants), who were the lead organizers of the event. Other speakers included: Socorro Popular (People’s Aid), Cebraspo (Brazilian Center of Solidarity to the Peoples), Abrapo (Brazilian Association of People’s Lawyers), MEPR (Popular Revolutionary Student Movement), MFP (Popular Women’s Movement), Liga Operaria (Workers’ League), Union of Rural Workers of Espigão d’Oeste, the Union of Construction Workers of Belo Horizonte, People’s School Orocílio Martins Gonçalves, People’s School of Rondônia, Pará LCP and other popular organizations.

The name of each fallen fighter in the battle to conquer the majority of Santa Elina was read out and all in attendance shouted “Presente” (present in the struggle). José Bentão, a founder of the LCP who was murdered by landlords in 2008, was also honored, and the seized lands were given his namesake, “Revolutionary Area José Bentão.”

The areas conquered by the poor peasants are ruled and administered by People’s Assemblies, a democratic committee operating outside the Old State and accountable to the peasants themselves—long abandoned, abused and neglected by the semi-feudal system of large estates held by landlords in the Brazilian countryside.

Perhaps the most important commemoration took place when LCP speakers awarded titles, created by the power of the organized people and bestowed on those who worked the land. This emotional moment could be read on the faces of all who attended—pride and dignity were restored and the fighting potential of the masses was brought to the forefront.

One of the speeches illuminated the situation clearly, “For 15 years the blood shed by the peasants in this ground watered the seeds of struggle in our hearts and minds. These seeds grew, blossomed and bore fruit today, and their roots are so deep that the landlords can no longer destroy them. Instead, we are the ones who can and must destroy them.” 

The speaker continued, “We must never forget the peasants who were assassinated by the bullets of landlordism and by the cursed hands of their tormentors. They carried with them the dream of owning a piece of land to live and work with their families, and paid with their lives for believing and fighting for this dream.”

Highlighting the continuity of the struggle and long term revolutionary viewpoint the speech went on, “The deaths of those comrades were not in vain, because today we are turning this dream into reality—we are heirs and successors of the martyrs of Santa Elina. We’re here to settle scores, or at least some of them, with landlordism. It’s not far off when we will settle all the accounts, and they will pay a very high price for all the humiliation, abuses, deaths, misery and misfortune they have caused to past and present generations of poor peasants, black slaves and indigenous peoples!”

For activists in the US, the lessons from the Brazilian peasants are more salient that some might think, since the peasant struggle is also one against racism and poverty—issues close to the heart of the people who rise in the streets against their own racist government and police in the US.

The glorious event concluded with hundreds singing the Internationale, the anthem of the workers of the world that has been sung in nearly every language. Understanding the importance placed on such commemorations stirs within a great feeling of importance for the most recent chapters in the long struggle of the Brazilian people, especially the workers and peasants.

Salute Camp Manoel Ribeiro!

On the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Corumbiara, the peasantry, led by the LCP, seized the last portion of the former Santa Elina Farm, outshining all the past luminous commemorations, establishing a new People’s Assembly and declaring the conquered area the “Manoel Ribeiro Settlement.” Amid state attempts to repress and thwart the settlement, poor peasants from the area have flocked to the liberated land, where they will enjoy a better life than the torments they face under the landlords. Collective work has replaced the individual toil of the people, and the Old State brings guns to enforce its old order and undermine the people.

The new camp’s namesake, Manoel Ribeiro, was a councilor from the Corumbiara area. He was well loved by the local people due to his tireless support for those in the battle for the Santa Elina lands—the reactionary Old State backing the landlords assassinated him at the door to his home. It is only fitting now that the old Santa Elina Farm is no more and the entire farm has been seized by the poor peasants, that the last piece of conquered land is named in his honor.

According to the LCP, “They [landlords and the Old State] tried to drown the fight for the land in blood, but failed! In the days after the battle, when the families were meeting again, they said: ‘Let’s take Santa Elina back!’ Courage overcame fear, because they were sure that their fight was fair, that they needed land to work. Contrary to what the landowners expected, the bloody repression generated enormous solidarity and exploded the hatred of the masses, raising a wave of new land seizures across the country.”

In the views of the LCP, the struggles to conquer Santa Elina Farm light the path for the Agrarian Revolution in Brazil. We are correct to view it with similar regard to the legendary Naxalbari Uprising in India, which resulted in waves of peasant revolts. The LCP, which has led the conquered areas, credits its very existence to these glorious struggles and makes no concessions in regard to the path of the peasants and workers to conquer power—through democratic and revolutionary struggle—and so they denounce the electoral and reformist paths promoted by the opportunists in service of the Old State.

The final death of the Santa Elina Farm is one way to honor those who have fallen in the struggle, but the heroic Brazilian people will not be satisfied with such land seizures. They know that as long as the system of semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism remains intact, the people will never be free. This understanding requires unity among the progressive classes, the victory of new democratic revolution in Brazil, and an uninterrupted leap toward socialist revolution. The victory is a stride toward these goals, which are part of the world proletarian revolution, meaning the liberation of all people in the world from imperialism and the end of capitalism itself.

Tribune of the People considers it an absolute honor to be among the only US press to give deserved coverage to these events, which we watch closely with hearts filled with joy and optimism. The victory is of utmost importance and has so much to teach the oppressed and exploited the world over. We will continue our coverage, and extend unwavering and total solidarity to the LCP and the people of Brazil. We call upon our readers and Support Committees to participate or carry out solidarity actions with the people of the Manoel Ribeiro Settlement, who are still being threatened by the bloodthirsty monsters with the help of the Old Brazilian State. We encourage all who find our news service useful to spread the word on the ongoing and escalating struggles of the peasants in Brazil, so that all can learn and lend international support to their accomplishment, making the desires of the Old State to crush Camp Manoel Ribiero less feasible. To the people who reside on the former Santa Elina Farm, in all encampments, revolutionaries and progressives in the heart of the imperialist enemy are with you!





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