We are witness to our people's creativity in the search for alternatives and their wanting to relate lovingly to the land. Because for them land is not a piece of merchandise...

Acceptance speech – Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT)

Jorge Marskell is Bishop of Itacoatiara and Vice President of Commissao Pastoral da Terra (CPT)

To save the land,
To struggle for life.

This is a very proud and happy moment for me and for the many people in Brazil whom I am representing today, I speak to you on behalf of all those who are honored with the Right Livelihood Award – all those who believe in life and who strongly resist all that threatens life. I speak to you on behalf of the rural poor, victims of institutional violence, who need advocates like your selves, I speak to you in the name of those who dedicate their lives to promoting justice – rural union leaders, lawyers, agricultural technicians and church people, I speak to you on behalf of the Land Pastoral Commission whose only ambition is to do what we believe the gospel calls us to do – to defend life and to struggle that all might have fullness of life.

And besides expressing our happiness I would also like to express a preoccupation, which is a deep concern to many in Brazil.

We are sincerely grateful for the international recognition we have received from you for our work. The RIGHT LIVELIHOOD AWARD is a most significant expression of solidarity for sixteen years of service rendered to impoverished farmers: those with land titles to small plots of land and those who have possession of the land they cultivate but without title to it; those who are salaried farm workers and those who are underemployed or unemployed.

These past sixteen years were difficult years for us, but they were especially difficult for poor farmers. Dictatorial governments harassed and persecuted farmers, their organizations and anyone who supported them.

The agrarian and agricultural policies of the dictators were based on what they believed to be absolute truth or in other words what is known as the “doctrine of national security”; official national policy was imposed on the population. Anyone who dared to oppose these policies was met with brutal repression. Geopolitical interests of the “free world” defined what security would consist of. There were two blocks. One was good and one was evil – the “free democratic and Christian west” and the “communistic, authoritarian and atheist east”. Citizens who demanded or struggled for basic human rights were considered subversive and promoters of “revolution”, attempting to throw the country into the communist orbit. Dissidents were arrested and tortured. Many were murdered. Others were forced into exile.

The popular struggle for the democratization of access to the land, efforts taken to gain the rights of the working classes, initiatives to organize workers, were all interpreted as direct threats to national security. For this reason the entire apparatus of repression always took action against grass roots initiatives and always supported large landholders and modern agro-business. The dictatorship viewed the agrarian question as a military matter. Its objective was to depoliticize the struggle for land. In order to accomplish this end, the government elaborated the “Land Statute” – a complex law which committed the state to bring about land reform not only to avoid social conflict but also to promote the development of cattle ranching through the modernization of large land tracts. The military had an answer for every problem, which faced the country. All that was necessary was for the people to be patient.

Such paternalistic policy favoured Brazilian and international economic groups. By establishing many forms of incentives, especially fiscal incentives of up to 50% of taxes due, the military practically handed over all of Amazonia to national and transnational enterprises and also gave legitimacy to extensive land holdings by considering such as “cattle raising” business. Modernization in most cases was only for the sake of appearance. The real objectives of modernizing incentives was to free public funds (fundo perdidio) for large land owners. In other words, the appropriation of Amazonia by cattle raisers, agro-industry and mining enterprises was a process of corruption and the internationalization of Brazilian territory. All this was carried out with the connivance of most of the democratic governments of the developed west.

The military promoted colonization projects for the landless peasants instead of land reform programs and agricultural policies suited to their conditions of production. Then after years of paternalistic relations and after a long process of depoliticization, the State withdrew. It simply pulled out and left the colonizers to fend for themselves, condemning them to failure because of the vast distances and other kinds of insurmountable difficulties.

The Award we receive tonight is a tribute to the long and difficult struggle of our people during the years of military dictatorship. We deeply appreciate that tribute.

But the Right Livelihood Foundation has gone even further. You recognize that the struggle for land in Brazil still continues even though the dictatorship has ended and the transition to democracy began with the first directly elected President after 30 years. Today the situation has become even more dramatic. Violence and repression continue to be common practice against those who struggle for land. What has become of the promises of full democracy? Have our people been deceived? What kind of a democracy is this that represses the initiatives of citizens who struggle for equal right to life, health, education, a place to work and a just wage? To what purpose do relations with other democratic countries serve if amongst us there is growing misery, sickness, hunger and the marginalization of an ever increasing number of our population, while land, wealth and power continue to be concentrated in few and very powerful hands?

It is our understanding that the Award presented to us tonight is an international acknowledgment that Brazilian democracy is elitist and promotes the private interests of a privileged minority. This Award then is also a generous admission that the popular struggle for land is democratic, and as such is worthy of the solidarity of peoples, organizations and nations who organize their social, political and economic relations on democratic ideals. For all these reasons we are most grateful and happy for this gesture of international solidarity.

Together with the joy we feel tonight we also have a preoccupation, which I wish to share with you. We are being honored for our service to those who struggle for land, work and life. This honor is being conferred in a year when preparations are being made for the World Conference on the Environment and Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

What does this Conference mean to the millions of poor in Brazil? What does it mean for those without land, homes or jobs, low wage earners and small rural landowners? It is encouraging to us that many people in developed nations, motivated from a deep sense of humanity, begin to mobilize to preserve nature. But is the developed world conscious that it is largely responsible for the terrible imbalance of the ecosystem? Is it possible that in the minds of many there is a false notion that the major culprits for the world’s ecological problems are the poor of the impoverished world?

If ECO ’92 means confirming the limits of our democracy, and more particularly, if it means confirming measures towards development and sustainable agriculture without demanding the radical structural changes on which development must be built, then it is our understanding that the support given to the Conference contradicts the meaning we perceive in the Award presented us today.

The Land Pastoral Commission is committed to preserving the environment. Humanitarian reasons and our attempt to be faithful to the Gospel motivate us in this regard. Our rural people are imbued with a passion to cultivate the land, never to exploit or destroy it. They understand they must have a relationship with the earth as “mother” in accordance with the laws of God the Creator.

To preserve the environment, even through sustainable development and agriculture, without democratizing the traditional and actual land holding structures in Brazil would mean condemning the poor who have no land or lack the necessary conditions to cultivate the land to go on dying in an ecologically balanced environment.

Our concern, shared by millions of Brazilians we seek to support can be summed up this way: will we be capable of bringing about a democracy in all its concrete economic, social, political and cultural relations, in such a way that changes in the rules of development be a collective undertaking, participative and capable of realizing the full potentials of human beings? Or will “democracy” continue to be a form of political organization which sacrifices the lives of the majority in order to benefit a privileged minority within each country and within a very limited but highly developed part of our planet?

Our commitment to and our invitation for the continuation of international solidarity rest on the certainty that only drastic change will save our people from serious conflict. There are limits to the people’s patience. There is a great deal of disenchantment amongst the people because promises of equal rights for all were made and not kept. On the other hand a privileged minority enjoy the many benefits of modern development. We are obliged to search for a more just form of organizing human life.

No one can say that the world lacks the resources to promote and defend human life. Resources exist. So much energy is spent in generating wealth. So little is spent in an attempt to organize its just distribution. As long as wealth and resources are concentrated in the hands of a few it will be impossible to define and implement policies that guarantee a healthy environment for the most precious resource of all – human beings.

I wish to conclude by saying that we are witnesses to our people’s creativity in the search for alternatives and their wanting to relate lovingly, yes lovingly with the land. Because for them land is not a piece of merchandise but rather a place and a condition of life. We know that by attaining land our people will gain citizenship and the possibility of an alternative way of living in an alternative society.

For all these reasons, and once again, we dedicate the Right Livelihood Award to all those who are engaged in the struggle for the democratization of the land and of society.

Thank you for your solidarity and be assured that we are even more encouraged to continue our work in the defence and promotion of human life.

Thank you.

ComissÜo Pastoral Da Terra
Rua 19, No 35, 10 Andar, Edificio dom Abec centro, Goiania Goias
CEP: 74030 – 090