In light of the American TFP's recent publication, Is Brazil Sliding Toward the Extreme Left?, we are pleased to present an interview with Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira on the land reform issue. This interview was carried out by editor Massimo Introvigne of the highly respected Italian magazine Cristianità. He posed many questions that we feel will also be of interest to American readers.
Q. How long has land reform been discussed in
A. Since the sixties, and, more specifically, since
João Goulart's populist and labor government, whose
program actually included urban reform—in the form of rent freezes—and land
reform, supported by an active minority of the episcopate led by Bishop Helder Camara. In 1961, the TFP
published Land Reform: A Matter of Conscience,
which was the largest selling statistical work in
Q. The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) officially supports the present land reform, which is vigorously contested by the TFP. What exactly is the nature of your disagreement with the CNBB in this matter?
A. At the heart of the matter is a doctrinal problem,
Q. From a technical point of view, then, what are your principal criticisms of this land reform?
A. First, it is based on a "black legend,"
which grossly exaggerates the incidence of poverty and misery in Brazil, and
calls for drastic interventions without considering that, as a whole, Brazilian
agriculture functions adequately, achieving annual increases in production that
surpass growth in population. Likewise, the real salaries of the farm workers have
been constantly increasing. Second, such a land reform is unsuitable for a huge
Q. Some political movements would be favorable to a land reform limited to the expropriation of "unproductive" and "undeveloped" lands. What do you think of this?
A. We are against it. The crux of the problem is that the expression "unproductive lands" in the reform law has taken on a specific technical significance that must be kept in mind. That is, lands that are not being put to a "socially advantageous" use are termed "unproductive." This ambiguous expression permits land to be classified as "unproductive" if crops other than those indicated by the state are cultivated. Thus, the proprietor faces a dilemma: Either he loses his right to plant what he thinks best on his land, or he loses the land itself. The lands that are not yet productive, but in which the proprietor has already begun to make investments to render them suitable for cultivation and not merely potentially arable, are also classified as "unproductive." [We remind our readers that the rich soils and tropical climate of Brazil produce teeming forests and brush requiring an expensive clearing process to prepare them for tillage.—TRANS.] Finally, the notion of "unproductive" land penalizes the poorer landowner who has just bought a farm but is able to cultivate only a part of it; with the fruits of his first harvests he will gradually extend the cultivated area, aiming to bring the whole farm under the plow. With the land reform—even in its "moderate" version—this farmer is hurt, since the presently uncultivated part of his farm is termed "unproductive" and, therefore, is subject to expropriation.
Q. In Europe it is sometimes said that only land reform can solve the dramatic problem of the misery in the favelas, the shantytowns that have grown up around the Brazilian megalopolises.
A. This is not the case. In fact, the problem of the favelas and land reform cannot be related. Leaving aside the fact that reports on living conditions in the favelas are grossly exaggerated and that the actual situation of life there is not well-known to most people, the majority of those living in favelas are actually attracted there by the myth of the great cities and of industrial employment, which they prefer to agricultural labor. Favelization is the Brazilian word for urbanization, a worldwide phenomenon. The experience of the whole world shows that those mesmerized by the great cities will not return to the countryside. Nor will the prospect of cultivating a plot of state-owned land for five years with the vague hope of one day becoming a proprietor convince them to do so.
Q. What are the positive proposals of the TFP for the agrarian problem?
A. We have not called our proposal a "land
reform" because this expression has undergone such a semantic evolution in
Q. It is said in
A. This is a ridiculous argument that only reveals a deplorable ignorance. The problem of the Indians exists and deserves to be thoroughly explored, but they inhabit only a tiny part of the lands owned by the Brazilian state. If we were to take a map and mark all the lands where there is still a residual or minimal presence of Indians, a sufficient amount of arable state lands would still remain to cover all the demands called for by the agro-reformists.
Q. Finally, I would like to know your opinion about the so-called invasions of private lands. They are often considered as agro-reform-related phenomena and have been frequently supported, when not organized, by the Basic Christian Communities and by ecclesiastical sectors inspired by the more radical version of "liberation theology," which has a Marxist character.
A. We are opposed to such land reforms. We are opposed to the invasions. But we are even more opposed to the confusion caused by the two phenomena. Land reform is a government act that we oppose on the political plane because it calls for the modification of existing norms. The invasions—as the Brazilian judicial and legal experts continue to maintain, no matter what certain ecclesiastics may think—are crimes punishable according to the law. They are also an interesting phenomenon because they show, despite the efforts of those who organize them, the artificial character of much of the agitation in the countryside. Those who invade private lands, as well as those who squat there and forcibly resist the efforts of the owners to make use of their lands, always come from far away—from exactly where, no one really knows. They are also called "professional invaders".
Every day I read clippings from the newspapers that come to me from all over the country about this problem. I have not yet found a single case where the presumed oppressed, the salaried workers of the farm, have supported these invaders or have shown themselves favorable to them. On the contrary, one often reads that these authentic workers are in favor of the proprietors. This is a fact that those who proclaim the "exploitation" of the agricultural laborers should consider more attentively.
I want to add a final consideration for Italian
readers: I know that in
TFP Newsletter, Vol. IV – No. 21 – 1987.