On August 12, Governor Romeu Zema of Minas Gerais sent in the Brazilian military police to evict families from the twenty two-year old Quilombo Campo Grande. This community was organized in 1996 by the Movement for Landless Workers (MST) to take over an abandoned sugar plantation. They developed the land and grew organic crops, including coffee, providing a livelihood and housing for over 2000 people. In 2020 one of Brazil’s largest coffee producers, Jodil Agricultural Holdings (owned by João Faria da Silva), called for the eviction so that it could take over production from the cooperative – one of the largest coffee cooperatives in Guaií state.
Although this particular eviction has been highly mediatized, sadly, it is representative of widespread practices especially throughout the global South, rooted in (neo)colonial practices of land and resource expropriation and extraction and often done on behalf of foreign (largely western) businesses. The land grabs and other forms of pillage in Brazil have significantly increased under the US-backed Bolsonaro government and in particular under the cover of covid-19.
As the Brazilian agronomist Sebastião Pinheiro explains: “Bolsonaro promised the United States and American companies that he would push Indigenous peoples out of their territories to open up public lands for the expansion of agriculture, ranching, mining, and energy production, among other things. The 2019 wildfires helped with this, in the same way coronavirus is working now.”
Since the early 2000s, there has been a steep increase in foreign land takings, reaching over 49 million hectares of land, mainly in the global South. Although governments play an important role, these land grabs are shaped in large part by foreign power interventions.
This includes conditions around land and resource privatization and access to foreign capital imposed by US dominated International financial institutions, “aid”, Bilateral Investment Treaties and other such mechanisms. The strength of these mechanisms is backed by the threat as well as actual use of US military force.
Neoliberal governments have facilitated the penetration of financial markets and institutions – known as financialization – into the agricultural sector. Financialization has been driving speculative interest in land both in the Global North and Global South. For example, many US pension funds today are invested in companies that participate in land grabs. If you are based in the US and work in a non-profit or in academia and have a retirement account, then it is most often managed by the
Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund (CREF), which has been dispossessing Black, Indigenous and other small farmers in a range of countries, including the US, Brazil, Australia, Romania and Poland. Other investment options also reflect exploitative financialization. There is in this way a direct link between land dispossession in Brazil, the theft of land from Black farmers in the United States, as well as the original and ongoing occupation of Indigneous lands with the founding of the U.S. nation.
Financialization and speculation have a devastating impact on land security for small-scale farmers, peasants, and Indigenous peoples. In several parts of the world, communities have been kicked out of their lands or denied access to key resources, like water or forests, as a result of these land grabs. Food sovereignty, a cornerstone of Global South self-determination, and Black and Indigenous sovereignty are impossible without local control of the land.
Land grabs not only undermine people’s sovereignty, social and cultural rights and people’s ability to feed themselves and their communities, but also impact people’s ability to house themselves. In this sense, land grabs and housing evictions are of a piece. They both come out of speculation, gentrification and other forms of dispossession that destroys the lives of largely working class, poor, Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Housing evictions have increased in the context of COVID 19 and are set to rise even further in the coming months as governments cut the already inadequate legal and financial support they have provided to protect renters who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Like hundreds of people in Quilombo Campo Grande, up to 40 million Americans may face eviction in the next several months, potentially marking the most severe housing crisis in the country’s history. Likewise in other countries around the world. In Kenya, authorities have already kicked out more than 8,000 people from their residences in Nairobi. And at least 20,000 people have been evicted in India since March despite lockdown-related safeguards. In South Africa, the state and private security forces use violence to evict poor residents as well as against activists defending them. “These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. All these abuses in so many countries are linked by the same depravity of putting profits before people, of enabling a few rich speculators to make a buck by denying people what they need to live, like land and shelter.
The People’s Strike stands in solidarity with the families of Quilombo Campo Grande, and with all the working class, poor, Indigenous, Black and peasant communities who have lost or risk losing their land and housing because of the interlocking systems of oppression: racial capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy and heteronormative patriarchy that control our political-economic system and continue to put the interests of business over human lives both in the United States and around the globe. Located in the belly of the beast, we have a particular responsibility to draw the connection between the assault on Black/African descended, Indigenous and racialized peoples both domestically and internationally. We stand against US imperialist policies that continue to undermine the possibility of self-determination and freedom to peoples in the Global South, and to Indigenous and Black. We see the struggle for land and shelter within the United States and beyond as intimately interconnected.
For these reasons we stand in support of the calls outlined by the MST International Relations Collective in this report: HERE
“We have guided our political tactics in three priorities:
The People’s Strike calls for the democratization of control over land and housing so as to be managed in the interests of the workers and peasants of the world rather than the owners of capital.
- On September 25, 2020