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Bolsa Família, the world's largest conditional cash transfer, provides welfare payments to 13 million Brazilian households – and creates dilemmas for Brazil's rural landless movement, the MST. Through ethnographic analysis in two villages, this paper explores the daily practices and political conceptions of the program's beneficiaries.
“At 30 years of age, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Movement of Rural Landless Workers, or, more simply, ‘MST’) stands as Brazil’s quintessential postdictatorship social movement, an agglomeration of perhaps 1.5 million people who proudly proclaim themselves to be (or, often, avidly seek to become) small peasants (Raney and Heeter 2005). The movement has led thousands of plantation occupations, through which landless farmers and poor urbanites demand that the federal government expropriate land, compensate its owners, and redistribute it. A successful occupation leads to the creation of an assentamento, a community of small farmers cooperatively governed through the MST.
During their disagreement at the training, Marcos and Otilo both expressed an unease that, for the MST, serves as a symptom of times that are once again changing. In the early 1980s, the movement captured the spirit of an anti-dictatorial moment, successfully reviving the demand for radical land reform that the military government had repressed for 20 years. Then, over the course of the 1990s, the MST responded to the Washington Consensus by adroitly pivoting its message and methods. Movement strategists decided to begin targeting agro-business as ‘the new latifúndio [plantation system]’ and to propose an alternative agriculture based on peasant farming. The movement thus became, by the start of the twenty-first century, a leading force in favor of alter-globalization and participatory democracy, a key figure in Via Campesina and the World Social Forum – and a sometimes electoral ally of Brazil’s Workers Party (Branford and Rocha 2002; Ondetti 2008; Wolford 2010).”
Morton, Gregory Duff (2015). “Managing Transience: Bolsa Família and its Subjects in an MST Landless Settlement.” Journal of Peasant Studies 42(6): 1283-1305.
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