The Brazilian Landless Workers Movement [MST, for its initials in Portuguese] is a powerful campesino organization that struggles for radical land reform. The organization has a long internationalist tradition, and sends solidarity brigades to accompany campesino movements around the world. In Venezuela, the MST’s brigade has been important in assisting the Caribbean country’s communal and campesino movements. Here we talk with Messilene Gorete, an MST leader now based in Venezuela, about the organization’s work here.
Internationalism has always been important to the MST. Here in Venezuela, the organization’s Apolônio de Carvalho Brigade has accompanied campesino movements for almost two decades. How does the MST conceive internationalism?
Internationalism is part of our organization’s “DNA.” Since the birth of the organization, we have treated the struggles that take place beyond Brazil’s borders as our own. Internationalism is one of our driving principles.
If you take a look at the MST flag, you will see a man and a woman on the map of Brazil, but you will also see a machete that extends beyond the border. In other words, internationalism has been an organizational principle since our movement’s early days. Later, we incorporated it in our political strategy in a more formal way, because we understand that the struggle for agrarian reform cannot be carried out in isolation. It’s necessary to build ties of solidarity, learn with others, and struggle together.
Our internationalism emerges from a longstanding tradition in Latin America and around the world. The Cuban Revolution is a key example for MST; the Cuban people’s extraordinary internationalism has taught us a great deal. We also learned from the liberation struggles in Central America, particularly the internationalist brigades that accompanied the Sandinista and Salvadorian revolutions. Of course, the Bolivarian internationalism of the Venezuelan process has also left its mark on our organization.
We have learned a great deal from past and present practices of internationalism.
Today, in the MST, we understand internationalism as both a principle and a practice. As a revolutionary organization, we can only survive if we build and learn along with others in a solidarious manner.
The Apolônio de Carvalho Brigade, which is the MST brigade in Venezuela, takes its name from a great Brazilian revolutionary: Apolônio went to Spain to fight against Franco in the Red Brigades. That is why, when we arrived in Venezuela, we took that name as an homage to him.
One of the challenges that Venezuela faces today is overcoming the rentier logic that turned the Venezuelan economy into a dependent, “port-based” economy. The MST, with its vast experience, accompanies campesino and communal organizations around Venezuela, promoting sustainable agriculture that can break with dependence and build food sovereignty. How do you work with these local organizations?
The Apolônio de Carvalho Brigade has been in Venezuela since 2005. Hugo Chávez requested that the MST bring its experience to Venezuela and accompany campesino organizations in food production. There was one goal in mind: transitioning toward food sovereignty.
Since then, we have accompanied diverse campesino organizations in the country. We have made producing seeds a priority so that local agriculture can ensure food sovereignty to the country.
But seed production cannot be an isolated goal. The objective is changing the whole production model. The entire model must be radically changed. For that to happen, one must apply an integrated agro-ecological scheme.
In our work, we also focus on “encadenamiento” [linking] – Chávez’s term for the production, commercialization, and consumption cycle. It is something that we should be thinking about when attempting to build food sovereignty.
The only way to break out of the rentier oil-based economy is through a new consciousness. However, that consciousness will come only when new production and organization practices truly begin to emerge.
What kinds of organizations and institutions does the MST work with in Venezuela?
In our early days, we worked with the Frente Campesino Ezequiel Zamora. We also worked with government institutions and communal organizations.
We have assumed the communes as a priority. We support communal organizations in Venezuela, but we also learn from them. The communal model is something that the whole continent needs; it is a way of doing things that transforms the existing system, and the Bolivarian Revolution has turned it into a practice. This is very important for the MST.
What we have been doing with the communes is help them however we can. Yet it’s even more important to learn from people’s day-to-day practices when they come together, build a commune in their territory, and develop a production strategy that has the common good as its goal.
In a commune, all this happens while building a new hegemony. As communal councils, social property enterprises, and the communal parliament develop, the project takes shape as something viable in people’s minds. I think that the greatest legacy of the Bolivarian Revolution for those who struggle, including the MST, is the commune.
The MST has a commitment to ecological agriculture. How do you promote that here in Venezuela?
It is only possible to build a sovereign project if we really change the productive model in rural areas. To do this some technical training and preparation are necessary, but political education is also a must. For such a change to happen, people have to understand that if we struggle for a different societal model, if our horizon is socialism and we work with the idea of a sovereign nation, then rethinking the ways that we produce is urgent. In solving this puzzle, agro-ecology is an important element.
We also think that technological agriculture should become a state policy. In other words, agro-ecology is not just a quaint method to be applied in conuco [subsistence plots] production; the model must be a viable one that can feed the whole of society in a sustainable manner.
When it comes to sustainable agriculture, our task is fostering it and offering technical support and political education. The MST has also donated seeds to the Communard Union to help in the transition towards sustainable agriculture.
When we carry out workshops with campesinos, we teach sustainable agriculture techniques: from the production of organic agricultural inputs to non-toxic methods for eradicating pests. Interestingly, the crisis and the blockade have torn down some of the barriers to bringing about the shift to sustainable agriculture. Now, many campesinos understand that it is both possible and necessary to produce without chemicals. Nevertheless, the shift to ecological practices in large-scale production is an outstanding challenge.
In the end, our objective is not to force people to change their agricultural model but to help generate the conditions so that they understand that the shift is viable and necessary. After all, if that doesn’t happen, producers will continue to be dependent on transnational corporations, and the country will continue importing enormous quantities of agricultural inputs. Needless to say, mainstream farming practices have adverse effects on the life of the campesinos, but they also take a high toll on the environment.
A different societal model requires a change in the way production takes place in rural areas. That is why we give both technical and political workshops to communes and other campesino organizations.
The MST is now part of the landscape of popular movements in Venezuela. That makes sense, because Venezuela’s revolution considers itself Bolivarian and, for that reason, Latin Americanist. What has the MST learned from the Bolivarian Process?
It’s been almost 18 years since the first MST brigade touched down in Venezuela.
Our method of forming brigades is as follows: MST internationalists remain here for about two years and then we go back to Brazil, to share our learning with other MST organizers. Overall, we think we have learned a lot more than we have taught here.
The brigade members that come to Venezuela learn from the Bolivarian Process. Sharing the MST experience in a country that is in the midst of a revolutionary process constitutes a school for us. We learn a great deal from the successes of the Bolivarian Revolution, but we also learn about the contradictions in people’s day-to-day lives. We learn about what we should and shouldn’t do in a society that transitions towards socialism.
Among the more concrete things that we have learned is how the Venezuelan people have been the protagonist of their revolutionary process – particularly the grassroots political organizations – and how a process that is in constant movement raises the consciousness level of the people through direct participation. It is not spontaneous participation, but tied to territorial and national organization. This is a huge lesson for us: people should be involved in organizational processes in all spheres of life.
Also, as I was telling you earlier, the commune is a space where we have learned a great deal. In communal spaces, people understand the need to organize to build a different society.
We have also learned about people’s everyday creativity in the Bolivarian Process. Sometimes, from the left, we have very closed schemes about the level of preparation and planning needed to advance, and that can become a barrier. In Venezuela, people know that all that is necessary, but creativity – in a country where people are very spontaneous – has been a virtue of the Bolivarian Revolution.
We have also learned a lot from the electoral processes. The MST accompanies these processes because the electoral dispute is also a battle for the defense of the revolutionary project. Elections here are not about individual or group interests but about collective ones. This is very different from Brazil, where elections are a kind of marketplace and money tends to win and hold on to power. What is at stake in an electoral process in Venezuela is a political project. Elections here are not a marketplace.
Venezuela taught us that a campaign is not only a tool to get elected; it is also a time to get closer to grassroots organizations and foster the participation of the pueblo. The PSUV is the most advanced party in the continent when it comes to defending a revolution in an electoral whirlwind. Of course, elections here happen within the parameters of bourgeois democracy, but campaigns help build another kind of democracy.
Finally, we have also learned from the Bolivarian Revolution’s anti-imperialism and patriotic practices, which are very tangible in the day-to-day life of the Venezuelan people. Brazil didn’t have a struggle for its independence, and perhaps that is why we have a very fragmented society, a society that doesn’t have the defense of the homeland as a core value.
From a political perspective, ours is a much more dominated society. In Venezuela, we have learned about how to build a patriotic sentiment – not within the framework of bourgeois nationalism, but with the objective of having a truly independent country at all levels: economic, political, and social.
Brazil is due for presidential elections on October 2, 2022. The race will put the ultra-conservative Jair Bolsonaro against the progressive Lula da Silva. What is the importance of this event for Brazil and for the continent?
Brazil is going through a severe social and economic crisis: the living conditions of the pueblo are catastrophic. Tens of thousands are living in the streets, in conditions of absolute misery, while 60 million are directly affected by the capitalist crisis: unemployment and food price inflation are rampant and fascistic ideas continue to grow.
Of course, the Bolsonaro government has no interest in solving our country’s many social problems. Instead, his policies favor the market and the bourgeoisie, while he fosters fascist ideas and promotes a discourse of violence.
That is why we think that the upcoming presidential elections are of strategic importance for Brazil and for Latin America as a whole. If Lula wins, the map of the continental dispute will change: it will allow the left and progressive projects to go forward once again. The confrontation with imperialism and its grinding economic project will also take place on more favorable terms.
The pueblo of Brazil needs to choose Lula as its president. It won’t be easy, but there is a good chance that we will succeed. In any case, to reach our goal we have to work hard; we are fighting against a very powerful enemy. It has a robust thirty percent of support and many far-reaching tentacles.
The MST is participating in the electoral battle by promoting grassroots committees for debate. The debates in these committees range from the country’s future to the policies that a popular PT [Workers’ Party] government should promote.
The October 2 elections are very important, but a victory would be just the beginning. People will have to be ready to defend the victory.
The situation of the country will not be resolved with welfare policies, but with policies that restructure things in favor of the people. Brazil’s crisis is part of the crisis of capitalism. To move ahead with the great reforms that we need, mobilization will be key.
Finally, Brazil has an important role when it comes to Latin American integration. It is urgent to reactivate the projects that bring the continent together. Chávez promoted both economic and political integration with mechanisms such as CELAC [multilateral Latin American dialogue mechanism] and UNASUR [South American integration mechanism].
As US imperialism loses hegemony, the progressive governments in the continent have to join forces. That is why a PT victory in October is important not only for Brazil but for Latin America as a whole.