Brazil’s Bolsonaro hopes land titles will attract rural votes

SAO PAULO — Antônio Luis Durão is a member of a small minority in Brazil: he is an undecided voter a few weeks before the presidential elections.

If the vote had taken place a year ago, the 61-year-old arborist would have backed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the left-wing former president who ruled between 2003 and 2010. During that period, da Silva granted Durão certain exploitation rights. a 26-hectare (64-acre) plot of land in Porangatu, in the central state of Goias.

But last month Durão finally received a title for that same land, giving him full ownership – with the right to sell – albeit after 10 years. It will also allow him to apply for a loan from a public bank and he hopes to finance a tractor. He also plans to reward incumbent Jair Bolsonaro with his vote.

“I came here during the Lula years, and I’m grateful, but there was nothing in place. I think this document is going to make things better for me now,” he told The Associated Press. in a phone interview: “One gave me access 14 years ago, and the other is paving the way for me into the future.”

Durão’s grant is part of the presidential program Title Brazil, which aims to give property rights to some 340,000 people who now live on state-owned or private but unused land. The far-right leader, who is trailing in the polls, also hopes it will help boost his re-election chances.

Bolsonaro has often touted the program as a way to settle old disputes, create legal certainty and weaken the left-wing Landless Workers Movement, a key da Silva ally who has long organized occupations of what he considers vacant or unused land – although there have been far fewer foreclosures in recent years.

It is a partial and liberal approach to land reform in a vast nation that since colonial times has experienced great inequalities in the distribution of land, with a few farmers and corporations holding huge tracts while millions toil on small plots in which they own little or nothing. any legal claim.

Title Brazil Procedures typically begin with rural mayors approaching the federal government on behalf of local farmers. Local officials and farmers sit on regional commissions to assess claims. Only those who had already enrolled in previous land reform programs are eligible.

The government’s National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform says 733 of Brazil’s more than 5,500 municipalities have so far reached agreements to work with the land titles program, though many have yet to distribute new titles. The AP contacted 17 municipalities listed by INCRA as participating in the program, but only two had the program in place and offered contacts to beneficiaries.

Bolsonaro’s opponents claim the program is a gimmick that will fade as soon as the election is over. Although it was announced shortly after taking office in 2019, most of the activity seems to have taken place in recent months.

They also note that full ownership will not come until a final review in 10 years – and wonder if this will solve the problem of unequal land distribution. saying that the small plots will probably end up being sold to big landowners.

“These are temporary land titles,” said Alexandre Conceição, one of the leaders of the Landless Workers Movement. He said the administration “wants to destabilize any attempt to carry out agrarian reform in Brazil, now and in the future.”

The president argues that his opponents are challenging the policy because they fear it will weaken the landless workers’ movement which he calls a terrorist organization. Bolsonaro is a strong proponent of agribusiness and frequently invokes the right of individuals to property.

“With the (land) title, you have access to credit, you increase the value of your property, you become real citizens,” Bolsonaro told a crowd in April in the state of Goias. “You are no longer in the hands of those who used you as a body of troops to invade the property.”

A September 1 Datafolha poll found that 46% of rural respondents intended to vote for da Silva, while 33% sided with the president. Four years ago, in a runoff against leftist Fernando Haddad, Bolsonaro had 36% in the same poll compared to 24% for his opponent. The margin of error in both polls was two percentage points.

Rodrigo Sá Motta, professor of history at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said government policy helps provide access to credit, “but it does not advance the ball in land regularization and distribution. , which are the very essence of agrarian reform”. Indeed, so far it does not extend the distribution of land to poor farmers, but only expands the legal rights of people who already occupy small farms.

“It’s more rhetoric to say that they are doing something, that the administration is not standing still,” he added.

Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement says around 90,000 families are still looking for land to grow crops, and very few will benefit from Title Brazil.

But the program is showing signs of resonating with rural voters.

Another beneficiary told the AP that she waited years before finally receiving the right to cultivate land under the administration of Dilma Rousseff, an ally and successor to da Silva. She is receiving a title under Bolsonaro – and plans to vote for him, although she spoke on condition of anonymity because she believes her family would not support her views.

“I don’t really like what Bolsonaro has done, I don’t like the way he expresses himself, but it’s true that I see a better future for me and my family thanks to his support for the agriculture,” she said by phone. . “I think it’s important to be grateful.”

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