On May 31, Valdir Misnerovicz, an important and effective organizer of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, was arrested while teaching a class on agricultural coops in Veranópolis, a city in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. The arrest did not stem from his lectures, but from his activism. To organize the poor to occupy land in the name of fulfilling Brazil’s constitutional mandate to ensure the “social function” of land through its appropriation and distribution among peasants is considered illegal gang activity by the government of Michel Temer, which came to power last month in what many consider to be a coup d’état.
The news of Misnerovicz’s arrest came a few days after a related revelation. In March, two high-level members of the opposition against President Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party/PT), whose power was recently suspended as she awaits impeachment proceedings in the federal senate, were recorded while discussing the current political crisis. Senator Romero Jucá was taped assuring his colleague that he had recently spoken with “the generals, military commanders.” He went on, “Everything is fine, they told me they would ensure order. They’re monitoring the MST, I don’t know how, to ensure there won’t be any disturbances.” (See Rubens Valente, “Em diálogos gravados, Jucá fala em pacto para deter avanço da Lava Jato,” Folha de S. Paulo, May 23, 2016, <m.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2016/05/1774018-em-dialogos-gravados-juca-fala-em-pacto-para-deter-avanco-da-lava-jato.shtml>.) Jucá, who recently resigned as minister of planning in the coup government due to these revelations, is the vice-chair of the Brazilian federal senate.
In addition to dedicating years to the landless movement, Misnerovicz recently completed a bachelor’s degree in geography at the State University of São Paulo (UNESP), where he studied in a special undergraduate program for peasants sponsored by the ousted Workers’ Party (PT) government. The author of this note was a professor in the program and Misnerovicz’s thesis advisor was Bernardo Mançano Fernandes, a Latin American Perspectives (LAP) contributing editor. Misnerovicz studied the new demands for organizing the landless movement among Brazil’s urban poor.
The arrest of Misnerovicz on criminal charges demonstrates what Jucá may have meant when he said that the “generals” claimed to be “monitoring” the MST. While the warrant for Misnerovicz’s arrest was issued in the state of Goiás, where Valdir lives and works, his arrest occurred over a thousand miles away in a different state and was carried out by local police, indicating systematic communication and intelligence gathering in the execution of police work reminiscent of systems developed under Brazil’s long-lived dictatorship (1964-1985). This same system used such arrests to generate information through torture — recently confirmed in Red Cross documents from the period. These suspected connections increases the urgency for guaranteeing Misnerovicz’s quick release.
Please write to <email@example.com> expressing concern over Valdir’s arrest and urging his quick release. Struggling for agrarian reform in Brazil is not a crime, it is a constitutional duty.
Clifford Andrew Welch, UNIFESP, Latin American Perspectives Contributing Editor