Thinking Citizen Blog — Brazil: Property Rights and Unused Land

John Muresianu
4 min readMay 29


Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’s Topic: Brazil: Property Rights and Unused Land

Perhaps the largest social movement in Latin America is Brazil’s “Landless Workers Movement” (MST or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra). Estimates of membership range from one to two million and the movement is active in 20 of 23 Brazilian states. Does the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 provide the legal grounds for the seizure of unused land by landless workers? Article Five, Section 23 stipulates that arable land must be put to productive use and several courts have sided with the squatters. Property rights are fundamental to a free society, but all rights are subject to limits set by the rights of others and the welfare of a country overall. What is a reasonable limit on the percentage of arable land owned by the top 1%, 3%? What is the limit on the percentage of that land that can be left unused? What are the limits of the doctrine of “eminent domain” (the seizure of private land for public use)? Today, a few excerpts from a recent New York Times article. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. They arrived just before midnight, carrying machetes and hoes, hammers and sickles, with plans to seize the land.”

2. “When the 200 activists and farm workers got there, the ranch was vacant, overgrown with weeds, and the farm headquarters empty, except for a stray cow.”

3. “Now, three months later, it is a bustling village. On a recent Sunday, children rode bicycles on new dirt paths, women tilled soil for gardens and men pulled tarps onto shelters. About 530 families live at the encampment in Itabela, a town in northeast Brazil, and they have already joined together to plow and plant the field with beans, corn and cassava.”

NB: “The siblings who inherited the 370-acre ranch want the squatters gone. The new tenants say they aren’t going anywhere.”


1. “Under Brazil’s former right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, the movement lost steam.”

2. “Occupations largely stopped during the pandemic and then returned slowly in the face of opposition from Mr. Bolsonaro and farmers who became more heavily armed under his more permissive gun policies.”

3. “But now, emboldened by the election of Mr. Lula, a longtime political ally, the movement’s followers are ratcheting up their land seizures.”

NB: “There have been 33 occupations in less than four months of Mr. Lula’s presidency, including eight in one weekend this month. Under Mr. Bolsonaro, there were about 15 occupations a year, according to government statistics.” “The new occupations have given rise to a countermovement: “Invasion Zero.” Thousands of farmers who say they do not trust the government to protect their land are organizing to confront squatters and remove them, though so far, there has been little violence.”

“NO ONE WANTS TO DO BATTLE, BUT….” (below, Lula, the current President of Brazil and founder of the Workers’ Party, he served as President from 2003 to 2010)

1. “No one wants to go into battle, but no one wants to lose their property either,” said Everaldo Santos, 72, a cattle rancher who leads a local farmers’ union and owns a 1,000-acre ranch near the Itabela encampment.”

2. “You bought it, paid for it, have the documents, pay the taxes. So you don’t let people invade and leave it at that,” he said.”

3. “You defend what’s yours.”

Landless Workers’ Movement — Wikipedia

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — Wikipedia

Eminent domain — Wikipedia

Eminent domain in the United States — Wikipedia


“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

My spin — then periodically review, re-rank, and exchange your list with those you love. I call this the “Orion Exchange” because seven is about as many as any human can digest at a time. Game?


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, (11/17/20)

Last four years of posts organized thematically:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought. The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.



John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.