For nearly five decades the left has been trying to impose a socialist and confiscatory land reform on Brazil.
From the beginning, the so-called Catholic left, and particularly the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB), has been the leading proponents and the most important driving force of that policy.
With strong links to this Catholic left, the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made land reform one of its main goals. For this purpose it designated Miguel Rossetto from the Workers Party’s most radical wing as the Minister of Land Reform. The party also gave the government posts most closely involved with land reform to members of the CNBB-linked Pastoral Commission on Land and the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST).
President Lula da Silva and his administration have knit ever closer ties with MST in spite of the movement’s illegal land invasions, kidnappings, highway blockades, cattle rustling and other crimes. Such actions are causing disquiet and concern in the Brazilian farmlands.
In addition, Lula da Silva asked Plinio de Arruda Sampaio, a leader of PT’s radical wing, to prepare a new National Land Reform Plan (PNRA).
Strangely enough, the Plan was prepared behind closed doors and only the MST was allowed to view it.
When the Plan was ready but still undisclosed, an important and totally unusual meeting took place at the home of Senate President José Sarney. High-ranking Brazilian churchmen (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), President Lula da Silva and a large number of senators, deputies and leading politicians attended. According to the press, the talks revolved mainly around land reform. Even more strangely, the CNBB Standing Committee issued a communiqué the next day supporting the new and still undisclosed National Land Reform Plan. In this way, it used the prestige of the Catholic Church to favor a government policy announced as radically leftwing.
Facing this new land-reform offensive, which appears to reveal the existence of a leftist pact between the government of President Lula da Silva and the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) issued a position paper addressed to the nation.
For more than four decades, the TFP, made up by Catholic laymen, intellectuals and men of action, has played a leading role in the fight against socialist land reform. Its founder, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, was the first in that long struggle by publishing the best-seller Agrarian Reform, a Matter of Conscience. Several other works with nationwide repercussion followed. In all of them, Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira proved that the Catholic left manipulated data and exaggerated problems with the sole aim of imposing a socialist regime on the country. That regime would seriously undermine its socioeconomic order based on private property and free enterprise. Most importantly, the land reform policy proposed by the Catholic left was contrary with the teaching of the traditional Magisterium of the Church.
Because of its longstanding defense of private property and opposition to clerical-political land reform, the TFP in Brazil became the leading organization opposing the Catholic left. Since a vast majority of Brazilians from all walks of life share the TFP’s thinking from a doctrinal standpoint, the organization’s voice is heard with attention.
Below is the position paper of the Brazilian TFP published on November 19 as a well-placed ad in the Folha de S. Paulo, the daily with largest circulation among the politically influential newspapers. The document is also being published in many other newspapers in Brazil, particularly in regions more affected by the land reform of the Catholic left.
Are Brazil’s Bishops Steering the Country Toward Class Struggle and Social Revolution?
Brazilian Bishops’ Standing Committee calls land reform necessary and seeks to impose a new land ownership structure on the country – an undue interference in temporal affairs
Brazil is presently witnessing a large and disquieting mobilization of leftist pro-land-reform forces seeking to impose a radical transformation of the most pivotal area of the nation’s socio-economic order: land ownership.
Newspapers have reported on a new National Land Reform Plan (NLRP). Judging by leaks from the press itself (since the Plan’s actual contents, strangely enough, have been kept secret), it will deal a severe blow to the right of private property. Criteria for state takeover (confiscation) of private land will be based on a fluid notion of the property’s “social function.” Land use will be collective as in Soviet kolkhozes. Settlers will be pressured to join cooperatives led by operatives of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) or the government. Thus, they will be reduced to victims of a rural socialism the likes of which is found only in Castro’s Cuba.
Supporting the NLRP: CNBB and the MST March
Despite its still undisclosed contents, the NLRP is already receiving strong backing from the most committed radicals favoring socialist and confiscatory land reform.
So-called social movements like the Pastoral Commission on the Land (CPT), MST and others have begun a march from Goiânia to Brasília, where participants hope to be received by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The march seeks to “pressure” the government to implement urgently the NLRP without holding a national debate with all parties concerned.
However, the most significant support has come from the Brazilian National Bishops’ Conference (CNBB) in a Note released by its Standing Committee (10-31-2003). High-ranking church authorities also published articles in the press commenting on the Note: Archbishop Luciano Mendes de Almeida, of Mariana, in the Folha de S. Paulo (11-1-2003) and Cláudio Cardinal Hummes, Archbishop of São Paulo, in O Estado de S. Paulo (11-12-2003).
Possibly anticipating unfavorable reactions to the NLRP, the CNBB, long the most influential driving force for land confiscation in the country, throws the Church’s historic prestige behind the Plan and thus takes the lead in this drastic socio-economic transformation to be imposed on Brazil.
Toward a Clerical Republic?
The fact that the signatories of the CNBB’s Note express their “satisfaction with the news that the government intends to launch the new NLRP shortly” is telltale. The NLRP is still undisclosed. Are the bishops precipitously compromising their moral authority by supporting and accepting carte blanche a plan they do not even know? Or did the CNBB help prepare or even co-author the NLRP?
It is hard to know. However, people are wondering why the CNBB Note was released the day following a meeting of cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests at the home of Senate President José Sarney, with 19 senators, several other politicians, and President Lula himself. According to news reports, that meeting dealt largely with land reform.
Thus, everything seems to indicate there was some kind of land reform pact between the present government and the CNBB. The bishops’ Note itself emphasizes the “enormous relevance of the close integration between CNBB’s endeavor to overcome misery and hunger, the Zero Hunger Project, and the National Land Reform Plan.” In the same vein, Land Reform Minister, Miguel Rossetto, stated: “The CNBB is our partner in this matter” (Folha de S. Paulo, 11-1-2003).
Are we on our way to a Clerical Republic like the Islamic Republic of the Ayatollahs, with Liberation Theology, the new “gospel” of the Catholic Left, replacing the Koran?
John Paul II and Land Reform
The CNBB Note vaguely alludes to statements of John Paul II about land reform, insinuating a papal endorsement of their present position. In themselves, these allusions are totally inconclusive. Moreover, one must ask what kind of land reform was the Pontiff referring to in his statements? A socialist and confiscatory land reform? This would hardly seem possible since his illustrious predecessors thoroughly condemned socialism and communism and extolled private property. To suppose that the Holy Father personally upholds a different doctrine would be insulting.
Furthermore, it is not likely that John Paul II wished to pronounce on the technical-secular aspects of Brazilian land reform, which are outside the scope of his (much superior) spiritual mission. However, it is precisely these very complex technical aspects that give the tone to the present controversy over land reform in Brazil.
Quite contrary to the bishops’ Note, the Pontiff recently affirmed that “to attain social justice, much more is required than the simple application of ideological schemes derived from class struggle such as, for example, the invasion of lands – already condemned in my Pastoral Trip of 1991 – and of public or private buildings, or, to mention only this, the adoption of extreme technical measures that can have much graver consequences than the injustice they are meant to resolve” (speech of 11-26-2002 to Brazilian Bishops on their ad limina visit).
Undue Interference in Temporal Affairs
Every Catholic recognizes that the Sacred Hierarchy is the body inside the Church which has the mission to teach authentic Christian morals. Consequently, the bishops’ voice normally must strongly influence the attitude of Catholics facing the moral aspects of the land reform controversy. Naturally, this presupposes their voice is in consonance with papal teachings and the 2000-year-old Tradition of the Church.
However, in technical and economic matters, the bishops’ opinions, though deserving respect due to their high ecclesiastical office, neither carries authority nor merits any more attention than that of any private individuals not specialized in the matter.
In this case, the CNBB Note presupposes an analysis of technical aspects of the Brazilian economy and agriculture that are outside the scope of their spiritual mission. Hence, Catholic Brazilians have every right – and even the duty – to respectfully disagree with CNBB’s Marxist economic views and the solutions it proposes. It is well to note that this attitude by Catholics is totally consistent with Canon Law, which recognizes a legitimate lay autonomy in temporal matters (cf. canons 215, 225, 227 and others).
Land reform: obsessive insistence on a false solution
The CNBB Standing Committee’s Note is based on an assessment of Brazil’s socio-economic situation which is both gravely distorted and devoid of Christian commonsense. While conditions in Brazil are not ideal, they are far from the nightmarish scenario presented by the “Catholic left,” as any Brazilian can attest by visiting the distant corners of this vast country.
On the other hand, the Bishops’ Note remains inexplicably silent on fundamental issues surrounding the land reform controversy. For example, it ignores the notorious failure of myriad land-reform experiments that only managed to create new rural slums. It also excludes the extraordinary advances and growing success of present agriculture and cattle raising, founded on private property and free enterprise, with obvious benefits to the nation’s common good.
Just these simple successes of themselves debunk the narrow-minded and hasty land reform policy that the CNBB – not without aggressiveness – seeks to impose on the country.
Even supposing the problems do have the scope that the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops claim, what evidence do they present that allows them to affirm that land reform is “a privileged instrument for social inclusion?” What guarantees are there that this drastic and grave measure that they want to immediately implement is correct? None.
Rural Conflict and Subversive Action
The CNBB Note says that land reform is a topic of “constant concern” to them since Brazil is “facing the increasing occupations of land, ever graver conflicts, violence and impunity in rural areas.”
These bishops seem to forget that all this violence (which is totally artificial and planned) is directed and promoted by the CPT, their own creation, and the MST, which employs methods of Marxist class struggle bordering on social revolution.
Moreover, contrary to what the CNBB Note insinuates, rural workers are totally devoid of any spirit of revolt against landowners since the facts have showed and continue to show that no farm workers were ever reported to have fraternized with, or helped, any land invaders!
CNBB’s Threat: a Social Explosion of Unpredictable Consequences
In its eagerness to impose egalitarian land reform on the country, the CNBB Standing Committee claims that land reform is “indispensable to avoid a social explosion of unpredictable consequences not only in rural areas but in Brazilian society as a whole.”
This threat parrots the inflammatory and unfounded diatribes of the late Archbishop Helder Câmara (that earned him the sobriquet, “the red archbishop”), who more than 40 years ago predicted a similar revolution would break out if land reform was not immediately implemented.
As Brazilians by nature are adverse to anxiety and rivalries, the peremptory Note gives rise to grave perplexities and questions, particularly among Catholics: Does this threat mean the leftist clergy is inciting people for a mass uprising against landowners? Are the forces of the “Catholic left” ready to carry out a “popular” insurrection by organizing columns of the “landless workers” (actually hordes of agitators) to start “catch-a-farmer” or even “kill-a-farmer” operations? While they do this, will authorities show leniency and passivity toward those who attack landowners, their families and property, and show implacable firmness toward honorable people who defend themselves against unjust attacks? Are Catholic progressives ready to push class struggle to the point of causing a civil war which will impose a Communist regime on the country?
CPT and IPT, Disquieting Examples of “Pastoral Solicitude”
The virulent land-reform agenda of the bishops’ Note also appears when it presents the creation of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) in 1975 as an example of “pastoral solicitude.” No one in Brazil can ignore that the CPT, which gave birth to the MST, also promotes land invasions, violence and takes people hostage. Many CPT leaders have been arrested and at last one convicted. In short, it acts in the countryside as a real Communist revolutionary movement.
The CNBB Standing Committee also evokes this “pastoral solicitude” as it mentions the 1980 publication of its document, “The Church and Problems of the Land”(IPT). One wonders if this document did not inspire the new NLRP.
At that time, TFP founder and president, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, published, together with economist Carlos Patricio del Campo, the book, I am a Catholic: Can I Oppose Land Reform? This work made a strong impact both in Brazil and abroad. The author analyzed the CNBB’s 1980 document in detail. The book was never refuted and unmistakably proved that “The Church and Problems of the Land” insinuated and even called for a socialist, egalitarian and confiscatory land reform at variance with the traditional teaching of the supreme Magisterium of the Church.
Call for a United Anti-land Reform Front Defending the Sacred Right of Property
Facing the ever more virulent land reform offensive, the TFP would not be faithful to its mission and would stray from the path of its illustrious founder if it were to maintain a comfortable silence. From past experience, the TFP knows that by taking this stand against the land-reformist hurricane threatening Brazil it will be exposed to defamation, revenge and persecution by the extreme partisans of socialist and confiscatory land reform. However, the TFP is also aware of the protection of Our Lady Aparecida, which has never failed, particularly in the difficult and critical moments of the TFP’s nearly 45 years in existence.
This cry of alert is addressed to all Brazilians who act out of fidelity to the traditional doctrine of the Church, patriotic motives of a sociological or economic nature, or the defense of their legitimate rights. It is for those who wish to save the time-proven and vital institution of the sacred right of property from destruction. This right is sacred because it is founded on two Commandments of God’s Law: “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” It is also sacred because the Popes have taught it for nearly two thousand years of Church life!
At this critical moment in the nation’s history, the TFP invites all opponents of socialist and confiscatory land reform to join together in a noble united front, keeping in mind only what unites us in this matter and setting aside, for the time being, all other issues that could possibly divide us.
May the Queen of Brazil, the Virgin Mother Aparecida, aid this common effort with her inestimable support. The TFP is convinced that no joint effort can be successful without her. However, with her help, every success can be expected.
São Paulo, November 18, 2003
The National Council of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property – TFP
That concludes this issue of LulaWatch. Until next time,
C. Preston Noell III