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Camping with the MST

27 January 2005
The MST (Movimento Sem-Terra), Brazil's landless peasant movement, have their own campground at this year's World Social Forum (WSF). According to MST coordinator Cedenir Oliveira, 1,000 rural workers from places as varied as Chile, the Basque County, Honduras -- and even Palestine -- have made the trek to Porto Alegre and are now roughing it with the MST about three miles from the event's operational HQ at Gasometro, in the centre of town. Thanks largely to pressure applied by the MST, the WSF itself looks like a mammoth seaside campground. This year, rather than meeting in air-conditioned rooms, activists are gathering in tents set up along the shores of Guaiba River. "You can't seriously discuss class issues without experiencing what it's like to live without luxury or comfort," says Oliveira. "The tents make the event more honest. " And what do the MST expect to discuss -- and achieve -- at this year's WSF? "We'd like to discuss land reform in the wider context of social injustice," he says. "We want to come up with plans of action while addressing the failed, as well as successful, policies of popular governments around the world." Speaking of which, Hugo Chavez -- who has recently vowed "war against owners of large land estates" -- seems to be the new MST 'darling' these days. In fact, Chavez is so the 'daddy' that he's been invited to visit the MST Tapes settlement, about 60 miles from Porto Alegre, in the morning of his scheduled WSF appearance on Sunday. In addition to Chavez, former Lula advisor Frei Betto and Che's daughter Aleida Guevara are both scheduled to meet with the MST leadership during the event.

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