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The Sights and Voices of Dispossession: The Fight for the Land and the Emerging Culture of the MST (The Movement of the Landless Rural Workers of Brazil)


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Studies, statements & references -> Terra: The Photography of Sebastião Salgado 16 resources (Archive edited by Else R P Vieira. Photographs © Sebastião Salgado)

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Sebastião Salgado


The struggle for the land: a human column marches in

See also:

Films - A Man, a Woman, a Flag
Cartography - Land Occupations: Families per Region
Tables - The greatest latifundium owners in Brazil

The struggle for the land: a human column marches in

The human column of over 12,000 people, some 3,000 families, is an impressive sight as it sets off on its march during a cold night at the beginning of winter in Paraná. The peasant army advances in almost total silence. All that can be heard is the panting of lungs accustomed to great effort and the muffled sound of feet on asphalt.

Judging by the direction in which the human wave is heading, it is not difficult to guess that its final direction is the Giacometi plantation, one of those gigantic latifundios so typical of Brazil. Despite these latifundios being marginally productive, their colossal dimensions nevertheless guarantee their owners a millionaire’s income. Correctly utilized, the 205,900 acres of the Giacometi plantation could provide a life with dignity for the 12,000 souls marching at this moment in its direction.

A peasant walks quickly: 13.5 miles have been covered in less than five hours. When they arrive, day has begun to break. The early hours of morning are shrouded in heavy fog. Little by little, affected by the humidity of the Iguaçu River, which flows quite close by, it clears away from the ground.

The human river that flowed along the asphalt through the night, discharging at the gate of the plantation, stops and backs up like the waters of a weir. The women and children are quickly sent to the rear of the ‘dam’, while the men take positions at the front of the imaginary line to prepare for the possible confrontation with the plantation’s jagunços.

With no reaction from the latifundio’s small army, the men in the vanguard break the padlock and the gate opens wide. They enter. Behind them, the human river begins to move. Scythes, hoes and banners are raised in the unrestrained avalanche of hope in this re-encounter with life - and the repressed shout of the landless sounds as one voice in the brightness of the new day: ‘AGRARIAN REFORM - THE STRUGGLE OF ALL!’ Paraná, 1996.

Salgado, Sebastião. Terra: Struggle of the Landless. Preface by José Saramago. Verses by Chico Buarque. Translated by Clifford Landers. London: Phaidon Press, 1998: 136-37 (photo), 143 (caption). Thanks to Sebastio Salgado for providing free use of his photographs and captions on this web site. For further information about the photographs and captions contact


November 2002

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