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The Associated Press January 11, 2011, 1:57PM ET

Landless peasants take farms, government buildings

Landless activists have invaded three farms and several government buildings in Brazil and vow more seizures to pressure Brazil's new president into speeding redistribution of land.

Nearly 2,000 members of the Landless Rural Workers Movement have occupied the farms and offices in Sao Paulo and Bahia states, and the group's officials said they were preparing actions all over the country in the next few days, without elaborating.

"At the beginning of this new political era in our country, our occupations are meant to publicly demand the carrying out of land reform," spokeswoman Joana Tavares said in an e-mailed statement. "The old agrarian structures are still alive in our country, and with them the inequality, injustice and violence they perpetrate."

The landless movement is allied with the Workers Party of outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Dilma Rousseff, who took office on Jan. 1. But the activists complain that the pace of redistribution has been lagging.

The movement often starts a wave of takeovers in April to mark the 1996 killing of 19 landless activists in Para state, but is acting earlier this year to grab the new president's attention.

Brazil's agrarian reform laws allow the government to seize fallow farmland and distribute it to landless farmers. Nearly 50 percent of arable land belongs to 1 percent of the population, according to the Brazilian government's statistics agency.

The land disputes often end in violence. More than 1,200 small farmers or their supporters have been killed in conflicts connected to land occupations over the past 20 years, according to the Pastoral Commission on Land, linked to the Catholic Church.

The commission said that land distribution fell sharply in Silva's last year of office, with 44 percent fewer families settled into land they could farm and 72 percent fewer acres set aside for landless farmers.

"It's not an exaggeration to say that land reform stagnated in 2010," the report concluded. "This profound cut in funding confirmed land reform was not a priority for the federal government."

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