Back to Brazil

Maddog responds to a reader's concern about a photo and story in the September 2002 issue of Linux Journal.

Editors' Note: The following reader letter and author response appeared in the February 2003 issue of Linux Journal.

I received a copy of the article “Free Software in Brazil” by Jon Hall, featured in the September 2002 LJ, from a friend who lives in the US and who was quite worried about some things the article mentioned regarding what you call “the Landless Movement” in Brazil.

Although the cause of this movement may look noble, there are many things related to this group that should have been considered before publishing that article and stamping their flag on the magazine's cover. The group, known here in Brazil as MST, has a radical political position, and they are responsible for some actions that could be seen as terrorist acts, such as mass killings and unauthorized land occupation including invading and destroying a farm that belongs to Brazil's president, Mr. Fernado Henrique Cardoso. The group's default way of acting is by the use of brute force, and they usually threaten people to get what they want. Everything I'm mentioning here can be easily checked. A simple search of major Brazilian newspapers will show that the MST isn't worth trust or being featured on a magazine such as Linux Journal. Mr. Jon Hall, with all due respect, should try to find out better who he is supporting or featuring.

—Bruno Trevisan

Jon “maddog” Hall replies:

The group of people that I was introduced to, and who appear in the picture, were introduced to me by Mr. Marcos Mazoni, the President and CEO of PROCERGS. PROCERGS is the government-owned software company that is doing a lot of the open-source programming for the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The group also showed up at the third annual Software Livre! conference, which was sponsored in part by PROCERGS and attended by the Mayor of Porto Alegre and a representative from UNESCO. There was no mention or indication that this was a “terrorist group”. However, in light of Mr. Trevisan's letter I went back to Brazil and did some more research, both directly and indirectly, by reading, by talking to people who I trust and by doing a little web-scouring of my own.

In Brazil about 60% of the land is owned by 1% of the population. A lot of this land lies idle, while millions of people are out of work and have no way to generate money or food. Since 1984 MST has won land for approximately 250,000 families in 1,600 settlements, but there are still another 4.8 million families without the means to support themselves.

MST is building cooperatives, building agroindustries, building and staffing day care centers, teaching literacy classes to 25,000 adults, helping to educate 150,000 children in 1,200 public schools. And they are proud of their non-violent direct action in the form of land occupations.

I have lived through quite a few other “actions” in my lifetime. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-Vietnam war movement come to mind. Both of these had their peaceful incidents and incidents that were not so peaceful. However, to judge a whole movement and its motives by the actions of a small minority of them is wrong.

If the whole movement of the MST is indeed bad, and if they are indeed terrorists, than I have good company in the number of people and agencies that have been duped by them. It appears that UNESCO, the Catholic Church, and even parts of former president Cardoso's own judiciary and elected officials supported the MST.

Actually, from the documentation I found, it seems that the non-peaceful and “terrorist” actions seems to have come from the former government of Brazil, with the killing of many of the protesters by government forces and the lack of action by the government in holding their killers responsible. One article written by Mark S. Lagevin, a professor of Global Studies at Pacific Western University, says there were 969 assassinations of rural workers and MST activists, with only five people convicted of those crimes. Hopefully the new government will be more responsive.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of the Brazilian Worker's Party (PT) is now the President of Brazil. In the past the PT has helped to support the MST in its quest for land reform, and I hope this continues.

Not relying on only newspaper articles and web sites, I asked several of my Brazilian friends what they thought of the MST movement. Each of them stated that while they deplore any type of violence, the good that the MST movement generates is many times better than the reported bad actions of a few and that the past government had not been responsive to more than reasonable requests for land reform. Therefore, they supported the MST overall.

However, I was informed by a friend in Sao Paulo that representatives of Microsoft were taking copies of Linux Journal to people in business and telling them that I was not an honorable person because I was associated with the MST group, and by default if I am not honorable, then the Open Source movement must not be honorable. Therefore, I would like to set the record straight as to what type of person I am.

I believe in free speech, a democratic process and freedom of choice. I believe in non-violence and have never physically hurt anyone in anger. I have never been in jail, never been arrested and have received only two speeding tickets in my entire life (which I paid). I do not believe that killing a human being for anything less than immediate threat of life (my own or another person's) is ever justified, yet I would go to war to protect my country and its ideals if we were attacked. I believe in equality of the races and sexes, and I believe in honoring diversity in religion and sexual orientation. I believe that the duty of government is to honor the will of the majority as long as it does not violate the rights of the minority. I honor laws, even those that I am not completely happy about, believing that it is better to change them than to break them. I encourage people to think about what the law means, and what it would be like if there were no laws. Finally, I have never even been accused in court (local, state or federal) of being a monopoly, breaking the law or knowingly harming another person's business or the consumer by my business tactics.

As for my association with the MST group and my picture alongside their flag, I repeat that my interest was in seeing people who had little money and great ideals using a free and open operating system to help their cause and better their lives. On this path I will continue to walk.

With respect to Mr. Trevisan, I have encouraged Linux Journal to publish his letter and this response. For those of you who are interested in the MST movement, I offer their web site at www.mstbrazil.org or www.mst.org.br.

______________________

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Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

Stupid celebrities.

There are at least 50 million people in America without land. Even more in Brasil, I'm sure. It doesn't make the actions of a terrorist group noble, even if they smile for the camera.

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

***** you, you ignorant bigotted *****.

Why don't you take the trouble to understand what it is like to go without food, shelter and medicine.

***** you and ***** you again.

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

about 60% of the land is owned by 1% of the population. A lot of this land lies idle, while millions of people are out of work and have no way to generate money or food

I have a real problem with this statement. This is not a unique situation. In fact, it is the case in most of the stable nations in the world, including the United States of America. It is NOT neccessarily evil that a small percentage of the population holds the majority of the wealth.

It is however, entirely common, if not universal for those without wealth to point this out and demand "their fair share". This is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE!!!!

As someone who has had their family land of 10 generations forcibly removed by rebelious "natives" (my family lived on that land for 500 years yet, for some reason we were not "native") demanding "their fair share" I feel like vomitting, everytime I here one of these Marxist morons crying about the "underpriviliged".

This type of gimme gimme attitude is common the world over and when it really takes hold and gets out of control after being fommented by statements such as those above, a once stable nation turns to anarchy and colapses. This is presently, yet again, being acted out in Zimbabwe. Read some of these and think about it next time before you start with the "60 percent of the wealth is controlled by 1 percent of the people". Marxism and communism don't work anywhere. It has been proven over and over and over again.

In a free society everyone is NOT equal! Some people have more than others. They always have and they always will. It is one thing to help those less fortunate however, it is another thing entirely to attack someone or a group of people simply because they are better off than you. Get a clue!

Since when is 60% of the USA owned by 1% of its population?

maddog's picture

This is the silliest statement I have ever heard. Land reform has consistently gone on in the United States, with Real Estate being the prime "ownership".

Yes, we have a lot of poor people in the USA, but nowhere near the breath and scope of a lot of other countries.

The writer tells me to "get a clue". I have never met someone so clueless. No wonder they would not sign their name.

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

> In a free society everyone is NOT equal! Some people have more than others.

Ah the mantra of that 1%......

As long as the wealth is actually "Earned" great, but a number of that 1% more than likely didn't - don't get me wrong

I don't see capitalism as "wrong" but it is failing, albeit more slowly than Marxism/Leninism did (Take a look at the high

stakes poker game called the stock market - "Big" people playing with the finances of "little" people - Retirement funds

wiped out, etc, etc...). But when a party wins that wealth (look into the history of J.P. Morgan,

for example) by grinding others into the ground under their heels, then I have a problem with it.

Just like I have a problem with government sponsored crap, the likes of which took place in Zimbabwe. A little less of

"Me Me Me" from the rich, is also needed (can you say "ENRON"? -- 'Nuff Said )

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

I'm a Brasilian (with an "s", please!) and I want to explain to all that Trevisan's opinion is the opinion of our upper class, and most Brasilians disagree with him.

Terrorist is the goverment that kill 59 "sem terras" (landless, the people represented by MST), not this poor people hungry for food, work and justice.

I'm proud to use and advocate a oparating system run by people with this concerns, and with guts to stand side-by-side with our landless. M$ choose to be with the Trevisan's of Brasil! That's right, they are the same!

Artur F. Pimentel

PS: I know several persons named Trevisan and they don't agree with this one. Don't segragate who, coinsidently, has the Bruno's family name.

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

I think that One conclusion we can make is that Making/Releasing/etc.. Free Software in a country completely dominated by Multinationals (mostly American Ones) and very not_so_honnest politicians is/was/will allways be a dauting task.

In my conutry - Portugal - The finders of Brasil the sittuation is getting very similar. Everybody praises Microsoft products but nobody acctualy buys them... The efforts to bring linux to the masses are like convincing people that burger King is acttualy better than Macdonnals...

It's sad, but it's true to see a country loosing it's identity and getting pillaged by the day by rich and wealthy foreign capitalists.

I'm not agains capitalism, by the contrary, but the situation in countries like Portugal, Brasil, etc... is too sad to be true...

That's my humble oppinion....

Miguel Figueiredo

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

I think that Mr. Trevisan, as a Brazilian, "should try to find out better who he is supporting or featuring"....

But I guess that, with that name (Trevisan), he is one of the so proclamed "Brazilian Elite"...

"such as mass killings and unauthorized land occupation including invading and destroying a farm that belongs to Brazil's president, Mr. Fernado Henrique Cardoso."

Actually, the MST suffered mass killings . And if anyone had something destroyed I'm quite sure that it was the Brazilian people, which had it's country "destroyed" by FHC...

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

I think that Mr. Trevisan, as a Brazilian, "should try to find out better who he is supporting or featuring"....
But I guess that, with that name (Trevisan), he is one of the so proclamed "Brazilian Elite"...
"such as mass killings and unauthorized land occupation including invading and destroying a farm that belongs to Brazil's president, Mr. Fernado Henrique Cardoso."
Actually, the MST suffered mass killings . And if anyone had something destroyed I'm quite sure that it was the Brazilian people, which had it's country "destroyed" by FHC...

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

I was just in Brazil a few weeks ago for Carnaval, in Salvador, Bahia. In my week and a half there, I saw a marked difference between most Brazilians and the upper crust. Not only does the average Brazilian citizen in that part of Bahia live in what USA citizens would call squalor, but also, the upper crust is pretty much all white. This is something I find disturbing in a state with a predominately Afro-Indian (that is, "Native American", as we say it here in the US) population. I met a young man on a bus, who spoke four languages (I confirmed this by trying out a few on him) and has a University degree, and cannot so much as get a decent job because he's not in one of the elite families. He is attempting to get a green card to come here, and I told him that here, he would be welcome and needed.

The Internet is the big equalizer. Because of the Internet, citizens of countries all over the world do not have to take the "official" information about anything as gospel. They can get numerous perspectives and even job-hunt competitively, domestically or internationally, in many cases, from the comfort of their own homes (I hope the sharp young man I mention above gets that opportunity). Free Software can help out big time with this. Not only does Free Software give much greater freedom to folks to learn about technology, but given that it is often also "free as in beer" or very low cost, it means folks can actually get their hands on it even if they aren't from a rich family. The average Brazilian could never afford a US$300 copy of Windows XP. However, they might be able to afford a US$6 copy of, say, Debian or Slackware GNU/Linux or Free/Net/OpenBSD. That's at least part of why parts of the Government of India, for example, are pushing for Free Software, as well as other organizations.

Re: Back to Brazil

Anonymous's picture

Hi.

I am from brazil, and the things are more complicated than appear .

Dont judge the contry with what you see outside. We here see lots off wrong information about brazil on the internet, and hear some odd things from people from other countries.

We have many, many, many problems, Iddle lands one of them (yep, 1% of people have more than 60% of the money), but there are many good things here that don't became know outside.

Don't judge brazil from what you see in "carnaval"... Come visit sao paulo, or some other city that don't live from turists (yes, this exists), and you'll see . I invite you.. all of you.. =-)

Re: Back to Brazil

jrclin's picture

In a country where people go hungry there are many that will step up and misrepresent a movement.

The oligarchy that runs Brazil are responsible for the deaths of many peasants. A casual perusal of the internet will show this.

Mr. Trevisan should have realized this and not attacked Maddog.

Is it possible Bill Gates wants to join the Brazilian Oligarchy or is his slandering of Maddog and Linux just a way to sell his products?

Well, I believe people are

Anonymous's picture

Well, I believe people are being radical on both sides.
It is true that the MST had done many violent acts to in order to seize lands. Some of them which are completely unproductive but some farms were productive generating many job positions. It isn't hard to find in the Brazilian news papers land-owners with barricades in their own land awaiting for MST's attacks.
In the other hand, the MST has done many serious work, such as building schools, creating work cooperatives and so on. I also know that the group has been received with violent acts when 'invading' others people's land.

Please, do not think that the MST its all and only a peaceful movement. They DO act with violence requesting their needs, therefore, they part of the movement which acts violently should be treated as criminals.

Please, do not think that the MST its all and only a peaceful movement. They DO act with violence requesting their needs, therefore, they part of the movment wich acts violently should be treated as criminals.

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