Back to Brazil

by LJ Staff

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 or

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