The air is hot, the atmosphere dry. It has not rained for months. I am waiting for the bus that will take me from the village near the settlement where I spent the last few days to Vitória, the capital of Espírito Santo, where I will give a lecture about the Soviet psychologist L.S. Vygotsky at the Faculty of Education of the Federal University of Espírito Santo. Ernesto – my host at the settlement – has brought me to the bus stop by car and waits with me, spending much of his time just to be sure that I will get into the right bus. A woman in her late fifties is waiting as well. She is dressed very simply, and her face and body bear the signs of hardship.
She is not from the settlement – otherwise we would have known her – she is from the village. I start speaking to her. She asks me where I was and I say that I was at the settlement of the Landless Workers nearby. “You went there? Weren’t you afraid?” is her immediate reaction. Not only was I not afraid – I had experienced the greatest hospitality ever. I try to explain this to her. She still does not seem convinced, although I am very calm and have obviously not experienced anything to be afraid of.
We then change the subject, as it is easier to agree about the hot weather. She understands that Ernesto comes from the settlement (because he speaks Portuguese like a local and accompanies me) and asks him how it is possible for them to survive without water in such a dry period. Ernesto explains that they have water because they have constructed artificial reservoirs to irrigate their fields. The woman again does not seem convinced, although Ernesto is smiling and does not seem to be experiencing any lack of water. I am smiling while thinking of the great fruit juices at the settlement that this woman could never imagine. Then, somehow, we change position and the woman goes inside a shop to wait there. She does not speak to me when we get into the same bus.
I do not quite understand what has happened. The bus is late, so after a while I repeat how impressed I am with the Landless Movement in general and my experience in Ernesto’s settlement in particular. Ernesto answers, “You see! And all these people think that we are criminals. Baboons!” He explains to me that everyone – even the people from the village nearby – are victims of propaganda against the Landless Movement and have the worst impression what the landless workers are. They would never be able to imagine how well – in terms of material conditions, joy, and absence of criminality – the Landless Workers and their children live. Ernesto and his older son, who visits a school outside the settlement near that village, face a lot of discrimination. I ask myself if it might be because of this discrimination – and not because they have solved all their problems – do Landless Workers feel the need to perform being ‘middle-class’ families, as I have accused them…
The influence of propaganda against the Landless Movement has been even more obvious when I spoke about the Movement with people from the upper-middle and upper class during my stay in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, or listened to media reports (Alston, Libecap, & Mueller, 2010). Much can still be done to improve interaction with the villages and towns near the settlements. I feel deeply disappointed that other workers, instead of being inspired by this movement, are “afraid” of the Landless people. It is also clear that, when speaking of negative and media-driven propaganda, more is at stake than only the land that the Landless Workers occupy; Brazil is far from being an economy without exploitation, and strong interest groups profit from the exploitation of the majority of the population. One could say that in this regard indeed the Landless Workers are “dangerous” – much more dangerous than Guarani Indians, who are also very discriminated, could ever be. But how could the Landless Workers’ Movement qualitatively develop itself?