Brazil’s Bolsonaro hopes land titles will attract rural votes

SAO PAULO — Antônio Luis Durão is a member of a small minority in Brazil: He is an undecided voter with only a few weeks before the presidential election.

If the vote had taken place a year ago, the 61-year-old fruit farmer would have supported Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the leftist former president who ruled between 2003 and 2010. During that time, da Silva’s government gave Durão of some farming rights a 26-hectare (64-acre) piece of land in Porangatu in the central state of Goias.

But last month, Durão finally received a title for the same plot, giving him full ownership — with the right to sell — even after 10 years. It will also allow him to apply for a loan from a state-run bank, and he hopes to finance a tractor. He is also considering rewarding incumbent Jair Bolsonaro for his vote.

“I got into it during the Lula years, and I’m grateful, but there was nothing in place. I think this document will make things better for me now,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “One gave me access 14 years ago, and the other opens my path to the future.”

Durão’s grant is part of the president’s Title Brazil program, which aims to give property rights to some 340,000 people who currently live on state-owned or privately held but unused land. The far-right leader, trailing the polls, also hopes it will help boost his re-election chances.

Bolsonaro has often touted the program as a way of settling old disputes, creating legal certainty and undermining the leftist Landless Workers Movement, a key ally of da Silva who has long held jobs in what it considers vacant or unused lands – even if there are already far away. fewer seizures in recent years.

It is a partial, free-market approach to land reform in a vast country that since colonial times has seen great inequality in the distribution of land, with few farmers and corporations holding vast expanses while millions toil on small plots of land where they hold little if any legal claim.

Title proceedings in Brazil usually begin with rural mayors contacting the federal government on behalf of local farmers. Local officials and farmers sit on regional commissions to review claims. Only those already registered for previous land reform programs are eligible.

The government’s National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform said 733 of Brazil’s more than 5,500 municipalities have so far reached agreements to cooperate in the land titles program, although many have yet to distribute any new titles. AP reached out to 17 municipalities listed by Incra as program participants, but only two have initiated the program and offered contacts of beneficiaries.

Bolsonaro’s opponents say the program is a gimmick that will disappear as soon as the election is over. Although it was announced shortly after he took office in 2019, most of the activity appears to have come in recent months.

They also note that full ownership will not come until a final review for 10 years — and question whether this will solve the problem of unequal land distribution. saying that small plots of land are likely to be sold to large landowners.

“These are temporary land titles,” said Alexandre Conceição, one of the leaders of the Landless Workers Movement. He said the administration wants to “destabilize any attempts to lead a land reform in Brazil, now and in the future.”

The president maintains that his opponents are challenging the policy because they fear it will weaken the Landless Workers Movement, which he has labeled a terrorist organization. Bolsonaro is a staunch supporter of agribusiness and often calls for the right of individuals to own property.

“With the (land) title, you have access to credit, you increase the value of your property, you become a true citizen,” Bolsonaro told a crowd in April in the state of Goias. “You are no longer in the hands of those who used you as a group of troops to raid property.”

A September 1 Datafolha poll found that 46% of rural respondents intended to vote for da Silva, while 33% sided with the president. Four years ago, in a runoff against leftist Fernando Haddad, Bolsonaro had 36% in the same poll against 24% for his opponent. The margin of error in both polls was two percentage points.

Rodrigo Sá Motta, a professor of history at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said that the government’s policy helps to provide access to credit, “but it does not move the ball forward in the regularization and distribution of land, which is the essence of land reform.” That is because so far it does not expand the distribution of land to poor farmers, but only expands the legal rights of people who already occupy small farms.

“It is more than rhetoric to say that they are doing something, that the administration is not standing,” he added.

Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement says about 90,000 families are still looking for land to farm, and few of those will get anything from Title Brazil.

But the program is showing signs of resonating with rural voters.

Another beneficiary told the AP that he waited years before finally receiving the rights to farm a piece of land during the administration of Dilma Rousseff, da Silva’s ally and successor. He is accepting a title under Bolsonaro – and plans to vote for him, though he spoke on condition of anonymity, because he believes his family will not support his views.

“I don’t like what Bolsonaro did, I don’t like the way he expresses himself, but it’s true that I see a better future for me and my family because of his support for agriculture,” he said via of the telephone. “I think it’s important to be thankful.”