Berkeley graduate students F. Daniel Hidalgo and Neal P. Richardson report on their research on the driving economic factors that contribute to "land invasions" across Brazil.
In the early 1990s, rural northeastern Brazil faced a severe economic crisis. Droughts led to crop shortfalls, which paralyzed sugarcane refining facilities throughout the region, threatening the livelihood of workers dependent on the agrarian economy. In Água Preta, a municipality hard hit by the crisis, newly unemployed plantation workers turned to one of the few options they had left: direct collective action. With the support of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) — the Landless Workers Movement — the plantation workers organized and invaded unused land. The workers, as recounted by geographer Wendy Wolford, forced the government to expropriate moribund plantations and redistribute the land.