Latin America: Five Campesino Movements You Need to Know

Movement’s like Brazil’s MST and communities in Honduras’ Aguan Valley are taking power into their own hands to build food sovereignty.

The International Day of Campesino Struggle on April 17 celebrated the resistance of millions of small-scale farmers around the world and raises awareness about the ongoing violence and repression they often suffer at the hands of repressive governments and global elite for defending their rights to land, life, livelihood, and food sovereignty.

In Latin America, campesino movements for land redistribution and agrarian reform have long been a cornerstone of revolutionary struggle. While the fight for land access is not over, a new generation of campesino movements in the region is also building diverse alternatives to the global corporate food system with a focus on food sovereignty, ecological protection, and community control of land and resources.

Here are some of Latin America’s campesino movements that are making waves of change and inspiring resistance.

1. Brazil’s MST Landless Worker Movement

The MST or Landless Worker Movement is an iconic example and pioneer of the new age of campesino movements that fights not only for land access, but also for education, health, gender equality, environmental justice, and food sovereignty.

The mass movement, estimated at some 1.5 million members, was launched in 1984 and over the span of more than two decades has settled about 370,000 landless families through over 2,500 land takeovers. The occupations push back against Brazil’s extremely concentrated land ownership, dominated agriculturally by soy massive soy monocultures.

MST settlements organize for an end to inequality, recognition of cultural and political rights, self-determination to challenge the corporate control of food and agriculture, and strong health, education, and other social programs.

2. Honduras’ Aguan Campesino Movements

The Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan, known as MUCA, and other regional movements in the northern Aguan Valley have been fighting for over a decade to recuperate communal lands lost in historical illegal land grabs for the expansion of African palm monocultures.

MUCA has been on the forefront of alternative food production and economic development projects in the Aguan on land recovered through large-scale land occupations. The movement struggles to strengthen food sovereignty while continuing to demand comprehensive agrarian reform.

The situation in the Aguan has been called the most intense agrarian conflict seen in Central America in the last 15 years. Since 2010, in the wake of the 2009 coup that saw heavy militarization in Indigenous and campesino territories, over 120 Aguan activists have been murdered.

3. Cuba’s ANAP Agro-Ecology Movement

Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers, or ANAP, has long been an important force spearheading a huge expansion of agro-ecological, urban, and organic food production through a system of co-operative farming.

Founded in 1961 after the launch of the U.S. blockade in Cuba to promote small farmers’ interests, the 300,000-strong organization took on a new role in the early 1990’s when the collapse of the Soviet Union pushed Cuba to undergo a massive agricultural transformation.

ANAP’s grassroots agroecological agriculture movement played a crucial role in rapidly spreading a new world-class system of sustainable agriculture in Cuba that not only increased production and self-sufficiency, but also made the local food system more resilient to climate change.

4. Argentina’s MNCI National Campesino Movement

The National Campesino and Indigenous Movement, or MNCI, has struggled for over a decade for agrarian reform to guarantee the social function of land while resisting big agribusiness and the corporate control of seeds.

MNCI’s proposal for comprehensive agrarian reform, born after Argentina’s neoliberal era intensified historical land concentration and worsened rural inequality in the 1990’s, is based in the struggle for the recuperation of ancestral knowledge and collective, autonomous control over land, resources, education, health, trade, and culture.

As part of the struggle for long-term structural change and local alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, MNCI has also promoted new forms of political education to deepen the movement.

5. Paraguay’s FCN Campesino Movement

Paraguay’s National Campesino Federation, known as FNC, has fought for over two decades for justice in the face of one of the most unequal distributions of land in Latin America.

The movement has long struggled for land access, agrarian reform, and structural change to the export agricultural model that has led to the vast expansion of soy monocultures in rural areas, home to almost half of Paraguay’s population. FNC has also fought for improve political participation of women and by consciously reorganizing traditional gender roles.

FNC has become an important political force in the wake of the 2012 “parliamentary coup” that ousted former President Fernando Lugo by organizing a series of national marches in the past year to demand the resignation of neoliberal President Horacio Cortes.