My Thoughts on the MST

Sao Paulo Travel Blog

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Near the end of the program, the group took a trip to an area where an MST project was in progress.  The MST, aka the Sem Terra Movimiento, is a social rights organization, who fights for and aids the poor of the country, specifically those with no land to live on.  The MST searches for land that is not in use and whose ownership is vague and after finding it, sends a certain amount of homeless to “invade” the land.  With the help of the organization, these homeless erect homes and begin to work the land, growing crops to sustain themselves and their families.  The social group even provides supplemental education as well as legal help, in which they attempt to win legal ownership of the disputed land for the homeless.  Such an organization is unique to Brazil, where public comes before private almost always, and would not fly at all in the States, where the private sector gets more empathy in the judicial system.  Without a doubt, the MST organization has great positives and ideology, but at the same time, it is not without its faults and shortcomings. 

            In terms of positives, the MST clearly improves the life of many of the poor.  Where initially they may not have had anywhere to stay, the organization finds land and property for the poor to call their own, to make their home.  Rather than just giving the underprivileged food directly, the group demonstrates to the people how to farm and grow crops, so that these people, once dependent on others, become self-sufficient.  Without the MST, the poor would have nothing, and would be struggling just to get by day to day.  Yet, with the MST, these people now enjoy a greater quality of life and a better atmosphere to live in.

            Furthermore, at a broader perspective, the MST could also be very socially beneficial to Brazil.  Specifically, the organization helps move poor people from the peripheries of the cities to much more rural locations.  These peripheries, popularly known as favelas, are responsible for the great amounts of crime and drugs that afflict cities and the rich.  Thus, by moving the poor to the country, the MST in the long run could reduce the number of favelas in the cities (which already detract from the appearance of the cities), therefore reducing crime and drugs, making cities much more safer places for its residences and tourists.  This only holds true, however, if the MST is able to relocate the poor faster and in greater numbers than they migrate to the cities.  And with Brazil being as unequal as it is, the MST must become a much stronger movement in order to achieve this overall migration from cities.

            While full of potential, the MST also has its drawbacks.  While visiting the MST camp, one of the workers explained how the MST supported all governments and group that are against “the establishment.”  What exactly is “the establishment?”  In my opinion, the “establishment” to this group is capitalism and everything related to it.  They are against the fact that while some get richer, others get poorer and remain poor.  They oppose the fact that in all capitalist nations, not everybody can be equal.  Yet, to be against capitalism is to be against the hundred of years of international progress and development.  Throughout history, the population of countries has risen, and people have the tendency to congregate around the more strategic locations, such as ports and rivers.  As the population of these areas increase, not everybody can be self-sufficient off the lands, and there is a growing need for services.  Thus, there becomes the need for specialists who need to be paid, and so the cycle of capitalism starts.  Clearly, being against the “establishment” is very radical, and not a realistic ideology in the world of today.  Without such radical messages, the MST might be able to gain more support, socially and politically.

            In addition, in the long run, this social organization, while currently fighting for the betterment of the conditions of the poor, will not do much to change the inequality of the country.  The organization helps people survive, but does little in helping them climb the economic ladder.  While the MST may teach them how to live off the lands, that is all these people really know or get to know.  In order to become more wealthy and change economic status, these people must turn to capitalism.  But since they are taught anti-capitalism sentiments, and for the most part resigned to rural farms, the big city life (and thus industry and wealth) may be too much of a culture shock for these folks.  Thus, down the line, these poor people will continue to be just as poor as they are today, thus sustaining, rather than changing, the inequality of the country.  While against the establishment, this organization does little to change it.

            Overall, the MST is socially very positive.  It gives the poor land and the means to survive, thereby increasing their quality of life to a certain extent.  Yet, the radical ideas and unproductive long term effects of the MST hinder the organization’s potential and sustainability.

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            My biggest regret about the Argentina and Brazil trip was that I was not able to go to Rio de Janeiro.  If I were to become the director of the trip, this would be the biggest change that I would make.  The city of Rio de Janeiro is full of beautiful beaches and sites, and is a must for any person visiting Brazil.  Thus, as director, Rio would be added to the 9 credit hour program, and the stay in the city would be approximately about a week to 10 days.  Of course, in order for this to be possible, days and weeks would have to be cut out of the other cities in the program. 

            In terms of shortening stays in the other cities of the program, Curitiba would be the city to lose time, and would lose approximately 3-4 days out of the 9-10 that the group stayed there.  Although it is a quaint and clean city, Curitiba is a businessman’s city, meaning there is little in terms of nightlife and culture for college students.  While it has beautiful parks, one can make a day out of the parks, and has seen most of what they need to see, besides the interesting Volvo plant and Tecpar incubators.  Although the finals may have contributed to it, Curitiba seemed to have no spunk to the city, and I got the vibe that most students were dying to leave by the time our stay there was up.

            Also, unfortunately, that also means some time needs to be cut out of Buenos Aires, where we stayed for an entire month.  Although a huge and fantastic city to explore, one month out of the two month program is too long.  While it gives students the chance to become comfortable and familiar with the city, one can only do so much and see so much in the city, and 3 weeks seems to be the ample and ideal amount of time to spend there.  Again, this time cut from Buenos Aires will be used towards time in Rio de Janeiro.

            Besides more time in Rio de Janeiro, there would be other parts of the program that I would consider changing or revising.  One such part of the trip was the day trip to Paraguay when staying in Iguazu Falls.  The day wasn’t a great one from the start, with it pouring rain and the roads being flooded, and such bad weather may have been the cause of the unpopularity of the Paraguay trip.  Personally, I was miserable the whole time, and found nothing of interest in Paraguay.  All the stolen goods for sale were also not reasonably priced, and overall, I think the entire group only came away with a few t-shirts and some boot-leg dvd’s.  In my opinion, the trip to Paraguay could be dropped, and instead, the day be given free to students so they can explore Iguazu.

            In terms of the workload, I would only make one change, since for the most part it was reasonable and doable.  With regards to personal cultural blogs, I would reduce the number to two or three a week, as opposed to four.  Four a week became a little difficult in the fact that it was hard to come up with material, especially when we stopped having class so frequently (since that is where I got a lot of my ideas).  With four a week, I think people in the long run began to start putting forth less effort and thought in the blogs, since the topics to write about began to dwindle as well.  With two or three blogs a week, the student has more time to put forth more effort and thought in his blogs.  As a result, they become more meaningful to him/her and the professor.

            Finally, my last change to the program would be to spread the final exams out some more.  In Curitiba, the two finals were grouped so close together that students pretty much spent all their free time studying, rather than enjoying the city.  Being in foreign countries and cities they might never go back to, the students should be out taking in the culture.  Yet, the two finals sucked up almost everybody’s free time.  Therefore, at most, finals should be spread out by at least five days to a week, making things less stressful for everybody.

            Besides those changes, the entire trip was fantastic.  Buenos Aires was extremely more interesting and fun than I thought, and I am without a doubt considering a return trip in the future.  Colonia, Iguazu and Floripa were beautiful locations, and great places to relax and see the beauty of South America.  Sao Paulo had the big city feel and life to it, and was not as dangerous as it is made out to be.  With all the soccer matches, shows, free dinners, and site visits, the Argentina and Brazil does not fail in showing and teaching students the culture and potential of these two Latin American countries.

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photo by: Eric