Brazil's political and economic woes under the right-wing government of unelected President Michel Temer, coupled with a sharp rise in unemployment, has produced a scenario unseen in the past few years leading to the exponential growth of roadside encampments of the Landless Workers' Movement, known as the MST.
"As a result of the crises, the number of MST landless campers has increased. Over the past three years, we've had only a few hundred families camped in Rio Grande do Sul. But with the onslaught of the economic crises, more families have sought to join our encampments," said Ildo Pereira, member of MST's national directorate.
"With the type of regression we're experiencing throughout the country many people are returning to their roots. The fruits of this crises have occasioned a good number of these people relocating to our encampments."
Families who'd once migrated from the countryside to urban areas in search of better opportunities ended up living in derelict, periphery neighborhoods. Now, rising unemployment has forced those same families to look to the MST for viable alternatives in the age of Temer. The rural social movement estimates that more than 2,000 encamped families in Rio Grande do Sul live along roadsides and highway embankments with no perspective of being adequately housed through agrarian reform policies.
Earlier this week, MST led nationwide protests to mark Agrarian Reform Day. Provisional Measure 759, supported by the Temer administration, was of particular contestation by demonstrators. If passed, the law would radically alter landholding legislation and the legal procedures regulating agrarian reform.
"The federal government wants to stimulate the sale of land and we're aware that those who'll purchase the land aren't encamped families but agribusiness," Pereira warned.
"Many families, especially those living in periphery neighborhoods, are coming to us. Unemployment, the cost of food, light, water, and rent is rendering the lives of many poor families infeasible. People are looking ahead and see that there is no future.
"The difference is that access to land, at least, won't let them suffer from hunger. Moreover, they'll have a place to live and raise their kids. That's why more families are joining MST because we represent a chance to work, feed ourselves, and experience a better life," said Roberta Coimbra, MST gender director in Rio Grande do Sul.