Saturday, April 26, 2008

Brazil's homeless and landless unite

Homeless is a word we know all too well here in the U.S. But landless? Do people have a right to land? Seems to fly in the face of our deep-seated belief in the right to private property.

Brazil's Landless Workers Movement, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, is the largest social movement in Latin America. The MST interprets the Brazilian Constitution as allowing for the occupation and expropriation of unproductive land. Sometimes the Brazilian court agrees with MST and sometimes it doesn't. MST members occupy the land and begin subsistence farming.

Recently the MST has been working with the Movement of the Roofless -- Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto-- which has been organizing takeovers of abandoned buildings in cities like San Paulo. One building in the city, Prestes Maia, has been occupied since 2002. Conditions are poor but, say residents, better than living in a cardboard box on the street. BBC News.

While the U.S. tends to pathologize its homeless, other countries focus on the economic and political conditions that create homelessness and see distribution of wealth, especially in the form of land, as part of the solution.

We in the U.S. are far less likely to blame the rich, because we all want to be rich. But that's a little like Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone, where all the children are above average.

What would it be like to live in a country where everyone has enough (and that includes enough for leisure) and where those who accumulate more than they need at the expense of others are seen as immoral? So many of our politicians insist this is a "Christian" country, but their definition ignores the many New Testament admonishments against excessive wealth.

Matthew 19:23-24 "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." I'm no Christian scholar, but to me this statement is not just about wealth, but about the inevitable moral corruption that comes about when we learn to ignore the disparities between wealth and poverty.

Meanwhile some movements intend to apply the correction to admonishments against excessive wealth right here on earth.

Photos from the BBC:
Prestes Maia; a library in the building.

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