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Brazilian partner awarded medal

December 2010

João Pedro Stedile, one of the founders of Christian Aid partner the Landless Movement (MST), has been awarded the 'Merito Legislativo' medal from Brazilian Congress.

This well-respected award is more than just a token gesture. The MST are seen as a controversial movement in Brazil. Its activists are often attacked, and they are portrayed in a negative light in Brazilian media, heavily influenced by an agribusiness elite.

But the MST achievements are undeniable; in 25 years they have turned unused land into homes and farms for more than a million people. 

Brizola Neto, the MP who nominated João Pedro, said giving the award was 'a way to raise the profile about the debate on land in this country, its use and rights'. 'This medal belongs to all social movements in Brazil' 

Brazil is one of the world's biggest emerging economies, but also one of the world's most unequal countries. Just 3% of Brazil's population owns two-thirds of all arable land – the most unequal land division in the world.

Much of this land lies empty and unused, while millions of poor Brazilians have nothing and have to migrate to the cities to live under very vulnerable conditions.

Recent research shows that around ¾ of the world's poor live in middle income countries like Brazil, which also boast remarkable wealth.

Rui Barbosa on his farm, which he has named Paradise PlaceRui Barbosa on his farm, which he named Paradise Place.

Rui Barbosa and his wife Fátima spent eight years camped out under plastic sheeting by the roadside, staking their claim to land and waiting for the courts to decide their case. 

At last, their claim has been granted. They've built their house, and together run a small dairy farm that they hope will support them as they grow old.

You would think that this kind of success story would make MST popular in Brazil, but the majority of the big media owners are closely linked to large scale agribusiness and landowners. And the criminalization of social movements in Brazil has a significant impact on public opinion.

'Some people say it's illegal because they say you're stealing land. It's not like that at all. It's not stealing other people's land, it’s sharing land that no-one is using,' says Rui.

'It [MST] has helped millions of people. It brings great happiness to the people it helps. I hope it can help many more. My paradise place, that's what I call my land. Paradise is a place of peace, and I have peace here.'

In a ceremony on December 1, Congress said the medal 'represents the historical recognition of the MST's efforts for a more equal and fairer country'.

João Pedro accepted the award, saying 'this medal belongs to all social movements in Brazil and their allies who put the land issues in the centre of the development agenda'.

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