publicize their views (1986). The removal of hierarchical support, in turn, seems to have played an important role in weakening progressives’ attempts to support social justice movements in Brazil.
The CPT and agrarian reform movements
As described above, the CPT was created in 1975 to be a Church-affiliated organization dedicated to the support of rural worker livelihood and land rights for the poor. Although they based their work on the conviction that rural movements should be autonomous and run by representatives of the rural community, the CPT attempted to serve these movements in whatever way possible, helping to incite and animate organization of workers and providing technical support and assistance. Sometimes they helped with mediating and communicating between rural groups and government officials, as well as with lawyers, sociologists, and other people whose work was relevant to the fight for land (Pereira 2007). Writing specifically about the CPT's work during the 1980s with the first organizers of the MST, Wright and Wolford describe the CPT as:
“...a mixture of Catholic lay people, priests, nuns and monks, [who] offered assistance to the landless and other poor people’s organizations in innumerable creative ways, ranging from taking surveys of what people needed, to providing advice in nutrition and agriculture, to helping build schoolhouses and clinics. One of their most important contributions was their innovative and nonbureaucratic spirit…This new connectedness and visibility would influence the government calculus in trying to deal with the settlers” (59).
More importantly, the creators of the CPT understood its inception as the start of “a process of deepening the fate of the Church with that of the people disinherited of land, revitalizing the mission of the Church” to focus it on the lives of the poor (CPT 35). With their ideology of social justice and their varied methods of actively supporting the rights of the poor, the CPT put the theory of liberation theology into practice. Born out of the Catholic Church’s need to not only denounce injustice but organize against it, the CPT took liberation theology beyond the borders of strictly Church work and made it a tool in reworking the powers at play in the Amazon and greater Brazil.
The significance of the work of the CPT is easier to understand given a context of Brazil’s history of land distribution and reform. In the first decades of Portuguese colonization in the 1500s, Brazil was “divided into 14 sections” and handed out to military captains, who were left to govern and use the land as they saw fit (Alston 33). Although this particular system only lasted 16 years and was eventually considered unproductive, it initiated a pattern of land distribution based on doling out gigantic pieces of land, called latifúndia, to a small group of elites. This tendency has lasted for centuries; today, Brazil is “one of the countries with the highest levels of land concentration in the world” (Alston 32). Brazil has also historically had one of the world’s widest wealth gaps (Wright and Wolford 2003). The inconsistency between availability of resources and distribution of them has at many times led to discussion of land reform as a social necessity and economic policy. Especially since the 1950s, when land reform was first explicitly targeted as a policy issue, the government—both during the military dictatorship as well as during presidencies before and after—has attempted a series of national projects, often combined with colonization efforts in the Amazon, to redistribute