wealthy landholders (fazendeiros) that characterized much of the Brazilian countryside, the Amazon was also the main site of the government’s attempts at economic development. The opening of the Trans-Amazon Highway in 1968 and the sale of large tracts of land to national and international companies was a recipe for even more conflict when combined with colonization projects, which drew landless poor from other parts of Brazil to the Amazon with promises of land and prosperity only to greet them with an unfamiliar and inhospitable landscape that hosted few of the government institutions and economic support that migrants had expected (Wright and Wolford 2003). Church leaders in this area continually denounced assassinations of rural workers and other human rights violations (Mainwaring 1986), but the CPT was designed to be a more active source of support.
The organizations the CPT has traditionally worked with are dedicated to gaining and defending land rights for the rural poor. Popular response to Brazil’s historically unbalanced distribution of land has taken a variety of forms. These range from the MST (Landless Worker’s Movement), a politically sophisticated national organization that works for land reclamation and reform, to rural workers’ unions (sindicatos) and local groups that organize and provide technical assistance to small farmers and producers, to individuals who carry out similar work less formally and strategically. In general, all of these entities are united by a basic method of occupying land, calling for its redistribution with the argument that it is not meeting its lawfully required “social function,” and tying this land work to broader campaigns for human rights and government resources that the rural poor historically have not received. The term “luta pela terra”—fight for the land—is used amongst many groups to describe their work in general. The CPT’s name indicates its goal to care for and preside over the land in a manner that coincides with the Bible’s demands, and as such, it has provided these organizations with varied forms of information, guidance, and legal support in the luta pela terra.
The CPT and other progressive Catholic leaders who evolved alongside liberation theology decades ago are still present and active in Brazil today, and very much so in the Amazon. Liberation theology itself, however, has lost much of its hierarchical support from the Church since the 1980s, with the succession of new popes and accompanying changes in the Vatican’s policies on Biblical interpretation. Conservative bishops who criticized liberation theology on a number of accounts—that it confuses politics with religion, for instance, or that it masks Marxist ideology—had always maintained some control in Church governance. With the accession of John Paul II, the conservative backlash against the Church’s progressive sway solidified. Though he vacillated between speaking out against injustice and condemning progressive Church leaders, his reign saw a general decline in hierarchical support for liberation theology. There are also a variety of different churches making their way into Brazil’s city and countryside today, many of which support more conservative views about private property, faith in God, and the nature of sin (Wright and Wolford 2003).
The nature of the “luta pela terra” has also changed during the past few decades, as movements have
consolidated and gained ground both literally and in the Brazilian psyche. In the state of Pará alone, there are Sharp