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Brazil’s New Land Regularization Law: A Territorial Attack on Several Fronts

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For the original article by Luciana Bedeschi and Paulo Romeiro in Portuguese published by Nexo click here.

What is being sold as an attempt to reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency in the management of public assets, in practice hides the possibility of transferring these assets and natural resources to private interests without any social or collective interest criteria.

At the end of last year, the [federal] government issued Interim Measure 759/16 (PM 759/16), supposedly aimed at facilitating regularization of urban and rural lands. Analyses of the PM’s urban and rural aspects, however, show that behind this proposal there is an attempt to commercialize the land occupied by agrarian reform settlements and informal urban settlements, amnesty given to irregular high-level occupations, in addition to the sale of the government’s real estate assets, without any social or collective interest criteria.

The hegemonic media and entities such as Irib (Brazilian Real Estate Registry Institute), CAU (Architecture and Urbanism Council) and the National Confederation of Municipalities reproduced the official speech, apparently repeating information released by the Ministry of Cities, and celebrating the PM. However, social movements from the countryside and the city are beginning to present their counter-narrative, which is fundamental being that the real objectives and consequences of the adoption of this Interim Measure are not clearly stated in the official discourse.

The MST (Landless Workers’ Movement), for example, has already opposed the Interim Measure through the Fortaleza Charter, issued at the end of January, in which it denounces the privatization of land for agrarian reform. The movement positioned itself on the question as follows: “We are against and will fight against Interim Measure 759 of the retrogression of Agrarian Reform, which privatizes lands destined to agrarian reform, transforming them into a commodity, legalizing public land-grabbers and excluding from the process workers camped in settlements.” The MST also condemns “the privatization of land, disguised as titling,” in reference to the PM’s proposal of individual titling through the transfer of property, and the possibility of settlement land sales. Given the current economic situation and the capacity for acquiring debt of the settlers, the sale will be unavoidable, once this possibility is opened, given the economic pressure imposed by the expansion of agribusiness.

On February 1, the debateLand regularization in Brazil: what’s at stake?” took place, hosted by the IAB (Brazilian Institute of Architects) and IBDU (Brazilian Institute of Urban Law) with support from the Pólis Institute, in which it was evidenced that the PM intends to attack the land issue in Brazil on several fronts.

“The complexity and the breadth of issues at stake go far beyond claims to facilitate land regularization of informal urban settlements and agrarian reform settlements.”

It was shown that there is a clear intention to privatize lands belonging to the federal government. With the justification for this being the need to increase tax collection–without meeting social or collective interest criteria and ignoring the principle of a property’s social function, which should guide land policy–the PM’s proposal expressly aims to institute mechanisms to improve the efficiency of the procedures for the disposal of government real estate. In this case, what is being sold as an attempt to reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency in the management of public assets, in practice hides the possibility of transferring these assets and natural resources without any social or collective interest criteria, since the government will have carte blanche to dispose of these properties. A perverse effect of this possibility of alienation without any criteria will be, for example, the legalization of public land grabbing, including in the Legal Amazon, representing a serious threat to Brazilian environmental assets and traditional ways of life.

Another central issue of this Interim Measure is that it prioritizes the land regularization of high-standard occupations, such as private condominiums and subdivisions in areas of environmental preservation, without any counterweight. With the conversion of PM into law, for example, private condominiums, which in reality were approved as a subdivision and, therefore, should provide their streets and squares for public use will be regularized without any offset, which will mean the privatization of public spaces, which all could enjoy, resulting in even greater socio-territorial segregation in the cities.

It is for this reason that last week a number of entities published a public letter entitled “Interim Measure No. 759/2016: The deconstruction of land regularization in Brazil,” systematizing the PM’s main problems discussed at the aforementioned event. The letter points out the complexity of the issues raised by the bill and the breadth of the issues at stake, which go far beyond claims to facilitate land regularization of informal urban settlements and agrarian reform settlements. PM 759/2016 represents an assault on several fronts of the Brazilian territory, as it deepens the process of Brazil’s privatization and prevents democratic access to land in cities, in the countryside and in the Legal Amazon.

Luciana Bedeschi is a lawyer, Master in urban and environmental law by PUC-SP, and doctoral candidate in Territorial Planning and Management at UFABC. She is currently a researcher at the Evictions Observatory, research group of LabCidade-FAUUSP and UFABC. 

Paulo Romeiro is a lawyer, Master of urban and environmental law by PUC-SP, and doctoral candidate in Economic, Tributory and Financial Law by FDUSP. He is currently a researcher at Instituto Pólis and ObservSP.