Democratic Rural Union (UDR)

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Democratic Rural Union (UDR)

The Democratic Rural Union (União Democrática Ruralista—UDR) was formed in Brazil in 1985 to represent the interests of large landowners and cattle ranchers in the debate over agrarian reform that accompanied the transition from military to civilian rule. Started in the prairie lands of central Brazil, the UDR soon became a national presence, due in part to its provocative founding president, the Goiás-based physician and rancher Ronaldo Ramos Caiado.

The UDR developed a reputation as the most reactionary of landowner groups, the shock troop at the front of the battle against land reform. Raising money through widely publicized cattle auctions, the UDR organized mass rallies in the nation's capital and enhanced its political power through campaign contributions and running its own candidates. The UDR took credit for the absence of land distribution measures in the October 1985 agrarian reform law and tried, unsuccessfully, to exclude the issue from the 1988 national constitution.

In 1989, Caiado ran for president as the UDR candidate, receiving a small percentage of votes. Thereafter, the UDR pursued two characteristic strategies: It continued to lobby government to slow the agrarian reform process and it threatened violence to prevent landless peasants from occupying disputed lands. In various cases, UDR members were implicated as the alleged sponsors of gunmen who killed peasant and rural labor activists.

While the UDR could take credit for frustrating agrarian reform, the very existence of the organization raised questions about the strength of Brazil's rural elite and showed how far the country had come from the days when the rural oligarchy could take its influence for granted.

See alsoAgrarian Reform; Agriculture.


Chico Mendes, Fight for the Forest (1989).

Biorn Maybury-Lewis, The Debate Over Agrarian Reform in Brazil (Papers on Latin America, no. 14, Columbia University, 1990); and "UDR cria milícia armada contra sem-terra," in Folha de São Paulo (30 June 1994): p. 9.

Additional Bibliography

Bruno, Regina. Senhores da terra, senhores da guerra: A nova face política das elites agroindustriais no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Forense Universitária: Editora Universidade Rural, 1997.

Payne, Leigh A. Uncivil Movements: The Armed Right Wing and Democracy in Latin America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

                                           Cliff Welch

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Democratic Rural Union (UDR)

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