Peasant Leagues

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Peasant Leagues

Various ligas camponensas were formed after World War II to defend the interests of tenant and small farmers and rural laborers. There were two distinct phases of league activity, one (1945–1947) led by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), and the other (1955–1964) led by peasants, students, and politicians from the Northeast. By the time they were suppressed, the Peasant Leagues had attained both national and international notoriety.

With political liberalization in 1945, the PCB established leagues throughout Brazil and used them to register new voters. By enfranchising thousands of peasants, many Communists won electoral office. In 1947, the government suppressed the PCB and its leagues were disbanded. In 1955, a former PCB militant organized the Agricultural Society of Farmers and Ranchers (SAPP) at the Galiléia plantation in Pernambuco State. To red-bait SAPP, landowners called it a "peasant league," but their plan backfired and dozens of Peasant Leagues formed throughout the state and region.

The leagues, headed by Francisco Julião, achieved national recognition in 1960, when they forced the state government to divide Galiléia lands among peasants. Dedicated to a policy of confiscating land without compensating owners in cash, the Peasant Leagues' call for agrarian reform "by law or by force" became predominant in the rural labor movement. In 1962, the leagues expanded into thirteen of Brazil's twenty-two states and started a weekly newspaper, Liga. Numerous groups of students, women, and soldiers imitated the peasants by naming their organizations "ligas."

The leagues' growth peaked in 1963 when internal squabbles fractured the organization. A decentralized structure enabled some local leaders to emphasize land seizures, others union organizing, and still others armed rebellion. When news of league guerrilla bands reached the United States, the Kennedy administration made the Northeast a test case for Alliance for Progress programs designed to thwart revolution. The PCB and Catholic Church also challenged the leagues. Isolated, they were repressed by the military in 1964.

See alsoBrazil, Political Parties: Brazilian Communist Party (PCB); Julião Arruda de Paula, Francisco.


Shepard Forman, The Brazilian Peasantry (1975).

Florencia Mallon, "Peasants and Rural Laborers in Pernambuco, 1955–1964," in Latin American Perspectives 5, no. 4 (1978):49-70.

Elide Rugai Bastos, As ligas camponesas (1984).

Additional Bibliography

Aued, Bernardete Wrublevski. A vitória dos vencidos: Partido Comunista Brasileiro—PCB—e ligas camponesas, 1955–64. Florianópolis: Editora da UFSC, 1986.

Bombardi, Larissa Mies. O bairro reforma agrária e o processo de territorialização camponesa. São Paulo: Annablume, 2004.

Pereira, Anthony W. The End of the Peasantry: The Rural Labor Movement in Northeast Brazil, 1961–1988. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

Santiago, Vandeck. Francisco Julião, as Ligas e o golpe militar de 64. Recife: Comunigraf Editora, 2004.

Welch, Cliff. The Seed Was Planted: The Saõ Paulo Roots of Brazil's Rural Labor Movement, 1924–1964. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

                                          Cliff Welch