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Brazil's leftist under fire from left

President da Silva faces tensions over striking workers and land invasions.

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The first big trouble for Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is coming from the least likely of places: the left.

The former Communist spent the first six months of his presidency shoring up Brazil's flagging economy. But now Mr. da Silva, or Lula, as he is known here, is paying the price for failing to address the country's social problems immediately, specifically, Brazil's inequitable distribution of land. According to the government, the 37 biggest landowners own more territory than the 2.5 million smallest ones.

The Landless Workers' Movement (MST) has launched a series of land invasions designed to pressure the government into speeding up agrarian reform. The group called a moratorium on such invasions during the election campaign late last year, but it abandoned the stay in March, turning up the heat by invading scores of farms, ranches, and government buildings in their most concerted series of actions in years. Some political analysts call the unrest the biggest threat to the popular president's nascent administration.

"This is one of Lula's biggest problems," says David Fleischer, the editor of Brazil Focus, a political journal. "It's really stirred up a hornet's nest."

Lula took office Jan. 1 after winning last October's runoff with 62 percent of the ballot, about half of which came from loyal leftists like those in the MST and half from voters who saw the former union leader's move to the center as proof he could be trusted to run the country responsibly.

But while he has won plaudits for his handling of the economy - the currency has strengthened 19 percent against the dollar since he came to power, and inflation is falling - his longtime supporters are frustrated by his failure to tackle the issues he has championed ever since forming the Workers' Party in 1980.

Three deputies and a senator face expulsion from the party after speaking out against its pension-reform bill designed to modernize the country's bloated system, and federal employees went on strike last week to protest the reforms. Lula was booed in public for the first time when he addressed a trade-union congress in São Paulo last month, and the disorganization that delayed the launch of his flagship Zero Hunger program, an ambitious project designed to eradicate malnutrition, has been met with scorn.

However, it is the flammable situation in the countryside that is currently causing him concern.


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