The farmer who killed Lula's enthusiasm for reform
As the article notes, "Even his opponents say big farmers have never had it so good as under Rodrigues." It's just Brazil's small farmers, landless labourers, environment and biosafety that have been sold down the river.
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The farmer behind Brazil's big farm fight
by: Natuza Nery and Andrew Hay
At home, [Agriculture Minister, Roberto] Rodrigues' defense of big farmers may have dampened President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's enthusiasm for agrarian reform...
Lula was elected to office in 2002 promising massive land reform to ease inequalities and speed economic growth.
In an interview with Reuters, Rodrigues remembered a key encounter with Lula two months before October 2002 presidential elections. He told the leftist presidential candidate his agricultural plans were flawed.
"You have the wrong view," Rodrigues remembers telling Lula at a conference where the former unionist said he planned to focus on family farming rather than agribusiness.
Rodrigues, who comes from a well-off Sao Paulo farming family and prefers boots and jeans to his sharp work suits, offered to talk to Lula about the merits of farm cooperatives as opposed to giving out small plots to thousands of peasants.
He argued Brazil had to remove domestic and international barriers to big farmers, who are already the world's top coffee, sugar and orange juice producers, the biggest beef exporters, and set to become the No. 1 soy exporters.
After Lula's victory, Rodrigues was the first person officially invited to join his Cabinet. He refused, saying he had never voted for Lula in his life and that could cause "problems." Lula saw it differently, and Rodrigues was in.
Nearly two years later, Brazil's first working-class president is known for breaking down barriers to poor nations' farm exports, not distributing land to peasants.
Agribusiness exports are driving Brazil's fastest economic growth since 1996.
Even his opponents say big farmers have never had it so good as under Rodrigues. He is considered the first agriculture minister to have spent a lifetime in agribusiness and the first to be equally at home on international and domestic issues.
"Compared with previous ministers, he's extremely competent at pushing agribusiness into modern, first-world markets," says Isidoro Revers, of the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic human rights group that says Rodrigues is destroying family farming.
Those who deal with Rodrigues say he is prepared to take on anyone and anything he sees holding back farming interests. Some environmentalists say he is doing too little to protect Brazil's vast savanna from the advance of agriculture.
"He seems not to consider the savanna as an important ecosystem," said Roberto Smeraldi, the head of Friends of the Earth in Brazil, who has met Rodrigues over efforts to save some of the 30 percent of the tropical wilderness that remains.
Rodrigues' has differences with Lula over the division of agricultural resources between his ministry and one responsible for agrarian reform and family farming.
Despite that, the two are very close, according to Camargo. Both have an informal style and quick sense of humor. They share a passion for football and popular music. Rodrigues has recorded his own bolero and tango tunes.
So will the farmer vote for Lula's re-election in 2006?
"Yes, today I would vote for Lula, because I think he's extraordinarily balanced and sensible," Rodrigues said.