Peasant Leagues (Ligas Camponesas)

Lúcia Gaspar
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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The first Peasant Leagues appeared in Brazil in 1945, soon after the re-democratisation of the country following the dictatorship of President Getúlio Vargas.
Peasants and rural workers organised themselves into civil associations under the initiative and direction of the recently legalised Brazilian Communist Party – PCB. Rural leagues and associations were created in almost every state in the country.

In 1948, however, with the banning of the PCB there was a collapse of the workers’ organisations in Brazil.

Between 1948 and 1954, there were few peasant organisation that functioned, and rarer yet were those who retained the word ‘League’ in their name, like the Peasant League of Iputinga , lead by José dos Prazeres, one of the movement leaders in Pernambuco and located in the neighbourhood of the same name in the western zone of the city of Recife.

In January 1955, with the creation of the Pernambuco Agricultural and Cattle Raising Society of Planters, SAPP, located on the Galiléia Plantation, in Vitória de Santo Antão, Pernambuco, there was a resurgence of Peasant Leagues in Northeast Brazil.

After the resurgence, the Leagues ceased to be organisations and became an agrarian movement, which spread to a large contingent of rural and also urban workers.

In August 1955, the Conference for Northeast Salvation was held in Recife, which was of great importance to the peasant movement, as it was the first time in Brazil that over two thousand people, among them authorities, parliamentarians, liberal professionals, students and representatives from industry, commerce, unions and the Peasant Leagues, gathered to openly discuss the main socioeconomic problems of the region. The Commission of Land Policy was formed by over two hundred delegates, the majority of which were peasant representatives of the Leagues.

In September of the same year, the First Congress of Pernambuco Peasants took place, also in Recife, organised by Professor Josué de Castro, which culminated in a large parade by peasants through the streets of the city.

From then on, the Peasant Leagues expanded to various towns and cities in Pernambuco and also to other Brazilian states: Paraíba, where the nucleus of Sapé was one of the most expressive and important, able to bring together over ten thousand members; Rio Grande do Norte, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro (at the time, the state was called Guanabara); Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Acre and also to the Federal District, Brasília.

The movement’s basic objective was to fight for agrarian reform and land ownership.

At the national level, its principal leader was the lawyer and congressman for the Socialist Party, Francisco Julião, who kept the movement together through his name and his character, being able to bring in idealists, students and some intellectuals and promoting himself as honorary president of the Peasant Leagues.

In 1962, the newspaper A Liga (The League) was created, a way to spread the movement’s message. With the approval of the Rural Worker Statute of the same year, many Leagues transformed themselves into rural unions.

At the end of 1963, the movement was concentrated in the states of Pernambuco and Paraíba and the height of organised rural workers occurred in 1964, when the Pernambuco Federation of Peasant Leagues was organised, made up of 40 organisations, with around 40 thousand members in the state.

In Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Acre and the Federal District (Brasília), where the movement still operated, the number of members was approximately 30 thousand, making the total number of members in the Peasant Leagues at the time between 70 and 80 thousand.

The Peasant Leagues worked in two divisions: the Organisation of the Masses (O.M.) which met with city residents (Urban Leagues), women (Feminine Leagues), fishermen (Fishermen Leagues), Unemployment Leagues, Sergeant Leagues and everyone who acknowledged the need for agrarian reform; and the Political Organisation (O.P.), which took only certain members of the Organisation of the Masses, those who stood out with their work, combining political, ideological and moral qualities that justified their position as a militant in the organisation.

With the Military Coup of 1964, the movement was disbanded, prohibited, and its main leader arrested and exiled.

The movement still operated for some time, through the Clandestine Political Organisation, which had a national directory formed by paid rural workers and peasants who infiltrated agricultural unions with the purpose of helping the politically imprisoned and persecuted.

Recife, 12 April 2005.
(Updated on 28 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.


AZEVEDO, Fernando Antônio. As Ligas Camponesas. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1982.
BASTOS, Ellide Rugai. As Ligas Camponesas. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1984.
CAMARGO, Aspásia. DHBB: verbete temático: Ligas Camponesas. Disponível em:  <http://www.cpdoc.fgv.br/dhbb/verbetes_htm/7794_1.asp> Acesso em: 7 abr. 2005.
MORAIS, Clodomir Santos de. Historia das ligas Camponesas do Brasil. Brasília, D.F.: IATTERMUND, 1997


Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Peasant Leagues (Ligas Camponesas). Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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