The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Land invasions: has Bolivia caught Brazil Disease?

In a country as chock-full of peasants as Bolivia, what is euphemistically referred to as land reform is bound to be to the fore in times of crisis.

The first reforms of substance took place following the revolution of 1952 [1]: with the exception of intensively farmed land in lowland Santa Cruz department, the haciendas were confiscated and given over to the peasants. Whereupon, it seems, the peasants became a satisfied power in Bolivian politics and, for some time, even took the side of the conservatives [2].

That was then... And now, it seems, Bolivian peasants are following the lead of their colleagues in Brazil's Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra or MST [3] in mounting DIY land grabs [4].

President Carlos Mesa, according to AFP,
ha destacado una comisión a Santa Cruz (900 km al este de La Paz) para negociar con el Movimiento de los Sin Tierra una salida concertada al creciente problema, una "bomba de tiempo", según analistas locales.

The populist Mesa's idea of negotiation sounds more like abject surrender:
La misión oficial tiene por objeto legalizar la toma de tierras en los departamentos (provincias) de Santa Cruz, Cochabamba y La Paz por parte de labriegos desposeídos.

"Resulta irónico que en el país, donde hay tanta tierra y pocos habitantes, estemos registrando heridos, incluso muertos sabiendo que hay todavía áreas muy productivas que pueden ser utilizadas para la producción y para mejorar los niveles de vida de nuestros habitantes", sostuvo el ministro de Asuntos Campesinos y Agropecuarios, Diego Montenegro.

There's plenty for everybody! seems to be the Mesa government's policy. You grab the land, and we'll legalise it.

These occupations are something of a slam-dunk for those - of whom Felipe Quispe (he of the 90 day deadline) might be one - looking a means to escalate the current conflict to a full-blown civil war: either Mesa lets the occupiers stay in place, and confirm to Whom It May Concern - the Bolivian military, for instance, and Uncle Sam - that the country is in the charge of a Boneless Wonder; or else there's a nasty outbreak of lead poisoning, and the golpistas have the propaganda they need to persuade their people of the need to move to the armed struggle.

What there is not - in the stories I've seen - is quantification, in numbers of farms, acreage, numbers occupying, and similar 5 Ws stuff: are these just a handful of symbolic targets selected to keep the rank-and-file happy that the revolution is on the way, or a serious attempt at a land grab?

  1. I have got hold of a copy of the Herbert Klein Concise History of Bolivia - a first skim-through of which has shown a certain promise of shedding light on a number of issues.

  2. There is no percentage in satisfaction in politics, so later on, demands turned to subsidies, cultural issues, etc.

  3. An interesting piece on the corrosive effect of MST occupations - involving hundreds of thousands of peasants, it seems - on the authority of President Da Silva. The perils of populism...

  4. For instance, a hacienda owned by a relative of former President Sánchez de Lozada; and that of former Defence Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín. And more of the same.

On quantification of occupations, detto fatto! A piece from October 25 quotes the chief of El Movimiento Sin Tierra, Angel Durán, as saying that
en los últimos días han sido tomadas dos propiedades en Tarija que, unidas a las nueve ocupadas desde el año 2000, suman alrededor de 35.000 hectáreas.

En el área norte de Yungas, el terreno tropical del departamento de La Paz, y en la provincia Iturralde, en el norte de esta región, existen entre 10.000 y 12.000 hectáreas usurpadas, mientras que en Santa Cruz, en el oriente boliviano, "estamos hablando de aproximadamente 50.000", aclaró el líder campesino.

At first blush, numbers like that seem to go well beyond the merely symbolic. It would be interesting to see just what sort of organisation is running a campaign like that.


In what seems a mirror-image of the indecisive leadership being demonstrated by Mesa, hard-man Quispe has doubled the period of his ultimatum! Formerly 90 days, he now says Mesa has 180 days to shape up or be shipped out.

Give it a fortnight, and Quispe will be insisting he serves out the rest of his predecessor's term in full...

Or is he lulling Mesa into a fall sense of security, whilst preparing the revolution for Tuesday fortnight? Strangely, I haven't a clue...

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