The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Bolivia: could land be the detonating issue?
I've been keeping half an eye on the Bolivian situation for the last few weeks  and - rightly or wrongly - I've put the soapbox utterings of the usual suspects down to the necessary chuntering of political business as usual. They've had the floods to contend with as well, which no doubt would tend to dampen any incipient revolutionary ardour.
We are still in the opposition's 90 day limit given to President Carlos Mesa to satisfy their demands - or else. I get no sense that revolution will ensue as a matter of course at the expiry of the deadline - indeed, there signs that some, at least, amongst the opposition might want to extent the deadline, rather than trigger a premature confrontation .
One group that have been making a nuisance of themselves has been the Movimiento Sin Tierra (MST), modelled on the well-established and distinctly troublesome MST across the border in Brazil.
Initial targets were the properties of exiled ex-president Sánchez de Lozada. They've been widening their net since. MST groups have been active, for example in the Yungas  (El Mundo December 22). And others are threatening occupations of land in the rich eastern tropical departamento of Santa Cruz (El Mundo December 22):
El secretario de Relaciones Internacionales del Movimiento Sin Tierra (MST), Florencio Orko, anunció ayer que a partir de enero de 2004 cerca de 10 mil campesinos se alistan para retomar las tierras productivas del departamento de Santa Cruz que se concentran en manos de empresarios, políticos y extranjeros.
Clearly, the challenge to Mesa from the MST is different from that from, say, Morales' cocaleros: they'll only react if Mesa touches their precious coca crops. The MST are actively seeking confrontation.
Earlier pieces noted the eagerness of cruzeños for autonomy from Bolivia - they will, not without justification, be looking for help from the La Paz government to safeguard their properties.
Can Mesa supply that help? Are the security forces ready, willing and able at all levels? Would he have the backing of the politicians in Congress from whom he's still keeping his distance (so far as I can tell)? Can he isolate the MST from the rest of the opposition, so as to avoid triggering a general revolt?
As at present advised, I'd say No to each question. But, then, at present, I'm insufficiently advised, by a long chalk!
Moving out from the immediate political problems, the land question is fraught with complexities born of history and geography: if fifty-odd years of land reform, on and off, since the Revolution of 1952 hasn't sorted it out, Mesa is hardly going to manage it during the rest of his term in office.
Even if one were starting with a clean slate - with the land of Bolivia to divvy up amongst its population starting from scratch, the problem may well be that there is too little good land to support the population that wishes to occupy it.
Plenty to get one's teeth into, then, over the next weeks and months.
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