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Bolivia: The Unfinished Business of Land Reform

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  • Cort Greene
    https://nacla.org/blog/2013/3/31/bolivia-unfinished-business-land-reform Bolivia: The Unfinished Business of Land Reform Emily Achtenberg
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2013
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      Bolivia: The Unfinished Business of Land Reform
      Emily Achtenberg <https://nacla.org/nacla-bloggers#Emily>
      Rebel Currents <https://nacla.org/node/7334>
      April 1, 2013
      [image: Printer-friendly version] <https://nacla.org/print/8940>[image:
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      Land reform in Bolivia, and the promise of land redistribution from wealthy
      *latifundistas *and agrobusiness elites to poor farmers and indigenous
      communities, has been a hallmark of President Evo Morales�s administration.
      Recent* data<http://www.inra.gob.bo:8081/InraPb/upload/INRA-Resumen%20Resultados.zip>
      * from the National Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA) provide a useful
      picture of what the Morales government has accomplished to date, as well as
      the unfinished business that lies ahead.

      [image: 1633]Credit: anbolivia.blogspot.comAccording to INRA, 157 million
      acres of land have been surveyed and titled since 1996 under Bolivia�s land
      regularization laws, benefiting more than 1 million people. Some 134
      million acres, or 85%, have been titled during the last seven years under
      Morales, compared to just 23 million between 1996 and 2005 under past
      neoliberal governments.

      One-third of all regularized land is now held collectively by indigenous
      and peasant organizations in the form of self-governing Native Community
      Lands (TCOs or TIOCs)�primarily, but by no means exclusively, in Bolivia�s
      eastern lowlands. Another 22% is owned in the form of individual or family
      plots by small farmers and �colonizers� (western highland farmers who have
      resettled in the lowlands). Together, peasants and indigenous communities
      hold 88 million acres of titled land (55%), more than double the amount
      they controlled in 1992, according to INRA.

      Another 57 million acres (37%) of regularized land is now titled to the
      Bolivian government�a virtually non-existent category pre-INRA. Of this
      total, some 3.5 million acres has been redistributed to peasant and
      indigenous groups, benefiting 11,373 families and 271 communities�virtually
      all under Morales. Another 11.6 million acres is potentially available for
      redistribution (most state lands, protected as forests and national parks,
      are not available). The remaining 7% of titled land is owned by large and
      medium-sized owners.

      Of the 290,000 land titles issued, more than 90% have been issued under
      Morales. Almost one-quarter have been granted to women, and another 37% to
      men and women jointly. This marks an historic shift for Bolivia, where
      women have long been excluded from land ownership.[image: 1634]Land
      titling, Pucarani, La Paz. Credit: inra.gob.bo

      Still, the pace of land titling has fallen short of legal requirements and
      popular expectations. The amount of land regularized to date represents
      only 60% of the total 262 million acres in Bolivia that is legally required
      to be titled by October 2013. INRA officials say they will need *another
      five years *<http://www.ftierra.org/ft/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14102:rair&catid=170:tierra&Itemid=243>to
      complete the process, with the most complicated and conflicted ownership
      situations yet to be addressed.

      Critics, including *Juan Carlos
      ,* former director of INRA under Morales, charge that the land titling and
      redistribution process has slowed considerably in the last couple of years.
      The data shows between *June
      October 2012, only 11 million acres were titled�less than half the average
      annual rate achieved under the first five years of the Morales government
      (based on Rojas's statistics). Additionally, in 2012 only 136,000 acres of
      government land were redistributed (to peasant and indigenous communities),
      compared to an annual average of 222,000 acres over the previous 6 years.

      Growing pressures for land redistribution and conflicts between social
      sectors over land have posed major challenges for the Morales government.
      Western highlands c*ampesinos*, representing 70% of Bolivia�s rural
      population, are increasingly land-poor, as their �*minifundios*� (small
      parcels) secured in the 1952 Revolution have been compromised by
      subdivision over successive generations�and more recently, by climate
      change. Many have migrated to the eastern lowlands and settled on the
      fringes of protected areas, clashing with indigenous groups who regard
      these territories as their ancestral lands. A case in point is the ongoing
      TIPNIS highway controversy, fueled in large part by a conflict over land.

      [image: 1635]Rural Cochabamba. Credit: inra.gob.boIncreasingly, peasant and
      settler organizations view lowland indigenous groups as the �new *
      latifundistas*,� controlling vast tracts of seemingly idle land (through
      their TCOs and TIOCs) while they themselves have little. In part, this
      reflects a contrast in worldviews and economies between nomadic lowland
      peoples, who regard their territory as a collective resource to support
      fishing, hunting, and other subsistence activities, and highland *campesinos
      *, who see land as belonging to those who use it productively.
      *Campesino* groups
      also resent the current legal prohibition against redistributing state
      lands through individual and family titles, their traditional form of

      According to the NGO *Fundaci�n
      of the 11.6 million acres of state land that could be made available for
      redistribution is compromised and not suitable for productive use. Still, *vast
      tracts *<http://boliviarising.blogspot.com/2012/10/land-and-land-reform-where-are-we-now.html>of
      desirable agricultural land in the eastern lowlands continue to be held by
      agrobusiness and ranching elites (including many foreigners)�dating back to
      the 1970s, when military dictators awarded patronage land grants to their
      political cronies to promote export agriculture. While holdings that
      predate the 2009 Constitution are exempt from the legal limit of 12,350
      acres, critics argue that much of this land is speculatively held, not
      serving a socioeconomic purpose as required by law, and could be reclaimed
      by the government through an aggressive land titling process.

      By some estimates, the Morales government has seized around *25 million
      owners who have failed to demonstrate a productive or legal use of their
      land, including several *high profile
      debt servitude, fraudulent deeds, or obvious lack of investment by
      conservative political opponents. Still, there is growing concern that the
      government's new focus on agroindustrial productivity has compromised its
      willingness to confront large estate holders, and its commitment to land
      redistribution in general.[image: 1637]Land titling, Oruro. Credit:

      In an effort to promote food security and expand the agricultural frontier,
      Morales has recently sought to forge alliances with the agro-business
      sector. A *new law* <http://www.bolpress.com/art.php?Cod=2013011203>could
      exempt more than 12 million acres of illegally deforested land (outside the
      national parks) from reverting to the state, if owners pay a small fine and
      commit to agricultural reuse. To facilitate owners� access to credit, the
      government has also agreed to *suspend until 2018
      verification process required to determine whether land holdings are
      serving a socioeconomic purpose (it�s currently unclear whether this*
      controversial* *proposal*
      been modified to exclude the largest estate holders).

      For *Rojas*<http://boliviarising.blogspot.com/2012/10/agrarian-transformation-in-bolivia-at.html>,
      such measures suggest �not only [that] the process of agricultural
      transformation [has] stalled, but that there is the risk of it being
      reversed.� In any case, they will serve to intensify the current conflict
      between highland *campesinos* and lowland indigenous groups over Bolivia�s
      land policy. A *law proposed
      the national peasant organizations would legitimize illegal settlements in
      protected areas such as the TIPNIS, allow the reversion of indigenous
      lands, and permit private ownership of redistributed state lands�confirming
      the worst fears of lowland indigenous groups.

      Unless the Morales government is willing to confront the twin challenges of
      the *minifundio* and the*latifiundio* through a more aggressive and
      strategic land redistribution policy, the growing controversy over land
      could shape up to be even more powerful than the TIPNIS conflict.


      *Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA�s weekly blog
      *Rebel Currents*, covering Latin American social movements and progressive
      governments (nacla.org/blog/rebel-currents).*

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