Bolivian President Morales continues his �Agrarian
Revolution,� nationalizing unused land and distributing it to small farmers.
His government program points at the redistribution of 20 million hectares of
During his first 18 months in office, President Morales has
personally signed 5,166 property ownership documents over to nearly landless
peasants. Until now Morales� leftwing government has redistributed land
belonging to the state. In the next stage, President Morales recently
announced, land reform will deal with property still in the hands of large
landowners, the latifundistas, �who do not use the land profitably for
society.� By the end of his presidential term in 2011, Morales hopes to
redistribute a total of 20 million hectares of land, about 50 million acres, or
one-fifth of the land surface of Bolivia.
Morales is Bolivia�s first Indian President, the only
recently elected leftwing state leader in Latin America with a broad social
base among the majority of the population. He justifies his revolutionary land
reform with the slogan that �land must belong to those that work it.�
In many cases, land ownership in Bolivia is unclear. Often,
if not in most cases, large landowners simply confiscated land in times past
and arbitrarily included it in their latifundios -- large landed estates
-- and today consider it their property, whether it is used or not.
The Morales government insists that such land belongs to the
state. Under his presidency, for the first time, the state is redistributing
land to the peasants.
Along with nationalization of the energy sector and a new
constitution, the land question is a priority in Morales� government program.
Redistribution of land is in fact the heart of the government�s policies for
social justice. He considers the agrarian reform begun in 1953 that was
limited chiefly to Andes western highlands far from sufficient. A former
farmers union president points out that in eastern Bolivia big landowners
possess five hectares of land �for each cow.� While in the western part of the
country a family of five persons must live from half a hectare of land, a
little more than an acre.
It is the old story of Latin America. Of the world. Few
people possess nearly everything. Yet this is the key question in much of Latin
America. I have quoted elsewhere the French sociologist and close observer of
Latin America, Alain Touraine, who wrote that �the key to the political life of the continent and its capacity to
invent a political-social model capable of working in an exceptionally
difficult situation is without doubt in Bolivia.�
Land distribution in Latin America�s poorest country is very
unfair. The unfair distribution of land has led time and time again to
social tensions. According to estimates of even the Catholic Church, a few
families claim more than 90 percent of Bolivia�s farmable land and pastures,
while 3 million small Indian farmers have to get by with the rest.
Big cattle raisers and soya producers are unwilling to
surrender even unused land without a battle. �We will not permit them to take
even one square meter of our land,� said a spokesman for the national
Agricultural and Cattle Breeders Association. If necessary, the big landowners
threaten to organize self-defense groups and resist any requisitioning of their
Much more than the conflict concerning nationalization of
the energy sector, land reform underlines the deep divisions in Bolivian
society. The lines are drawn between the haves and the have-nots. On one hand,
Morales sees in land reform the possibility of improving living conditions of
the Indian population from which he himself comes. He appears determined to
carry out his revolution even against massive resistance of landowners and the
entire Bolivian right.
The elite class of European background -- about 15 percent
of a country with a predominantly indigenous population -- and the dominant
class via which the USA has historically controlled Latin America, is just as
determined as is Morales. This minority class is ready to defend old privileges
by any means, as it always has. And it depends on Washington�s economic and
moral support. Here then, again, is a classic case of Washington and its local
vassals vs. any sign of genuine progress in the Americas.
The two fronts are meanwhile entrenched in their positions.
At this juncture no compromise is in sight. Therefore, there appears to be
little chance of political and economic stability in Bolivia. Apparently, I
might add, Che Guevara knew what he was doing when he zeroed in on Bolivia.
Stewart, writer and journalist, is originally from Asheville, NC. After studies
at the University of California at Berkeley and other American universities, he
has lived his adult life abroad, first in Germany, then in Italy, alternated
with long residences in The Netherlands, France, Mexico and Russia. After a
career in journalism as the Italian correspondent for the Rotterdam daily
newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, and contributor to the
press, radio and TV in various European countries, he writes fiction full-time.
His books of fiction, "Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be
A Stranger" and "Once In Berlin" are
published by Wind River Press. His
new novel, "Asheville," is published by www.Wastelandrunes.com He lives with
his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail: email@example.com.