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BOLIVIA: Land Seisures

Since the recent countrywide protests in Bolivia, and removal of their "democratically elected" president, ex-president Lozada. Bolivians have gone ahead and organized their own plans for land redistribution. Occupying idle lands throughout varios parts of the country.

Writing of Econoticiasbolivia.com, translated by Kim Sky

La Paz, November 11, 2003. - In a new clash with the government of president Carlos Mesa, again several thousand of landless farmers and peasants have begun occuping several agricultural properties belonging to the large estate owners from the former regime of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

In the highlands from locality of Sorata, four properties of regular size were taken in the last few hours by loyal farmers lead by "Mallku" Felipe Quispe, head of the union "Confederation of Working Farmers in Bolivia" (CSUTCB). Also in the southern region of the city of La Paz a large extension of lands have been occupied in Mallasilla. In the valley of Cochabamba, in Secaba, the landless peasants have taken by force a large farm owned by the ex- minister of Defense, Carlos Sanchez Berzaín, and the right arm of Sanchez de Lozada, have been removed by force.

Justifying this action by the community, the leader of the farmers of La Paz, Rufo Calle, has sworn that his group will continue to take over unused land throughout different regions that department. "The authorities are not fulfilling their commitments and people no longer want to hope", he said when demanding that at least of 10 to 20 hectares of earth be given to each family farmer.

According to the "Mallku" Quispe, the land confiscation is justified because they are taking over lands that are "abandoned". "In the time of Melgarejo (president of Bolivia in second half of century XIX), the landowners expelled our grandparents of these lands, now we are just recovering those lands. We are not taking anything from anyone, also the recovery of this land is peaceful ", said Mallku when explaining the situation to the departmental federations, to recover the earth from those who are in power, from the "k'aras" (whites).

Según el "Mallku" Quispe, la toma de tierras estaba justificada porque se trataba de terrenos de "engorde o abandonados". "En el tiempo de Melgarejo (presidente de Bolivia en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX), los terratenientes han despojado a nuestros abuelos de esas tierras, ahora solamente estamos recuperando esas tierras. No se está quitando nada a nadie, además la recuperación es pacífica", dijo al instruir a las federaciones departamentales a recuperar las tierras que están en poder de los "k'aras" (blancos).


The occupation of these estates has been, nevertheless, not authorized by the head executive from the Movimiento Sin Tierra (MST), Durán Angel, who denied responsibilities for these actions and has stated that they were impelled by "political interests".

Three weeks ago, Durán had made an agreement with the government president Carlos Mesa to call for a suspension of land seizures, to wait for solutions to be presented regarding desputes in Sacaba, over the property of ex- minister Sanchez Berzaín and in Collana, where properties belonging to relatives of ex- president Sanchez de Lozada are involved, as well as other possible resolutions to demands put forth by the landless peasants. They have fulfilled their agreement to stop repossing land and because of a lack of any solutions, the occupations have been reactivated, under the endorsement of the Confederation of Farmers, but not by the main leader Durán Angel of MST, who has fallenmore and more under question because of his conciliatory attitude towards president Mesa.


Otherwise, the leaders of the Confederation of Farmers, along with the leaders of Central Bolivian Obrera (COB), the Regional Workers Union and the Federation of United Neighbors from El Alto, who headed the popular rebellion that overthrew the last president in power Sanchez de Lozada in October, have a different opinion.

After ordering for renewed land seizures, "Mallku" Quispe snubbed the minor officials representing President Mesa and asked that immediate attention be given to their demands for agrarian reform.

When defending to landless communities, the leader of the CSUTCB began with the fact that, it is difficult to move from placing faith in our local leaders to trusting the leaders of the MST, who seem believe that solution negotiated with new authorities from the agricultural sector, who nevertheless have strong ties with agri-business and large estate owners fro the eastern part of the country.


In the lastest land seizures new victims have been recorded. According to the community that appropiated a hacienda belonging to ex- minister Sanchez Berzaín, a baby of six months, daughter of one of the landless farmers, almost passed away because of asphixcion and lack of medical attention. The baby was severely affected by shots of tear gase two weeks ago, and other seven farmers were hurt during the first intervention of by troops. Now, around 500 peasants have put up tents on these lands and have said that, they would not leave for any reason.

The land seizures in Sorata, the representatives of the district have reported that 11 people would have received minor wounds, in circumstances not yet clarified. The decision to reclaim four properties was made last Saturday, when some five thousand people met in the main Plaza of Sorata.

In the community of Mallasilla, where there are more than 300 landless peasants occupying 700 hectares, there were no incidents, according to the reports until now.


Before these recent occupations, the minister of Sustainable Development, Jorge Cortés, said that he would try to solve the conflict through dialogue, "but within the legal guidelines and with respect for private property".

The minister explained that "we have made very important advances with the Movement Without Land (MST)", this is the reason why the seizures were not justified.

In the case of Sacaba, Cortés said that the movement has been instigated by "professional land-takers who have been forcing situations to end in violence", nonetheless, denying the right of landless peasants to occupy territories belonging to the ex- minister of Defense.

At national level there is an estimate of one million farmers with tiny farms and nearly 250 thousand farmers without land, who protest by reclaiming their dowry, these new estates.

In this country, the land is very badly distributed and therefore is the central problem of Bolivian agriculture. The lands most fertile and apt for the farming ave been illegally distributed to large estate owners, who depend on their strong ties with sectors of political and economic power economic.

In the most recent official report by the Ministry of Agriculture examining the land holding situation in Bolivia statess that "87 percent of the land (28 million hectares) is in hands only of the 7 percent of the land owners. The rest of the 93 percentage of farmers own only 4 million hectares (13 percent)".

The extreme concentration of land in the hands of the few and the failure of governmental policies to reduce the amount of unproductive land, which is prohibited by law, and redistribute it to peasants and small farmers, has provoked more and more frequent land seizures by landless farmers or small farmers.


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