from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On June 3, Bolivian president Evo Morales Ayma signed decrees instituting a large-scale national agrarian reform program. In a ceremony in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, Morales handed out the first titles under the new program, distributing 30,000 square kilometers of state-owned land to indigenous campesino communities in what he called the start of a “true agrarian revolution.” Thousands of representatives of indigenous, campesino and social organizations attended the ceremony in the city’s Chiriguano Plaza.

Morales called Bolivia’s 1953 agrarian reform “insufficient” and said his new program is broader and deeper. On June 6, Alfredo Rada, deputy minister of coordination with the country’s social movements, announced that the program would redistribute 2.2 million hectares of land over the next four months. About 20 million hectares–a fifth of Bolivia’s total land area–is expected to be redistributed over the next five years.

In addition to handing out land parcels, the government will provide subsidies, credits and equipment to small-scale agricultural producers under the reform plan. In his June 3 speech, Morales also pledged his government’s support for “ecological products” and called for turning Bolivia into an “organic country” which produces crops without chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

While the reform program’s initial distributions involve state-owned land, Morales said his government will also confiscate private lands that are deemed non-productive. He denied accusations by large-scale landowners that their lands are being stolen. In talks with those business sectors, Morales said, he asked them to prove such claims and they declined. “They, their grandparents, have stolen our land for 500 years,” said Morales. “They have to give the lands back to their original owners.” (BBC News, June 4; Resumen Latinoamericano, June 7; La Jornada, Mexico, June 7; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, June 10 from AP)

The federation representing large-scale landowners in the eastern Bolivian departments of Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando violently opposes the land reform. When its leaders walked out of talks with the government during the week of May 29, they warned that their members would form paramilitary “self-defense” groups to protect their estates from confiscation. (BBC News, June 4; LJ, June 7)

Santa Cruz governor Ruben Costas also tried to fight the agrarian reform by announcing his own reform plan on May 23, allegedly with the goal of distributing land to campesinos and indigenous people in Santa Cruz, the country’s largest and most economically powerful department. The national government called Costas’ plan illegal and unconstitutional. (LJ, June 7) On June 9, the Santa Cruz business sectors named Costas as their representative for possible land reform talks with the Morales government. (LJ, June 10)

According to a public statement from the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB), the Morales government’s new land reform decrees were developed in consensus among Bolivia’s indigenous and campesino organizations and were approved in the National Agrarian Commission. Federations representing large-scale farmers and ranchers were invited to participate in the Commission but declined, said CIDOB.

The Commission was established under Law 1715, the National Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA) Law, pushed through in October 1996 by the government of then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada despite fierce protests by campesino and indigenous sectors. The latest decrees, which must still be approved by Congress, modify Law 1715 and, according to CIDOB, seek to correct “injustices and illegalities” in decrees promulgated in May 2005. One of these, Decree 28140, created a new form of property–“forest property”–favoring powerful economic sectors in eastern Bolivia. (CIDOB Statement, June 9) Decree 28140 was one of 46 decrees issued by President Carlos Mesa Gisbert on May 17, 2005, a day after mass protests began against his administration. He was forced from office three weeks later, on June 6. (National Department of Social Communication)


Over the weekend of June 3, Bolivian businessperson Luis del Rio hired a group of Ayoreo indigenous people, armed with bows, arrows and sticks, to attack other indigenous people allegedly squatting on property he claims to own in Ascencion de Guarayos, in the eastern department of Santa Cruz. The Ayoreo–who were apparently drunk during the attack–burned the squatters’ makeshift homes, the alternative news agency Bolpress reported. Two indigenous people were wounded. (La Jornada, June 7; El Nuevo Herald, June 10 from AP; Confederacion de Pueblos Indigenas de Bolivia-CIDOB statement, June 9)

Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said on June 9 that neither Del Rio nor the squatters have any property titles for the land in Guayaros, and that both groups will be evicted. Speaking in Santa Cruz, Rural Development Minister Hugo Salvatierra accused the Guarayos deputy mayor and the mayor of El Puente of “inciting violence among indigenous people.” Salvatierra said the two municipal officials also sought to kidnap a national government commission investigating land invasions in the area, in order to “aggravate the problem.” (LJ, June 10)

The Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB) accused large landholders of creating a “false conflict” in Guarayos, “making it seem as if the Ayoreo people are in confrontation with the campesinos, which is not true.” According to CIDOB, “Once the Ayoreo brothers have been tricked by land speculators taking advantage of their economic need, they are hired and paid to defend the lands of those who claim to be the owners–without proving it–of land occupied by Ayoreos and campesinos.” (CIDOB Statement, June 9)

A similar land conflict involving Ayoreo indigenous people who were hired as thugs took place May 8-12, 2005, on the Los Yuquises estate in Santiesteban province, in Santa Cruz. See WW4 REPORT #110.


On June 9, a land conflict erupted in Oruro department in southwestern Bolivia when police agents and soldiers moved to evict hundreds of members of the Homeless Movement (MST) from urban properties on the outskirts of the city of Oruro, the departmental capital. The MST had been occupying the properties, which belonged to private owners and the departmental government, for a month and a half. Police agents and soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to dislodge the squatters, who responded with rocks, sticks and dynamite, according to a report from the Erbol radio network. At least 10 squatters were treated in a local hospital for injuries; one police agent was killed by a bullet. More than 30 people were arrested by the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ). (La Jornada, Mexico, June 10; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, June 10)

Oruro governor Alfredo Aguilar said he ordered the eviction based on a court order. Alfredo Rada, deputy minister of coordination with social movements, expressed the national government’s support for the action taken by Oruro authorities. (ENH, June 10) Rada said the government talked with the MST to try to find a solution, “but we found an intransigence among the representatives and we decided on the eviction. We knew the risks, but we had no alternative but to restore legality.” (LJ, June 10)

Presidency Minister Juan Ramon Quintana said the police agent who died was a “member of the Battalion of Private Physical Security.” Rada said the agent was dressed in civilian clothing during the operation. “The circumstances of the death are under investigation,” said Rada. (ENH, June 10 from AP)

Quintana denied that the police had used firearms, “not even rubber bullets.” The use of lethal weapons “does not fit within the logic or the policy of our government; the maximum use of chemical agents was ordered for this task,” said Quintana.

The MST responded to the eviction with a protest march on the evening of June 8, and 70 of its members began a hunger strike at the offices of the Departmental Workers’ Federation (COD). (LJ, June 10)

Quintana blamed the Oruro violence on the right-wing Democratic and Social Power (Podemos) party led by ex-president Jorge Quiroga, which he accused of working with elements of the “radical left” in an effort to erode support for the ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS) as the July 2 elections for a Constituent Assembly draw near. (AP, June 11)

The Constituent Assembly, which will have the task of rewriting Bolivia’s Constitution, is scheduled to begin sessions on Aug. 6. (Resumen Latinoamericano, June 7) Congress approved the law convening the Constituent Assembly on March 4, Morales promulgated it on March 6 and candidates for the Assembly’s 255 seats had to be registered by April 3. The MAS is set to benefit from the short timeline, since only political parties, duly recognized citizen groups or undefined “indigenous peoples” can offer candidates. Any social organization lacking such status would have had to obtain–in less than a month–signatures representing 2% of registered voters on a departmental or national level. (“Bolivia: Proceso Abierto,” article by Raquel Gutierrez & Luis A. Gomez, April 30 via Resumen Latinoamericano, June 9, AP, June 11)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 11


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #122

“Bolivia: Evo launches ‘land revolution,'” June 6


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution