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date: 20 September 2018

Summary and Keywords

Until the 1950s, the distribution of land in Bolivia, as in the rest of Latin America, was very unequal. But in 1953, a year after the 1952 national revolution, the nationalist revolutionary movement (MNR) enacted a decree on agrarian reform that dismantled feudal haciendas in the western highlands, abolished the system of forced peasant labor, and distributed expropriated lands to peasants. While the decree proved redistributive in the Altiplano and valleys, it ended up creating new concentrations of land in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands. This area, which constituted two thirds of Bolivia’s territory, was home to a number of indigenous groups who were displaced from their lands because of the expansion of latifundio in the second half of the 20th century. In 1996, after pressure from below, the neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (1993–1997) approved a new agrarian law that recognized indigenous rights to collective territory (Tierra Comunitaria de Origen, TCO). In 2006, left-leaning President Evo Morales approved a new agrarian law. Although the new legislation mostly ratified the 1996 law, it established that only indigenous and peasant populations could be granted state lands. Despite this legislation claiming to protect the majority Indian and peasant population, scholars such as Colque, Tinta, and Sanjines note that it was under a neoliberal government, between 1996 to 2006, that much of the process of land distribution favored to indigenous groups of the lowlands, and it was under left-leaning President Evo Morales (from 2010 to the present [2018]) that much of land distribution favored medium and agricultural enterprises. The most important clash between the self-proclaimed indigenous Evo Morales and lowland indigenous groups was in September 2011 when indigenous groups living in the National Park and Indigenous Territory Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS) protested against the government’s unilateral decision to build a road through their territory. Since 2011 (up to the present, 2018) the tension and political distance between president Morales and his loyal coca-leaf grower supporters—many of whom live on the borders of the park and are invested on the construction of the road—versus the indigenous groups of the lowlands have only grown. Ironically, it seems to be under Morales that key indigenous rights such as the right to prior consultation or the right to consolidate territories (TCOs) seem to be at the most risk.

Keywords: agrarian reform, indigenous peoples, peasants, land tenure, latifundio, TIPNIS

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