Category Archives: Land

Distortion on the Andes: Right-wing foreign policy advocates showcase non-representative Indigenous “leaders” from Bolivia

In 2011, the newly elected House of Representatives will likely move U.S. foreign policy in Latin America toward intervention. Right-wing politicians in the U.S. maintain close ties with Latin American elite. In recent years, many of these opposition leaders have appealed to U.S. conservative interests in their region, expressing concern about their loss of power at the ballot box in countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

On November 17, the Americas Forum and the Hudson Institute[i] will sponsor an event in the Capitol Visitors Center entitled “Danger in the Andes,” presenting a slate of speakers on terrorism, radical Islam, drug trafficking and threats to democracy and human rights. Speakers include the new leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and John Walters, architects of Latin American foreign policy under Reagan and both Bush administrations. The organizers have also invited well-known critics of the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments, in addition to three Bolivian guests.

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Wright on Bolivian Lithium: Interesting, but Not Quite Right

It’s not the first time a respected, established journalist has presented a selective view of events in Bolivia.  In general, Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker article “Lithium Dreams” covers a great deal of territory, but lacks objectivity and thorough research in some areas.

Some errors are simple and avoidable, such as misspelling Pablo Solón, Bolivian ambassador to the U.N.’s name, or confusing the timeline of key incidents.  Wright claims, “After President George W. Bush placed Bolivia and Venezuela on a blacklist, saying that neither country was doing enough to combat drug trafficking, Morales and Chavez expelled their respective ambassadors.”  Morales actually expelled Ambassador Goldberg and Chávez followed suit on September 11 four days before the U.S. “decertification” of Bolivia’s antinarcotics initiatives.  Both assertions could have been easily verified by fact-checkers.

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Social Housing in Bolivia: Challenges & Contradictions

The Social Housing Program: PVSS

The MAS' ambitious $90M Program for Social & Solidarity Housing (PVSS) was launched with significant fanfare in April 2007, promising to provide at least 14,500 new units by the end of the year. Bolivia's 300,000 unit "quantitative" housing deficit (unlivable or overcrowded units) would be reduced by 5%, and totally eliminated in 10-20 years. The program would also generate 73,000 new jobs, reduce unemployment and emigration, promote investment, and provide a major stimulus to the national economy.
In important respects, PVSS represents a departure from Bolivia's discredited housing programs of the past, which gave stable middle-income workers better access to private mortgage credit–often to buy a second home. Under PVSS, the government provides direct loans on favorable terms to enable renters with limited means to build or buy their first new homes in urban or peripheral areas. In rural communities, beneficiaries receive direct grants.

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The United States Should Support Land Reform in Bolivia

For over fifty years international development experts have advocated land reform, small farm development, environmental sustainability, and food security. Land reform has also been promoted as the key to democratization and liberation of peoples trapped in systems of entrenched racial and ethnic inequality. As Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria pointed out in a recent column, United States-supported land reform led to democracy and development in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.1 

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Bolivia’s Regional Tensions: A History of Conflict

The long-standing power struggle between Bolivia’s central government and regions reflects the country’s persistent regional divisions. Even today Bolivia is considered one of the least integrated countries in Latin America (US State Department 2004) with a diverse population concentrated along the western Andean plateau, distinct from the population scattered throughout the eastern lowlands.

The original creation of Bolivia as a separate nation was a complex, flawed process that represented a compromise agreement between Peru and Argentina to form a buffer state between them. But it was also driven by the ambitions of Bolivian criollo elites who saw possible personal benefits. These founders of the Bolivian republic, however, had little grasp or foresight of the geopolitical problems that affect a highly dispersed, weakly consolidated state. From these shaky beginnings, not unlike other countries patched together from former colonies, Bolivia has continually struggled to establish internal cohesion and a national identity in the face of considerable ethnic and geographic diversity.

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NYT Article Raises Anxiety and Spreads Misinformation on Land Reform

The article paints a poignant picture of Mennonite colonies in Bolivia (it even compares one colony to “a tropical version of Ohio or Pennsylvania”) in an effort to appeal to American readers. This questionable comparison is far from the only skewed information.   The article rightly asserts that farmers without legal title to their land could face penalties orexpropriation.  After all, assuring that landowners have a legal right to
their land is what agrarian reform legislation is all about.

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Bolivian Congress Passes Agrarian Reform During Tension

During his campaign Morales promised to redistribute 23 million hectares within five years. The new law stipulates that land that is not currently serving an economic or social function may be allocated to indigenous or campesino communities with insufficient or no land.  The legislation follows the basic land tenure principles specified in the existing Bolivian constitution, which does not legally recognize massive landholdings (latifundia) and grants the state the right to expropriate and redistribute land.[1] The law provides economic compensation to landowners.  Bolivian officials clarify that the initiative will primarily focus on properties larger than 120 acres.   Although the U.S. mainstream press has characterized it as "radical" and MAS has made repeated statements attacking the landholding elite, the law passed this week simply modifies the 1996 law of the Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada government, and does not represent a dramatic change in land policy.[2] What concerns the political opposition and large-scale landowners, though, is that it appears that this government will actually implement the policy, which had been ineffectual and subject to corruption and favoritism in the past.  The initiative’s success will depend on the Morales administration’s’ capacity to transparently and objectively implement and interpret the law, and the ability of all parties to put aside their fondness for inflammatory rhetoric and polarized positions in favor of a transparent, just policy.

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Bolivia’s Agrarian Reform Initiative

 · The United States and European governments, as well as international agencies should support agrarian reform in Bolivia, as they have done in the past.  Bolivia should not be forced to turn only to Venezuela for support of a reform process that is critical to future economic and social stability.[i]

Morales Promises Land for the Poor

On May 2 of this year in the lowland city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, announced his government’s plans for agrarian reform to benefit thousands of indigenous people.[ii] Morales presented land titles for 3 million hectares to 60 indigenous communities and groups and promised that Bolivia’s 2.5 million rural poor would receive title to 20 million additional hectares over the next 5 years. This would constitute about 13% of Bolivia’s land being given to about 28% of its people.[iii] About one third of the land to be redistributed was already owned by the state, while another two-thirds would be reclaimed from individuals or companies holding large amounts of land in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands with no legal title or illegally obtained titles.  The government assured landowners that property legally obtained and used productively would not be affected.  The administration also stated that it would not permit land invasions and squatting settlements.  During the past ten years landless farmers and others, frustrated by the lack of government implementation of agrarian reform, increasingly moved into unoccupied lands in rural and outlying urban areas throughout the country.   Bolivia’s large national parks and forest reserves would also continue to be protected. 

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