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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Update on Drug Policy Issues in Bolivia

The delegation found that in the Chapare coca growing region, the new government's policy of limiting coca production is yielding positive results and the Bolivian government will likely meet its coca reduction target for the year. The lack of confrontation and violence has contributed to an environment conducive to economic development. At the national level, stepped up interdiction efforts have resulted in significant increases in illicit drug seizures.

However, the continued use of the Bolivian military in coca reduction efforts and U.S. pressure to meet eradication targets has led to violence in other coca growing regions. On September 29 in the Vandiola Yungas, two coca growers were killed in a confrontation with members of a joint military-police eradication force. The ongoing conflict illustrates the complex difficulties that the government faces in implementing its coca strategy beyond the Chapare. It also underscores the importance of community cooperation in carrying out coca reduction efforts, and the need to remove military forces from such efforts and to ensure respect for human rights.

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Family of “Black October” Prosecutor Threatened

Recent incidents

On October 20, six people, four of them hooded and armed, broke in to the home of Mendoza’s brother, Hugo. They gagged and tied up Mendoza’s sister-in-law and her two elderly uncles. The assailants stated that they planned to kill Hugo Mendoza and waited for him for three hours. When he did not arrive, they took the elderly men’s savings, around $11,700 dollars. Many older Bolivians mistrust the nation’s banking system and choose to keep their savings at home. Oddly, they did not take anything else from the house.

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Lessons from Bolivia’s “Black October” 2003

The events leading to Sánchez de Lozada’s (known as "Goni") resignation demonstrated a general disgust for traditional party politics and lack of accountability, and have helped to radically restructure the Bolivian political landscape. In spite of these transformations, fundamental changes still need to be made to ensure that government ordered violence and resulting human rights violations are not repeated.

"Black October" trial continues to face obstacles

Investigations of the killings have faced multiple impediments. The first prosecutorial team abruptly closed the investigation in June 2004. One member of the team told AIN, "We are under pressure and had no choice; it was the only way to keep the peace. We didn’t want to be responsible for further conflict." In November 2004, the Bolivian Congress authorized a "trial of responsibilities" against Sánchez de Lozada and his ex-ministers, but investigations lagged once again. In February 2005, newly appointed Attorney General Pedro Gareca mistakenly charged the ex-president with rape, by citing the wrong article of the criminal procedures code, further complicating the process. The designation of a third team of prosecutors provided greater continuity.

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Andes Alternative Development, the Reality

Originally published on ISN Security Watch, September 8, 2006.

Zero coca policies and a lack of security harm sustainable economic development and contribute to a poor history of alternative development in Bolivia and Colombia.

By Sam Logan 

Alternative development programs in South America’s Andean countries have a long history of tension and conflict. Many examples of success stories exist, but the balance often tips in favor of poor implementation and distrust.

The reasons why alternative development economic programs succeed or fail rarely bubble to the surface. US officials compute statistics that may conceal very real concerns. Left behind in this process are the farmers surrounded by dead coca bushes and little by the way of real economic development to show for it.

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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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A New Constitution for Bolivia

          Although some U.S. officials have expressed concern that the Morales government has "demonstrated inclinations to consolidate executive power and promote potentially anti-democratic reforms through the Constituent Assembly and other means," [i] the structure and organization of the assembly has consistently followed the stipulations of Bolivian law and the organizing precepts of Bolivian representative democracy.  Since 2004 Bolivian presidents and legislatures have approved a legal framework and timeline for the assembly, in compliance with the stipulations of the country’s existing constitution.  The law convoking the assembly, approved by the Bolivian legislature in March 2006, bases the election of delegates on the established  democratic electoral  system, allowing political parties, established citizens’ and indigenous groups to run.

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Bolivia shifts tactics in its war on cocaine

Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle

President focuses on eradicating means of making drug, and not on coca farming

Puerto Villarroel, Bolivia — As Bolivian soldiers torch a pit filled with chemicals and coca leaves used to make cocaine, a fireball shoots toward a jungle canopy. The anti-narcotic task force destroys seven such holes daily in a region known as the Chapare.

Since Bolivia's new president, Evo Morales, assumed power in January, he has continued his nation's war on drugs in the Chapare near Bolivia's third-largest city, Cochabamba. But he also has antagonized the United States by shifting the focus away from the subsistence farmers who grow coca leaf — the raw ingredient of cocaine — to destroying pits and laboratories and confiscating chemicals needed to manufacture cocaine. Coca has been the lifeline for many Chapare farmers, many of whom had been tin miners until the collapse of metal prices in the 1980s.

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Crisis or Opportunity? Bolivian Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Response

Click here to view this joint Andean Information Network and Washington Office on Latin America report as a PDF.

The December 2005 election of indigenous leader and coca grower Evo Morales marked a major turning point for South America’s poorest country. Winning 53 percent of the vote, Morales received an unprecedented mandate for change, and he is following through on his campaign promises on a range of issues. Of particular importance for U.S.-Bolivian relations is drug control policy, where the Morales government’s framework – “coca yes, cocaine no” – seeks to distinguish clearly between coca, a plant long used by indigenous peoples for health, religious and cultural purposes, and cocaine, an illicit drug.

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Colombia politics: Coca and cocaine in the Andes

Progress against coca in Colombia is threatened by the perilous politics of the drug "war" and, as always, by market forces

LA MACARENA National Park is a dramatic mountain ridge that cuts like a serrated knife through the tropical grasslands of Colombia. It is a refuge for dozens of species of wildlife found in few other places on earth. But recently it has become a new front in the "war" on the cocaine industry that the United States and its allies have now been waging for a generation in the Andean states of South America.

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