Morales makes good on land reform promises

Rick Kearns, February 18, 2008

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia - One of President Evo Morales' campaign promises to indigenous peoples was to give back part of what was stolen. On Jan. 28, the Aymara president of Bolivia delivered 923,318 acres of land to some Guarani people who, for thousands of years, have resided in the regions of what are now parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. In a separate action, Bolivian officials also announced the future delivery of another 445,000 acres to 12,000 Guranis in the same area.

The return of the property is based on the law passed in 2006, known as the Community Redirection of Agrarian Reform Act (which aimed to follow through with legislation first passed in 1996) which stipulates: ''The expropriation of agricultural property will proceed by cause of public utility, qualified by Law, or by non-compliance of the Social Economic Function in smaller properties as required by the community.''

''Social Economic Function,'' according to Bolivian law, refers to land use; and properties not being utilized for agriculture or any business enterprise are considered idle and are therefore subject to possible expropriation. By August of 2006 for instance, the Bolivian government had seized over 200,000 acres along parts of their border with both Peru and Brazil. These lands were not being cultivated and were being occupied illegally. New owners were - and still are - encouraged to develop small farming operations and are given access to low-interest micro-credit loans. Part of Morales' original platform included the ''return of at least 2 million'' acres to indigenous and campesino (rural) peoples.

Two weeks ago, Morales came very close to meeting that goal with the combined total reaching over 1,300,000 acres, all of it located in the opposition-controlled region of Santa Cruz.

The recent land transfer and commemoration ceremony was held in the town of Ivo, in the Luis Calvo province of Santa Cruz.

President Morales handed over the land titles to local leaders Wilson Chanagary, president of the Assembly of Guarani Peoples and Wayari Pacuire, Capitain Major of the Guaranis. Joining Morales on the dais were Justice Minister Celima Torrico, Vice-Minister of Lands Alejandro Almaraz and the Director of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, Juan Carlos Rojas. While the audience at the ceremony was mostly Guaranis and other Morales supporters, the Aymara president made further comments directed at landowners.

''... Better that they go and deliver idle lands because, according to the laws they are obliged to do so,'' Morales asserted. ''The captivity of these Guarani families must end,'' Morales continued, referring to the deplorable slave-like conditions (as described in a 2004 U.N. report) facing many indigenous people in the region. ''And because of this, we ask that the landowners become aware ... They [landowners] have to know that before the Spanish invasion this was the land of the indigenous people, and it must be returned to them.''

The breakdown of the allotted lands was as follows: the Community Lands of Origin of Santa Cruz received 632,844 acres; CLO of Chuquisaca was given 162,341 acres; the community properties of eastern Santa Cruz received 13,202 acres; and the community properties of Chuquisaca were awarded 114,929 acres.

Along with the delivery of those titles, it was announced that the Supreme Decree 29354 had been approved which allowed for the expropriation of 444,600 acres that would go to another 12,000 Guarani people in the Hernando Siles and Luis Calvo provinces. Both of these areas are in the same ancestral Guarani region as the town of Ivo where the ceremony was held.

The day chosen for the transfer also had historical significance for the Guaranis; it was the 116th anniversary of the massacre of Kuruyuki, the last and bloodiest battle between Guarani warriors and Spanish troops. Thousands of indigenous fighters lost their lives on that day in 1892 after many decades of struggle. Both the president and the local Guarani leaders acknowledged the commemoration and the presence of Guarani representatives from Paraguay and Argentina.

While the ceremony was focused on the presentation of the lands and a ceremony honoring the ancestors who had fallen at Kuruyuki, most of the Guarani leaders present had recently publicized their support for President Morales and the newly passed Declaration of Indigenous Rights. In December, in the opposition strongholds of Tarija and Santa Cruz, Guarani leaders held press conferences and announced plans for direct political action that would go against the activities of the powerful and rich Santa Cruz and Tarija authorities.

In Tarija, for instance, the Captains Council of the Guarani People of Tarija directly contradicted the intentions of the mainstream political leaders of the region who, along with Santa Cruz and Beni, are seeking autonomy from the Morales-led government.

The Captains Council's six point declaration of Dec. 12, among other things, states the following: ''Point One - The Civic Committee [Santa Cruz authorities] upon denying the existence of indigenous autonomy and only recognizing and promoting the departmental [regional governmental] autonomy, maligns the ancestral claim of the Guarani people, which is self-determination; Point Two - Indigenous autonomy is legal and legitimate, because of that the Guarani People reserve the right to develop their own statute of autonomy based on uses, customs and after consultation with the people; and Point Three - The natural gas riches found in Guarani territory, which correspond to the Guarani people, with a legitimate right, seek to benefit from those riches and manage them independently as they see fit ...''

Republished from Indian Country Today

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