Agrarian reform: Now is the time

Miguel Urioste, Fundacion Tierra

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article criticising the government due to the fact that six months had already passed since the approval of some very important modifications to the INRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform) law, yet, given the lack of the necessary regulations to apply them, the reconduction of agrarian reform would remain a mere announcement. I also pointed out that clearly, one of the causes of this notable delay – apart from the complexity of the issue- was the opposition of diverse business sectors and Bolivian civic committees in the east, who are working to make a reality the collapse of the Constituent Assembly and, following that, the government.

Thankfully, the National Agrarian Commission (CAN) has approved the regulations text, presented by the executive power, to be revised. Moreover, the Land and Territory commission has announced that the fundamental principals of this norm will be elevated to the constitutional level over the next few weeks. The new regulation in the law grants CAN and INRA the necessary attributions to identify large land estates and revert them back – recuperate the land without indemnification – into the hands of the state, for it to redistribute according to criteria of capacity of use of the soil and necessities of the indigenous people and campesinos without land, through programs of human settlements arranged between those municipalities where people migrate from, and migrate to.

Those of us who for many years have worked in this area, have proven the fact that some Bolivians and foreigners continue to accumulate abundant tracts of fertile and productive land in the east and Amazonian regions of our country, but do not work the land and only use it to speculate on the market. They base their economic, political, social and regional power on the business of “fattening the land”. There come in all sizes, shapes and colours, and amongst themselves they protect each other, camouflaging their activities behind dodgy companies, banks, commercial real estate agents, demolition enterprises, importers and commercial centres. With the except of a few specific periods – the governments of Mesa and Morales – public institutionality was subordinated to these interests.

National and departmental directors of INRA have put into these positions by business organisations from the east, in order to defend their interests and impede and distort the application of the laws. That is what occurred with the process of land inspections during this decade, which advanced in the titling of TCOs (Original Communitarian Lands) only thanks to the direct participation of international cooperation and the support of the Catholic Church. The Bolivians that hold power in the east, using a ferociously regionalist discourse, have arranged it so as to maintain their privileges.

Any person that comes from another country or continent, and flies over the large extensions of plains in the east and Amazonian regions would believe that we Bolivians must be crazy to have problems with accessing natural resources. And they would be right. We do have problems and they are grave. The great majority of these plains, almost all covered in forests, have owners that do not put them to work. That has to end, as simply and radical as that.

The attempt to eliminate latifundio in the east failed because of the distorted application of the INRA law, but now with the Communitarian Reconduction of the Agrarian Reform Law, its new regulations and its imminent constitutionalisation, they have completed the essential legal scaffolding so that – within the framework of respect of legitimately obtained property rights and compliance with social-economic function of the land – a second agrarian reform in the east and Amazonian regions of Bolivia can be initiated.

The latifundista property leads to a mono-producing model that attempts against the environment, and rural development with inclusion and sustainability. The mono-producing model based on soya promotes the concentration of land ownership, destroys forests and deteriorates the environment. This model is no good for the country. It is no good from Bolivia, it converts our immense forest wealth into fields for cultivation for a decade, which afterwards become pasturelands for another decade, in order to end up as sand pits that will never be able to be recuperated.

Nine years ago, the Agribusiness Chamber of the East (CAO), in a note to the media dated 28 of May, 1998, accused me of being a protagonist, demagogic, dislocated, incoherent, an impostor and dishonest. I had stated that the Supreme Decree 24988 promulgated by General Banzer – which amongst other things practically eliminated taxes on the large land holdings – would halt the application of land inspections and would impede the reversion of unused lands. Time has proven us to be right.

With the modifications introduced by the government of President Evo Morales to the INRA law at the end of 2006, and now with the regulation, its manifest political will to push forward with a second agrarian reform, and the backing of the constituent assembly, the legal and political conditions exist - although not necessarily the required balance of forces - to eliminate the latifundio. We have repeated a thousand and one times that the demand of departmental autonomy has, at its fundamental core, the search to maintain the regional conditions for the perpetuation of this concentrator, predatory and speculator model of latifundios. Now is the time for us to initiate in the east and the Amazonian regions, a peaceful and orderly process of agrarian reform, within the framework of the law and the new political constitution of the state. Because if not now, then when?

Miguel Urioste is the director of Fundación TIERRA

Translated from Apostamos por Bolivia

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