Socialist Worker

An agricultural ‘revolution’ begins in Bolivia - but many obstacles lie ahead

by Crawford Spence and Mark Shenkin in Bolivia
Issue No. 2013

On 2 August, Bolivia’s radical president Evo Morales and his cabinet travelled to the small town of Ucureña, where, in front of 50,000 agricultural labourers, they pledged to radicalise the process dubbed Bolivia’s “agrarian revolution”.

One aspect of this process is the technical issue of increasing productivity. Some 500 tractors arrived in Ucureña, donated by Venezuela, Spain and China, to be entrusted to the poorest communities in Bolivia.

The second aspect is the far more weighty issue of the land itself. As an initial step, over three million hectares of public land are to be entrusted to poor agricultural communities.

Women, previously prevented from holding land in their own name, are to play a central role in this process.

The long term intention of the Morales government is to expropriate land from the wealthy elite of the Santa Cruz region in the east of the country, and redistribute it to the communities that currently work on the large estates in conditions bordering on slavery.

The official launch of the agrarian revolution is, however, another example of the extent to which the hands of Morales and his party, the Movement Towards Socialism, are tied by an outdated constitution.

The proposal to expropriate land held by the wealthy elite was not included in the official documentation distributed in Ucureña due to the legal restrictions the government faces.

The revolutionary rhetoric of the government contrasts with what happens in practice.

The “nationalisation” of Bolivian oil and gas on 1 May this year ended up as more of a renegotiation of existing contracts.

Foreign investment and partnerships with multinationals continue to hold sway, albeit with far more regulation than exercised by previous administrations. It could be argued that what is happening in Bolivia represents a profound democratisation of capitalism rather than a socialist revolution.

The challenge that Morales faces is to balance the will of the social movements with the immense power of the Bolivian elite. Were the Senate to reject the new expropriation law, Morales has called on his people to mobilise and paralyse parliament.

Maybe the newly elected constituent assembly, which was inaugurated in the city of Sucre last Sunday, will help loosen some of the constraints. The 255 assembly members have two years to write a new constitution.

The assembly holds the potential to redefine the powers of the state, the limits of private property and the degree of participation in policy making.

It could reverse centuries of discrimination faced by the indigenous majority.

While this will take time to translate into practical action, it could open the way to a more profound redistribution of wealth and a more significant challenge to the strength of Bolivian capitalism.

These are certainly the government’s intentions. What is clear is that the social movements in Bolivia, as much as they love Morales, will not hesitate to act if radical changes are not forthcoming.

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Sat 12 Aug 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2013
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