Bolivia: Land Reform on the Horizon
Bolivians Voted to Limit the Size of Land Purchases and now the Government Must Move to Reclassify Rural Lands
By Erin Rosa
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
February 2, 2009
Santa Cruz, Bolivia; January 31, 2009: While Bolivian voters have approved a new constitution affirming indigenous rights, they also overwhelmingly supported a measure limiting the size of future land purchases in the Andean nation that is aimed at preventing a minority of wealthy estate owners from further consolidating rural property.
The second ballot question was the result of a compromise between Bolivian president Evo Morales’ administration and a more conservative political opposition that insisted on putting the purchasing provision up for a separate vote.
While more than 60 percent of voters approved the constitution in an election held Sunday, Jan. 25., official results from the country’s electoral court also show that 80 percent supported limiting the land purchases to 5,000 hectares, meaning that at least some of those voters who didn’t approve the constitution ended up supporting smaller denominations of future land holdings.
The results have already moved government officials to begin reforming land purchases. This week, the Ministry of Rural Development announced that it would no longer be granting property titles to individuals who sought to purchase more than 5,000 hectors of land. The same agency has also announced that it will be drafting a new law to reclassify agricultural property in the rural areas of the country, in order to better comply with provisions of the new constitution, distinguishing plots by size and by ownership, while also merging together similar definitions of land that are a part of old legislation from 50 years ago.
In the Santa Cruz department, where large farms and cattle ranches cover a wide stretch of the land, there are concerns that the proposed law will somehow inhibit production or will allow the government to take over certain classifications of land. However, the constitution does nothing to redistribute private property so long as it is being used by its owner, including for ranching or farming. In order to assist in drafting the law, the ministry has asked for testimony from campesino and indigenous groups who usually work the land, as well as the property owners.
Social movements in the country have long demanded that the government further redistribute the large property holdings that already exist in the country, and while further consolidation has been halted in a way, major legislative actions to actually redistribute the land will be on hold at least until a new Multinational Legislative Assembly is elected in December 2009, per the voter-approved constitution.
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