Landowners' Rebellion: Slavery and Saneamiento in Bolivia
Written by Alexander van Schaick
Monday, 28 April 2008
In recent weeks, cattle ranchers and landowners in Bolivia's Cordillera province, located in the south of the department of Santa Cruz, resorted to blockades and violence in order to halt the work of Bolivia's National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA – Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria). As a referendum on Departmental Autonomy for Santa Cruz draws near, the conflict calls into question the central government's ability to enforce the law in the Bolivian lowlands.
The dispute centers on the region of Alto ParapetÃ, south of the provincial capital of Camiri, where INRA is currently trying to carry out land reform and create an indigenous territory for the GuaranÃ indigenous people. Additionally, it claims various communities of GuaranÃ live and work on white or mestizo-owned ranches in conditions of semi-slavery.
Ronald Larsen – Gringo Instigator of the Landowners' Uprising?
One of the more bizarre aspects of the conflict is the controversy surrounding Ronald Larsen, the landowner of US citizenship who reportedly sequestered AlmarÃ¡z and others at gunpoint on February 29. According to documents released by government sources, Larsen's story goes back to 1968, when, after fighting in the Vietnam War, he came to Bolivia where he has lived since without residency on a tourist visa. His son, Duston Larsen, who was captured on Bolivian TV leading the group that violently prevented INRA from passing Lagunillas on April 4, was chosen to be Mister Bolivia in 2004. Duston also appeared as himself in the popular Bolivian comedy "QuiÃ©n MatÃ³ a la Llamita Blanca."
The Larsens have been among the leaders of the resistance to saneamiento in Alto ParapetÃ. During the Banzer dictatorship of the 1970s, Ronald Larsen began consolidating properties in Santa Cruz, eventually becoming one of Santa Cruz's biggest landholders. He and his family hold at least 57,145 hectares of land in Santa Cruz although discrepancies between records held by INRA and the Agrarian Superintendent may mean he own an additional 10,000 ha. In Alto ParapetÃ the Larsen family holds at least 15,777 ha. of land in five different properties. According to Bolpress, Larsen also has strong links to the right wing in Santa Cruz, having wined-and-dined with RubÃ©n Costas and Branko Marinkovic among others on his estate in the Cordillera.
The Minister of Rural Development, Susana Rivero, claimed on Bolivian state TV that in preliminary interviews with INRA Larsen admitted that a GuaranÃ community lives on his property and performs services for him, apparently not knowing that such a labor relation means that this community is in "captivity" according to Bolivian law.
Source: Upside Down World