Bolivia, Agrarian Reform

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Bolivia, Agrarian Reform

Agrarian reform in Bolivia consisted of legal measures enacted in 1953 as a result of the 1952 social revolution. Land tenure has been a divisive issue in Bolivian history. The census of 1950 was the last one before the 1953 land reform and it was used as the basis for the land reform law. The data has been interpreted by authors in different ways. It is agreed that 90 percent of the land was under semifeudal cultivation and was owned by just 6 percent of the proprietors, who held from 1,000 to 10,000 hectares (1 hectare equals 2.47 acres). Also all but 9.3 percent of the land was owned by absentee landowners. Of the land not owned by absentees, just 2.8 percent still belonged to Indian communities, who at the time of the creation of an independent Bolivia in 1825 had held most of the land. Furthermore, the rural workers on the estates, nearly all of whom were classified as Indians, had to provide legally sanctioned personal services.

The agrarian reform's key purpose was to disperse land ownership, promote the breakup of large holdings, and abolish servitude. Besides mandating the redistribution of land and the end of unpaid services, the law encouraged the restoration of Indian communities with modern means of cultivation. This did not happen, but strong peasant unions emerged as a unit of rural organization and production. The strength and number of these sindicatos varied from region to region. The law strongly encouraged an increase in agricultural production, protection of natural resources, and internal migration to the less populated eastern regions.

The 1953 law defined six types of land tenure systems, each with different reform requirements. Twenty years later, more than 250,000 new titles, some for expropriated land totaling about 16.25 million acres, had been issued. With the breakup of many large estates, a decline in production occurred. The new freeholders were mostly subsistence farmers. But in the 1990s the positive effects of the reform are generally cited, those effects being a relatively peaceful countryside with a rural population that enjoys full political and economic rights. After land again became concentrated in the 1980s, the government in 1996 passed a law creating the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA). The goal was to redistribute land and establish community land titles. However, the slow pace of reform caused Evo Morales, who was elected president in 2005, to pass a new agrarian reform bill in 2006. While not fundamentally different than the 1996 law, the new measure sought to improve implementation.

See alsoAgrarian Reform .


Benton, Jane. Agrarian Reform in Theory and Practice: A Study of the Lake Titicaca Region of Bolivia. Aldershot, U.K.; Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1999.

Hernáiz, Irene, and Diego Pacheco. La Ley INRA en el espejo de la historia: Dos siglos de reformas agrarias en Bolivia. La Paz: Fundación Tierra, 2000.

Klein, Herbert S. Parties and Political Change in Bolivia, 1880–1952. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Morales, Waltrund Queiser. Bolivia: Land of Struggle. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

                                      Charles W. Arnade

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