The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics
Two Lawyers from La Paz, 2018. "Transforming the Property Regime", The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics, Sinclair Thomson, Rossana Barragán, Xavier Albó, Seemin Qayum, Mark Goodale
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On seizing state power in 1864, General Mariano Melgarejo brought about an economic and political restructuring that ushered in the age of full-blown liberalization. One of his key measures was an unprecedented attack on indigenous community lands. In 1866, a decree declared community lands to be state property, and for Indians to retain their plots, they were required to buy individual land titles for between twenty-five and one hundred pesos in accordance to size. A later decree, in 1868, intensified the measure by permitting entire communities that could not produce colonial land titles to be auctioned off. The land sales were intended to reduce the state’s debt obligations, and by the end of the Melgarejo period, some 1.25 million pesos worth of land had been sold to expanding hacienda, mining, and speculative interests, in many cases closely linked to Melgarejo. Amid the chaos and uncertainty of the actual implementation of the decrees, only a small number of communities were able to consolidate titles and a far larger number had their lands confiscated and sold to the highest bidder. Widespread indigenous opposition to the forced expropriations in the Aymara provinces surrounding La Paz crescendoed after 1868, and in January 1871 Melgarejo’s political enemies succeeded in deposing him and driving him into exile.
In this period, a flurry of publications argued for and against the restitution of indigenous community lands. The publications urging that the land sales and the new owners be respected took pains to depict themselves as haters of tyranny and lovers of freedom. The tract presented here, penned by two anonymous lawyers from La Paz, argued against the nullification of the sales and the restoration of land to the original owners, community Indians. It invoked capitalist progress in contrast to Indian backwardness, and the benefits of the hacienda regime over the poverty and exploitation in Indian communities.