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The network of caciques-apoderados (cacique legal representatives) sought to defend the lands of Indian communities threatened by the expansion of haciendas after the liberal agrarian legislation of 1866 and 1874 (see part V). This network emerged in five of the nine departments in the country, beginning in the late nineteenth century and lasting beyond the Chaco War (1932–35). The leaders, such as Santos Marka Tola, who signed the petition that follows in 1923, were accused of organizing subversion and revolt, and were subject to harassment by the landlord elite and their political allies. In battling adversaries in local power structures, the Indian movement in fact pursued sophisticated legal and political strategies, seeking to cultivate relations with progressive state authorities in the legislative and even the executive branches of government.

In the document that follows, the communities presented their request for a nationwide inspection and demarcation of property, which would enable them to protect their own territorial boundaries. For this, they drew on earlier legislation. They invoked an 1874 liberal law for the inspection of lands, which originally had been used against the communities. They also relied on an 1883 decree, issued in response to community resistance to the liberal Law of Disentailment of 1874, which declared that community lands consolidated and titled during the colonial period could not be put up for sale. In this way, the title deeds issued by the Spanish Crown—the “old documents” referred to here—became the basis for the property rights of the communities in the twentieth century. Paradoxically, the indigenous leaders were taking advantage of both colonial and liberal legal resources in order to block the encroachment of the haciendas.

For their correspondence and petitions, the caciques-apoderados relied on scribes with little formal legal training and for whom Spanish was a second language. It can be diffcult to translate these documents, since their syntax is often ambiguous and the sentences fragmented. We have not sought to smooth out all of the uneven textures in the following excerpt.

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