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Faced with growing unrest in the countryside, the de facto military head of state Gualberto Villarroel convened the first Indigenous Congress in early 1945. The congress, which assembled some 1,500 indigenous peasant delegates, can be seen as a populist attempt by the state to coopt peasant social forces. But it led to important legal reforms, the most dramatic of which was the abolition of pongueaje, or servile labor by peasants on haciendas. This included the abolition of “personal services,” which they were obliged to carry out in addition to cultivating the landlord’s fields, such as domestic service, transporting the...

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