Independence for Bolivia represented merely a shift in political power from the Spanish administrators and colonists to the creole elite. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the rise of the great tin barons, the Patiño, Aramayo, and Hochsehild families known because of their power, as La Rosca (the screw). During this period Bolivia also suffered defeat by Chile in the 1880s and by Paraguay in the 1930s. Despite the formation of these huge fortunes and the vicissitudes of war, medieval feudalism, complete with serfs tied to the land and an almost hermetically sealed economy, continued to flourish. According to the 1950 census, 4,000 land owners had a total of 18,000,000 hectares, whereas 73,000 owned 600,000 hectares in tiny holdings, and some 765,000 persons depending on agriculture for their livelihood had no land at all.
But the Revolution of 1952 brought the nationalization of the tin mines and the inauguration of agrarian reform. This reform has concentrated on the settlement of the plains area in eastern Bolivia, either by “spontaneous” settlers or “semi-organized” colonists. The author points out that this has been a costly experiment, in view of the few people who have migrated; but that the national political structure has changed so much that a return to the old prerevolutionary feudalism will never be possible. He feels, however, that the revolution has not been the basic type experienced by Cuba, but rather the “capitalistic” kind achieved by Mexico. He ends his discussion by quoting René Dumont to the effect that even a poorly conceived, poorly implemented, and faulty agrarian reform is better than no agrarian reform at all.