Since 1960 there has been a veritable explosion in the number of studies devoted to Latin American land tenure systems, agrarian reform laws, rural cooperatives, and peasant organization and mobilization. Whereas most of the early literature offered regional or country overviews (such as the invaluable CIDA studies), an increasing number are now being devoted to narrower case studies which provide opportunities to test many previously postulated hypotheses.
Redclift’s monograph on agrarian reform in the rice-growing region of coastal Ecuador belongs to this latter group. After a brief discussion of the principal theoretical concepts, the author offers a cogent over view of agrarian development in Ecuador, including analyses of the 1964 and 1973 agrarian reform laws. The next three chapters examine the evolution of the coastal agrarian structure and describe in detail the predominant coastal sharecropping system (precarismo) and its ultimate abolition in 1970.
One important conclusion that emerges from these chapters, and the one on the state and peasant organization, is that at no time did the government act out of moral or humanitarian concerns about peasant exploitation. Rather, they worried about the decrease in rice production and the adverse effect that would have on national development. This attitude is even more evident in the military regime after 1972, thereby providing an interesting point of comparison to Peruvian military attitudes after 1969: modernization and national development require far-reaching land reform and destruction of the rural oligarchy.
Redclift concludes with an assessment of agrarian reform in the rice zone followed by an incisive case study of one rice cooperative. One of the most provocative conclusions is that the reform was not in response to either peasant or bourgeois pressure, but rather “part of a strategy to create an urban bourgeoisie, a strategy that was made possible by expanding foreign exchange revenues” [oil] (p. 141).
He also demonstrates that the power of the landowners has only been checked, not broken, that no significant redistribution of lands occurred, and that the reform program has been slowed primarily by government insistence that the peasants join government-sponsored cooperatives—a requirement one might interpret as governmental fear of the masses.
This is a sound, thought-provoking study which makes a valuable contribution to the literature.