Until the 1950s, the distribution of land in Bolivia, as in the rest of Latin America, was very unequal. But in 1953, a year after the 1952 national revolution, the nationalist revolutionary movement (MNR) enacted a decree on agrarian reform that dismantled feudal haciendas in the western highlands, abolished the system of forced peasant labor, and distributed expropriated lands to peasants. While the decree proved redistributive in the Altiplano and valleys, it ended up creating new concentrations of land in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands. This area, which constituted two thirds of Bolivia’s territory, was home to a number of indigenous groups who were displaced from their lands because of the expansion of latifundio in the second half of the 20th century. In 1996, after pressure from below, the neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (1993–1997) approved a new agrarian law that recognized indigenous rights to collective territory (Tierra Comunitaria de Origen, TCO). In 2006, left-leaning President Evo Morales approved a new agrarian law. Although the new legislation mostly ratified the 1996 law, it established that only indigenous and peasant populations could be granted state lands. Despite this legislation claiming to protect the majority Indian and peasant population, scholars such as Colque, Tinta, and Sanjines note that it was under a neoliberal government, between 1996 to 2006, that much of the process of land distribution favored to indigenous groups of the lowlands, and it was under left-leaning President Evo Morales (from 2010 to the present ) that much of land distribution favored medium and agricultural enterprises. The most important clash between the self-proclaimed indigenous Evo Morales and lowland indigenous groups was in September 2011 when indigenous groups living in the National Park and Indigenous Territory Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS) protested against the government’s unilateral decision to build a road through their territory. Since 2011 (up to the present, 2018) the tension and political distance between president Morales and his loyal coca-leaf grower supporters—many of whom live on the borders of the park and are invested on the construction of the road—versus the indigenous groups of the lowlands have only grown. Ironically, it seems to be under Morales that key indigenous rights such as the right to prior consultation or the right to consolidate territories (TCOs) seem to be at the most risk.
Michele McArdle Stephens
The Huichols are an indigenous group inhabiting the west Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango, and Zacatecas, who maintain a culture distinct from Mexican society at large. Since their conquest by the Spanish in 1723, the Huichols have selectively adapted elements of Spanish and Mexican political and social norms in order to serve their best interests, whether that be the protection of their lands from usurpation, the disappearance of their culture through assimilation, or the destruction of their religion by conversion. For the Huichols, land and territory have spiritual significance, which governs their actions and reactions. A loss of land would result in a destruction of their culture and identity. Culturally unified through their religion and language, the Huichols demonstrate a political disunity by which leaders of the different Huichol towns acted in ways that were most beneficial for their communities, often without regard for how their actions may impact other Huichol towns. Ironically, it is this disunity that has helped them weather centuries of warfare, modernization, land alienation, and intrusion by national, federal, and multinational entities.
Alejandro Tortolero Villaseñor
The first phase of the development of land tenure in Mexico, from the desamortization laws in 1856 to agrarian reform, was completed in 1940 by the Lázaro Cárdenas administration. While between 1856 and 1910 property reforms served to concentrate land and stimulate latifundio, from the violent Mexican Revolution of 1910–1917 until 1992 a policy of social justice was implemented that sought to give land to peasant families, thereby generating a better distribution of land, though without improving its productivity. This signifies that if postrevolutionary modernity assumed, echoing neo-institutionalism or old trends such as positivism or regeneracionismo, that land redistribution was a necessary condition to generate economic growth, in reality it was the social dimension and not the economic that gave character to Mexican agrarian reform between 1920 and 1992. As a backdrop to this, the analysis of literature and history shows a truncated and limited agrarian reform in which traditional figures such as the cacique persisted. The traditional and official vision of the agrarian reform is misguided, in which it is understood as a product of restitutive justice, the result of peasants regaining the lands from which they had been evicted due to the desamortization laws and the greed of landowners hungry for land who had annexed the land of the pueblos. To the contrary, agrarian reform is distributive, allocating land to peasants who requested it, while the hacienda was not the source of all the evils that gave rise to the revolution. Nor can the situation of the Mexican countryside be portrayed as the fight of the peones against the hacendados or caciques hungry for land. This erroneous vision of the Mexican countryside should be demystified, because it does not take into account that agrarian reform became the touchstone to give an agrarian nature to a very diversified Mexican Revolution and convert it into an instrument for the postrevolutionary governments to champion the peasant struggle in 20th-century Mexico, becoming the key to economic growth and social justice in the rural Mexican world.
Matthew Butler and David A. Bliss
The Hijuelas project is a multi-domain international collaboration that makes available in digital form a large and valuable source on nineteenth-century indigenous history––the so-called libros de hijuelas or deed books recording the statewide privatization of indigenous lands in Michoacán, Mexico. These deed books, 194 in total, have been digitized and described over a two-year period by a team of History students from Michoacán’s state university, the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás Hidalgo (UMSNH), trained by and working under the supervision of archivists of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies-Benson Latin American Collection of (LLILAS Benson) of the University of Texas at Austin. Additional logistical support has been provided by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) as a partner institution in Mexico of the University of Texas at Austin and by the state government of Michoacán via the Archivo General e Histórico del Poder Ejecutivo de Michoacán (AGHPEM), which is custodian of the hijuelas books. The project was generously funded by the British Library through its Endangered Archives Programme (EAP 931, “Conserving Indigenous Memories of Land Privatization in Mexico: Michoacán’s Libros de Hijuelas, 1719–1929”). The project seeks to be innovative in two ways. As a post-custodial archiving project, first and foremost, it uses digital methods to make easily accessible to historians, anthropologists, and indigenous communities the only consolidated state-level record of the land privatizations (reparto de tierras) affecting Mexican indigenous communities in the 19th century. It therefore projects digitally a key source for historians and one that possesses clear identitarian and agrarian importance for indigenous communities. It also makes widely available a source that is becoming physically unstable and inaccessible because of the difficult public security conditions affecting Michoacán. As a collaboration involving diverse institutional actors, furthermore, the project brings together institutions from three different countries and is an example of what may be achieved through equitable international collaborations.