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Rural Social Movements in Brazil in the Second Half of the 20th Century  

Leonilde Servolo de Medeiros

The struggle for land pervades Brazilian history, but it was not until the 1950s that various groups coalesced, thus forging the basis of a national peasant movement. Prior to the military dictatorship, small farmers associations and Peasant Leagues, irrespective of their strategies, had placed agrarian reform in the public spotlight. Since then, the issue has become the driving force for rural social movements. The 1964 coup violently suppressed these organizations, persecuting peasant and rural labor union activists. At the same time, it created legal mechanisms to make land expropriation viable while giving incentives for massive technological modernization in rural areas. It also encouraged the occupation of frontier zones by corporations. Such initiatives aggravated the land issue in the country in areas of recent and historical occupation rather than alleviating it. By the late 1970s, new actors emerged, putting land disputes back onto the political arena: landless workers, rubber tappers, small farmers, squatters, and the indigenous peoples. New organizations emerged, sometimes in opposition to rural workers’ unions, which performed a relevant role during the dictatorship while at other times working from within them. One of these emerging actors was the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra, MST), which stood out nationally and internationally due to its innovative approach in terms of strategies such as land occupations and encampments, and in the late 1990s by building networks with other organizations worldwide, as is the case with the Via Campesina. In parallel to that, family farmers also became politicized as they demanded public policies through union organizations to survive in a rural environment controlled by large entrepreneurs.

Article

Agrarian Reform in Bolivia in the 20th and 21st Centuries  

Carmen Soliz

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 [2018]) 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.

Article

The Cabanagem in Pará, 1835–1840  

Mark Harris

On January 7, 1835 a group of landowners, artisans, soldiers, and peasants stormed Belém, the capital of the Amazon region. Now known as the Cabanagem, this rebellion occurred during a time of social upheaval in not just Pará but also Brazil. On that first day a prominent landowner, Felix Malcher, was released from prison and declared the new president by popular proclamation. The administration in Rio refused to recognize him, despite his statement of allegiance to the Empire of Brazil. Soon factions erupted, aligned with differences between the local elites and their poorer allies; Malcher and a subsequent president were killed. After battles with imperial forces the third rebel president, Eduardo Angelim, was adopted by a victorious crowd in August 1835. The capital reverted to imperial hands on May 13, 1836; however, the rebellion had not been quelled as the rest of the region became embroiled in conflict. As it developed, ethnic and class alliances changed, and the battles continued for four more years. While rebels gradually lost towns and fortified rural encampments, they were never defeated militarily. Organized attacks continued until a general amnesty was granted to all rebels by Emperor Pedro II in July 1840. The Cabanagem, which involved indigenous people, was a broad and fragile alliance composed of different interests with an international dimension. Radical liberal ideas brought together those living in rural and urban districts and appealed to long-standing animosities against distant control by outsiders, the inconsistent use of the law to protect all people, and compulsory labor regimes that took people away from their families and lands. Yet the regency administration feared the break-up of the newly independent Brazil. The violent pacification of the region was justified by portraying the movement as a race war, dominated by “people of color” incapable of ruling themselves.

Article

Potatoes  

Rebecca Earle

Potatoes originated in the mountainous Andes but are now a ubiquitous global food, eaten in every continent, every day, by millions of people. Their spread from South America to the entire world demonstrates the concrete connections between European colonization of the Americas in the 16th century and how people everywhere eat today. At the same time, while the potato was traveling the world, it remained an essential resource for Andean people caught in the maelstrom of colonialism. Potatoes had long been eaten in the Andes, and Spanish American colonial society connected eaters and their characteristic foodstuffs: for settlers, potatoes were often dismissed as “a certain food eaten by Indians,” even if the tubers sometimes also graced their own tables. After the ending of colonial rule in the early 19th century, the potato’s fortunes have oscillated between nationalistic celebration and continued disdain. The potato’s complex and surprising history reveals the protean nature of this modest root, able to encapsulate profound changes in social and political organization, whether in 18th-century Europe or post-Soviet Russia. It reminds us of the centrality of eating to human history and highlights the important role played by ordinary people—smallholders, peasant farmers, imaginative cooks—in making history.

Article

Social Movements in Late 20th-Century Ecuador and Bolivia  

Marc Becker

Both Ecuador and Bolivia have gained a reputation for powerful social movements that have repeatedly challenged entrenched political and economic interests that have controlled the countries since their independence from Spain almost two hundred years ago. A wealthy and powerful minority of European descendant landowners ruled the countries to the exclusion of the majority population of impoverished Indigenous farm workers. Repeated well-organized challenges to exclusionary rule in the late 20th century shifted policies and opened political spaces for previously marginalized people. Social movement organizations also altered their language to meet new realities, including incorporating identities as ethnic groups and Indigenous nationalities to advance their agenda. Their efforts contributed to a significant leftward shift in political discourse that led to the election of presidents Evo Morales and Rafael Correa.

Article

Political Prefects: The Regional Political Bosses of Mexico  

Romana Gloria Falcón Vega

During the formation of the Mexican nation, jefaturas políticas, or prefectures, as they will be called generically in this article, were basic institutions (1812–1917) for centralizing and organizing power and assuring governance. This was a vital task given the civil and international wars the country would endure. These powerful institutions were the mediators between the upper and lower political echelons and social classes. In the prefectures were vested an impressive range of diverse responsibilities—agrarian, fiscal, preserving order, military conscriptions, educational, medical and sanitary services, promoting the economy, elaborating statistics, mapmaking—which made modernization and administrative functionality very difficult. At the turn of the 20th century, this was an obstacle to the modernization and efficacy of the regime. Even though prefectures had responsibilities for all of Mexico, they also had an important degree of flexibility to attend to local needs. Therefore, laws and practices were adapted to the peculiarities of the different states, for example, regulating labor or conciliating rivalries that sprang from the application of liberal agrarian policies. Prefects governed specific political districts in which the states were divided and were generally appointed and removed freely by the governors as their personal representatives to enforce laws and policies and to control any opposition. They were remembered in popular imaginary, literary, and revolutionary historiography as brutal and corrupt functionaries loyal only to the upper classes and their clientelist networks. Contemporary studies have proved that these modalities—brutality and corruption—have a place in the prefect’s box of tools, but new research has widened the historiographic perspective and showed how differently these functionaries could act. In fact, they used most of their energy trying to negotiate with the whole range of social classes and political factions. But their repressive character led to its elimination: they fought the revolution of 1910, and when they lost they were suppressed in 1917.

Article

Guerrilla Movements and Armed Struggle in Cold War Mexico  

Alexander Aviña

After decades of revolutionary upheaval and political violence that began early in the 20th century, Mexico had seemingly achieved stability and a relative level of social peace by the 1940s. The peasant revolution of 1910—beginning with its armed, insurrectionary phase (1910–1920) to the subsequent decades (1920–1940) that involved making “The Revolution” manifest in the everyday lives of Mexicans who (to borrow historian Jeffrey Pilcher’s metaphor) chose à la carte from the revolutionary menu—produced a durable political order characterized by an active level of popular participation and legitimacy. The peace was durable, yet potentially fragile since postrevolutionary rulers, contained within the confines of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and its previous incarnations, could not take the peasant masses for granted. Revolution had taught these masses something about their power, both its limitations and potential, to shape the content and form of the Mexican state. After 1940, as the PRI gradually exhibited its preference for political authoritarianism and an economic project that rapidly industrialized and urbanized the country while pauperizing the countryside, a series of disparate popular protest movements continually emerged. Usually peaceful and basing their alternative modernizing visions on the 1917 Constitution and the radical policies of President Lázaro Cárdenas during the 1930s, these movements—peasant, organized labor, and student movements—often faced repression and violence at the hands of state agents and/or local-regional caciques when demanding political democracy and economic justice. The spectacular massacre of protestors in public spaces and the selective assassination of dissident movement leaders represent two of the tactics employed by the PRI to quell popular resistance in the post–1940 era. Yet, such instances of state violence also stimulated political and tactical radicalization as some protestors organized revolutionary expressions of armed struggle and guerrilla warfare. From 1940 to 1982, more than three dozen armed organizations emerged in almost every region, in both urban and rural settings, displaying a wide variety of revolutionary ideologies and practices. Beginning with Rubén Jaramillo’s 1943 armed resistance in Morelos and ending with the formal dissolution of the urban Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre in 1982, these armed struggles generally shared the goal of overthrowing the PRI regime, seizing state power, and articulating a socialist vision for a post-PRI Mexico.

Article

Shining Path  

Miguel La Serna

Between 1980 and 1999, the Peruvian Communist Party—Shining Path—enveloped the Andean nation of Peru in an armed insurrection designed to topple the state and institute a communist regime. The Maoist insurrection began in the highland department of Ayacucho, quickly spreading throughout the countryside and into the cities. After initially dismissing the insurgency as the work of small-time bandits, the government responded by sending in counterterrorism police and the armed forces into guerrilla-controlled areas. Both Shining Path and government forces targeted civilians as part of their wartime strategies, while some Indigenous peasants took up arms to defend their communities from the bloodshed. In 1992, police captured Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán, severely weakening the insurgency. By 1999, most remaining guerrilla leaders had been arrested, all but ending the armed phase of the conflict.

Article

Paraguayan Politics, Economics, and Cultural Identity, 1870–1936  

Bridget María Chesterton

In the period 1870–1936, Paraguay began to redevelop economically after its devastating loss in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870). Turning to a liberal economic model popular in the region at the time, government officials began selling off large tracts of land to foreign investors, in particular Argentine investors. The liberal era in Paraguay was notoriously turbulent as political rivals often relied on Civil War to gain power. Nonetheless, this period was pivotal in helping to shape ideas about the nation. The era ends at the Febrerista Revolution (1936) when returning Chaco War (1932–1935) veterans made their mark on Paraguayan politics and identity.