Remember how last year, the Minister for Agrarian Reform, his employees and a load of Guarani people were kidnapped, beaten up and threatened by cartoon-baddy estate owner Ronald Larsen as they went about trying to establish legal titling for indigenous lands in the East? No?
Larsen’s the rancher from Montana who moved to Bolivia in the late 60s and, along with his family, bought up land three times the size of the city of Santa Cruz. Luckily for him, like many estates in the area, his ranch came with a captive labour force of indigenous Guarani people, who have been working there in conditions of servitude ever since.
Last year, a fact-finding mission from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organisation of American States and the Bolivian government investigated forced labour and servitude on various large estates in Santa Cruz and other departments, and found that hundreds of Guarani families were living in conditions ‘analogous to slavery’, where landowners had supplanted the State and were operating with impunity, obliging people to work for laughably low pay or none at all, preventing them from getting an education or living in humane conditions, limiting their movements and violently repressing attempts to organise, create or join a trade union or speak to human rights organisations.
Even after being held at gunpoint by Larsen’s thugs for a couple of days and then kicked out of the area, the personnell from the Ministry of Agrarian Reform returned later on last year to carry on with the investigations and legal processes to find out if the land on this estate and others was held legally, and if people were being forced to live in conditions of servitude, in violation of various international laws (and, you know, basic human decency). They found a whole shitload of weapons, to start with, and they must have found evidence of substantial human rights violations, because guess what? The Larsens and several other
arseholes with feudal pretensions large landholders are having their estates confiscated. I know, I know, but it’s so hard to get the help these days! I mean, have you ever tried running a 15,262 hectare estate without a captive workforce who’ll carry out forced labour under physical threat? It’s a nightmare, Matilda. One’s heart simply bleeds for those poor wee oligarchs kicked off their humble thirty-thousand-acre fincas.
Or, in the words of one of my poetic compatriots:
Here’s the full story at Bolpress. (Incidentally, can someone have a word with the webmasters at Los Tiempos and La Prensa, PLEASE? I had links to the stories they ran about these events archived, and it looks like they’ve just not bothered storing online editions for 2007 and 2008, leaving me with a load of useless dead links. WTF arg etc – I don’t like only using Bolpress as the source, but they’re the only ones who take the trouble to make sure their old links work!)
My translation into English under the cut:
The National Institue for Agrarian Reform will return 10 haciendas which maintained dozens of Guarani families in servitude
The State will return 36,425 hectares of land in the Cordillera province of the department of Santa Cruz which do not fulfil the Social and Economic Function (FES) and where more than 50 Guarani families living in conditions of servitude are subject to forced labour.
The INRA concluded the legalisation of 88,000 Ha in the 3d and 4th polygons of the Community Lands or Origin of Alto Parapeti. 88 properties were identified and in 10 of these there was evidence of relations of servitude and failure to fulfil the FES. The national director of INRA, Juan Carlos Rojas, informed that it will recognise the rights of 78 small and medium scale agricultural and livestock-farming properties, peasant settlements and communal properties, which will receive their legal titles to ownership.
The State will revert the rural estates ‘El Rey (1,935 Ha), property of Aniceto Corcuy, ‘San Isidro’ (3,790 has), property of Babil Chavez, ‘Huaraca and ‘Iticay’, (10, 958 Has), belonging to Julia Aguilera de Chavez and others, and ‘Caraparicito I’, ‘Caraparicito II’, ‘Reserva Privada de Patrimonio Nacional’ and ‘Yaguapoa’ (15,262 Ha) belonging to Duston Larsen Metenbrink (crikey, that’s Mister Bolivia! – TW) and others.
Rojas assures that the evaluation of INRA is in compliance with international laws such as the ILO 169 on Indigenous Peoples in Independent Countries, the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Costa Rica pact.
The Bolivian Ombudsman, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture, confirmed that hundreds of indigenous families survive as feudal serfs, without land, wages or education, bound to large estates in Cordillera province.
By means of the Supreme Decree 29802 of 19 Novemeber 2008, the Executive branch of government instructed INRA to declare incompliance with with FES in all rural agricultural estates which maintain systems of peonage, forced labour, capitivity, servitude or its analogues, against the collective benefit and interest.
A system of servitude exists when communities, families or persons work or serve the proprietor or title-holder to a rural estate, in an outline of violation of fundamental rights, under domination and without full consent: or when obligations to pay a salary is not fulfilled, whether it be in kind or below national minimum wage.
Decree 29802 indicates that forced displacement of communities, families or people from agricultural estates, whether by psychological pressure, with tricks or through violent means, shall be considered an indication of relations of servitude.
The INRA brigades resumed legalisation of land on 21 November in the TCo of Alto Parapeti, and verified in fieldwork that the estate owners did not comply with laboral laws, paid their workers amounts far below national minimum wage, or paid them in kind (with food, coca, alcohol, old clothes etc). Some children work more than eight hours a day without receiving a salary.
The patrons forbid their peones to organise themselves, belong or affiliate to a trade union and some displaced Guarani families have been victims of physical and psychological mistreatment.
The Malpartidas were the most violent and abusive patrons of the area, and pay a monthly salary of 300 Bs (about $42 or £20 – TW) to day labourers who work from 6 in the morning to 7 at night. Malpartida was put on trial for flogging Guaranies in Cuevo on 13th April, and for scaring off community members from Itakuatia with firearms, and for stripping them of their radio communication equipment so that they would not denounce these abuses.
The Malpartida and Larson families headed up the ‘committee for the defense of lands’ which carried out a violent demonstration by landlords between February and June of 2008 in Cordillera province.
The North American Larson arrived to the Bolivian Chaco in 1968 and acquired the Caraparicito estate in 1969 for agriculture and livestock-rearing, but his estate was converted into a touristic complex awarded prizes by the Prefectura of Santa Cruz for constituting ‘an example of sustainable environmental management’.
Larsen owns 57,145 hectares in Santa Cruz department and has a mining concession in Nuflo de Chavez province, canto Saturnino Saucedo.