Violence threat hinders progress

Bolivian President Evo Morales’s reform plans ignite tensions over land.

This past week, Bolivian President Evo Morales has once again sparked controversy with his threats of mass civilian action if Bolivia’s Senate does not approve his plans for agrarian land reform. Morales has said the Bolivian people will rise up and implement the reforms “by force” if the Senate does not concede. However, Morales’ reluctance to engage in negotiations with big landowners opposed to his plans to redistribute the land could send a country already dealing with severe fragmentation over the edge.

Morales’ land reform is very commendable as it attempts to expropriate unproductive land – which serves no social or economic function – and give it to the people without land. This reform to change the politics of the land is a great attempt to resolve social and economic problems of the indigenous and peasant communities and address the larger economic problems of the nation.

Despite the economic and historical justice the land reforms will bring to the people, it is important to achieve the land reform in a diplomatic matter. To give back land to the people who have been unjustly denied their land for so long, the government must first take it away from others. Instead of engaging in better conversation with landowners for a peaceful solution to the land problem, Morales is risking a massive revolt over the land.

Both proponents and critics have promised to take drastic measures over the issue. The indigenous protesters have held marches in support of their measures. The landowners of the province have threatened to withhold agricultural produce from the rest of Bolivia if the plans are approved. Furthermore, there have been cases where the movement has gone in and set fire to the landowners’ camps and houses.

As debate and negotiations continue disintegrate, regional tensions are increasing at a dangerous rate. Morales is right in striving for a land redistribution of this magnitude, but perhaps he should reconsider calling for mass actions of violence. For a country that is on the brink of civil war, class riots would be a disaster.