Bolivia’s Morales passes land from rich to poor

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Emboldened by a new leftist  constitution, Bolivia President Evo Morales  yesterday handed  over ownership of farmland seized by the state from wealthy  estate holders to poor indigenous people.

 President Evo Morales
President Evo Morales

Morales handed out around 94,000 acres (38,000 hectares) of  lands recently confiscated from five big ranches in Bolivia’s  wealthy eastern lowlands, a stronghold of his conservative  political opponents. The ranchers have been accused of  employing workers in conditions of semi-slavery.

“Private property will always be respected but we want  people who are not interested in equality to change their  thinking and focus more on country than currency,” said  Morales, flanked by military and police personnel.

Among those who lost land was US cattleman Ronald Larsen,  who has emerged as a key opponent of the Morales government’s  land reforms, which are designed to distribute more of the  nation’s riches to poor indigenous peoples.

Larsen and other ranchers who had threatened to block the  handover of their lands can still appeal the expropriations  before agrarian courts.

An Aymara Indian and former leader of coca-leaf farmers,  Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president. He has  governed the resource-rich nation for three years.

He is especially popular among the poor and Aymara,  Quechua, and Guarani indigenous groups that suffered centuries  of discrimination in South America’s poorest country.

“Today, from here, we are beginning to put an end to the  giant landholdings of Bolivia,” Morales said.

The land transfer came six weeks after Morales celebrated  the approval of a new leftist constitution that aims to give  Bolivia’s indigenous majority more power, lets him run for  re-election and hands him tighter control over the economy.

The constitution also sets limits on single farm tracts to  12,400 acres (5,000 hectares) and states that farms must meet  certain economic and social conditions.      “It is not that these lands were not in production, but  that they were the site of human rights violations against the  Guarani, who will now be their new owners,” Morales said.

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