Land Reform in Bolivia

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Land distribution remains a critical element of contemporary constitutional reform in Bolivia. Many poor Bolivians view the land reforms of 1952 as unfinished. Today, approximately 100 families own 12.5 million acres of land, compared against the 2 million Bolivians who crowd onto 2.5 million acres. Economic and social change in Bolivia will likely come at the expense of the one-fifth of one percent of the population who own the largest estates. Bolivia’s constitution—approved in January 2009—declares that land reform will be a main priority of the government. However, constitutional land reform will only be the first of many obstacles that must be overcome for Bolivia to reverse its legacy of inequality and underdevelopment. The charter does not currently recognize the tension between equity and economic growth in determining the extent to which the state will enshrine property rights or responsibilities. The government of President Evo Morales must resist the temptation to abuse the new powers bestowed upon the state to expropriate land. The social function doctrine that guided the composition of Bolivia’s new constitution must be carefully circumscribed to guard against abuse. The Morales government should immediately begin to reform its bureaucracy to be more transparent and accountable. In addition, the government must abstain from interfering with the independence of the constitutional tribunal. Bolivia’s new constitution is an ethical and farsighted document, but its legitimacy will be tested by the state’s ability and willingness to uphold the rule of…...

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