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Bolivia: The Struggle For The Right To Collectively Own Land

South America

The right to collectively own land appears in the new Bolivian Constitution (adopted in 2010) mainly because some rural communities retain their centuries-old custom of collectively owning land, particularly pastoral land. The Comunidad María Auxiliadora has found that there are also many benefits in owning urbanised land collectively. However, these benefits, and the existence of the community in general, is currently threatened by a small group of residents who want to profit from selling their houses, and are fighting a dirty war in order to be able to obtain private ownership. This group is supported by a mafia, including corrupt local government officials, who profit from buying and illegally selling land.

Bolivia: The Struggle For The Right To Collectively Own Land

By María Belén Choque
Z magazine
Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A community of 1000 low-income families on the outskirts of Cochabamba city, Bolivia, is currently in a historic struggle to maintain their constitutional right, the right to own property collectively.

The right to collectively own land appears in the new Bolivian Constitution (adopted in 2010) mainly because some rural communities retain their centuries-old custom of collectively owning land, particularly pastoral land. The Comunidad María Auxiliadora has found that there are also many benefits in owning urbanised land collectively. However, these benefits, and the existence of the community in general, is currently threatened by a small group of residents who want to profit from selling their houses, and are fighting a dirty war in order to be able to obtain private ownership. This group is supported by a mafia, including corrupt local government officials, who profit from buying and illegally selling land.

You might imagine that such a community would be supported by the MAS (Movimiento Al Socialismo, Movement towards Socialism) national and local governments, as it ticks many of their boxes. It offers an alternative to the use of land as a commodity, for making a profit. It is undoubtedly part of the Proceso de Cambio, the process of changing society from one where the indigenous majority had no access to, or representation in, any decision-making state processes and where indigenous people were treated like second-class citizens, to a society where there is equality at all levels. Giving the opportunity to low-income indigenous and mestizo people to own their own house, to live with dignity in adequate housing, to develop their community according to their necessities, this is the Proceso de Cambio. Another policy of the government is Vivir Bien (Live Well), ie, having basic material needs met, but also valuing other aspects of life: the social and spiritual, being healthy, living in harmony with nature. President Evo Morales often talks about the value of “community”, and the majority of residents of the Comunidad María Auxiliadora perfectly understand the benefits of living in a community where there is mutual self-help and solidarity. They know that their community is very different to other peri-urban barrios, where children roam the streets while their parents work, where there are teenage gangs, where people are frightened to leave their house empty during the day in case they are robbed.

While various people in authority have visited the community over the years and said it is a model for all peri-urban areas in Bolivia, these are empty words, as there is little real support due to the powerful lobby that is threatened by the success of the community and the possibility that it might be replicated in other areas. The Constitution, the law, Government policies and the truth are 100% in favour of the community. But those opposing it are using outrageous lies, corruption and violence to gain what they want: to make money. Indeed, they are using all the well-tried methods of the political right in their campaign: economically, through not paying their water bills to the community; politically, using corrupt local government officials and representatives to stall any community transactions and projects and to further their own; legally, denouncing the founder of the community and managing to (corruptly) have her put in prison while awaiting trial; through consistently lying to the media; using violence, attacking members of the community Directorio (Committee) and then reportingthem to the police.

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