[DEBATE] : Brazilian Farmers in Bolivia Fear Reforms
tony roshan samara
straightup00us at yahoo.com
Fri May 12 21:52:44 BST 2006
Brazilian Farmers in Bolivia Fear Reforms
By ALAN CLENDENNING, AP Business Writer1 hour, 12 minutes ago
Well-heeled Brazilian farmers tilling rich soil on the fringes of the
Amazon rain forest fear their holdings could be targeted in a land
reform push by the Bolivian president, who just nationalized his
nation's natural gas industry.
President Evo Morales has said his leftist government is eyeing large
Brazilian-owned farms in Bolivia's eastern Santa Cruz province the
country's wealthiest as it gears up to confiscate unproductive land
and redistribute it to poor Bolivian farmers and Indians.
Under the land plan, holdings that aren't being actively used for
farming or grazing could face confiscation. However, the plan is at
an early stage and few people, if any, know how its rules will be
defined, raising concern among large Brazilian farmers that even
their productive holdings could be confiscated.
The government plans to redistribute 54,000 square miles of land an
area roughly the size of Alabama mostly in Bolivia's vast eastern
Speaking from Vienna, Austria, ahead of a summit of Latin American
and European leaders, Morales said he respects Brazilian farmers
operating in Bolivia, but that "some Brazilian companies are
illegally operating in our territory."
While Morales didn't provide more details, Brazilians who have been
farming in Bolivia for more than a decade were unsettled to learn
they had been singled out even though they say they keep their land
productive and provide jobs for Bolivians.
"The uncertainty is huge right now because we just don't know what's
going to happen," Denis Barbieri, who employs 70 Bolivians and grows
corn and soy on 13,600 acres in Santa Cruz, said in a telephone
Brazilian farmer Roberto Zacarias, who has planted soy on his
10,000-acre farm since 1994, agrees that some large unused plots
should be redistributed.
But he said he worries that Morales' agrarian reform will embolden
organized groups of poor farm workers to invade productive land, and
could put a halt to new investment in Bolivian agribusiness.
In the late 1980s, Brazilians first became attracted to Bolivia's
undeveloped flat land, which has fertile soil, plentiful water and a
tropical climate perfect for crops such as soy, corn, sunflowers,
rice and wheat.
Zacarias said Brazilian farmers brought agricultural expertise to
Bolivia, boosting employment and helping to turn soy into Bolivia's
second-most important export product after natural gas.
"It was an attractive place to invest," he said. "Now it's scary to
Much of the land earmarked for redistribution was originally given
away during the 1970s and early 1980s military dictatorships of
President Hugo Banzer and President Luis Garcia Meza, presumably to
people with close ties to their administrations.
Morales announced a state takeover of Bolivia's vast natural gas
reserves on May 1.
His administration also is threatening to start enforcing a law
preventing foreigners from owning land within 30 miles of its
borders, a move that could mean the expulsion of thousands of poor
Brazilian subsistence farmers who have lived for decades in Bolivian
Brazil this week sent diplomats to the city of Cobija in the Bolivian
province of Pando to protect the interests of Brazilians living in
the area just across the border from the Brazilian Amazon states of
Acre and Rondonia.
Bolivia's National Agrarian Reform Agency said it is investigating
250 land purchases by Brazilians in Bolivia, near the countries'
border, to determine whether the land was legally obtained.
While the area in Pando province has become home to about 5,000
Brazilians in recent decades most of them eking out a living
Bolivian politicians also claim Brazilian loggers have illegally
bought up land.
In one case, a company run by a Brazilian and a Bolivian acquired a
massive tract of 99,000 acres just four miles from the border, said
Beimar Becerra, a member of Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party.
The company was given 15 days by government officials to prove that
the two maintain legal residency in Bolivia, or stop operating
altogether, according to the state news agency ABI.
Associated Press writers Harold Olmos in Rio De Janeiro and Alexander
V. Ragir in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.
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