Peasant Movements and Land Reform in Latin America: Mexico and Bolivia
Most of Latin America has traditionally been a continent of large landholdings and landless peasants. In areas where before the Spanish Conquest there existed a numerous Indian population, the Spaniards developed means to tie the Indian peasants to a small landed ruling class in a system of semi-feudal servitude. In other regions, where the Indian population was sparse or had been exterminated by the conquerors, the large plantations imported slave labour from Africa. In the course of three centuries of colonial rule, land became concentrated in either private or church hands, whereas a growing proportion of the agricultural population, with almost no rights in land, had to eke out a meagre subsistence on tiny plots, or work under oppressive conditions on the commercial plantations or the large haciendas belonging to a small, powerful rural élite. This system acquired great stability, for neither the struggle for independence in the early nineteenth century nor various political reform movements during the latter half of that century were able to change the basic characteristics of the agrarian structure. On the contrary, the Spanish or Portuguese overlords and the Church were soon replaced by a native oligarchy that derived its wealth, prestige and power from its possession of land and its control over the labour of an increasing number of landless, powerless and hungry peasants.
KeywordsLatin American Country Comparative International Development Land Reform Agrarian Reform Land Distribution
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