From Neoliberal Multiculturalism to Plurinational Developmentalism: Land Reform, Rural Movements and Intra-societal Conflicts in Contemporary Bolivia

Date: Oct, 2013
ODID Working Paper No. 198
Author(s): Lorenza Belinda Fontana (University of Sheffield)

In Latin America, the problems linked to the control, ownership and exploitation of land have been at the bases of important mobilizations, and social movements have historically been the articulators of these struggles. In the 90s, the legal framework that regulated land tenure in Bolivia since the national revolution of 1952 was deeply modified. The symbolic and political value of land started to shift from a traditional classist-redistributive focus towards a growing emphasis on cultural and social dimensions. This reform led by the neoliberal governments in power triggered a process of social fragmentation and a series of conflicts among social movements. This trend continued also in the post-neoliberal era, with the election of the coca-growers leader Evo Morales as new Bolivian president, at the head of a social coalition mainly formed by rural-based movements. This paper argues that the recent wave of conflicts over land and resources among social organizations in Bolivia should be intended as a compelling empirical evidence of the problems related to misleading assumptions at the bases of neoliberal multiculturalism but also of plurinational land reforms. Namely, the fact that recognition holds a performative power, that identity should not be treated as an exogenous variables and that society is not a compact entity. Indeed, changes in the allocation of strategic resources inspired by the so-called politics of recognition triggered processes of political ethnicization and identitarian fragmentation, eventually contributing to fuel new types of conflicts over land between (pre-existent or brand new) indigenous groups and peasant unions.

ODID Author(s)