ABSTRACT

Although the Latin American peasantry remains comparatively important in terms of livelihood generation and identity formation, the rise of neo-liberal economic theory and policy and its application across the continent arguably spells the demise of peasant economy and society.1 There can be little doubt, therefore, that the economic liberalization associated with the most recent penetration of global capital represents an important-if not epochal-watershed in the transformation of Latin American peasantries. The latter notwithstanding, debates about this process, its causes and outcome, rage unabated. Views range from the descampesinistas, who insist upon the inevitable decline of the smallholding sector, to the campesinistas, who emphasize the vitality and adaptability of the peasantry [see Kay, 1997b; 2000]; however, the literature is on the whole fairly negative with respect to the implications of the current restructuring phase.2 This article takes the political economy-arguably structuralist-position that a predetermined transformation is not possible and that agrarian policy frameworks play a crucial role.3 It is clear that, in the wake of globalization, the peasantry is being abandoned politically by Latin American governments whose primary concern it once used to be.