ABSTRACT

In October 2001 the Bolivian government convoked an ‘Earth Summit’ ( Cumbre de la Tierra ), to be held a month later. The previous years had seen an escalation of peasant unrest. In the Andean highlands the peasantry had turned increasingly to militant action with strong ethnic overtones. In the eastern tropical lowlands a colonists’ movement had gathered strength, and in the year 2000 a movement of landless peasants had erupted, eliciting a violent response from large landowners who, in turn, pressured the government with their own claims. By the end of June that same year indigenous people of the tropical lowlands had initiated their Third March’ under the banner of ‘Land, Territories and Natural Resources’ and were joined by peasants from the region.1 The ‘Earth Summit’ ended in failure. Conditions were hardly propitious as in early November a clash between landless peasants and alleged paramilitaries had claimed seven lives, and peasant organizations were suspicious about the intentions of a government that had recently signed an agreement with the Camara Agropecuaria del Oriente (CAO), representing the large landowners and cattle-raisers of the Santa Cruz region, which ran quite counter to peasant interests. In the course of November the ‘Summit’ was renamed

Willem Assies, El Colegio de Michoacán, Centro de Estudios Rurales, Martínez de Navarrete 505, 59699 Zamora, Michoacán, Mexico. Email: [email protected] The author thanks Javier Aramayo, Ana Cecilia Betancur, René Boot, Roxana Cuevas, Armelinda Zonta and many others for their aid in locating sources for this article and for their stimulating discussions. I would like to thank Tom Brass for his inspiring comments on an earlier draft of this essay. Final responsibility is of course all mine.