Bolivian police occupy American-owned ranch
By CARLOS VALDEZ
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Police and government land inspectors have occupied a ranch owned by a U.S. man who has resisted President Evo Morales' plans to redistribute idle land to the country's poor.
Land Minister Alejandro Almaraz said police detained three people on Friday as they tried to block land inspectors and officers from entering the sprawling Caraparicito Ranch owned by Montana native Ronald Dean Larsen, a fierce critic of the leftist president's land reform plans.
The future of the ranch was unclear on Saturday. Officials have not yet determined if all or part of the property might be expropriated because they have not yet finished inspecting the land and titles.
A court is still weighing officials' request for charges against Larsen for briefly clashing with land inspectors who entered his property earlier this year and for allegedly organizing a highway blockade to prevent government inspectors surveying land for possible expropriation.
"They said they would not allow the process of land reform to continue, but today we are demonstrating legal force of the state is stronger," said Government Minister Alfredo Rada.
Almaraz said the government seized rifles, shotguns, ammunition and tear gas canisters found on the ranch.
An employee who answered the phone at Larsen's house in the city of Santa Cruz, several hours' drive north of the ranch, said Larsen was outside the country and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Morales has pushed to speed up Bolivia's 12-year-old effort to untangle centuries of corruption and confusion in land records across Bolivia's huge but sparsely populated lowland east. Land found to be idle or fraudulently obtained will be redistributed to Bolivia's long-oppressed indigenous poor.
The plan has met fierce resistance from both small farmers and huge agribusiness interests across the region.
Larsen purchased the remote Caparicito ranch in 1969. Government officials claim Larsen and his family own a total 141,000 acres (57,000 hectares), but Larsen told the Associated Press his family's property totals only 22,000 acres (8,700 hectares.)
His son Duston won the title of 2004 Mr. Bolivia male beauty contest and appeared as himself in a hit Bolivian movie, "Who Killed the Little White Llama?"
Larsen tangled with officials who attempted to enter his ranch for a pre-dawn inspection in February. Larsen denies official allegations he shot at their vehicle, but told the AP his ranch hands slashed the government vehicles' tires with sharpened screwdrivers instead.