Bolivia's Morales to landowners: Give up property
By CARLOS VALDEZ
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- President Evo Morales asked large landowners to voluntarily relinquish some of their holdings to poor Indians during a ceremony held Saturday on property confiscated from a U.S. rancher for redistribution.
Morales made the plea as he handed out 34 rural titles to poor Guarani Indians and small farmers in Alto Parapeti, a region about 385 miles (620 kilometers) southeast of the Bolivian capital of La Paz, where ranchers and landowners have vehemently opposed his agrarian reform program.
The president held the event on the former ranch of U.S. citizen Ronald Larsen, one of several landowners in the wealthy eastern lowlands from whom the government seized a total of 139 square miles (88,960 acres; 36,000 hectares) last month.
Morales accused them of letting the land lie fallow or of contracting workers in servitude-like conditions.
Larsen denied the allegations of employee abuse and became a symbol of resistance against Morales' agrarian reform, leading a series of confrontations with government inspectors last year.
Land Minister Alejandro Almaraz has said the 139 square miles of land cannot be redistributed until the National Agrarian Tribunal rules on the landowners' appeal.
Voters in the small South American country last month approved a new constitution empowering the indigenous majority, in part by increasing their control over their traditional lands.
That includes the Guarani Indians who worked for decades on Larsen's 58-square-mile (15,000-hectare) spread as cowpokes, cooks, tractor drivers and seasonal hands.
The new constitution limits future private landownership to about 12,350 acres (5,000 hectares).
"There are people ... who don't want to end large landownership," Morales told a gathering of hundreds of Guarani Indians on Saturday. "Those people should voluntarily give up their (excess) land to people who have none."
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