Courtesy Reuters

Agrarian Reform in Latin America

When President Kennedy proposed a hemispheric Alliance for Progress to spur economic development and raise living standards in Latin America, he endorsed agrarian reform as a basic part of this effort. Land reform is not altogether new, of course, in Latin America. Simon Bolivar undertook, though with only limited success, to distribute estates seized from Spanish loyalists to the veterans of his revolutionary armies. In Haiti, when the republic was founded, the rebellious slaves killed most of their former masters who did not escape into exile, and the land was distributed among the Negroes. In the Dominican Republic, the Spanish colonial landowners fled before the Haitian armies which invaded the area in 1821, and from that time until the advent of the régime of the late Rafael Trujillo, most of the land remained in the hands of small peasant proprietors. Finally, from time to time during the nineteenth century there were sporadic efforts at land reform; in many Latin American nations, for instance, the church was deprived of its land, which was distributed in one way or another among the laity.

In recent decades agrarian reform has once again assumed hemispheric proportions. Mexico engaged in a massive redistribution of land in the years following the outbreak of its Revolution in 1910. The fundamental achievement of the Bolivian Revolution, which began a decade ago, has also been land reform. In Guatemala between 1952-1954 there was an attempt at a thoroughgoing redistribution of the land by the government of President Jacobo Arbenz, but this was thwarted when his régime was overthrown in the middle of 1954. In the last three and a half years Venezuela has undertaken a large-scale land redistribution scheme, and in a very different manner the same process has been carried out in Castro's Cuba. Within the last year, legislation calling for one type or another of agrarian reform has been passed in Colombia, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. Similar programs are pending in Peru and possibly in Ecuador.


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