Mobilizing Bolivia’s Displaced: Indigenous Politics and the Struggle Over Land

Feb 6th, 2014 | By | Category: 25-3: Preserving and Protecting Knowledge, Media Reviews

University of North Carolina Press (2012)
288 pages

Review by Natalia Ruiz-Rubio

In this case study of Movimiento Sin Tierra (MST), or the Landless Peasant Movement, Nicole Fabricant interviews activists, attends their public demonstrations, and visits their homes in the new settlements in an effort to understand this Indigenous social movement that emerged in Bolivia during the 1990s. She illustrates how MST activists are empowering a changing idea of indigeneity based on historical and cultural memory in their defense of land access and resource redistribution.

Fabricant begins her book by outlining Bolivia’s history of land reforms and struggles over resources, shedding light on the circumstances that led to the MST. She interviews founders of the movement who recount family histories of poverty and exploitation. By looking at land as a source of inequality, Fabricant connects geographies and cultural practices from both Andean communities and the Chaco region near the Brazilian border. The process of retelling their long history of inequality, beginning with the Spanish conquest, allows the activists to build a new meaning of indigeneity in different social and geographical contexts. It also enables them to support resistance narratives while revitalizing the politics of self-determination and land reclamation.

Despite the success of local grassroots movements, Fabricant concludes that this discourse of indigeneity, reenacted through traditional Incan cultural practices in the ayllu (ancient socioeconomic community), will not alone solve problems of inequality and poverty. It can, however, help build self-sustaining agricultural communities and serve as a collaborative model to transform Bolivia into a true plurinational state, both economically and culturally.

Natalia Ruiz-Rubio, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Spanish at Eastern Washington University.

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