Land reform: Part Two


IN Chile, land reforms began in 1960 and were accelerated during 1964-1970, reaching its climax during 1970-1973.
Farms of more than 198 acres or 80 hectares were expropriated. The process was halted after the 1973 Chilean coup and, up to a point, reversed by market forces.
In Guatemala, land reform occurred during the Guatemalan Revolution of 1944-1954, known as the ‘Ten Years of Spring’.
Through a law officially called Decree 900, all uncultivated land was redistributed from landholdings that were larger than 673 acres (272ha).
If the estates were between 673 acres (272ha) and 224 acres (91ha) in size, uncultivated land was expropriated only if less than two-thirds of it was in use.
About 500 000 people, or one-sixth of the Guatemalan population, benefitted.
Historians have since called this land reform one of the most successful in history.
The majority of the reform was rolled back by the military dictatorship that followed in 1954.
In Mexico, the first land reform (Ley Lerdo law) was enacted in 1856.
This prohibited ownership of land by the Church and municipalities.
One of the aims of the reform government was to develop the economy by returning to productive cultivation the underutilised lands of the Church and the municipal communities (Indian commons) as well as redistributing the land to small landowners.
The reform government also financed its war effort by seizing and selling Church property and other large estates.
The eventual corruption of the Ley Lerdo principles which allowed land to be concentrated among the elite, contributed to the Mexican Revolution in 1910.
As a result of the revolution, a further land reform was introduced, albeit unevenly.
In 1934, the Agrarian Code was passed, which accelerated the pace of land reform.
A total of 45 million acres of land was redistributed – four million acres of which were expropriated from American-owned agricultural property that resulted in a conflict between Mexico and the US.
The initial few years of the land reform were marked by high food prices, falling wages, high inflation and low agricultural yields.
In 1935, land reform began sweeping across the country in the periphery and core of commercial agriculture.
But, eventually, the land reform justified itself in terms of productivity and average agricultural production; with production during the period from 1939 to 1941 higher than at any time since the beginning of the revolution.
However, by allowing capitalist entrepreneurs to rent peasant land during the period 1946-1952, land reforms were curtailed.
By 1970, land reform was defunct.
In the face of peasant revolt, the government embarked on the biggest land reform programme since the 1930s, legalising the take-overs of huge foreign-owned private farms, that developed again during the period of 1946-1952 and turned into new collective smallholding (ejido).
In December 1991, Article 27 of the
Constitution was amended, making it legal to sell land and allow peasants to put up their land as collateral for loans.
Currently, most Mexican peasants are landowners.
However, their smallholdings are usually too small and farmers must supplement their incomes by working for the remaining landlords, and/or working in the US.
In Nicaragua, in central America, during and after the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution, the government officially announcing their political platform, included land reform.
Large tracts of land were distributed to prominent members of the ruling elite.
It was found after their loss in the 1990 elections that most of the leaders held most of the private property and businesses that had been confiscated and nationalised by the FSLN Government.
In Peru, where land reform in the 1950s eliminated the centuries-old system of debt bondage, a further land reform occurred after the 1968 military coup.
The new dictatorship launched a large-scale agrarian reform movement that attempted to redistribute land, hoping to break Peru’s traditionally inequitable pattern of land holding and the hold of traditional oligarchy.
About 22 million acres of land was redistributed, more land than in any reform programme outside of Cuba.
The military government continued to spend huge amounts of money to transform Peru’s agriculture to socialised ownership and management, increasing Peru’s external debt at the beginning of the 1970s.
Unfortunately, agricultural productivity suffered as peasants with no management experience took control.
State bankruptcy was partly caused by the cheap credit the government extended to promote agrarian development, state subsidies and administrative expenditures to carry out the agrarian reform during this period.
More recently, in Venezuela in 2001, the government enacted the ‘Plan Zamora’ to redistribute government and unused private land to peasants (campesinos) in need.
In 2002, the plan met with heavy opposition which led to an attempted coup d’état; the presidency reversed the land reform.
However, the reversal was declared null when the coup failed and Chávez returned to power.
By the end of 2003, 60 000 families had received temporary title to a total of 55 000km² of land under the plan.
Contrary to common belief in Zimbabwe, land reform has a world-wide resonance wherever colonisation has attempted to usurp indigenous land rights.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For views and comments, email:


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