Bolivia - Some Advancements and Some Impasses – II

Sandeep Banerjee

In the first part of this article published in the Frontier Weekly online on 12 Jan, we ended the article with a sentence: In the next part of this article we shall see the aggressive agriculture of Bolivia and its effects: Deforestation & Forest Fires, danger of GM Soy in Bolivia etc. aspects which are more related to Ecology.  [02-01-2020]

But before going there we would like to present one erratum and answer a few questions that came from some readers.

 The following was given erroneously in the last issue:—
Distribution of land for Soybean crops in Santa Cruz 2011 [18]

Type of farms

Land area

% household

% land owned


<50 Ha




51-1000 Ha




>1000 Ha



Source: “Bolivia's soy complex: the development of ‘productive exclusion’” by Ben McKay & Gonzalo Colque, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2015 
It should have been
Distribution of land for Soybean crops in Santa Cruz 2011 [18]

Type of farms

Land area

% owners

% land owned


<50 Ha




51-1000 Ha




>1000 Ha



Source: ibid [1]
 Few Questions

We saw that it was not only MAS presidential candidate Evo Morales got 47.08% of votes (highest and 10.57% more than the runners up candidate Carlos Mesa), but also in the Chamber of Deputies the MAS got 67 seats out of 130 (a clear majority) and in the Senate MAS got 21 seats out of 36 (also a large majority) – and there were no disputes regarding these elections. Even if there were ‘questions’ regarding correct counting of votes in case of Presidential candidate and hence he had been told to step down by the Army after days of violence and arson by the opposition forces and inactivity of the police to control them – how did Jeanine Añez, a member of opposition, took up presidency and started behaving autocratically? A ready answer is this: Jeanine Añez was the second vice president of the Senate and member of the CC Party, and she became the highest-ranking official, who, according to the Bolivian constitution, should assume the role of interim president after the president, vice-president, and the first president of the senate resigned. On November 12, 2019, Añez proclaimed transitional, temporary interim charge of the Senate of Bolivia and, on this basis, was declared the Constitutional President.

Her assumption of power might be legally correct as far as Bolivia’s laws are concerned. But how did she behave like a colonialist, like a conquistadora, appearing in the balcony with a bible accompanied with persons having bible and cross in hands, declaring a ministry with zero indigenous member and later inducted a single indigenous person in ministry, vowed to de-indigenize Bolivia from what was achieved during almost 14 years of presidency of Evo Morales…??? After all the Chamber of Deputies and Senate are both having MAS majority! How could the police brutality against majority indigenous population and protestors after Evo’s ouster be explained! Such a question begets a sad answer. In critical hours of ‘democracies’ the elected representatives mean little, the actual ruling classes, their allies (imperialist powers), the armed forces, the bureaucracy – all these usually matter more. They did not like an indigenous president, the MAS party’s lead in Chamber and Senate, their indigenisation, nationalisations (whatever % of the economy be that), State of Bolivia’s quasi-independence or near-independence in many matters, hobnobbing with Russia, Cuba, China, etc counties which the USA dislike… And on the other side, China and Russia did not intervene as much as they did in case of Venezuela where they have heavy investments and where the army was totally by the side of the ruling party led by Maduro (we discussed earlier that the Venezuelan army was different [2]). Though, it is true that both the USA and China have eyes on Bolivia’s mining, e.g., in Lithium, Rare Earths, and, why not natural gas and other minerals! If there is any problem with the words quasi-independence or near-independence we may recall the ouster of Evo Morales again to see who hold what power and how much. The ruling class got a suitable chance, they knew the internal balance of forces, the weakening of the ‘social movements’, and in the right moment they scored their goal, staged the coup d'état.

Now let us move to the points of this second part of the article.

The Aggressive Agriculture

We saw a little about very unequal distribution of Soya and Sugar Cane farming in Bolivia in terms of land ownership. We shall have to look into some detail. At first, we shall take some snippets from a booklet “Fact-finding Agro-Food Bolivia with a special focus on the Santa Cruz region” by a Dutch Govt Publication “Commissioned by the Royal Dutch embassy in Lima, Fact-finding Bolivia 2016-2017” [3]. The Netherlands had a good working relation with Evo’s Bolivia, and from this booklet we can get some recent most facts. By the way, there might be a question why they focused on a single province Santacruz? They answer, “Santa Cruz is responsible for 70% of the national food supply, almost 30% of the GDP and 40% of the national tax income.” The team of the Netherlands Govt which wrote the booklet was not unfair to Evo Morales administration. For example, there we find: “While an increasing number of companies are looking for export possibilities, the discourse of the national government is focused on food security. The administration of Evo Morales exercises control on the commercialization of agricultural commodities through quotas and public enterprises in order to secure national food supply and protect small farmers. Agribusinesses have the obligation to first fulfil local demand before they are allowed to export. Moreover, their production land must have a socio-economic function to guarantee their ownership.” Now, this very booklet contains some disturbing facts: (i) Soybean is the leading crop; Around 20% is obligatory sold on the local market as feed to livestock breeders. The rest of the 3 million tonnes of soybean are processed and exported as oil and oilcake; Increasing soybean production is the principle cause of deforestation; Soil erosion due to low rotation and poor agricultural practices; Resistant undergrowth and excessive pesticide use; Vulnerability to diseases; Since 2005 Bolivia has made the conversion from conventional soybean to transgenic (GM) soybean. Nowadays almost all soybean in Bolivia is transgenic. (ii) Sugar cane is the most industrialized crop, Sugar cane is not the largest crop in hectares, but with 8 million tonnes of raw product it is significant in production; Monoculture, pre-harvest burning and industrial processing have great impact on the soil and water quality; (iii) Soya export market is almost totally controlled by few companies with a strong presence of multinationals; (iv) “About 50% of the providers of agricultural inputs and agrochemicals (fertilizer, seeds, pesticides, generic and patented products) are represented in the association APIA [an association of private players], which is in turn member of CropLife Latin America. There is a strong link with large biotechnical multinationals such as Bayer, Monsanto and BASF.”

The Russian agency Sputnik (we can assume not to be anti Evo Morales) said in 2017: Bolivia cultivates at least 30 million hectares of land but only uses one-sixth (i.e. 5 million hectares) for food production, producing 17 million tonnes of food. [4]

But it was very difficult to find how many hectares are under what crop production. At last we could find a Bolivia govt. publication [5] of 2017 – from where we made this table for some crops only:


Area (Ha)

Production (Tonnes)

























Source: Instituto Nacional De Estadística [5]

We also can create another table from the same source, but which does not match with Russian data mentioned above: (though this list may not be exhaustive – present author)


Area under crops (Ha) 2014-15

Area under crops (Ha) 2005-06

Forages (Animal Food)



Tubers and roots



Oils and Industrials















But we saw from the abovementioned Dutch source that “Soybean is the leading crop; Around 20% is obligatory sold on the local market as feed to livestock breeders. The rest of the 3 million tonnes of soybean are processed and exported as oil and oilcake”. In this sense, soy is not a food crop there. Then stimulants might mainly mean Coco parts of which plant is used to make stimulants. Tubers and roots are mainly potatoes.  Among oils there is sunflower oil also. But there is no provision here in this table for sugarcanes unless it is placed under industrials.

In an abovementioned source we saw “Environmentally, a myriad of studies point to the expansion of soybean plantations as a driving force behind deforestation, …” [1] A newspaper Pagina Siete wrote on 29 Sept 2019 that deforestation increased 200% since 2015, and as per Authority of Inspection and Social Control of Forest and Land (Autoridad de Fiscalización y Control Social de Bosques y Tierra) “1,518,669 hectares have been legally cleared between 1998 and 2018.” [6] From Mongabay we came to know in 9 Apr 2019 that govt has decided to increase agricultural frontier for more GM Soy – naturally it will be done by deforestation.

There is a problem with deforestation and environmental data. MAS regime’s Vice president García Linera in 2015 has commented [7] on NGO activities there and said that Milenio and Fundación Tierra are followers of political opponents like Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and the MNR, they receive foreign finds whereas NGOs CEDIB and la Fundación Cedla are run by ‘Trotskyite Greens’. Therefore, we are not mentioning CEDIB data lest those might be refuted without even citing reasons. We can see what the friendly Chinese XINHUA says. Xinhua on 24 Aug 2019 reported that (i) Forest Fires in Bolivia have destructed more than 775,000 hectares. (ii) In Bolivia loss of forest is due to conversion of forest land to grazing land and agriculture. (iii) Bolivia ranks fifth among the countries with the highest deforestation, according to a report last April from the World Resources Institute (WRI). (iv) The scientist they interviewed said that in the case of Bolivia, much of the deforestation is in Santa Cruz, which means between 200,000 and 300,000 hectares of forest lost per year on average. (v) “In and of itself the damage to the flora and fauna is incalculable by these fires caused by the 'chaqueos' (burning of crops), considering the volume of lost hectares that are estimated at about one million," said the environmentalist.” (Here also forest fires seemed to start from slash and burn by the big farmers like that happened in Brazil.) (vi) For its part, the biologist Cecilia Requena said that one of the places most affected in Bolivia by this situation is the so-called "dry forest" Chiquitano. It is a biodiversity complex where the Tucavaca Nature Reserve is also located. In that area there are 554 species of animals: 221 types of birds, 160 types of fish, 69 types of mammals, 54 types of reptiles and 50 types of amphibians. Requena explained that it is not possible to quantify precisely what has already been lost, due to the great biodiversity of which a part of its wealth is barely known, but “we know that it is enormous”.

So, this was the aggressive agriculture followed by Bolivia even during Evo Morales – García Linera regime. And remember the extensive use of GM variety in case of Soybean, the rate of deforestation for ranching and agriculture is about 300,000 hectares/year and forest fire this year was caused due to just like what was the reason in Brazil. “The livestock sector is responsible for 60% of deforestation in Bolivia, in the very region where slash and burn practices are causing fires to rage” [9]. This same dialogochino report of 4 Sept 2019 states: that Bolivia is increasing its Beef export, “Farmers currently have a surplus of 40,000 tons of meat for export” and “They expect to grow sustainably at 5% a year until 2030…” and concluded, “It is less clear how the country will be able to ensure these incomes for Bolivian agriculture without the loss of forest cover.”

Biocombustibles or Bio-Fuels 
There is an interesting fact. In 21 April 2008 Evo Morales addressed an UN session and spoke against capitalism, war and etc. and also against rising cost of food plus doing agriculture to make bio-fuels, “I cannot understand how fertile soil is used to make fuel for the cars…” [10]. In an interview with Democracy Now in June 2008 too he spoke in the same vein [11]. But things started changing – we do not know exactly from when and how. But on 15 Sept 2019 the state-owned petroleum firm YPFB proudly declared that govt f Evo Morales has made a law to promote ethanol additives to fuel and also using soy to make bio-diesel additive [12]. GM soy will be used to make bio-diesel [13]. Transgenic soy was already been cultivated and a major part went to foreign destination. Now those will be processed in Bolivian facilities made by some foreign firms.

And all these are done at the cost of forests which are being cut down to give place to transgenic soy! Moreover, we have seen who are the ’farmers’ who on most of the land cultivated for Soy, most land is owned by very big owners. And even if smaller owners are concerned, we know almost all of the soy are of GM variety – the Roundup variety of Monsanto. Therefore from seed to agrochemicals and then processing and marketing all practically is done by very big transnational corporate and some very big national companies created or controlled by TNCs [see pages 12, 13 & 17 of source: 1] where role of the small peasants or marginal and small farmers become that of contract-farming labourers who own some land.

A Road Through Protected Areas and then Petroleum Exploration – What might be the way!
 We have heard of the TIPNIS conflict. TIPNIS or Territory Indigenous and Park National of “Isiboro Sécure” (translated maintaining the Spanish sequence). The conflict started in 2011. Many indigenous persons marched against a govt project of making a road through indigenous territory and national park. If this road is made then there will be advantage to two states of provinces: Beni and Cochabamba to connect each other and transport each others product. A NACLA source in 2011 wrote it and also wrote at the same report that “The road is also part of a proposed cross-continent highway, which would give Brazil access to Pacific ports.” [14] There is formally a ‘law’ or a custom today to consult with ‘stakeholders’ or ‘project affected people’ before the project. How was that consultation on behalf of a so-called indigenous govt for the first time in Bolivia or Latin America in general? There must be conflicting ‘narratives’ in todays world where ‘history’ has ended leaving place o different versions only. Anyway, we got a document from apparently a govt website: named Informe Respecto A La-Violacion De Los Derechos Humanos En La Marcha-Indigena [15] or Report Regarding The Violation Of Human Rights In The Indigenous March. The pdf making date is 24 Nov 2011. That is just less than two months before the so called "the massacre of Chaparina" where according to various sources the military violently stopped the indigenous march to the capital. We quote some excerpts from that govt source: “02.09.11 The march entered San Borja in the morning, …  In a contact with the marchers, they reject the proposal of the Government representatives to call an immediate consultation meeting to decide the future of the road. 05.09.11. The dialogue between the Government and indigenous people was broken after the leadership objected to the six alternatives presented by the Executive to build section II of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos road, as well as the proposal to go to a public consultation.” So, consultation meant that the people have to choose an alternative, but cannot say “no”.  so, the march continued defying the govt and on 24.09.11 marchers met military resistance. We may assume even if we do not go in detail of the conflict that the govt tried in many ways to dissuade the marchers and presented many options, but did not present the ‘no road’ option through that territory, and readers with knowledge of civil engineering or geography or geology may please see the map to see if alternative road avoiding this particular territory was possible or not. The road building activity started in 2017 perhaps. But we know things do not stop at roads only. And on that very year seven blocks for petroleum exploration was granted in thar very zone TIPNIS according to a Bolivian newspaper report [16].

A debate started keeping the indigenous people and consultation parts outside: is it correct from the viewpoint of the rich biodiversity of the TIPNIS to build a road through it, to start petroleum exploration etc. developmental works? Vice president Álvaro García Linera said: Las áreas protegidas fueron un "invento” de los "gringos”, "dictadores” y Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada para apropiarse de los recursos nacionales el día que se hicieron cargo del país… [17], i.e., the ‘protected area’ was an ‘invention’ of the ‘gringos’ (generally white English speaking persons of the USA) ‘dictators’ and Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (ex President of Bolivia in the neo-lib days who is despised by many for his notorious anti-people role in the Gas War days) to appropriate the natural resources the day hey take over the country

Persons serious with conservation of biodiversity may think it outrageous. But this debate around ‘protected areas’ are there among some top-most scientists. Mac Chapin once wrote how the big Biodiversity NGOs were behaving very unfairly with respect to indigenous communities in his special last article in the Nov-Dec issue of World Watch “A Challenge to Conservationist” [18]. The big NGOs forgot that indigenous and local people are part and parcel of the Biodiversity of biodiversity rich forest areas, that they have stored knowledge of millennia to protect the areas and they always protect the areas because these areas provide them with livelihood.  Messe Venant, himself a Pygmy from Cameroon, stated that Protected Areas and National Parks were built ultimately driving out the people who lived there for ages. Scientists J.M. Mallarach, once a specialist of IUCN, lamented that the Yellowstone model USA became international and there also indigenous communities were driven out as example in the first National Park of Africa [19]. But these scientists never pleaded for ‘development’ projects in Biodiversity rich spots which are not very abundant now in the earth, moreover, particularly when the communities there are not wanting those ‘developments’.

The developmentalist attitude of the so called ‘left’ governments of Latin America is never criticised I the so-called left journals but rather those left regimes and those left journals criticise the critics of developmentalism as imperialist-sponsored or unknowingly becoming anti-left! We have seen that in case of debate on Ecuador’s extractivism during Correa regime and initial Lenin Moreno days. Those left journals will blow explosives on tar sands produced by countries of the ‘global north’ but will criticise persons if one criticises Venezuela for tar sand production. 

So, while we must stand in favour of MAS and Evo Morales in their fight against imperialism sponsored coup, we must also be aware of the limitation of the regime and oppose the capitalist activities they (MAS) practice or allow in the name of socialism.

Foottnotes and Sources 
 [1] “Bolivia's soy complex: the development of ‘productive exclusion’” by Ben McKay & Gonzalo Colque, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2015
[2] “It may be recalled that only in Venezuela we are still watching a different show – it is largely due to existence of an army obedient to Maduro (and previously Chavez) govt, obedient to the idea of Bolivarian revolution and Bolivarian republic – because in the time of crisis it mattered. Why it is so was explained by late Marta Harnecker. In her September 2003 article: “The Venezuelan Military: Making an Anomaly?” [available at] she elucidated why the US planned military coup failed in Venezuela. It was really an exceptional case.”
[3] Fact-finding Agro-Food Bolivia With a special focus on the Santa Cruz region - Commissioned by the ministry of Foreign Affairs, Commissioned by the Royal Dutch embassy in Lima, Fact-finding Bolivia 2016-2017
[4] 16.10.2017 LA PAZ (Sputnik) — Bolivia cuenta con al menos 30 millones de hectáreas de tierras aptas para el cultivo de agrícola pero solo utiliza la sexta parte, con las que produce 17 millones de toneladas de alimentos, dijo a Sputnik el gerente general del Instituto Boliviano de Comercio Exterior (IBCE), Gary Rodríguez.
[7] Bolivia: García Linera y las ONG by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, 27/08/2015,
[8] ESPECIAL: Incendios forestales en Bolivia destruyen más de 775.000 hectáreas, 2019-08-24, Por René Quenallata Paredes,
[9] "Bolivia's forest fires and the rise of beef exports" The livestock sector is responsible for 60% of deforestation in Bolivia, in the very region where slash and burn practices are causing fires to rage by Miriam Telma Jemio, September 4, 2019
[10] “El Presidente Morales también se refirió a los biocombustibles "no entiendo como se pretenden destinar tierras fertiles para producir combustibles para autos de lujo...” Los 10 mandamientos de Evo para salvar el Planeta, la Vida y la Humanidad | Encendido discurso de Evo Morales hoy en la ONU: "si no acabamos con el sistema capitalista será imposible salvar la tierra" Por: | Lunes, 21/04/2008
[11] “Igualmente ya se gestan grandes movimientos contra el biocombustible, contra el agrocombustible, y esperamos que los presidentes y algunos de los organismos revisen, y no tener este problema – el problema de hambre de familias y de hectáreas que estén destinadas para carros y no para la vida.”
[12] El Presidente del Estado  Plurinacional de Bolivia, Evo Morales, promulgó esta mañana la “Ley N° 303/2017-2018, de Aditivos de Origen Vegetal”, que permite la producción, uso y comercialización de este tipo de aditivos con la finalidad de sustituir gradualmente la importación de gasolina y diésel.
15] 05.09.11. El diálogo entre Gobierno e indígenas se rompió luego que la dirigencia objetó las seis alternativas que presentó el Ejecutivo para construir el tramo II de la vía Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos, así como la propuesta de ir a una consulta pública.
[16] Siete bloques de exploración petrolera rodean al Tipnis 28 Aug 2017
[18] A Challenge to Conservationists by Mac Chapin November/December 2004 WORLD WATCH
[19] Conservacionismo imperialista por Solinet -10 septiembre, 2009 Also see Pueblos de Asia, África y Latinoamérica denuncian que se les expulsa de sus tierras en nombre del conservacionismo

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Feb 4, 2020

Sandeep Banerjee

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