Who’s land is it?

Bolivia president Evo Morales announced that he has initiated a program fundamental to his victory in late 2005. He promised indigenous Bolivians that if elected, he would redistribute farm land to them. This weekend, the program got underway with Morales giving state-owned land to indigenous communities. Privately-owned, non-productive farm land is next.

In Morales’ view, he is just returning the land to its rightful owners. Five hundred years ago, Spanish conquistadores came with weapons and strategem and took the land of modern day Peru and Bolivia from the Inca people. Now he feels he is just giving it back.

What establishes ownership? If you come to my house with more weapons than I have (not difficult since I have only a few kitchen knives), indicating that you don’t recognize my rule of law, you don’t have a right to claim my property. Taking land by force via military action has long been the manner to expand and enrich one’s country and one’s self. Most nations throughout history have attempted this method of growth. The question is, is it legitimate? Is it right?

When a national leader has the ability to redress wrongs against a specific group and return to them what was essentially stolen from them, is the the right thing, the moral thing, to do?

Whether you are a naturalist humanist who believes that the world belongs to no one, or to everyone; or a monotheist who believes that the Earth was created by God and belongs only to Him, there is incongruity with these above beliefs and “owning” something.

It seems that Morales may be on to something here…except from whom did the Incas take the land????

4 Replies to “Who’s land is it?”

  1. Mike,

    The “who did they steal if from?” is key. Ownership is the real problem…as you point out. And you have to give Morales credit…at least he keeps the tough campaign promises. I say, give the people more of that.

  2. Mike,

    This seems to me to be a fairly common event in history. There is a long line of, “you took this from my people and we are taking it back”. We can be grateful that Morales is omitting the slaughter that is customary with the take back scenario. What we also find with these events in history is the presence gain for those doing the take back. So while the questions, “is Morales justified in his actions, and who are the rightful owners of the land”, are important, I would like to know what the advantage is for Morales. I don’t think it is the smiles of constituents and the keeping of a campaign promise, because history teaches one more thing about persons taking from the landed, they have their own plans for maintaining power and it doesn’t have much to do with pressing the flesh and kissing babies.

  3. Matt and Escobar,

    Thanks for the comments.


    It seems very difficult to claim ownership of much in this world. If a worker receives a raw material and through her labor improves it, who owns it, she or the person who gave her the raw material? Some use the example if you tend the apple tree, dung it, prune it, etc. you can sell the product…unless someone else “owns” the tree. I don’t find that helpful since ownership is dependent on who has the most firepower and the “law” on their side. This is the problem with capitalism…by creating an environment which legally favors those with the capital instead of those who work we create a deepening economic divide.


    I think that the advantage to Morales is power to his people and maintaining it, just as you stated. He feels that the indigenous populations have been marginalized from the political process for so long, he is going to try to take it back. They are close to being the majority, but because of economic and education inequalities have been left out of the political game. This is his chance to take it back for his people. I can’t say as I blame him and his. As long as they do it with transparency and under the rule of law.

  4. Mike,

    Yeah, there’s nothing that defines ownership outside of man-made law…I believe. So the law is written and enforced by those who last *stole* the capital to perpetuate the rights of ownership, the value in exchange for that ownership, and the right to all improvements on that capital. IOW, the last pirate to hold the treasure when the transition is somehow made to legitimacy, gets to keep it in perpetuity…or until the law changes. That’s what I love about the Morales thing…capital re-allocation under the protection of law. The rich hate it of course, but there’s no greater sign of democracy.

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