"CARAPARICITO, Bolivia — From the time Ronald Larsen drove his pickup truck here from his native Montana in 1969 and bought a sprawling cattle ranch for a song, he lived a quiet life in remote southeastern Bolivia, farming corn, herding cattle and amassing vast land holdings."
My bad, Ronald Larsen is just a Jeffersonian yeoman farmer, acquiring land in Bolivia (over 100,000 arces) through the shear beauty of his folksy voice. If you believe this bullshit, I hear the Brooklyn Bridge is going for a real low price these days.
"'I just spent 40 years in this country working my land in an honest fashion,” said Mr. Larsen, who resembled Clint Eastwood with his weathered features and lanky frame. 'They’re taking it away over my dead body.'"
Now the crazy comes out. That's right Larsen! Damn Injuns! Romero takes the lead:
"Mr. Larsen’s standoffs with the central government, replete with rifles, cowboys and Guaraní Indians, might sound like something out of the Old West. In fact, the battle playing out in the cattle pastures and gas-rich hills of his ranch, amid claims of forced servitude of Guaraní workers in the remote region, exemplifies Bolivia’s wild east."
Yeah!, wait... what was that about native "servitude" labor? Whatever, before we get there, let's hear about this Wild West Shoot Out!
"Tensions here erupted one day in February when Alejandro Almaraz, the deputy land minister, arrived before dawn at the entrance to Mr. Larsen’s Hacienda Caraparicito to carry out an inspection, a step usually taken before the government seizes ranches and redistributes them among indigenous farmers.
Both sides differ as to what happened, but everyone agrees that some violence ensued. 'I didn’t want this guy making any trouble, so I shut him up with a shot at one of his tires,' Mr. Larsen was quoted as saying last month by La Razón, Bolivia’s main daily newspaper.
Mr. Almaraz said he was kidnapped and held for a day on Mr. Larsen’s ranch. He responded to the incident by identifying the American rancher and his son Duston in a criminal complaint for “sedition, robbery and other crimes.”
Faced with a legal tussle over the standoff, Mr. Larsen now claims that he did not shoot at Mr. Almaraz’s vehicle. 'The tires were punched out with sharpened screwdrivers,' Mr. Larsen said. 'If I’d have been shooting at people that day, there would have been dead and injured.'”
So Larsen keeps changing his story, who cares? We all know indios like Almaraz are drunkards disrespecting the white man's ways. Almaraz was just carrying out his legal and constitutional duty to establish proper legal title among Bolivia's irregular landholdings and competing claims, the product of decades of unscrupulous business dealings and illegal donations made during the Banzer dictatorship. Oh yeah, and indigenous groups have a existing constitutional right to land surrounding their communities under the laws of Tierras Comunitarias de Origin. But enough with Ronald. I hear he has a nice looking son, who was named Mr. Bolivia in 2004.
"His quiet style contrasts with that of his oldest son, Duston, born in Bolivia, reared in Nebraska and educated at Montana State University. While Mr. Larsen prefers to lie low at the family home in Santa Cruz, the provincial capital, Duston, 29, has been in the spotlight since moving here in 2004.
Now Duston Larsen is focused on guarding the family’s land, ahead of his marriage to Claudia Azaeda, a talk show host and former beauty pageant winner. Depicted in newspaper cartoons as a gun-slinging “Mr. Gringo Bolivia,” he basks in the showdown with Mr. Morales, an Aymara Indian who as Bolivia’s first indigenous president has made land reform a top priority in his efforts to reverse centuries of subjugation of the indigenous majority.
'Evo Morales is a symbol of ignorance, having never even finished high school,' Duston Larsen said."
"He vehemently asserted that ranch hands and their families were free to come and go, after the Larsens and other ranchers were faced with government claims that ranches in their region held their Guaraní workers in servitude; the government has used the charge to move ahead with land seizures.
The reality of life at Caraparicito and other ranches may be more complex than either side suggests. At Caraparicito, workers get work contracts, food, clothing, housing and education for their children at a schoolhouse on the ranch. But wages remain low, with senior farmhands earning less than $6 a day.
Ahem, actually Simon, what you have just described and witnessed qualifies under Bolivian Law as servitude labor, i.e. slavery. It is one of the quaint laws, hold over from the postrevolutionary reforms after 1952 of making latifundias (those huge land estates started by the Spanish Conquistadors with 'happy' natives living on and working them) illegal. Simon, expect your ass to be called into Bolivian court to provide testimony in future prosecution of the Larsens. However, Romero points out that will never happen because the forces of Santa Cruz Autonomy against that central government were victorious on Sunday, May 4th, in the referendum on the Santa Cruz Autonomy Statute.
"The combination of oil, guns and land becomes even more combustible when mixed with Bolivia’s volatile politics. In a sharp rebuke of Mr. Morales’s socialist-inspired policies, Santa Cruz Province approved measures on Sunday that would halt land redistribution and allow provincial officials to renegotiate some energy deals.
Such a vote, which some people in the province consider a possible precursor to secession, might be expected to halt the maneuvers around Caraparicito. Indeed, Mr. Larsen’s battle is being watched closely throughout Santa Cruz, where foreign agricultural settlers include Brazilians, Canadian Mennonites, Okinawans and a handful of Americans.
[In an interview with Juan Carlos Rojas, the director of Bolivia’s land reform agency] 'Larsen made it clear that he was above the law,' said Mr. Rojas, who emerged from an April standoff at Caraparicito with his face bloodied from a rock-throwing exchange. Echoing comments by Mr. Morales, he said Santa Cruz’s newly approved autonomy was 'illegal' in his view.'"
The next time Simon travels to a small Latin country he knows very little about, I recommend familiarizing himself with their basic laws and constitution, or at least asking someone with actual authority on the matter. Sunday's autonomy vote was illegal and has no binding dictate, this point is not simply a matter of interpretation by Morales' government, it was struck down as unconstitutional weeks ago by the National Electoral Court, furthermore no reputed election observers showed up to watch it because the vote was recognized as illegitimate by the international community. The current constitution does not recongize (provincial) departmental autonomy and the proposed constitution, which does, has not yet been enacted; it will also not recognize the right of provincial governments to have any authority over land redistribution or directly renegotiating energy exploitation deals. Instead as Rojas states:
“The last I looked, the Larsens were living in Bolivia and not the Republic of Santa Cruz,” Mr. Rojas said. “Despite Ronald Larsen’s resistance, we are going to get into his ranch.”