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The peasantry became politically active only after the 1952 Revolution. Previously, much of the Indian peasant population had been subjected to a form of indentured service called pongaje and had been denied voting rights through a series of legal restrictions. Pongaje ended with the Agrarian Reform Law enacted in 1953. Universal suffrage, in turn, incorporated the Indian masses into Bolivian political life.
The MNR established a new type of servitude, however, by using the Indian peasant masses as pawns to further the political interests of the party. Party bosses paraded peasants around at election rallies and manipulated peasant leaders to achieve particularistic gain. Some authors have labeled this system of political servitude pongaje político, a term that evokes images of the prerevolutionary exploitation of the peasantry.
As the MNR surrendered control of the countryside to the military, the peasantry came to rely extensively on military protection. This reliance enabled the military to forge the socalled Peasant-Military Pact, through which they promised to defend the newly acquired lands of the peasantry in return for help in defeating any new attempts to dismantle the military as an institution.
With the overthrow of the MNR in 1964, General Barrientos buttressed his grip on power by manipulating the Peasant-Military Pact. The pact became a mechanism through which the military coopted and controlled the peasantry. Autonomous peasant organizations, as a result, failed to emerge.
During Banzer's presidency, the military attempted to continue the manipulation of the peasantry. In January 1974, peasant demonstrations against price increases culminated in a bloody incident known as the "Massacre of Tolata," in which more than 100 peasants were either killed or wounded. The Tolata incident put an end to the Peasant-Military Pact; paradoxically, it led to the emergence of a number of autonomous peasant and Indian organizations that remained active in politics in the late 1980s.
The most significant was the Katarista movement, or Katarismo, which embraced political parties and a campesino union. The political parties, such as the Túpac Katari Indian Movement (Movimiento Indio Túpac Katari--MITKA), were based on an ideology rooted in the Indian rebellion that Julián Apaza (Túpac Catari, also spelled Katari) led against the Spaniards in 1781. After 1978 the MITKA succeeded in electing several deputies to Congress.
The union-oriented branch of Katarismo founded the Túpac Katari Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Katari-- MRTK). In 1979 the MRTK established the first peasant union linked to the COB, known as the General Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia (Confederación Sindical Ünica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia -- CSUTCB). The establishment of this union was a significant development. For the first time, an autonomous peasant organization recognized a commonality of interests with labor. Many observers noted, however, that the campesino movement had never really been accepted by the COB. Moreover, the fortunes of the MRTK were tied to those of its ally, the UDP.
In the 1980s, Bolivian peasant organizations fared poorly. MITKA and MRTK parties performed worse than anticipated in elections and were forced to seek alliances with larger parties. Electoral reforms in 1980 and 1986 further undermined the capacity of peasant political parties to compete in national elections. The greatest challenge confronting these movements was the need to break the monopoly over the peasantry held in the countryside by the traditional political parties.
More about the Government and Politics of Bolivia.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress