Volume 8

Peasant Struggles and Agrarian Reform

Leon Zamosc

Zamosc, Leon, Latin American Issues [On-line], 8.
Available: http://sites.allegheny.edu/latinamericanstudies/latin-american-issues/volume-8/


Leon Zamosc received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Manchester, England, and is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is author of The Agrarian Question and the Peasant Movement in Colombia (winner of the 1986 Hubert Herring Award for best book on Latin America), and of many articles on social development, peasant economies, and agrarian movements. His Spanish publications include the books Curiti: Pueblo de Tejedores, El Fique y los Empaques en Colombia, and Los Usuarios Campesinos y las Luchas por la Tierra de los Anos Setenta en Colombia. He is currently working on a comparative project on peasant politics and the prospects for rural democracy in Ecuador and Colombia.


This is a comparative study on the dynamics of agrarian reform in Latin America. It focuses on two specific regions: the highlands of Ecuador, where modifications in the system of land tenure were introduced in the 1960s; and the coastal plains of northern Colombia, where similar changes took place in the 1970s. The immediate purpose is to examine the impact of peasant collective action on these processes. In the longer run, the work represents the initial step of a broader comparative undertaking that seeks to elucidate the determinants, modalities, and consequences of peasant political participation in the last forty years of capitalist modernization in both countries.1

Peasant mobilizations have been relatively neglected in current scholarship on the agrarian question in Latin America. The best recent general studies of rural change have been marked by a great deal of emphasis on the influence of structural determinations and on the role of the state. The first type of emphasis, however, has tended to overestimate the explanatory capacity of the logic of capitalist development in agriculture, relegating the concrete social actors to a secondary level of importance.2 On the other hand, the studies that focus on the role of the state have displayed a propensity to reify the autonomous character of state action and attribute inordinate influence to the developmentalist ideologies of those who control institutional power.3 In the face of the excessive weight that is being given to impersonal forces and the orientations of state elites, it seems justified to “bring the rural actors back in.” What is at stake is not only the view that “history should also be told from below.” It is also necessary to vindicate the analytical perspective that sees social actors, and particularly their conflict and collective action, as effective forces that shape historical outcomes. Such a perspective is not incompatible with the emphases on structure and state. It is generally accepted that to grasp the meaning of social conflicts one must refer to underlying structural factors. At the same time, most researchers would agree that state intervention has been a key factor in virtually every process of rural change in Latin America. More than anything else, our purpose here is to reaffirm the notion that structural changes and state interventions are not independent of the development of social struggles. The need to broaden and balance the analytical perspective is clearly underscored by current developments in the countries discussed in this study. In Colombia, the last few years have been marked by the resurgence of peasant struggles in a dangerous context of increasing political violence. In Ecuador, an important aspect of the democratic transition of the 1980s has been the emergence of peasants and Indians as social sectors that have an important bearing on electoral politics. These processes, and the changes that they may entail, cannot be fully understood through the lenses of the structural logic of capitalist development and/or the intentions of the power elites. They also require an analytical focus on the rural actors themselves.

To some extent, the current impasse in the Latin American studies on peasant political participation reflects the persisting sway of the thematic and theoretical agendas of the 1960s and 1970s. In the classic studies, peasant uprisings and revolutions were the main topics of research.4 In one way or another, most authors sought to explain the “moral economy” of such rebellions, viewing them as anti-capitalist responses aimed at restoring traditional values and institutions. Furthermore, some authors adhered to the inveterate analytical tradition that sees peasants as politically anachronistic and incapable of organizing to defend their interests on their own behalf. Undeniably, those studies contributed to the understanding of some important historical experiences. In the long run, however, their excessive emphasis on revolution, moral traditionalism, and the political obtuseness of the peasantry turned out to be deceptive. For all their saliency and romance, peasant revolutions have been exceptional historical events. Fascinated by that handful of cases, researchers failed to recognize that peasants have usually participated in the battle of capitalist modernization in less dramatic ways, deploying a rich repertoire of contention that has included manifold forms of organized collective action and everyday resistance. Moreover, there are many examples of peasantries that were able to articulate organizations, social movements, and even political parties that fought for goals that, rather than being oriented towards the past, sought to negotiate the terms of peasant incorporation into the new society. All this suggests the need for a shift towards a more open, less “constructionist” approach. The new comparative research on peasant mobilization should be capable of achieving three essential objectives: specifying the distinctiveness of peasant political participation in different situations of capitalist modernization, understanding the factors that shape or condition such distinctive forms of participation, and evaluating their impact on the processes of historical change in which they are embedded.

These considerations have guided my approach to the peasant struggles in Colombia and Ecuador. In both cases, recent decades have witnessed important socioeconomic changes, attempts to implement agrarian reforms, and a variety of expressions of social conflict in the countryside. In general, it can be said that both countries have been undergoing similar processes of capitalist development and agrarian modernization. Having said this, however, it should also be stressed that the historical and structural singularities of each country were bound to produce differences in the direction of the changes, the scope of the agrarian reforms, and the forms and impact of the peasant struggles. Bearing in mind this diversity, I will not use the comparative method as a means to confirm existing general theories or as a formula for identifying causal regularities that can then be elevated to the status of categorical generalizations.5 Instead, I will adopt an interpretive perspective that resorts to systematic comparisons in order to shed light on the specificities that define each particular case of peasant collective action. Rather than aiming at sweeping generalizations or mechanical applications of theory to history, such an interpretive perspective seeks to deploy theoretical concepts as tools that help define relevant issues, identify parallel processes in different contexts, pose similar questions to these divergent realities, and reach (through methodical contrast) an understanding of the features and significance of each particular case.

We will consider two regional agrarian reform processes that are quite suitable for an exercise in interpretive comparison. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Ecuadorian Sierra and the Colombian Atlantic Coast displayed many differences in their ecological settings, historical antecedents, and ongoing processes of socioeconomic formation. In both cases, however, the initial episode of agrarian reform revolved around a similar crisis that was directly related to the end of their respective systems of precapitalist agrarian relations. In addition, the outcomes of that initial episode were also very similar, resulting in what Alain de Janvry has labeled as “reforms of transition to the junker road” (agrarian reforms characterized by the elimination of servile relations and a very marginal redistribution of land).6 Against these different backdrops, the liquidation of the old regime of relations of production evoked radically different responses on the part of the peasantry. In the Colombian Atlantic Coast, there was such a heightened level of peasant belligerency in the 1970s that some were led to believe in the existence of a revolutionary situation. In the Ecuadorian Sierra, by contrast, the absence of peasant radicalism was so conspicuous that, to this very day, there is a lively debate on the issue of whether there were any real peasant struggles in the 1960s. In the analysis that follows, a substantial part of the effort will be devoted to a detailed look into each case. I will use the same basic analytical framework to examine the agrarian structural settings, the development and resolution of the conflicts, the scope and significance of state intervention, and the forms and outcomes of peasant collective action. The narrative style will match the type of materials being used. The discussion on the Ecuadorian Sierra, which relies on secondary sources, will be structured around a critical review of the scholarly debate on the causes of the agrarian reform and the nature of peasant struggles. In the case of the Colombian Atlantic Coast, there will be a better fit between the exposition and the analytical agenda, since most of the material will be drawn from my own field work. I will conclude with a systematic review of the main contrasts and some comparative reflections on the patterns of state intervention, the relationships between peasants and external political allies, and the subsequent evolution of the agrarian question and peasant participation in both regions.


Haciendas and Peasants in the Sierra

In the early 1960s, about two-thirds of Ecuador’s 4.2 million inhabitants were rural people. More than half of them were settled in the ten provinces of the Sierra, an elevated valley that includes several interconnected basins flanked by the highest ranges of the Andes. Stretching the entire length of the country north to south, the Sierra stands between the tropical plains that spread west towards the Pacific Ocean, and the sparsely populated Amazonian lowlands to the east. The volcanic composition of the soil and the temperate and cold climates of the Sierra make it particularly suitable for cattle raising and for the cultivation of potatoes, maize, barley, and wheat. Historically, the region had been the main area of settlement in the country. Also, by contrast to the export orientation of Ecuador’s coastal agriculture since the nineteenth century, the main products of the Sierra have always been for domestic consumption. The first detailed study on the agrarian question in Ecuador was coordinated by Rafael Baraona for CIDA (Inter-American Committee for Agricultural Development) in 1962 and 1963.7 Summarizing selected data from the study, Table 1 sets forth the basic parameters of the Sierra agrarian structure. In general terms, what stands out is the marked predominance of large production units and the evident subordination of the peasant economy. The 1954 census figures show that half of the agricultural area was monopolized by some 700 estates larger than 500 hectares, and that while almost all the rural families had some type of access to the land, the peasantry as a whole (about 250,000 farms smaller than 50 hectares) controlled less than one-third of the total area. Almost one-third of that peasant area was being worked under different types of tenancy arrangements with landowners, and only one-sixth of the peasants had enough land to absorb their families’ labor-power.

As it is not possible to get into a detailed description of all the aspects of the agrarian structure of the Sierra, we will highlight its most distinctive features. Both in Baraona’s study and in the later work of other authors, the haciendas appear as hubs of socioeconomic organization which, based on territorial control, were reproduced through a dual articulation with subordinate peasant sectors.8 Inwardly, the hacienda economy was linked to communities of huasipungueros, peasants who contributed permanent quotas of labor in exchange for small subsistence plots (called huasipungos) and low wage supplements. This relationship extended to the allegados, members of the extended huasipunguero family who received no plots and worked for wages. Table 2, which lists the provinces by geographical location, shows that most of the 19,700 huasipunguero families lived in the haciendas of the northern and central highlands, mainly in Pichincha, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, and Imbabura. Outwardly, the hacienda was articulated in a number of ways with peasants from surrounding smallholder communities. The landowners gave plots to tenants (arrendatarios) who paid in cash, and to sharecroppers (partidarios) who paid with a part of their crop. There were other types of arrangements involving sitiajeros and yanapas who were obliged to work for the hacienda in exchange for rights of access to certain resources, such as pastures, water, firewood, and use of roads. On the whole, and taking into account both the huasipungueros and those involved in internal and external arrangements under other forms of tenancy, the CIDA estimate indicates that in the early 1960s more than one-fourth of the Sierra peasants were subordinated to the large estates (see Table 1).

The hacienda related to the domestic market through the supply of meat, milk, and the other typical agricultural products of the highlands. But there were major variations in the commercial orientation and internal organization of the haciendas. Taking into account the nature of the landowner economy and the predominant relations of production, Baraona distinguished four types of haciendas in the Sierra.9 At one extreme of his typology were the “modernizing haciendas,” characterized by the increasing prominence of the landowners’ own entrepreneurial production (usually milk and dairy products), and the growing importance of capital investments and wage relations. These estates were concentrated in the vicinity of the main urban markets of the central and northern areas of the Sierra. At the other extreme were the “decaying haciendas,” marked by the retreat of the landowners to a status of absentee rentiers, the erosion of their authority, and the increasing control of the hacienda resources by the subordinate peasant economy. Typical examples were the estates owned by the Church and the state, which accounted for 5.9% of the area registered by the 1954 census.10 In between these two extreme situations of modernization and decay, Baraona included all the other estates in two categories of “traditional haciendas.” In these intermediate categories, the importance of the landowner economy varied, but the servile relations of production described in the previous paragraph prevailed. This wide diversity has inspired a heated scholarly debate on the question of whether the Sierra landowners should be defined as a capitalist or pre-capitalist class.11 Obviously, this debate can only be settled by reference to concrete landowners in concrete situations. But if one maintains an overall perspective, it is significant that in the early 1960s the proportion of wage-laborers with no bond to the land was virtually nil, that a substantial part of the peasantry paid different types of rents to the landowners, and that even the most modern haciendas of the central and northern Sierra had huasipungueros (see Table 1). Even taking into account that there was a process of capitalist development and the fact that the sector of medium-sized properties could be relatively important in the most commercialized areas, one may conclude that the articulation between haciendas and subordinate peasants, and more particularly the extraction of rent in the form of labor, was the fundamental ingredient of the process of socioeconomic formation in the Sierra.

The origins of this agrarian structure can be traced back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the encomienda system was replaced by land grants and the new landowner class began to tap the labor-power of those who were fleeing from the taxes and tributes imposed on the Indian communities.12 The concierto, a form of draft labor that included the allotment of subsistence plots and debt-bondage mechanisms, laid the bases for the gradual formation of stable groups of huasipungueros within the haciendas. In a parallel movement, the territorial expansion of the estates cornered the free Indian communities on the worst lands. The republican legislation of the second half of the nineteenth century privatized almost all Indian resguardo lands, paving the way for additional laws in the 1930s that abolished the remnants of collective property and redefined the communities as local administrative units. In recent writings, Galo Ramón and other researchers have been rethinking this entire process in terms of successive adaptations to an ancestral Andean logic of production that relied on the simultaneous use of several ecological zones. It is argued that the landowners used this logic to their own benefit, extracting labor rents thanks to their control of strategic zones to which the Indians from both the haciendas and the neighboring communities sought access.13 It is also suggested that the tight ideological control that was eventually imposed in the Sierra, upheld as it was by a religious definition of social hierarchy, can be explained by reference to the instrumentalization of a prior Indian weltanschauung that was similarly hierarchical.14

Although all this is still open to debate and interpretation, there is a general consensus that the system known as gamonalismo, a form of political and ideological control mediated by priests and local mestizo authorities, provided a solid base for the preeminence of the Sierra landowners in Ecuadorian politics.15 With the cacao boom of the late nineteenth century, the rise of the new coastal agro-export bourgeoisie marked the end of the absolute political supremacy of the Sierra landowners.16 But the 1895 Liberal Revolution failed to produce structural changes in the highlands and, as a result, the conservative landowners managed to maintain a great deal of political influence throughout the first half of the twentieth century.17 Meanwhile, except for their occasional mobilization as electoral fodder by the conservative political bosses, the peasants of the Sierra did not participate in national politics. Augusto Varas and Fernando Bustamante have argued that there was such a degree of Indian submission to the discourse of ethnic supremacy of landowners and priests that, for all analytical purposes, one would be justified in excluding the peasants from the list of relevant political actors. In their view, the Sierra landowners “appropriated for themselves the politicization of the peasantry, sustaining their legitimation on their total control over that manipulable mass bereft of citizenship.”18

It would be mistaken, however, to take this formal political exclusion as indicating that the peasants were completely passive. The studies of Segundo Moreno Yáñez and Oswaldo Albornoz cast light on a historical tradition of violent protest and frequent local rebellions in the Sierra.19 Up to the eighteenth century the conflicts revolved around taxes and tributes. In the nineteenth century, however, the defense of the Indian lands from the expanding haciendas became a central factor behind the struggles. Although it is not possible to go into this matter in depth, it is striking that the Indian peasantry of the highlands would time and again engage in violent expressions of protest that were invariably crushed with great brutality. What could have been the logic of waging bloody battles that were certain to be lost even before they began? In the spirit of E.P. Thompson’s interpretive argument on the food riots of eighteenth century England, one possible hypothesis is that the uprisings were aimed at setting limits to exploitation, abuse, and spoliation.20 Lacking any alternatives or negotiating power, the peasants set precedents of violence in order to show that there were thresholds beyond which the disgruntled reaction of the oppressed would significantly raise the costs of their oppressors’ initiatives.

In the twentieth century, the defense of the land persisted as a constant dimension of conflict. But these struggles tended to assume a moderate expression centered on legal disputes between haciendas and external communities.21 The most contentious lines of struggle were bound to emerge within the haciendas themselves. The process began in the 1920s and 1930s, with a series of spontaneous local conflicts that would eventually lead to the legal codification of the huasipungo system in 1936.22 From the organizational point of view, a decisive factor was the involvement of militants of the incipient Ecuadorian Communist Party. The Communists organized unions in many haciendas of the central and northern Sierra, pressured for the enforcement of the huasipungo code, and created the Ecuadorian Indian Federation, FEI, in 1944.23 There has been no exhaustive research on FEI and its activities, but the references in existing studies highlight its excessive legalism and lack of radicalism, which are attributed to a narrow conception of the character of the anti-feudal struggle.24 Always confined to restricted local settings, the demands and strikes sought improvements in wages and working conditions, the defense and enlargement of huasipungo plots, and access to pastures and other resources. Not even in the state-owned estates, where the unions achieved their greatest strength, was there a clear demand to eliminate the hacienda system.25

By the 1950s it was clear that, despite their limitations, the unions had managed to shift the main focus of agrarian conflict to the interior of the haciendas. The available studies show that the number of internal labor disputes was much larger than the number of land disputes between haciendas and neighboring communities. Furthermore, most of the violence registered from 1953 to 1962 resulted from strikes that had been organized by the unions.26 In early 1961, the beginning of the political debate on agrarian reform coincided with serious disturbances in Columbe, a county in the vicinity of Quito, where an estimated 2,000 peasants from several haciendas participated in a series of riots.27 A few months later, in an event organized by FEI, 13,000 peasants marched through the streets of the capital raising the banner of agrarian reform.28 This demand marked the high point of the process that had begun with the earlier disputes related to the status of the huasipungueros. It revealed that, all along, the peasant pressure had been oriented towards the consolidation of the peasant economy within the hacienda. It also showed that, although the struggles had not yet reached region-wide dimensions or taken a radical turn, the huasipungueros were becoming increasingly restive and FEI was gaining a foothold as a political actor that articulated and voiced their demands.

The Agrarian Reform: Landlord Initiative or Class Struggle?

The first Ecuadorian agrarian reform law, imposed in 1964 by decree of the Military Junta (1963-1966), incorporated the main aspects of the drafts that had been fruitlessly debated during the governments of Josá‚ á María Velasco Ibarra (1960-1961) and Carlos Arosemena (1961-1963). Its two basic elements were the conversion of the huasipungueros into owners of their plots, and the provision of incentives to colonization in the coastal and Amazonian lowlands.29 It was on these goals that IERAC, the Institute for Agrarian Reform and Colonization, focused all its activity in the following years. Land redistribution was relegated to special circumstances which, in practical terms, only existed in haciendas that belonged to the state and the Church. The agrarian reform law was issued in a context of political crisis marked by a high degree of popular agitation, successive coups d’etat against two presidents, and the pressures from an American government that was keen on promoting some reforms in order to avoid any additional “Cubas”.30 All this, together with the incipient agrarian protests and the fact that the reform was focused on the liquidation of the huasipungo system, would seem to suggest that political factors, including the rise of the peasant struggles, played a key role in the process leading to the reform law. Still, the issue of the causes behind the agrarian reform has provoked an intense scholarly debate. In this debate, the bone of contention has been a controversial thesis according to which the reform was directly related to the economic interests and deliberate action of a sector of the Sierra landowner class.

The thesis, advanced by Osvaldo Barsky, is based on the economic dynamism generated by the coastal banana export boom and the early stages of industrialization in the 1950s.31 Barsky argues that the rise in urban consumption demand induced rapid transformations in the most modernized haciendas of the Sierra, where the landowners took the initiative to liquidate the servile relations of production, make the transition to wage-labor, and specialize in dairy production for Quito and the other urban markets. In addition to documenting the changes in production patterns of some haciendas of the central and northern Sierra, Barsky attributes great significance to the entregas de huasipungos in the years immediately prior to the agrarian reform law. These anticipated entregas (cessions) were private settlements by which the huasipungueros were given free property titles over their small plots and, at the same time, agreed to waive any additional claims against the landowners. Highlighting the strategic role of political figures such as Galo Plaza and Emilio Bonifaz, Barsky argues that the group of modernizing landowners who began to carry out the anticipated entregas in their haciendas were also promoting, from within the state, the political project of huasipungo liquidation that would be later enshrined in the 1964 reform law. In Barsky’s view, then, both the reform legislation and the broader process of agrarian transformation in the Sierra must be seen as stemming from the initiatives of the modernizing landowners. These initiatives, in turn, came as a direct response to market incentives and the development of the productive forces within the haciendas. This explanatory scheme does not leave much space for attributing any causal effectiveness to the peasant struggles. Emphasizing the limited class consciousness exhibited by the peasantry and the shortcomings of the FEI-backed mobilizations, Barsky concludes that the peasant struggles played an absolutely marginal role in a process that was completely dominated by the will of the new agrarian bourgeoisie of the Sierra.32

Although Barsky’s research undoubtedly represents a very important contribution, objections may be raised regarding the scope and plausibility of his overall interpretive scheme. What was, for example, the real significance of the anticipated entregas de huasipungos? According to the data analyzed by Barsky, the landowners gave plots to about 3,000 huasipungueros from 1959 to 1964.33 Almost all of these plots were located in three provinces of the northern Sierra, with some 60% in Pichincha alone. Although the geographical distribution of the entregas appears to support Barsky’s argument (since they were located precisely in those areas where the modernizing haciendas were developing their dairy production), the fact that the operation affected a bare 15% of all huasipungueros indicates that it was a process of limited scope. In fact, what the data on the anticipated entregas shows is that some landowners were taking an initiative that was not representative of the typical behavior of the landowner class as a whole. One should also point out that, by themselves, the numbers say nothing about the landowners’ motivations. Indeed, Miguel Murmis, who also has been associated with the landowner initiative argument, characterizes this initiative as a defensive move. Murmis suggests that the most modernized landowners, far from trying to unleash sweeping changes throughout the highlands as a whole, were mostly concerned about trying to consolidate their position as an agrarian fraction of the emergent Ecuadorian bourgeoisie. In the last instance, their initiative was directed at securing control over a limited territory (the top quality and optimally-situated lands) in order to develop and control a particular branch of production (the dairy business).34

Was the agrarian reform law a direct outcome of the political will of the modernizing sector of landowners? This is another weak point in Barsky’s thesis, since the fact that some prominent landowner politicians supported the reform does not automatically prove that they were organic representatives of their class or even a fraction of that class. The one-sidedness of the argument is further revealed in the fact that it fails to recognize any degree of autonomy in the political process and omits consideration of the possible influence of other social actors. Gustavo Cosse, for example, stresses that the agrarian reform implemented by the Military Junta was part of a pro-industrial, developmentalist project that was already in the works during the Arosemena government.35 Cosse questions Barsky’s thesis in two ways: suggesting that the reform had its place within the projects of the military and other sectors, and showing that the landowners who supported it failed to coalesce into a class fraction with a political expression of its own and a decisive influence on state action. Although some modernizing landowners agreed with the reform, most of the landowner class remained stubbornly opposed. Thus it was up to the military, in a typical exercise of relative autonomy, to impose the liquidation of the huasipungo system from the state. Of course, Cosse’s emphasis on the autonomy of the state is not universally accepted by researchers. While some see the Junta as acting directly on behalf of the industrialists or the coastal agro-export interests, others maintain that the military initiatives gave expression to the balance of power among different fractions that were unable to impose an hegemonic project of their own.36 In any case, virtually everyone agrees that the Junta’s decision was an attempt to overcome the political crisis by containing the rise of the popular movement and imposing a modernizing consensus among the dominant groups. This imposition included measures such as the agrarian reform, which met with the vigorous resistance of a landowner class that did not share in the consensus and would maintain a hostile attitude towards the military government.

The proposition that the agrarian reform was not a simple result of the unilateral will of some landowners is obviously shared by all those who attribute causal significance to the peasant struggles. Following up on the issues raised by Baraona, Fernando Velasco poses the problem in terms of a conflict between landowner economy and peasant economy within the haciendas.37 Like Barsky, Velasco argues that the economic changes of the 1950s implied a general development of the productive forces and that this demanded, in turn, changes in the relations of production that prevailed in agriculture. This is the context that explains the initiatives of the more advanced landowners. But Velasco also analyzes the situation from the standpoint of the huasipungueros, for whom the dilemma was posed in terms of whether they would evolve into future proletarians or future peasants. In his view, what the struggles led by FEI expressed was precisely the impetus towards a pro-peasant solution which, fully developed, would have implied the elimination of large-scale property. Considering the problem in the light of the theories on peasant revolutions, Velasco holds that the struggles of the Sierra were inhibited by mechanisms of ethnic control that reinforced the ideology of Indian submission and hindered politicization of the demands. He also emphasizes that the mobilizations promoted by FEI did not attain the scope and radicalism that would have been required for the development of a true peasant movement. Still, they did have an impact, particularly during the years of the Arosemena administration, which were marked by a high degree of social tension and a substantial amount of anti-communist hysteria. Indeed, Velasco suggests that one of the key factors behind the Military Junta’s agrarian reform law was the desire to “steal the banners” agitated by FEI and eradicate the leftist influence from the countryside.

The peasant mobilizations expressed, then, the existence of a dimension of internal conflict in the haciendas, a dimension that is notoriously underestimated in Barsky’s thesis on the landowner initiative. Like Velasco and other authors, Andres Guerrero underlines the centrality of these mobilizations within the political context that preceded the reform law of the Military Junta.38 But Guerrero goes beyond the open expressions of conflict. Drawing from Baraona’s original contributions, he explores a different line of argument that highlights the less visible expressions of class struggle. Guerrero makes several critical points on Barsky’s thesis, but the most interesting of his objections is the notion that the huasipungo arrangement was not necessarily in contradiction with modernization of the haciendas. This is upheld by evidence from cases of estates in which capital investment, introduction of new technology, and increased output led to reorganizations and even expansions of the huasipungo system.39 Although Guerrero recognizes that the situation varied from hacienda to hacienda, this objection is interesting because it suggests that there may have been another motive, in addition to the capitalist logic of production, that would explain the interest of the modernizing landowners in getting rid of their huasipungueros.

According to Barsky, the advanced landowners wanted to liquidate the huasipungo arrangement because the technological changes implied a diminished need for labor and because the expanding production required the use of all of the hacienda’s resources.40 But Guerrero notes that the huasipungueros had their own agenda, which was basically centered on the preservation of their plots and their opportunities to work.41 The key question is whether all this wrestling over labor and access to the resources of the hacienda should be considered an expression of class struggle. It is at this point that the concept of peasant asedio (which could be translated as “siege” or “harassment”) becomes relevant. This concept became known in the international literature through the work of Juan Martínez Alier on the Peruvian huacchilleros,42 but it was originally proposed by Baraona in his study on the Ecuadorian Sierra. Baraona describes the asedio as a permanent harassment, a constant internal pressure that was exerted by the subordinate peasants on the hacienda resources.43 This pressure, which assumed different forms, was felt in all types of haciendas. In the studies of Baraona and Guerrero there are many specific examples of huasipungueros relentlessly “pestering” the landowners with demands for greater access to land, pastures, firewood, and water.44 The allegados, who were constantly asking for plots of land in order to become huasipungueros in their own right, were another thorn in the side of the landowners. The peasant insistence on having opportunities for paid employment in the hacienda could also be seen as pressure coming from the peasant economy, since the supplementary incomes had become an essential part of the reproduction fund of the families. In general, it is important to note that the growing intensity of the asedio had a lot to do with the demographic pressures that were being felt within the hacienda communities.45 For the landowners, and particularly for those who exacerbated the problem by introducing changes that excluded the peasants, the stubborn aspirations of the latter, expressed on a daily basis and in many different ways, constituted “an extremely heavy burden”.46

All this would seem to indicate that there was a silent, surreptitious struggle to defend and strengthen the subordinate peasant economy. This struggle was expressed through the pressures of individuals, families, and communities which, without going so far as to question the hacienda as such, vexed the landowners with interminable demands that were ultimately rooted in the traditional rights of huasipungueros and allegados. In this sense, the asedio can be seen as a variety of class struggle that typifies what James Scott has called “everyday forms of peasant resistance”: constant yet prosaic struggles, without planning or coordination, of limited scope, and which do not involve open symbolic confrontations.47 Judging by the evidence of the studies mentioned, these forms of everyday struggle appear to have become generalized in the Ecuadorian Sierra. This is what inspires Guerrero’s argument to the effect that what was inevitable was not so much the transition to capitalist relations, but rather the sharpening of the already existing class conflict within the haciendas.48 The conflict between the landowner economy and the peasant economy created favorable conditions for the insertion of FEI and the development of more open forms of struggle which, despite their original narrowness and spontaneity, gradually became better organized and more focused on the demand for land. The peasant pressure was felt in a particularly acute fashion by the landowners who were most advanced in the process of modernizing their haciendas. Facing the advance of unionism, and worried about the prospect of a possible agrarian reform, those landowners began to come forth with their own responses, which included not only anticipated entregas o, but also attempts to transform the huasipungueros into plain tenants and, in some isolated cases, the recourse to outright evictions.49 The common denominator of these responses was the effort to “clean up” the political situation on the haciendas, separate the peasant economy from the landowner economy, and resolve once and for all the question of control over the means of production. In the final analysis, all this supports the notion that it was class conflict, and not the mere rationale of capitalist production, that motivated some modernizing landowners to distribute plots and give their blessings to a reform that would do away with the huasipungo system.

Recapitulating, our critical review of the debate on the origins of the agrarian reform suggests three principal conclusions. First, the frame of reference for the discussion cannot be reduced to the processes that were underway in the more modern haciendas (which, after all, were only a minority). The question of the future of the huasipungo system was a problem that affected the agrarian structure of the Sierra as a whole. Second, and turning to the political process that resulted in the reform law, there is no real basis for attributing the decisive role to the modernizing landowners. The evidence indicates that whatever influence that sector may have had ran up against the opposition of the majority of the landowner class. In addition, there is no doubt that in the equation that led to the reform law, there were many other factors that played a political role, including the interests of non-agrarian sectors that were involved in the contest to influence the actions of the Military Junta. Last and not least, the importance of the class struggles in the Sierra cannot be ignored. These struggles had their most generalized expression in the peasant asedio, which assumed the form of muffled yet permanent pressure exerted from within the haciendas. On the basis of this asedio, more organized and contentious forms of struggle were developing which, despite their incipient character, had an impact on the behavior of the landowners and on the political process that led to the agrarian reform law of 1964.

Liquidation of the Huasipungo System

To assess the political significance of the liquidation of the huasipungo system, one must ascertain the scope of the process, consider its place within the agrarian reform, and evaluate the latter’s impact on the agrarian structure of the Sierra. Table 3, which combines the data on the anticipated entregas with the information about land redistributed by IERAC, summarizes the quantitative dimension of the process. The chronological detail clearly supports the argument that political considerations were the main factor behind the landowner initiative. In effect, most of the entregas occurred after 1961, a key year that saw the beginning of the public debate on agrarian reform, and also witnessed a couple of major peasant mobilizations organized by FEI. With regard to IERAC’s activity, the figures show that most of the program of liquidation of huasipungos was completed under the government of the Military Junta. The average size of the plots allocated by IERAC was 3.4 hectares, slightly larger than the average of 3.1 hectares in the anticipated entregas, but still well below the 5 hectares considered to be the minimum for sustaining a family in the Sierra. From 1964 to 1970, the 17,382 ex-huasipunguero families accounted for almost two-thirds of the total number of families benefited by agrarian reform in the Sierra. The remaining third included those who benefited from the redistribution of haciendas that belonged to the state and other institutions. On the whole, the 1964-1970 data indicate that the 27,087 families included in the reform amounted to just 10.2% of all the Sierra families, and 37.4% of the families that had no land of their own in 1960. The 125,231 hectares allocated and redistributed by IERAC represented only 8.5% of the area occupied by haciendas larger than 500 hectares, and just 4.1% of all the area that had been covered in the 1954 census.

It seems clear, then, that the agrarian reform of the 1960s had a marginal impact on the distribution of land in the Ecuadorian Sierra. While redistribution proper was kept to a minimum, the liquidation of the huasipungos implied only a formal change in the status of the families involved. In reality (and this is a point on which there is unanimous agreement among researchers), the fundamental effect of the reform was to eliminate the precapitalist relations of production. On the one hand, the landowners were forced to forfeit their rents and begin relating to the labor force through the wage system. On the other hand, the reform reduced the allegados to landless peasants, turned the former huasipungueros into owners of plots that were too small to make a living, and worsened the situation of neighboring smallholders who lost access to the pastures, water, and forests of the haciendas. This left most of the Sierra peasants in conditions of economic insufficiency, leading to their need to seek supplementary incomes in the wage-labor market. In sum, the agrarian reform did not eliminate the articulation between the landowner and peasant economies. What it did was to separate them by arbitrating the dispute over control of the means of production. The separation of the two economies created conditions for the emergence of a more “modern” form of articulation in the areas of capitalist agrarian development, an articulation in which wage-labor would come to replace the former labor rents.

At first sight, this outcome may appear to represent a major victory for large-scale landed property and agrarian capitalism. Barsky’s works convincingly show that by settling the internal conflict and leading to the formation of an external reserve of labor-power, the elimination of the old relations of production helped to consolidate capitalism in the modernizing haciendas of the central and northern Sierra.50 This, however, does not clarify the results of the process in the other highland haciendas. Indeed, what were the consequences of the end of precapitalism in the traditional estates that constituted the vast majority of the Sierra haciendas? Unfortunately, this is one of the points least addressed in the literature on the agrarian changes. However, it is possible to hint at an answer by looking at the data on another process that has not been researched in sufficient depth in the available studies. The process in question is the marked deconcentration in the distribution of land, which can be clearly ascertained by comparing the census data of 1954 and 1974 (see Table 4). Given the marginal impact of the agrarian reform, this deconcentration can only be attributed to land sales by hacienda owners. One can speculate that there were landowners who sold part of their lands to capitalize, and then undertake or strengthen commercial agriculture in a smaller area. In other cases, especially where the owners had been absentee rentiers, it is likely that the disintegration of the haciendas reached the dimensions of an outright sell off. The general hypothesis would be that the elimination of the precapitalist relations of production triggered a crisis in most traditional haciendas, accelerating their differentiation and leading to the fragmentation and wholesale liquidation of those that lacked the essential conditions for adapting to the changes. This hypothesis would be consistent with the existing fragmentary evidence on processes of land acquisition that led to the emergence of new middle strata of agricultural entrepreneurs and the consolidation of sectors of market-oriented peasant producers in several areas of the Sierra.51 All in all, it can be concluded that the first stage of the reform did not lead to an homogenous model of capitalist agrarian development along the “junker road.” The liquidation of precapitalism defined a favorable context for a combined pattern of development that would include agrarian capitalists of landowner extraction, emerging middle sectors of a new rural bourgeoisie, and a substantial sector of highly commercialized peasant economy.

This discussion provides a more adequate basis for a realistic assessment of the state’s role in the first stage of agrarian reform. It is clear that state intervention had consequences that favored the modernizing landowners. But since that was not the only result of the reform, the state’s action cannot be seen as merely implementing a program to advance the strategic interests of those modernizing landowners. Without getting into a debate on the degree of relative autonomy of the Military Junta, it could be argued that the agrarian reform was part of a modernizing project that expressed a much broader spectrum of social interests. Still, one must also be cautious not to overestimate the thrust of that project. As has been seen here, its motives and purposes were very much related to the political context and the need to defuse the conflict already brewing in the countryside. Both the modernizing consensus and the political pressures converged on a fundamental imperative: the eradication of precapitalism from the countryside. The intervention of the state focused on that basic objective, which was achieved by means of an act of arbitration that separated the peasant economy from the landowner economy. Although the separation generated its own dynamism towards the combined pattern of development that was outlined in the previous paragraph, this outcome was not deliberately oriented by the agrarian reform or any other programs implemented by the state. It is important to highlight the fact that in the 1960s the state behaved as an arbitrator because its subsequent interventions were of a different nature. Indeed, the following phases of the agrarian reform saw a more assertive Ecuadorian state trying to assume a steering role in the process of agrarian transformation, first in 1970 when Velasco Ibarra combined arbitration in the coastal rice haciendas with cooperative and marketing programs designed to boost the new peasant economy, and then during the 1973-1976 period, when the military government of Guillermo Rodríguez Lara sought to promote further land redistribution as part of an ambitious development plan based on the reinvestment of oil revenues.52 After the oil boom there was a clear retreat to a more regulatory-administrative mode of state intervention. The two main landmarks were the restrictions on agrarian reform imposed by the 1979 Agricultural Development Law of the Military Triumvirate and, beginning in 1980 under the administration of Jaime Roldos, the implementation of integrated rural development programs that are essentially designed to maintain the existing status quoin the countryside.53

Another issue that requires careful assessment is the bearing of the peasant struggles on the changes that took place during the first stage of the agrarian reform. What the review of the literature suggests is that the struggles did have an impact, but of very limited scope. First, one must not lose sight of the fact that the majority of the Sierra peasants were not involved in the expressions of protest. The main protagonists were the huasipungueros, whose struggles were not accompanied by signs of agitation among the smallholder communities outside the haciendas. In these communities, which remained well beyond FEI’s scope of influence, the only activities of relative import during the 1950s were carried out by the Andean Mission of the United Nations, whose localized grass-roots development programs were designed to promote efforts at self-transformation and not the articulation of demands for social change.54 In the second place, one should keep in mind that the effects of the peasant struggles were always indirect. The Sierra peasants made no serious attempts to create de facto situations through land invasions or other forms of contentious mobilization. The main expression of peasant pressure was the internal asedio in the haciendas, a quiet form of everyday struggle whose influence was obliquely felt through the landowners’ responses. The labor conflicts and organized protests had more visible but equally roundabout effects, since their impact was mediated by their repercussions on the political scene. In fact, the Sierra peasantry did not manage to stand up on its own as an independent political actor. Its struggles were far from assuming the form of a social movement capable of playing an active role in the agrarian reform process. Although FEI seemed to be moving in that direction through its unionization drive in the haciendas, the attempt was truncated by the abolition of the huasipungo system and the subsequent disintegration of the unions. Finally, one should not forget that while all these indirect pressures may have played a role in pushing the reform through, the outcome turned out to be only marginally favorable to the peasantry. Velasco rightly suggests that an ideal solution along the “peasant road” of development would have required the abolition of the haciendas and the universalization of small-scale property.55 From this point of view, there is no doubt that the results of the reform, limited as they were to avoiding a complete proletarianization of the huasipungueros, provided minimal satisfaction of the peasant needs and aspirations.

This question of minimum and maximum peasant aspirations will be addressed again in the last part of this essay. At this point, it is worthwhile to close the discussion with an outline of the connections between the changes of the 1960s and the subsequent processes of agrarian reform and peasant struggle. As seen above, the lack of access to the resources of the haciendas left most of the smallholders, including the former huasipungueros, in precarious conditions of reproduction. In the northern Sierra, and particularly in the vicinity of Quito, there was a viable semi-proletarian option of subsistence because the regional economy could absorb a great deal of temporary work in capitalist agriculture, industry, and other urban activities.56 But in the rest of the highlands the precariousness of the peasant economy shaped a new scene in which the smallholders were emerging as the main sector that could raise demands, and in which the main pressures were beginning to be exerted from outside of the haciendas. This provided the context for the 1973 agrarian reform law of the Rodríguez Lara government, which included “high demografic pressure” among the criteria for state intervention.57 In the following years IERAC increased the pace of redistribution, affecting more than 20% of the agricultural land in some provinces of the central and southern Sierra.58 This time, it was clear that the state was determined to foster more tangible structural changes as part of a broader nationalist project that sought to adjust the countryside to a new stage of industrial development. Although it lost impetus as the military government weakened, the reform accelerated the liquidation of traditional haciendas and reinforced the peasant economy in the Sierra. Finally, and also in contrast with the previous stage, the agrarian reform of the 1970s included a considerable dose of direct peasant pressure. This pressure came from organized communities of smallholders and “cooperatives for land-acquisition” that raised demands, negotiated with IERAC and the landowners, and on many occasions resorted to land invasions.59 A decisive role was played by FENOC (National Federation of Peasant Organizations) and ECUARUNARI (Indian Movement of Ecuador), new organizational actors which, without displaying immoderate radicalism, gave the collective action of the peasantry a more contentious edge. These federations participated in the national debates on agrarian reform, made strides towards the articulation of local and regional demands, and assumed the representation of the peasants and Indians of the Sierra in the political processes that marked the transition to democracy in the late 1970s.60


Landowners and Peasants in the Atlantic Coast

After the Eastern Llanos, the Atlantic Coast region features the most extensive Colombian plains. From west to east, the main departments are Córdoba, Sucre, Bolívar, Atlántico, Magdalena, and Cesar. Three main subregions can be roughly distinguished: the coastal strip proper, the central savannas, and the southeastern lowlands (which are crisscrossed by countless streams and the San Jorge, Cauca, and Magdalena rivers). Under the Spanish, the Atlantic Coast became strategically important on account of its military defenses, its ports for overseas commerce, and its river routes towards the hinterland. But economically the region never attained the export dynamism of other tropical areas of the Americas. The production of colonial haciendas around Cartagena and Mompós, based on concierto and slavery, was largely geared to the slow development of the regional markets. After independence, and particularly during the second half of the nineteenth century, national and foreign entrepreneurs made several attempts to develop lumbering and mining businesses. In the long run, however, only the United Fruit Company’s banana enclave at Santa Marta would prove viable as a stable export activity. Gradually, and as the lands were incorporated into the economic frontier, the Atlantic Coast emerged as a region that was basically specialized in cattle raising and commercially oriented towards the domestic market. In 1960, data from the first Colombian agricultural census showed that croplands accounted for only one-tenth of the region’s area. More than half of the land was devoted to pasture, and there was a large reserve of fallows, bushes, and forests for the future expansion of the cattle herds.61

The studies of Orlando Fals Borda and other authors point to the following basic sequence in the settlement and socioeconomic evolution of the Coastal region: the formation of an ethnically mixed peasantry derived from indigenous groups and communities of runaway black slaves; the progressive colonization and clearing of forests by those peasants; and the subsequent expansion of cattle haciendas that eventually monopolized landed property and displaced the vast majority of the colonists.62 The broadening of commercial circuits was a key factor stimulating the development of old and new haciendas, particularly since the mid-nineteenth century, when the region began to supply cattle to the ever more prosperous highland areas of Antioquia. The invention of barbed wire and the introduction of hybrid grasses played a central role in the process, opening profitable opportunities for many Antioqueno merchants who had become landowners by purchasing or obtaining large grants of public lands from the state. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, they were followed not only by more Antioquenos, but also by Arab immigrants who began as merchants in the coastal cities and gradually reinvested their capital in land. The concentration of property implied the proletarianization of a large part of the coastal population, as many of those who were displaced were incorporated into the haciendas as indebted peons and wage-laborers. But the process did not lead to a complete liquidation of the peasantry. As will be seen in a moment, the haciendas subordinated and maintained a substantial sector of peasant tenants and sharecroppers. Besides, there were communities that had managed to obtain titles, preserve some land, and reproduce themselves as pockets of independent peasant farming between the haciendas. Along the river banks, on islands, and on every shallow of the swamplands, many other families had developed a precarious combination of subsistence fishing and small agriculture. And in the public lands of the southeast, where the property lines were still undefined, there were new settlements of peasant colonists who had moved in from other coastal areas and even from the Andean regions.

Presenting data from the CIDA study of Colombia,63 Table 5 provides some basic indicators of the demographic and agrarian profile of the Atlantic Coast. In the mid-1960s, the region accounted for approximately one-sixth of the country’s rural population. Confirming the presence of a major sector of wage-laborers, the figures indicate that almost one-third of the families had no access to the land. The distribution of land by farm size reveals a marked concentration: 15,000 large and medium farms monopolized three-fourths of the agricultural area, while more than 160,000 peasant units were crowded onto the remaining quarter. All in all, the peasant sector included 60% of all the coastal families. According to the size criteria used by CIDA, the vast majority of those peasants did not have access to enough land to absorb the family labor force. Moreover, almost one-third of them were tenants and sharecroppers who were working on plots that actually belonged to the large landowners.

This invites consideration of the characteristics of the subordinate peasant economy in the coastal haciendas. The 1960 agricultural census data presented in Table 6 show that the plots of tenants and sharecroppers were small, ranging from 3 to 7 hectares depending on the type of tenancy. The larger sizes corresponded to sharecropping and fixed-rent arrangements (aparceria and renta fija), which were typical of haciendas that were located in the vicinity of urban centers that could absorb the marketable surpluses of maize, manioc, and dry rice produced by the peasants. A special case was tobacco sharecropping, which was confined to a few counties of central Bolívar. The other tenancy arrangements were more directly linked to the economic activities of the cattle haciendas. Under service tenancy (prestacion de servicios), the peasants received small subsistence plots in exchange for being available for tending the cattle, maintaining the fences, and other occasional tasks. Finally, the census category “other modalities” included pasture-rent (arriendo de pastos), an arrangement which, though virtually unknown in the rest of the country, represented the most common form of peasant subordinate tenancy in the coastal region.

Pasture-rent holds the true secret to the historical process of primitive accumulation in the Atlantic Coast. On its own, the legal monopolization of land was not enough to guarantee the establishment of the cattle haciendas. It was also necessary to fell the forests, open the plains, and expand the pastures for livestock grazing. Lacking the capital that would have been needed to draft armies of workers or make use of advanced technological means, the landowners availed themselves of the subordinate peasant economy to carry out the monumental task of “civilizing the land” (civilizacion de tierras). The traditional regional agriculture had been always based on the slash-and-burn system: a typical peasant would clear and burn two or three hectares of woodland, use the area for a few maize, manioc, and rice harvests, abandon the land to lay fallow and regain its fertility, and proceed to clear another portion of the forest for new crops. It was a mobile subsistence agriculture that required free access to the woodlands and bush. The landowners, by monopolizing the public lands, succeeded in closing off that access and forcing many peasants to accept a subordinate position within the haciendas.64 In the process, they harnessed the characteristics of traditional peasant farming to their own goal of expanding the pasture lands. This was done through pasture-rent, a relation of production whereby the peasants cleared the forest on plots assigned by the hacienda owners, raised their own subsistence crops, and returned the land sown with grasses.65 The landowners would then bring in their cattle and assign new plots to the tenants, in a cycle that was repeated every two to three years. In this way, pasture-rent became the key factor behind the expansion of the cattle haciendas throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Although by the early 1960s there were primary forests only in the southeastern lowlands, pasture-rent was still the predominant tenancy arrangement in the fallows and secondary bush of most cattle haciendas of the Atlantic Coast.66

As the haciendas expanded, the defensive gestures of the coastal peasants were easily defeated. Catherine LeGrand, who investigated the conflicts over public lands from 1870 to 1931, shows that the outcomes were systematically adverse to the peasant colonists.67 The very notion of private property of the land was alien to their culture, and they lacked resources to press their claims in the courts. The landowners, by way of contrast, had more than enough economic and political power to bend the authorities in their favor. Although in some cases the colonists tried to defend the land by force, their resistance was almost always crushed. As the landowners gained control of the land, the servile relations of production became the cornerstone of clientelist power in the Atlantic Coast.68 The typical political bosses or caciques were landowners who controlled many families of peons, tenants, and sharecroppers. Since these families had no alternative means of survival, the landowners could impose a social definition of the relations of subordination as “favors.” In addition to economic exploitation, the system yielded major political benefits, since during election campaigns the peasants had to “reciprocate” by voting for the caciques or their candidates. Thus, property and political power were interwoven in the social fabric of a clientelist universe in which the landowner hegemony came to be virtually uncontested. In the 1950s, when Colombia was engulfed by the Liberal-Conservative conflict known as La Violencia, there were landowners who took advantage of the political turmoil to liquidate some of the remaining strongholds of peasant farming and expand their haciendas in marginal areas of Córdoba and Bolívar.69 But the main settings of the civil war were in the highlands, where most of the regions had a long history of sharp divisions along the bipartisan divide. In the Atlantic Coast, where most of the political bosses identified themselves with the Liberal Party, the repercussions of La Violencia were quite marginal. This helped maintain the stability of the agrarian regime into the 1960s.

Agrarian Reform and Peasant Struggles

The agrarian reform was one of the main proposals of the National Front, the consociational agreement by which Liberals and Conservatives put an end to the civil war and set the rules for sharing power from 1958 to 1974.70 In theory, the reform law approved in 1961 had ambitious goals of land redistribution. But in practice, INCORA (Agrarian Reform Institute) did no more than help resettle refugees in new colonization areas to the east and carry out some marginal redistributions in places that had been badly affected by La Violencia.71 In the Atlantic Coast, INCORA adopted a fire-fighting policy of intervening only where major regional land conflicts had actually developed. During the first half of the 1960s, there were three such conflicts along the coastal strip.72 The first unfolded in the department of Atlántico, where the construction of a levee at Calamar drained large tracts of marshes and set the stage for intense land disputes between peasant-fishermen and landowners. The second developed in the delta of the River Sinu, department of Córdoba, where communities of independent peasants, pressured by soil salinization, occupied lands from neighboring haciendas. The third conflict, in the Santa Marta banana zone, came in the wake of the withdrawal of the United Fruit Company, which unleashed a major battle between former subcontractors and peasant tenants who wanted to take possession of the plantations. In all three cases the struggles followed a similar pattern: they began with the formation of peasant leagues and unions, reached a climax marked by successive waves of land invasions, and ended with the intervention of INCORA on the peasants’ behalf. Although none of them resulted from internal contradictions in the haciendas, these regional conflicts of the early 1960s set the precedent that direct peasant action could produce results in terms of effective agrarian reform. The reverberations would be strongly felt during the second half of the 1960s: of the 72 local land disputes monitored by INCORA from 1964 to 1969, 45 developed in the Atlantic Coast.73 By then, however, the main actors were peasants who invaded the very same haciendas in which they had been previously working as tenants and sharecroppers. Clearly, the landowners’ hegemony had weakened and the region was rapidly turning into the main battleground of the struggle for land in the country.

What were the sources of this growing peasant unrest? From the socioeconomic standpoint, one should consider the significance of two parallel processes. One of them was the take-off of capitalist agriculture. In some areas of the Atlantic Coast the traditional tenancy arrangements were being brought to an abrupt end, paving the way for the cultivation of wet rice, sorghum, and cotton either by the landowners themselves or by a new breed of entrepreneurs who rented the land and took advantage of special credits and supports provided by the government.74 The second process was the progressive disappearance of the primary and secondary forests. Having expanded the grazing lands to their physical boundaries, many haciendas were being left without fallows and bush.75 This signalled the end of the pasture-rent arrangements and, like the liquidation of tenancy relations in areas of new capitalist agriculture, aroused discontent and resistance among the peasants. Still, it would be a mistake to assume that these processes alone would have sufficed to precipitate the crisis of the precapitalist agrarian regime in the Atlantic Coast. Far from being a massive process, the development of the new capitalist agriculture was restricted to northern Cesar, some counties in central Córdoba, and a few isolated locations in the other departments. Similarly, the haciendas that were abolishing the pasture-rent system because of their lack of land reserves tended to concentrate in the oldest places of settlement along the coastal strip and in the central savannas. In fact, the region still had plenty of land for the expansion of pastures: the 1970 agricultural census revealed that almost one-fifth of the region’s total area was covered by bush and forests.76

The main cause of the crisis has to be sought at the level of the political processes. The president elected in 1966, Carlos Lleras Restrepo, was the leader of the reformist current of the Liberal party and had played a central role in drafting and negotiating the approval of the 1961 agrarian reform law. Upon becoming president, and following a classic ECLA agenda, Lleras Restrepo set out to implement the reform as part of a broader attempt to curb rural-urban migration, stimulate the domestic market for industrial goods, and strengthen the bases of support for the National Front in the countryside. This policy was reflected in an additional law, approved in 1968, that recognized the right of sharecroppers and tenants to the lands they worked on the haciendas.77 Nonetheless, as had already occurred in the case of the 1961 legislation, the scope of the new law was curtailed by a Congress in which the landowner interests were all too well represented. In order to put pressure on the landowners and soften their opposition to the reform, Lleras Restrepo decided to appeal to the peasantry. In 1967, he issued a decree that provided for the establishment of ANUC (National Association of Peasant Users), an organization that would bring together the peasants as usuarios (users) of the state services and would assist in the implementation of the agrarian reform.78 Taking charge of the process, the Ministry of Agriculture sent dozens of professional promoters to the regions. The promoters worked according to a bottom-up organizational strategy that included training hundreds of peasant leaders and forming, step-by-step, county-level committees, departmental associations, and a national structure. Nationwide, the peasant reaction was unmistakably favorable. But the Coastal response was particularly enthusiastic: when ANUC’s first national congress was held in July 1970, in the final weeks of the Lleras Restrepo administration, there were usuario committees in virtually every county of the Atlantic Coast.79

Alarmed by the process of peasant organization, and facing the threat of expropriation under the terms of the 1968 law, the coastal landowners decided to put an end to the traditional tenancy arrangements and veer towards full implementation of the wage-labor regime.80 As the contracts expired, the landowners mobilized the local authorities to evict peasants. Although the reports of the procuradores (judicial investigators) provide plenty of evidence about the process, it is also possible to derive a quantitative regional image from the information of the agricultural censuses.81 The data indicate that the number of farms worked under fixed-rent, sharecropping, and other tenancy arrangements declined from approximately 56,000 in 1960 to 28,000 in 1970. Considering that the 1970 figures already included the leases to capitalist entrepreneurs, and that many peasants had been given official notice that they would be evicted as soon as their contracts expired, it can be estimated that at least 30,000 families were affected by the liquidation of the subordinate peasant economy. At the same time, and particularly in the southwestern lowlands, the landowners launched a campaign of evictions in an attempt to settle by force the disputes over public lands that INCORA was supposed to investigate and arbitrate.82 The total crisis of the system of precapitalist relations and the aggravating disputes over marginal lands showed that the landowners were ready to muster their full political resources to defend the existing property structure. But the abolition of the traditional arrangements had also weakened the bases of their clientelist control. In the eyes of the peasants, the struggle for land appeared as the only alternative to complete proletarianization in the wake of the dissolution of the servile agrarian regime. The government’s official stance in favor of the agrarian reform was an important factor, since the reformist discourse legitimated the peasant aspirations. Even more decisive was the fact that there was now an organization that could give expression to the demands of the peasantry and coordinate its collective action.

In the course of 1970, the Coastal departmental associations of ANUC protested against the evictions and repeatedly asked the government to distribute lands and provide guarantees for the activities of the organization. But Misael Pastrana, the new president, did not share the pro-peasant sympathies of his predecessor. The weight of the landowners within his Conservative party was decisive, but the peasants had been mobilized and the president preferred to remain ambiguous at the beginning. ANUC’s leadership decided that it was necessary to increase the pressure by carrying out a number of major mobilizations in several regions of the country. The most significant of these contentious events took place in Sucre, where 5,000 peasants occupied the main plaza of Sincelejo demanding implementation of the agrarian reform.83 The mobilizations quickly heated up the political climate: the federations of cattle ranchers and agricultural entrepreneurs demanded that the activities of INCORA and ANUC be controlled, Liberal and Conservative newspapers invoked the specter of subversive conspiracies, and the government announced that it would not tolerate illegal activities in the countryside.84 There was a clear polarization of the ANUC leadership. The leaders most identified with the traditional parties were adamant in their opposition to the tactics of land invasion and in their desire to avoid a break with the government. The majority sector, which at that stage was beginning to be influenced by activists from the political left, held that the agrarian reform was a farce and that direct action was the only realistic path to gain access to the land.85 The debate ended with a decision to coordinate a mobilization of national scope. In February 1971, thousands of peasant families participated in hundreds of land invasions. In October and November of that same year, the usuario leaders called for a second wave of invasions. All in all, the 645 invasions of 1971 marked the highest point of the struggle for land in Colombian history.86 Although almost all the departments were affected, more than half of the 1971 struggles took place in the Atlantic Coast. The main areas of peasant activity were in the central savannas, where 186 land invasions took place. In Córdoba, Sucre, and Bolívar, the vast majority of the conflicts involved tenants and sharecroppers who had been evicted from the haciendas.

What were the characteristics of a land invasion? In some cases, it was just a matter of resisting eviction: since the landowners claimed the land as their property, the tenants, sharecroppers, or colonists who refused to abandon their plots were defined as de facto occupants or “invaders.” But when the groups were composed of peasants who had been already evicted, the deliberate seizure of the land was literally organized as an invasion.87 Typically, the process would begin with the formation of a committee made up of some 20 to 30 usuario families. The goal was almost always defined in terms of gaining control of a particular section of the hacienda. After carefully selecting their target, the peasants established a common fund to purchase tools and seed, prefabricated the huts that would later be assembled at the invasion site, and prepared seed beds with maize, plantains, and manioc for transplanting. Finally, the land would be secretly occupied at night, the area cleared, and the peasants would hurriedly transplant the crops and assemble their huts. When the landowner came by with the police or an army patrol, the peasants did not try to resist eviction. But a few days later the committee would regroup and occupy the same land once again. The peasants knew that in the long run, the cycle of repeated evictions and renewed invasions would bring the intervention of INCORA. To speed up the process, they would upset the operations of the rest of the hacienda as a means of “wearing down” the landowner and convincing him to negotiate the land with INCORA and the committee of usuarios. In this process, there were several factors that shaped the effectiveness of the peasant struggle. The most successful groups were those that were relatively small in size, included families related by kinship ties, and occupied lands in the same hacienda in which they had been working as sharecroppers or tenants. Another key factor was the degree of coordination that ANUC could achieve in the handling of the conflicts at the regional level. In the coastal strip and the central savannas, where the usuario associations had reached a high degree of organizational development, it was possible to synchronize the land invasions, provide reinforcements to committees whose members had been arrested, and turn the successful invasions into bases of support for other groups. In the marginal areas of the southeastern lowlands the situation was more difficult. There, the colonists tended to display a much lower degree of social cohesion. On the other hand, the pattern of scattered settlement conspired against the possibility of effectively coordinating the struggles.

For our analytical purposes, it is important to stress that the invasions were targeted at particular sections of the haciendas.88 This was extremely important because it defined the scope and the eventual outcome of the battle for land in the Atlantic Coast. Since the struggle was not posed as a zero-sum conflict, the landowners could take advantage of the peasants’ spirit of compromise to reduce the amount of land that they would sell or surrender to INCORA. In the negotiations, they could also try to substitute the lands that had been occupied by the peasants for worse quality portions of the haciendas. The contrast between the “maximalist” objectives of the peasant movement and this reality in which the grass-roots settled for small amounts of poor-quality land is highly significant. During the waves of invasions of 1971, ANUC had issued a Mandato Campesino that instructed the peasants to ignore the authorities and proceed, by their own means, to a complete expropriation of the landowners.89 Drafted under the influence of the leftist advisers of the usuarios, the document defined the peasant mobilization as a revolutionary process that would lead to a collective form of ownership and exploitation of the land. But in the Atlantic Coast, as in the other areas of land struggle, few peasants believed that what they were doing was part of a revolution. In fact, the way in which the land invasions developed indicated that the struggles were inspired by much more modest objectives. The underlying logic was one of resorting to direct action as a means to exert pressure and force a limited redistribution of land.

Within this framework, the 1971 usuario struggles led to negotiations on most of the invaded lands, and thus to a significant peasant victory. The achievements were particularly visible in the central savannas of the Atlantic Coast, where most committees managed to retain control of the lands they had been fighting for. As far as the intervention of the authorities was concerned, the peasant movement benefited from the support of INCORA, which moved quickly to investigate each case and open negotiations on the invaded lands. On the other hand, the struggles were helped by the fact that the government had not yet defined a repressive line vis-a-vis the invasions. But the situation changed dramatically in 1972, when the Pastrana administration decided to embark on a new agrarian policy that was clearly aimed at the obliteration of all the reformist programs. The counterreform was sealed at a special meeting in the town of Chicoral, where government officials, politicians, and representatives of the agricultural business associations agreed to pass legislation that would emasculate the agrarian reform and provide massive state supports for capitalist agriculture.90 From then on, the government reduced INCORA’s budget for land acquisitions, prohibited its intervention in the conflicts, and announced that all peasant invaders would automatically be excluded from state services and treated as delinquents. To curb the activities of ANUC, the government adopted a policy of crude repression that included forcible evictions and long imprisonment sentences for invaders under state-of-siege regulations.91 At the same time, the Ministry of Agriculture courted the more moderate usuario leaders and succeeded in dividing the peasant movement, recognizing what would henceforth be the pro-government ANUC, and proclaiming the ANUC of the radicals illegal.92

The counterreformist turn led to a marked ebb of the struggle for land. In the Atlantic Coast, the peasant demobilization was particularly visible in the coastal strip and the marginal areas of the southwest. Along the coast, where the urban pro-Liberal and pro-Conservative unions were very influential, the majority of the peasant leaders went over to the pro-government ANUC. In addition, the contradictions were less intense, since most of the conflicts that had been developing since the 1960s had been resolved in favor of the peasantry.93 In the southwestern lowlands, the recess of the movement was clearly related to the organizational weakness of ANUC and a pattern of repression that was particularly harsh. The worst areas were in southern Magdalena and Cesar, where the evictions were accompanied by a systematic campaign of torture and murder that finally succeeded in dismantling the peasant resistance.94 In fact, only in the savannas of Córdoba, Sucre, and Bolívar was the peasant movement able to maintain a high level of belligerency for a few more years. These areas contained a great potential for conflict because there were hundreds of families that were provisionally crowding the lands that had been obtained by other groups. Another important element was the political radicalism the ANUC leaders, a radicalism that was directly related to the fact that the central savannas had been defined as the main area of political activity by Maoist parties that were trying to penetrate the peasant movement.95 On account of these special circumstances, and despite the increasing repression, the struggle for land continued in the savannas. From 1972 to 1975, the central areas of Córdoba, Sucre, and Bolívar witnessed 123 invasions, which accounted for 66% of all land seizures in the Atlantic Coast, and 41% of the total number of land conflicts nationwide. Putting up a desperate resistance to the evictions, the peasant committees won their last major victories at the local level.96

By 1976 it was clear that the peasant movement was receding. In order to summarize the causes of the decline, we will focus here on three types of factors: those that were directly related to the changes in government policy; those that had to do with the attenuation of the contradictions that had propelled the struggle for land; and those that stemmed from the internal political crisis of radical ANUC. As for state policy, the crucial element was the continuing and escalating repression. The development plans of the Liberal president Alfonso López Michelsen (1974-1978) placed priority on the expansion of capitalist agriculture and defined land redistribution as a “marginal alternative.” López Michelsen militarized the most conflictive areas of the Atlantic Coast, imposed exemplary punishments on all squatters, and systematically persecuted the leaders of radical ANUC. In the first year of his administration a record number of over 40 peasants were killed in skirmishes with the authorities, and hundreds more were arrested.97 This would continue under the next Liberal president, Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala (1978-1982), who started his period with a draconian Security Statute whose provisions were applied to the peasant land invasions.98 This merciless repression was accompanied by a few corrective measures and some concessions. To counter the effects of the 1968 law, which had ignited the struggle for land by leading to the eradication of the servile forms of tenancy, López Michelsen introduced a new law that offered immunity from agrarian reform to those landowners who would once again admit sharecroppers on their haciendas.99 As for concessions, the most salient element was the DRI program (Integrated Rural Development), which set out to provide credit, services, and technical assistance to the better-off sectors of the peasantry.100 In the course of the Turbay Ayala administration, the DRI program and other nutritional assistance schemes were expanded to the areas of agrarian reform in the Atlantic Coast. The arrival of these new state services nurtured attitudes of complacency among many of the peasants who had gained access to the land, which would contribute to weaken the appeal of the contentious stances of radical ANUC.101

Paradoxically, one factor that helped reduce the pressure for land was the very success of the initial peasant struggles. As will be seen below, the fact that many families had won access to the land during the first half of the 1970s attenuated the contradictions in the most affected areas, especially because the most radical groups were the ones who were most likely to have succeeded in achieving their goal. Another process that contributed to moderate the pressure was rural-urban migration. From the 1964 census to the 1973 census, the rural population in the Atlantic Coast diminished not only in relative terms, but also in absolute terms. In the counties that had been most affected by the land invasions, the rate of migration from the countryside was as high as 28%.102 Obviously, the rural exodus lessened the pressure on the land and on the existing employment opportunities. This brings us to one of the factors that did most to defuse the situation in the Atlantic Coast: the marked expansion of employment that was characteristic of the second half of the 1970s.103 The availability of credit and the incentives offered by the government gave a strong boost to large-scale capitalist agriculture, which began to absorb a considerable part of the rural labor force. There were also many opportunities for seasonal work in Venezuela, opportunities that spawned the formation of stable migratory circuits that involved peasants from every subregion of the Atlantic Coast. To all this one should add the marijuana boom of the late 1970s, which generated well-paid employment throughout Cesar and Magdalena, and fostered the development of new factional loyalties with the regional mafias.

Finally, ANUC’s political crisis had a direct negative impact on peasant belligerency in the Atlantic Coast.104 As noted above, the leftist ideological influences had been instrumental in fostering the mood of contentiousness at the grass-roots level. But the Maoist militants had their own agenda, which was basically focused on radicalizing the struggle for land, recruiting peasants for their guerrilla organization, and steering the process towards an eventual popular insurrection. To prevent the development of “bourgeois attitudes” among those who had obtained land, the Maoists tried to establish rigid controls over peasant lifestyles and economic activities. In addition, they were keen on provoking constant friction between the masses and the authorities. Seeing this as an extremist deviation, the peasant leaders decided that they had to get rid of the Maoists. In the places in which ANUC had become more politicized and radicalized, the ensuing struggle led to the division of the peasant movement into several factions. ANUC’s leadership succeeded in eradicating the Maoists, but the divisions and the multiple accusations of political Manicheism weakened the organization and spread feelings of distrust at the grass-roots level. Later, when it became evident that the peasantry was reluctant to confront the repression and continue the struggle for land, the various fractions of radical ANUC tried to adjust to the new circumstances. The main effort was channeled into pressing grievances in the settlements that had been formed on the lands won by the peasants.105There, however, the problem was ANUC’s adherence to doctrinaire principles that opposed acceptance of legal ownership titles (because they implied that the peasants would have to pay for the land) and rejected the credit and technical assistance offered by INCORA (because they included an element of state control from above). Forced to negotiate with the state agencies, and frustrated by what they saw as lack of realism on the part of their leaders, the peasants began to abandon ANUC. The cycle of peasant contentiousness came to a formal end in 1981 when, tacitly accepting defeat, a substantial part of what had been radical ANUC opened negotiations with the Turbay Ayala administration, accepted reunification with the pro-government sector of ANUC, and returned to the bipartisan game of clientelist trade union control.106

Repeasantization and Agrarian Capitalism

As seen in the previous section, the struggles of the 1970s led to concrete gains from the standpoint of peasant access to the land. But what was the effective significance of the process of repeasantization? In the analysis that follows, this general question will be approached in terms of three more specific questions: What was the real scope of the peasant gains? How did the new peasant economy develop in the new lands? And how did the changes fit into the overall socioeconomic trends in the Atlantic Coast? The information on INCORA’s activity from 1970 to 1979, presented in Table 7, provides an appropriate starting point for our assessment. The data on land redistribution can be seen as a direct indicator of the peasant gains, since INCORA’s interventions were invariably related to de facto situations that had been created by the peasants in the course of their struggles. In the case of the Atlantic Coast, INCORA’s granting of titles to public land can also be considered as a reliable indicator of success in the peasant struggles, for in virtually all cases the titles were to tracts of land that had been the subject of disputes between peasants and landowners. In all, Table 7 shows that there were 26,500 families that gained access to almost 600,000 hectares as a result of the struggles of the 1970s.

One way to evaluate the extent of the peasant gains is by contrasting the number of those who needed land with the number of those who actually obtained it. Officially, INCORA defined all rural families that lacked sufficient land of their own as potential beneficiaries of the agrarian reform. In the case of the Atlantic Coast, 30 hectares was considered to be the average minimum size for a self-sufficient family farm. Taking this into account, the estimates presented in Table 7 would indicate that the scope of the repeasantization process was far less than dramatic: those who won lands thanks to the struggles of the 1970s represented only 12.7% of all the coastal rural families and just 15.1% of the total number of potential beneficiaries of the agrarian reform. Another way of assessing the results is by considering them in relation to the prior dissolution of the traditional relations of production. As seen before, that process had affected about 30,000 families in the 1960s. Contrasting this figure with the 26,500 families that obtained land in the 1970s, one can say that the process of repeasantization did not even offset the effects of the liquidation of the subordinate peasant economy. Finally, a third assessment can be made by taking into account the impact of repeasantization on the patterns of land distribution in the region. From this point of view, the peasant gains were clearly of very limited scope: the 600,000 hectares redistributed and adjudicated by INCORA amounted to a bare 7.9% of the total area registered in the 1970 census, and to less than one-fifth of the area in estates larger than 500 hectares.

One can conclude, then, that the struggles for land led to a partial achievement in the Colombian Atlantic Coast. The gains were not proportionate with the original expectations of reformism, and much less with the more ambitious goals of what had been a radical peasant movement. Obviously, a repeasantization that affected only 12.7% of the rural population and had a marginal impact on the patterns of land distribution could not be seen as an major change in favor of the peasantry. But considered as a palliative, that same marginal repeasantization was important, since it could reduce the pressures from those who (either because they were affected by sharper contradictions, or because their ideological motivations were stronger) had displayed the greatest willingness to mobilize in the direct struggle. This mitigation effect was reinforced by the socioeconomic changes discussed in the previous section. But before moving on to consider the broader regional picture, it is necessary to pause briefly and look at the situation of the new peasant settlements in the areas of agrarian reform.

Since the Lleras Restrepo government, the redistribution of land was being carried out in accordance with a semicollective system of tenancy that preserved the land as an undivided unit, assigned parcels for individual family subsistence crops, and reserved the rest of the area for commercial production that would be undertaken collectively by the members of the settlement.107 This concept of empresa comunitaria was applied in most of the lands that INCORA acquired after the peasant invasions. By 1976, there were about 780 empresas that included approximately three-fourths of the families that had benefited from land redistribution in the Atlantic Coast.108 From the beginning, however, the empresas were faced with the problem of lack of state supports. The fact that the government had severely cut INCORA’s budget minimized the possibility of transferring resources to the settlements and magnified the difficulties related to the dearth of credit, the inadequate technical assistance, and the absence of infrastructure and basic services.109 In the Atlantic Coast the most serious problem was the limited amount and poor quality of the land which, without improvements and irrigation, could not sustain large-scale agricultural production. The only viable commercial activity turned out to be raising cattle purchased with INCORA credit, a small-scale activity that generated few resources and absorbed little labor. Having no other options, the parceleros devoted most of their time to subsistence agriculture in the family plots and working for wages outside the settlements. According to a 1979 INCORA study, the income of the parceleros of the Atlantic Coast came from the following sources: 16.4% from collective production in the empresas; 40.8% from family plots; and 42.8% from wages. The average family income amounted to only 80% of the legal minimum salary, and less than half of the basic household budget of an average urban working class family.110 The economic failure led to the rapid dissolution of the empresas comunitarias, which came to be seen by the parceleros as an obstacle to their search for individual solutions. By 1985 only 214 empresas were left, and many of them were in the process of breaking up.111 In this way, the vast majority of the coastal parceleros ended up among the poorest strata of the Colombian peasantry, lacking sufficient land of their own, and depending on occasional wage-labor and seasonal migrations to sustain a precarious level of subsistence.

How did this repeasantization fit it within the broader socioeconomic changes taking place in the Atlantic Coast? As seen before, the land struggles and the agrarian reform of the 1970s enabled some 26,500 families to gain access to land of their own. Adding to this figure the number of properties registered in 1970, and taking into account the emigration that took place between 1964 and 1973, it can be roughly estimated that about 70% of the coastal rural families owned land in the late 1970s. Table 7 and Table 8, however, also indicate that about three-fourths of these families owned less than the 30 hectares that would have been needed to sustain an independent peasant economy. Considering the matter from the standpoint of the families’ situation vis-à-vis the wage-labor market, the estimates in Table 8 underscore that the two main changes of the 1970s were the reduction in the proportion of completely proletarianized families (attributable to emigration) and the increase in the percentage of families that had land but were partially dependent on wages (attributable to repeasantization). Furthermore, both the proportion of families in the independent peasant sector and the total proportion of families linked to the labor market remained at approximately the same level. All in all, then, what the data reveal is that greater access to small property was part of a broader change that involved the elimination of the traditional relations of production and, at the same time, maintained a situation in which the bulk of the rural population remained dependent on the labor market (either as simple proletarians or as peasants who had to work for wages in order to supplement their incomes). While emigration pumped the excess of labor-power out of the region, partial repeasantization worked as a mechanism that retained a semiproletarian reserve of temporary day laborers. The net result was the adjustment of the regional labor force to the needs of cattle raising and large-scale capitalist agriculture which, in addition to the full-time workers, required large groups of temporary laborers who would be available at the peak of demand and who would be able to subsist on their own when their labor was not needed. From this perspective, it becomes clear that the process of repeasantization, in addition to its role in the relaxation of social tensions, contributed to the more general economic adjustments required by the capitalist transformation of the Atlantic Coast.

There is no doubt, then, that the changes of the 1970s were instrumental for the development of agrarian capitalism. But the experience of recent years has also shown that agrarian capitalism cannot solve the problem of rural employment in the Atlantic Coast. Indeed, almost all the agricultural area in the region continues to be used for extensive cattle raising, which is an economic activity that absorbs very little labor. Furthermore, the cotton crisis of 1978 brought the impressive take-off of capitalist agriculture to an inglorious rough landing.112 Since then, cotton has failed to show any signs of recovery, and the production levels of rice, sorghum, and sesame have remained stagnant. By 1985, the total harvested area of the entrepreneurial crops had diminished 24.4% in relation to the levels attained in 1977, and entire areas had been reverted to grasslands.113 To the bankruptcy of capitalist agriculture, one should add the waning of other employment options that had served as palliatives during the 1970s. Marijuana production in the Atlantic Coast swiftly receded as a result of the spectacular expansion of clandestine domestic crops in the United States. At the same time, labor migrations to Venezuela were dramatically reduced by devaluation of the bolívar, the crisis of capitalist agriculture in Venezuela, and the imposition of stricter border controls. Finally, and regarding the prospects for further rural-urban migration, one should not lose sight of the limitations that mark the economic development of the cities in the Atlantic Coast. The number of workers employed by industry has remained at about the same level since 1975, and the regional rates of urban unemployment are among the highest in Colombia.114 As a result of pure saturation, the overheated informal economy of artisans, peddlers, market vendors, and providers of every imaginable service is no longer capable of absorbing additional contingents of labor-power.

The collapse of the delicate balance of the late 1970s gradually created the conditions for renewed peasant pressure. The easing of repression under the government of Belisario Betancur (1982-1986) contributed to this process, since it opened space for the resurgence of peasant organizations. With the regrouping of the different sectors of ANUC, the demands and protest marches were followed by several land invasions. By 1984, there were open conflicts in 55 of the 155 counties of the Atlantic Coast.115 In the last three years there have not only been invasions, but also major regional mobilizations, civic strikes, road blockades, and occupations of city halls and INCORA offices. Although the mood of contentiousness is reminiscent of the atmosphere of the early 1970s, there are important differences.116 One such difference has to do with the social background of those who participate in the struggles. The invaders of the 1980s are neither sharecroppers or tenants. They are the sons of peasants with insufficient land, agricultural day laborers, and urban unemployed who join the usuario committees in an effort to return to the land. Another significant difference is related to the spirit of tolerance that now seems to prevail within the various political sectors of the peasant movement. Instead of the revolutionary extremism of the past, there is a more realistic assessment of the meaning and possibilities of the agrarian struggle. This has contributed to keep the Atlantic Coast relatively peaceful amidst the unbridled wave of violence that is currently chastising a large part of Colombia. However, and this is the main difference in relation to the 1970s, the situation is highly volatile and appears to be deteriorating. On the one hand, there are many activists of the peasant movement who linked up with guerrilla organizations during the pre-Betancur repressive years. On the other hand, there are landowners who are forming paramilitary bands to implant the same type of private terror that prevails in other regions of the country. In this context, the present Liberal administration of Virgilio Barco has signalled a renewed willingness to carry out a limited redistribution of land in the most conflictive zones. But on top of the landowners’ opposition, there is the problem of the counterreformist legislation of the 1970s, which left the state bereft of effective instruments for affecting landed property. At the time of writing, amendments to the agrarian reform law are being discussed in the Congress, and the government has already included some areas of the Atlantic Coast in the National Rehabilitation Program. This program, which was originally designed for regions that were affected by armed conflict, enables INCORA to buy land at commercial prices and use it for redistribution among the peasants.117

All this confirms that the first episode of the reform fell far short of resolving the agrarian question in the Atlantic Coast. In the 1980s, the organized peasants are coming back as social actors who challenge the existing structure of land tenure and resort to direct action in their struggle for change. As in the 1970s, much will depend on the type of interests and projects that are defended and promoted by the state. This time, however, the political context in which the peasant pressure is being exerted is far more problematic. Furthermore, the capitalist modernization of agriculture has lost credibility as a development alternative for the Atlantic Coast. In this sense, the conditions appear to be propitious for an outcome that may turn out to be much more favorable for the peasants. A repetition of the cycle of repression and frustrated aspirations would only play into the hands of those who, from the darkest fringes of the political spectrum, seem determined to impose their own projects of revolutionary and reactionary violence on Colombian society.


It may be convenient to open these final remarks with a brief review of the respective backgrounds of the two regional situations. In the Ecuadorian Sierra, the socioeconomic formation was marked by the imposition of a landowner project that subsumed the production logic of the original Andean population, monopolized the land, reproduced a subordinate peasant economy, and linked up with the domestic market through the supply of a variety of agricultural products. In a long-drawn process, the servile forms of rent in labor that tied the Indian communities (both internal and external) to the haciendas emerged as the main foundation of the entire Sierra agrarian structure. In the case of the Colombian Atlantic Coast, the settlement and expansion of the agricultural frontier had been much more recent. The landowner project involved the displacement of local colonists, a rapid process of land monopolization, and adaptation of the peasant economy to the imperative of expanding the grasslands. The development of a regional economy specialized in cattle raising was more compatible with the incorporation of labor through wage relations, a system that was supplemented with ancillary servile forms such as pasture-rent. In the 1950s and 1960s, both the Ecuadorian Sierra and the Colombian Atlantic Coast felt the effects of deepening national processes of capitalist development. Against this backdrop, there were visible signs of entrepreneurial responses such as the expansion and modernization of dairy production in the Ecuadorian highlands and the introduction of new crops such as cotton and wet rice in coastal Colombia. In both cases, however, these were incipient processes that had a limited impact on the prevailing agrarian structures.

Before considering the contrasts we are most interested in, two general observations are in order. The first has to do with the fact that political factors played a prominent role in both agrarian transformations. In the Ecuadorian Sierra, and also in the Colombian Atlantic Coast, the key changes revolved around the liquidation of the traditional relations of production. Still, these changes would be impossible to explain from a perspective that only takes into account the capitalist dynamics of agrarian evolution. From the standpoint of these dynamics, it would have been more logical to expect a gradual process of redefinition of the servile relations of production which, in the long run, could have led to the formation of the labor reserve pool that was needed by agrarian capitalism. Instead, there were other factors that shifted the bearings of the resolution of the agrarian question to the political sphere and steered the regional processes on a different course. This is seen much more clearly in the Colombian case, where Lleras Restrepo’s attempt to give impetus to the agrarian reform precipitated the crisis of the precapitalist relations of production. After that, it would be the correlation of forces in the unfolding political conflict that would define the direction of the changes. Not only the marginal redistribution of land, but the very take-off of agrarian capitalism, should be seen in light of the political conflict, since the key incentive for commercial agriculture came from the financial supports that were part and parcel of the counter-reformist package. In the Ecuadorian Sierra, there was a less obvious -or less dramatic- connection between political conflict and agrarian transformation. At first sight, both the results of the reform and its orderly and peaceful implementation appear to reinforce the image of an unresisted, deliberate and almost inevitable process that gave perfect expression to the imperatives of capitalist agrarian development. Nonetheless, we have seen in this essay that it would be too simplistic to see the actions of the Ecuadorian state as merely reflecting the interests of the agrarian capitalists. The agrarian reform was a complex state intervention that entailed multiple political determinations, including projects, alliances, confrontations, and mobilizations that involved many social sectors in the countryside and the broader national arena.

The second general observation has to do with the fact that the peasantry was not a passive subject. Directly or indirectly, its struggles played a role in both episodes of agrarian reform. Given the open and combative nature of the struggles, the peasants’ role was much more visible in the Colombian case, where the coastal tenants, sharecroppers, and colonists resisted the evictions and resorted to invasions to gain access to the land. The offensives were articulated by an organized movement that assumed the representation of the peasantry and provided leadership and coordination at the regional level. In one way or another, every inch of land redistributed by the agrarian reform in the Atlantic Coast involved contentious activity on the part of the peasants. For this reason, the repeasantization that took place in that region can be seen as a direct result of the peasant struggles. In the Ecuadorian Sierra, where the peasant initiatives assumed less contentious forms, the impact of the struggles was much less direct. There, the main factor was the relentless pressure of the huasipungueros, who sought to reduce the burden of their obligations and increase their control over the haciendas’ resources. Although the peasant asedio provided a base for forming unions and for the subsequent movement towards more open and organized mobilizations, the general mood was marked by the low profile of the everyday forms of resistance. This is why the peasant pressure did not become a direct factor of change. Its main effect was to call attention to the urgent need to find solutions for agrarian contradictions whose aggravation could have led to generalized class struggle in the countryside. In a roundabout way, this pressure played a role in the changes by forcing the state to implement an agrarian reform whose main purpose was to avoid the class struggle scenario by arbitrating the conflict between landowners and subordinate peasants.

Bearing in mind these preliminary observations, it is clear that the most important contrast has to do with the modes of peasant participation. While in the Ecuadorian Sierra the peasantry exerted influence from behind the scenes, in the Colombian Atlantic Coast it appeared as a leading political protagonist. This difference was directly related to the modalities of action that prevailed in each case. Using the categories of Charles Tilly118 one could say that, like most varieties of everyday resistance, the peasant asedio in the Sierra was characterized by a defensive orientation that assumed competitive forms of expression (since its purpose was the defense of the huasipungo plots through a silent struggle for resources that were also claimed by the landowners). The land invasions of the Atlantic Coast, by contrast, reflected the offensive priorities of a struggle that was simultaneously reactive and proactive (as the former tenants went on the attack in response to their eviction and in search of a new status as independent peasants with land of their own). Adapting the concepts of Istvan Meszaros119, we can also see the Sierra asedio as a form of struggle that expressed a purely contingent class consciousness, that is, a diffuse and unpoliticized consciousness that emanated from the mere objective conditions of the social class. In contrast, the Colombian coastal invasions implied the development of orientations that were much closer to the notion of necessary class consciousness, since collective action required a shared subjective definition of the objectives of the peasant struggle. Thus, and by contrast to the indirect influence of the asedio in the Ecuadorian Sierra, the land invasions had direct political significance as a form of struggle that created de facto situations and altered the correlation of forces in the Colombian Atlantic Coast.

The main question, then, is related to the factors that explain this substantial difference in the forms of struggle and in the overall modes of peasant involvement. From the standpoint of the structural context, there is no doubt that the most decisive factors had to do with the distinctive ways in which the old regime of traditional relations of production came to an end in each case. In the Colombian coastal region, the eviction of tenants and sharecroppers signalled an abrupt and total crisis of the subordinate peasant economy. The sudden abolition of subsistence guarantees created conditions that literally forced the peasantry to go on the offensive in order to regain access to the land. In the case of the Ecuadorian Sierra, the crisis did not take on such dramatic dimensions, leaving space for a war of position in which the landowners and peasants tussled on until the agrarian reform defused the immediate potential for conflict. As there was no drastic break leading to massive evictions, the priorities of the Sierra peasants remained defensive priorities, which goes a long way to explain the limited politicization of their struggles.

The behavior of the landowners was no doubt fundamental in shaping these divergent scenarios. In Colombia, where there had been no serious effort to apply the 1961 law, the landowners had developed the notion that there was nothing to fear from the agrarian reform. In addition, on the cattle haciendas of the Atlantic Coast, the development of wage relations had relegated the subordinate peasant economy to a relatively ancillary position. For these reasons, when the Lleras Restrepo government proposed to give land to tenants and sharecroppers, the coastal landowners knew very well that the reform was not inevitable, that land redistribution could be resisted, and that it was possible to forfeit the old relations of production without this causing a major economic disruption. The forthright eviction of the peasants was a response that clearly corresponded to these perceptions. Although the evictions had the immediate effect of encouraging open expressions of class struggle, the subsequent counter-reformist turn in state policy would come to the rescue of the landowners and protect their property. In Ecuador, by contrast, there was no precedent of fictitious agrarian reforms. Moreover, there was a long memory of violent peasant responses to landowner eviction initiatives in the Sierra. The legislation recognized the huasipunguero traditional rights, and from the economic standpoint the subordinate peasant economy was indispensable for the operation of most of the haciendas. For these reasons, the cases of eviction were exceptional. The modernizing landowners who wanted to get rid of their huasipungueros preferred to support the idea of a limited agrarian reform and began to carry it out privately through the anticipated entregas. The more traditional landowners, who could not afford the loss of the subordinate peasant economy, tried to obstruct any changes, withstand the peasant asedio, and oppose the agrarian reform in the political arena. When the reform finally came, the alternative of evicting the peasants became even less realistic, since the traditional landowners could not count on the intervention of the state to repress the peasant response that would have probably ensued.

Thus far, our analysis has focused on the differences in contextual determinants. In addition, we must look into other differences that were more directly related to the issue of agency; that is, to the subjective aspect of the peasant struggles. Although many elements could be considered, we will limit ourselves to briefly underline the two factors that most clearly emerge from our case studies: the organizational resources that were available to the peasants, and the ideological orientations that influenced their struggles. With regard to the first of these factors, it seems clear that the effectiveness of the peasant struggles in the Atlantic Coast had much to do with the existence of ANUC, the association that had been created by the government. In the face of the evictions and the counter-reform, ANUC emerged as a class actor that could give expression to the peasant demands, organize the offensive in the struggle for land, and transform the local battles into unified regional confrontations. In Ecuador, by contrast, the Sierra peasants lacked the organizational supports that could have enabled them to muster an effective class power in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Apparently, the traditional communitarian frameworks were too eroded to serve as the basis for a full-fledged peasant challenge. Furthermore, the unionizing activity in the haciendas did not reach the momentum that would have been needed for FEI to become a true agent on behalf of the peasantry as a class. As for the second factor, the ideological orientations that shaped the struggles, the differences were similarly marked. In the Colombian Atlantic Coast, the total crisis of the subordinate peasant economy and the frustration of reformist aspirations generated great receptivity to the radical discourse of the leftist groups. Although such discourse posed revolutionary goals that were clearly beyond the horizon of the grievances raised by the peasantry, there is no doubt that at least for a time, its ideological contents played an important role in feeding the spirit of contention at the grass-roots level. In the Ecuadorian case, the researchers have been primarily concerned with identifying the ideological elements that helped restrict peasant belligerency in the Sierra. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, two such elements stood out: the almost fossilized persistence of a “culture of inferiority” associated with the Indian condition, and the “proletarianist” leanings of FEI which, until the very end, prevented the definition of the peasant struggle as a struggle for the land.

Taken together, these brief and systematic contrasts make it possible to round out a coherent image of the specificities of the two modes of peasant collective action. When the question of the end of precapitalist relations was raised, the differences in landowner responses shaped divergent contexts which, in turn, defined different priorities from the standpoint of the peasant struggles. In the Ecuadorian Sierra, where the situation called for a defensive stance, the peasantry lacked the organizational and ideological resources that would have been required to redefine the bearings of their struggle. Therefore, its actions remained circumscribed to the restricted limits that typify the forms of everyday resistance. In the case of the Colombian Atlantic Coast, the context invited the peasants to go on the offensive. They were able to measure up to the challenge because they had an adequate organizational agent and because they were exposed to ideological orientations that encouraged their belligerence. The result was a fully developed political movement that was able to undertake direct action in its attempt to transform the existing reality.

As will be seen in a moment, the specificities of the peasant struggles and the ways in which the agrarian reforms were implemented in each case were bound to have differential implications for the future regional processes. From the point of view of the immediate results, however, the outcomes were quite similar: although a large part of the peasants affected by the collapse of the old regime escaped complete proletarianization, their limited access to land redefined them as smallholders who lacked conditions for a self-sufficient domestic economy. The fact that large-scale landed property was only marginally touched boosted the prospects for entrepreneurial agriculture, which could now count on the existence of a reliable reserve of labor-power from the stunted peasant sector. Keeping in mind that we are speaking here of short-term results, it can be said that Alain de Janvry’s concept of “transition along the junker road” captures the essence of these outcomes.120 Still, our cases also show that the capitalist logic of agrarian evolution alone does not predetermine everything. The experiences of capitalist development in many countries around the world show that this logic allows for other solutions, including the so-called “peasant road” of evolution and a host of other possible combinations. What we are trying to emphasize here is that, in the final analysis, the outcomes depend on the vicissitudes of the class struggle. If in the Ecuadorian Sierra and the Colombian Atlantic Coast the results were adverse to the “peasant road,” that was because the objective and subjective conditions did not allow the peasants to tip the balance decisively in their favor.

One way of looking at the problem is by considering the way in which these conditions shape the contents of the peasant demands. Generally speaking, one can assume that subordinate peasants caught in a process of capitalist transformation will develop aspirations in the direction of emerging as free peasants from the crisis of the servile relations of production. Within this, however, the scope of the peasant demands may vary. They may fight for all the land, for the necessary land to sustain an independent economy, or for sufficient land to provide a basis for subsistence that may be supplemented by other sources of income. In the two cases that were analyzed here the conditions were clearly unfavorable for peasant “maximalism” (i.e.: for staking of a claim to all the land). For the reasons we have examined, the struggles of the huasipungueros assumed a defensive orientation which, in fact, corresponded to the “minimalist” aim of trying to project into the future the existing situation of access to extremely small plots and dependency on wage supplements. In the Colombian Atlantic Coast, where the vigor of the peasant offensive tempted the leftist leaders and advisers to call for a revolutionary expropriation of all the land, the grass-roots had enough political instinct to realize that the existing conditions did not allow for such a venture. That they were right was proven by the fact that they were not even able to obtain the lands needed for an independent peasant economy, which was the real goal that inspired the coastal struggles.

This shows that many of the factors that shape the peasant struggles are defined in terms of the broader field of forces within which the agrarian conflicts actually develop. In this realm of social and political alignments and antagonisms, the most decisive factor is the action of the state which, in addition to expressing the existing balances of forces, may also have the effect of altering them. From this point of view, the dramatic contrast between the two moments of state intervention in Colombia was particularly striking. In the first moment, there was a typically autonomous initiative that encouraged peasant mobilization in order to change the correlation of forces and make possible a limited agrarian reform. In the second moment there was a counter-reformist turn that contained the peasants, imposed a “junker” solution, and gave direct expression to the tremendous power of the landowner class. From the standpoint of the peasant struggles, then, the intervention of the Colombian state was partialized and disjointed, as the government “changed sides” in an abrupt swing that went from encouragement to total repression. By contrast, the Ecuadorian state assumed a more “impartial” role that was essentially defined in terms of the imposition of a compromise that would settle the huasipunguero question and avoid the radicalization of the peasant struggles. This intervention was consistent with the correlation of forces in the areas that had experienced the greatest capitalist development, where it favored the “junker road” of agrarian evolution. But at the same time, it undermined the status quo in the rest of the Sierra, where it punished the traditional landowners and unleashed processes that, in the long run, would bring about results more favorable to the peasantry.

In the political constellations that shape agrarian struggles, the role of the peasants’ potential allies is also extremely important. In all capitalist transitions, the people from the countryside are caught in ambiguous situations in which the orientations of the past fail to provide effective guidelines for facing the uncertainties of the future. This “historical perplexity” of the peasants, together with the heterogeneity of their social make-up and other impediments derived from the harsh conditions of rural life, pose major difficulties that hinder their ability to define their own collective identity and develop an independent “class project.” Hence the great strategic significance of external political actors who, by incorporating the peasants and their demands within their own projects, “give” them a social identity and facilitate their mobilization. A few paragraphs back, on indicating the contrasts in the subjective conditions of the peasant struggles in Ecuador and Colombia, we underlined the influence of the political orientations of leftist allies. While in the Ecuadorian Sierra the “proletarianist” discourse of FEI discouraged an open struggle for the land, in the Colombian Atlantic Coast the revolutionary appeals of the Maoists helped to promote it. Still, it would be wrong to view these external ideological influences as absolutely independent variables. Indeed, the discourses that succeed are always those with the greatest historical viability, i.e., those that best grasp the imperatives dictated by the circumstances of the peasants and propose the most realistic goals within the existing correlation of forces. Proof of this is the fact that, just as FEI’s stances changed to the point of raising demands for land redistribution on the eve of the Ecuadorian reform, the ideological radicalism that prevailed in the Colombian case became dysfunctional and was rejected by the grass-roots when it became clear that it was no longer possible to continue the peasant offensive.

Finally, a brief comment on the implications of all these differences for the subsequent regional processes. We are particularly interested, of course, in the aspects that are directly relevant to the evolution of the agrarian question and the prospects for peasant political participation. In the Colombian Atlantic Coast, there is a clear connection between the anti-peasant outcome of the reformist episode of the 1970s and the stagnation of a regional economy that is still based on large estates mostly devoted to cattle-raising. With the ebb of capitalist agriculture and the general paucity of rural and urban employment opportunities, there is increasing pressure from marginalized sectors who, in their desperate search for guarantees of subsistence, are raising once again the unresolved issue of access to the land. Politically, however, the entrenched system of bipartisan clientelism, in which the landowners continue to play a fundamental role, represents a major obstacle to the resolution of the crisis. Given the exclusionary and anti-popular nature of the regime, and taking into account the wave of political violence that is now engulfing the country, it is ever more likely that the coastal peasants will be caught in the crossfire between the extremist guerrilla groups that seek to ride on their struggles, and the reactionary forces that are set to repress them. In the Ecuadorian Sierra, the socioeconomic and political processes followed a very different course. Instead of closing off future options, the specificities that distinguished the interactions between the relevant actors (landowners, peasants, and state) set an important precedent for resolving the contradictions that would arise after the end of the huasipungo system. Without implying a complete turnaround in favor of the “peasant road,” the subsequent phase of the agrarian reform reinforced the position of many peasant sectors that were able to consolidate their subsistence base and integrate into the market as agricultural producers. As a result, the main demands began to focus on the state services and defense of the interests of peasant farming within the national economy. At the same time, the political scene of the Sierra was gradually transformed by the “withering away” of the landowners as a key factor of power, the increasing interactions between the rural population and other social sectors, and the development of peasant and Indian organizations that assumed functions of popular representation vis-a-vis the state, the political parties, and the electoral system. In the long run, then, the differences in the regional processes had momentous consequences for the peasants’ fate: while in the Colombian Atlantic Coast their socioeconomic marginality has turned them into potential fodder for political violence, their consolidation in the Ecuadorian Sierra has enabled them to emerge as social actors that may contribute to the stability of democratic politics.


  1. The study, which includes several stages of field work in Colombia and Ecuador, is being sponsored by the Social Science Research Council and the Senate Committee on Research of the University of California, San Diego. This monograph is an adapted version of the paper “Luchas Campesinas y Reforma Agraria en Ecuador y Colombia,” originally presented at the 46th Congress of Americanists, Amsterdam, July 1988. For critical comments, I am grateful to Aaron Cicourel, Andres Guerrero, Miguel Murmis, and Mark Thurner.  return to text
  2. See, for example, Alain de Janvry, The Agrarian Question and Reformism in Latin America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).  return to text
  3. See, for example, Merilee Grindle, State and Countryside: Development Policy and Agrarian Politics in Latin America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1986).  return to text
  4. The major studies on peasants and revolution include Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966); Eric Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1969); Gerrit Huizer, Peasant Rebellion in Latin America (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973); Joel Migdal, Peasants, Politics and Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974); Hamza Alavi,Revoluciones Campesinas (Bogota: Topo Rojo Editores, 1975); Jeffery Paige, Agrarian Revolution: Social Movements and Export Agriculture in the Underdeveloped World (New York: Free Press, 1975); and James Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976).  return to text
  5. On comparative strategies in historical sociology, see Theda Skocpol, “Emerging Agendas and Recurrent Strategies in Historical Sociology,” in Theda Skocpol, ed.,Vision and Method in Historical Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).  return to text
  6. de Janvry, op.cit., pp.208-209.  return to text
  7. CIDA, Ecuador: Tenencia de la Tierra y Desarrollo Socio-Economico del Sector Agricola (Washington: Comite Interamericano de Desarrollo Agricola, 1965).  return to text
  8. See Eduardo Archetti, “Haciendas and Peasants: the Process of Agrarian Change in Ecuador” (Paper presented at the Conference on Rural Economy and Society, Bellagio, Italy, 1980), pp.17-22; Osvaldo Barsky, La Reforma Agraria Ecuatoriana (Quito: Corporacion Editora Nacional, 1984), pp.41-54; CIDA, Ecuador…op.cit., pp.45-181; Andres Guerrero, “La Hacienda Precapitalista y la Clase Terrateniente en America Latina y su Insercion en el Modo de Produccion Capitalista: el Caso Ecuatoriano,” University of Glasgow Occasional Papers No. 23, 1977, pp.4-16; and Fernando Velasco, Reforma Agraria y Movimiento Campesino Indigena en la Sierra (Quito: Editorial El Conejo, 1983), pp.41-62.  return to text
  9. CIDA, Ecuador…op.cit., pp.53-58.  return to text
  10. Ibid., p.113.  return to text
  11. See, for example, Barsky, op.cit., pp.50-51; Guerrero, “La Hacienda…,” op.cit., pp.26-31; and Andres Guerrero, Haciendas, Capital y Lucha de Clases Andina (Quito: Editorial El Conejo, 1983), pp.9-10 and 58-75.  return to text
  12. This brief overview of the historical formation of the agrarian structure is based on Archetti, “Haciendas and Peasants…,” op.cit., pp.12-17; Barsky, op.cit., pp.19-32; CIDA, Ecuador…op.cit., pp.25-44; and Francisco Rhon, “Lucha etnica o lucha de clases: Ecuador,” in CELATS, Campesinado e Indigenismo en America Latina (Lima: Ediciones CELATS, 1978), pp.74-76.  return to text
  13. See Galo Ramon, “La Comunidad Indigena Ecuatoriana: Planteos Politicos,” in Galo Ramon et al.Comunidad Andina: Alternativas Politicas de Desarrollo (Quito: CAAP, 1981), pp.67-68; and Galo Ramon and Marcelo Lopez, “La Agricultura en los Andes Ecuatorianos,” in Galo Ramon et al.Comunidad Andina…op.cit., pp.27-38.  return to text
  14. Ramón, op.cit., p.68.  return to text
  15. Baraona emphasizes this point indicating that in 1962, 28 of the 34 congressmen from the highlands were landowners (see CIDA, Ecuador…op.cit., pp.108). For a concise analytical characterization of Sierra gamonalismo, see Gustavo Cosse, Estado y Agro en el Ecuador (Quito: Corporacion Editora Nacional, 1984), pp.20-22.  return to text
  16. Agustin Cueva, The Process of Political Domination in Ecuador (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1982), pp.5-6.  return to text
  17. See Cosse, op.cit., pp.24-25; and Osvaldo Hurtado, “El Proceso Politico,” in Gehrard Drekonja, et al.Ecuador, Hoy (Bogota: Siglo XXI, 1978), pp.166-169.  return to text
  18. Augusto Varas and Fernando Bustamante, Fuerzas Armadas y Politica en el Ecuador (Quito: Ediciones Latinoamerica, 1978), pp.106-107.  return to text
  19. See Segundo Moreno Yanez, Sublevaciones Indigenas en la Audiencia de Quito (Quito: Ediciones de la Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador, 1985); and Oswaldo Albornoz, Las Luchas Indigenas en el Ecuador (Guayaquil: ditorial Claridad, 1974).  return to text
  20. See Thompson’s argument in his article “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present, No. 50, 1972.  return to text
  21. See the description in CIDA, Ecuador…op.cit., pp.471-476.  return to text
  22. Diego Iturralde, “Notas para una Historia Politica del Campesinado Ecuatoriano, 1900-1980,” in Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, ed., Historia Politica de los Campesinos Latinoamericanos, Vol. 3 (Mexico: Siglo XXI Editores, 1985), pp.102-104.  return to text
  23. See Albornoz, op.cit., pp.114-117; and Mercedes Prieto, “Haciendas Estatales: Un Caso de Ofensiva Campesina, 1926-1948,” in Miguel Murmis et al.Ecuador: Cambios en el Agro Serrano (Quito: FLACSO, 1980), pp.112-119.  return to text
  24. See, for example, Albornoz, op.cit., pp.124-126; Barsky, op.cit., pp.320-321 and 327-329; Iturralde, “Notas…,” op.cit., p.120; Prieto, op.cit., pp.124; and Velasco,op.cit., pp.114-116.  return to text
  25. Prieto, op.cit., pp.122-124 and 127.  return to text
  26. Albornoz, op.cit., pp.76-90; Velasco, op.cit., pp.73-74.  return to text
  27. For references to the Columbe disturbances, see Albornoz, op.cit., pp.84-87; and Guerrero, Haciendas…op.cit., pp.95-96.  return to text
  28. See Barsky, op.cit., pp.127-129; and Guerrero, Haciendas…op.cit., pp.96-97.  return to text
  29. For a meticulous review of the discussion, approval, and contents of the 1964 agrarian reform law, see Barsky, op.cit., pp.123-165.  return to text
  30. See the accounts of Cueva, op.cit., pp.46-50; Guerrero, Haciendas…op.cit., pp.86-114; Velasco, op.cit., pp.77-85; and Cesar Verduga, “Un Caso Particular de Intervencion Estatal en el Desarrollo del Capitalismo en el Agro,” in Miguel Murmis et al.Ecuador: Cambios…, “op.cit., p.446.  return to text
  31. This synopsis of the argument is based on Barsky, op.cit.  return to text
  32. Ibid., p.329.  return to text
  33. Ibid., pp.72-78.  return to text
  34. Miguel Murmis, “El Agro Serrano y la Via Prusiana de Desarrollo Capitalista,” in Miguel Murmis et al.Ecuador: Cambios…op.cit.  return to text
  35. Cosse, op.cit., pp.31-36.  return to text
  36. See the interpretations of Cueva, op.cit., pp.49-50; Francisco Davila, Las Luchas por la Hegemonia y la Consolidacion Politica de la Burguesia en el Ecuador, 1972-1978 (Mexico: UNAM, 1984), pp.81-82; Cristian Sepulveda, “Vias de Transformacion, Economias Campesinas y Politica Agraria: Tres Dimensiones de la Discussion Agraria Actual,” in Cristian Sepulveda, ed., Estructuras Agrarias y Reproduccion Campesina: Lecturas sobre Transformaciones Capitalistas en el Agro Ecuatoriano(Quito: IIE-PUCE, 1982), pp.13-16; Varas and Bustamante, op.cit., pp.62-64; and Verduga, op.cit., pp.446-449.  return to text
  37. Velasco, op.cit.  return to text
  38. Guerrero, Haciendas…op.cit., pp.93-98.  return to text
  39. Ibid., pp.25-36.  return to text
  40. Barsky, op.cit., pp.79-81.  return to text
  41. Guerrero, Haciendas…op.cit., pp.117-133.  return to text
  42. Juan Martinez Alier, Los Huacchilleros del Peru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1973).  return to text
  43. CIDA, Ecuador…op.cit., pp.424-476.  return to text
  44. Ibid., pp.424-470. See also Guerrero, Haciendas…op.cit., pp.123-133.  return to text
  45. On this point, see CIDA, Ecuador…op.cit., pp.424-425.  return to text
  46. Guerrero, Haciendas…op.cit., p.133.  return to text
  47. James Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), pp.28-47.  return to text
  48. Guerrero, Haciendas…op.cit., pp.134-135.  return to text
  49. Barsky, op.cit., pp.65-67. See also CIDA, Ecuador…op.cit., pp.431-457.  return to text
  50. Barsky, op.cit., pp.97-98. See also Osvaldo Barsky and Gustavo Cosse, Tecnologia y Cambio Social: las Haciendas Lecheras del Ecuador (Quito: FLACSO, 1981), pp.54-56.  return to text
  51. See, for example, Eduardo Archetti, “Burguesia Rural y Campesinado en la Sierra Ecuatoriana”, in Eduardo Archetti, ed., Campesinado y Estructuras Agrarias en America Latina (Quito: CEPLAES Editores, 1981); Alex Barril, “Desarrollo Tecnologico, Produccion Agropecuaria y Relaciones de Produccion en la Sierra Ecuatoriana,” in Miguel Murmis et al.Ecuador: Cambios…op.cit., pp.222-225; Barsky, op.cit., pp.351-387; Cosse, op.cit., pp.37-42; Ignacio Llovet et al., “Caracterizacion de Estructuras de Clase en el Agro Ecuatoriano,” in Miguel Murmis, ed., Clase y Region en el Agro Ecuatoriano o (Quito: Corporacion Editora Nacional, 1986); Wilson Mino, “Las Transformaciones Agrarias en Ecuador,” in Le Chau, ed., Investigacion Agraria y Crisis (Quito: Corporacion Editora Nacional, 1986), pp.59-60; and Simon Pachano, “Transformacion de la Estructura Agraria: Personajes, Actores y Escenarios,” in Manuel Chiriboga et al.Ecuador Agrario: Ensayos de Interpretacion (Quito: Editorial El Conejo, 1984).  return to text
  52. On the processes of agrarian reform in the 1970s, see Barsky, op.cit., pp.167-246; Cosse, op.cit., pp.36-37 and 97-98; Davila, op.cit., pp.70-84; Howard Handelman, “Ecuadorian Agrarian Reform: the Politics of Limited Change,” in Howard Handelman, ed., The Politics of Agrarian Change in Asia and Latin America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), pp.71-72; Iturralde, “Notas…,” op.cit., pp.111-113; Liisa North, “Implementacion de la Politica Economica y la Estructura del Poder Politico en el Ecuador,” in Louis Lefeber, ed., Economia Politica del Ecuador: Campo, Region, Nacion (Quito: Corporacion Editora Nacional, 1985); and Michael Redclift, Agrarian Reform and Peasant Organization on the Ecuatorian Coast (London: Athlone Press, 1978).  return to text
  53. See Barsky, op.cit., pp.246-293; Manuel Chiriboga, “El Estado y las Politicas hacia el Sector Rural: 1979-1982,” in Manuel Chiriboga et al.Ecuador Agrario…op.cit., pp.102-139; and Cristian Sepulveda, “Vias de Transformacion…,” op.cit., pp.44-51.  return to text
  54. Barsky, op.cit., pp.32-40.  return to text
  55. Velasco, op.cit., pp.113-114.  return to text
  56. For studies on these supplementary sources of income, see Luciano Martinez, “Pobreza Rural y Migracion,” in Manuel Chiriboga et al.Ecuador Agrario…op.cit.; Luciano Martinez, “Articulacion Mercantil de las Comunidades Indigenas en la Sierra Ecuatoriana,” in Louis Lefeber, ed., Economia Politica…op.cit.; Alvaro Saenz, “Expulsion de Fuerza de Trabajo Agricola y Migracion Diferencial,” in Miguel Murmis “et al.o, “Ecuador: Cambios…o, “op.cit.o; and Lucia Salamea, “La Transformacion de la Hacienda y los Cambios en la Condicion Campesina,” in Miguel Murmis et al.Ecuador: Cambios…op.cit.  return to text
  57. Chiriboga, “El Estado…,” op.cit., pp.103-104.  return to text
  58. Ibid., p.111.  return to text
  59. On the peasant struggles of the 1970s, see Dalton Burgos, Las Luchas Campesinas, 1950-1983; Movilizacion Campesina e Historia de la FENOC (Quito: CEDEP, 1984), pp.24-28; Teodoro Bustamante and Mercedes Prieto, “Formas de Organizacion y de Accion Campesina e Indigena: Experiencias en tres Zonas del Ecuador,” in Miguel Murmis, ed., Clase y Region…op.cit., pp.286-290; Chiriboga, “El Estado…,” op.cit., pp.109; Martínez, “Articulacion…,” op.cit., pp.170-172; Fernando Rosero, “El Proceso de Transformacion-Conservacion de la Comunidad Andina: el Caso de las Comunas de San Pablo del Lago,” in Cristian Sepulveda, ed., Estructuras Agrarias…, pp.99-105; and Salamea, “op.cit., p.90.  return to text
  60. On these processes, see Manuel Chiriboga, “Movimiento Campesino e Indigena y Participacion Politica en Ecuador: la Construccion de Identidades en una Sociedad Heterogenea,” Ecuador Debate, No. 13, 1987; Iturralde, “Notas…,” op.cit., pp.117-121; and Burgos, op.cit., pp.24-44.  return to text
  61. DANE, Censo Nacional Agropecuario, 1960 (Bogota: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica, 1960).  return to text
  62. This historical overview is based on the following works of Orlando Fals Borda: Capitalismo, Hacienda y Poblamiento en la Costa Atlantica (Bogota: Punta de Lanza, 1976), Mompox y Loba (Bogota: Carlos Valencia Editores, 1979), Resistencia en el San Jorge (Bogota: Carlos Valencia Editores, 1984), and Retorno a la Tierra (Bogota: Carlos Valencia Editores, 1986). I have also drawn from Catherine LeGrand, Frontier Expansion and Peasant Protest in Colombia, 1850-1936 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986); Alejandro Reyes, Latifundio y Poder Politico (Bogota: Editorial CINEP, 1978); and Victor Negrete, Origen de las Luchas Agrarias en Cordoba (Monteria: Fundacion del Caribe, 1981).  return to text
  63. CIDA, Colombia: Tenencia de la Tierra y Desarrollo Socio-Economico del Sector Agricola (Washington: Comite Interamericano de Desarrollo Agricola, 1966).  return to text
  64. For an excellent historical account of these processes, see LeGrand, op.cit., pp.63-90.  return to text
  65. For descriptions of the pasture-rent arrangement, see Fals Borda, Capitalismo…op.cit., pp.31-48; Reyes, Latifundio…op.cit., pp.56-68; Anders Rudqvist, Peasant Struggle and Action Research in Colombia (Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University, 1986) p.195; and Roger Soles, “Rural Land Invasions in Colombia”, Land Tenure Center Monograph (Madison: Wisconsin, 1974), p.19.  return to text
  66. Soles, op.cit., pp.18-20.  return to text
  67. LeGrand, op.cit., pp.63-90 and 113-115.  return to text
  68. On the power structure in the Atlantic Coast, see Reyes, Latifundio…op.cit., pp.111-138.  return to text
  69. See Negrete, op.cit., pp.119-125.  return to text
  70. In the English literature on Colombia, the best analysis of the National Front is to be found in Jonathan Hartlyn, The Politics of Coalition Rule in Colombia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). For an concise overview, see Harvey Kline, “The National Front: Historical Perspective and Overview,” in Albert Berry et al., eds.,Politics of Compromise; Coalition Government in Colombia (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1980). On agrarian reform in the context of the National Front, see Eugene Havens et al., “Agrarian Reform and the National Front: a Class Analysis,” in Albert Berry et al., eds., Politics of Compromise…op.cit. return to text
  71. Alonso Tobon, La Tierra y La Reforma Agraria en Colombia (Bogota: Ediciones Cancer, 1972).  return to text
  72. The following references to the coastal conflicts are drawn from Pierre Gilhodes, La Question Agraire en Colombie (Paris: Presses de la Fondation Nationales des Sciences Politiques, 1974). pp.295-312; and Leon Zamosc, The Agrarian Question and the Peasant Movement in Colombia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp.40-43.  return to text
  73. Gilhodes, op.cit., p.340.  return to text
  74. In the 1954-1967 period, the Atlantic Coast registered a 269% increase (from 84,000 hectares to 302,000 hectares) in the area planted in cotton, rice, sorghum, and millett. See DANE, Memoria del Sector Agropecuario (Bogota: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica, 1975).  return to text
  75. Ibid. In 1954, there were 3.8 million heads of cattle in the Atlantic Coast. By 1967, the number had increased to 6.7 million.  return to text
  76. DANE, Censo Nacional Agropecuario, 1970 (Bogota: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica, 1970).  return to text
  77. On this law, see Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.47-50.  return to text
  78. On Lleras Restrepo’s ANUC initiative see Bruce Bagley and Fernando Botero, “Organizaciones Campesinas Contemporaneas en Colombia: un Estudio de la ANUC,”Estudios Rurales Latinoamericanos, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1978; Cristina Escobar, Trayectoria de la ANUC (Bogota: Editorial CINEP, 1983), pp.7-8; Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.50-61.  return to text
  79. Ministerio de Agricultura, Resumen de Trabajos Realizados en Organizacion Campesina (Bogota, 1971).  return to text
  80. On the landowner reaction, see Reyes, Latifundio…op.cit., pp.78-80 and 145-148. See also Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., p.79.  return to text
  81. DANE, Censo Nacional Agropecuario, 1960op.cit.; and DANE, Censo Nacional Agropecuario, 1970op.cit. return to text
  82. Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.79-80.  return to text
  83. Ibid., p.70.  return to text
  84. Ibid., pp.70-71.  return to text
  85. Ibid., pp.72-74.  return to text
  86. Ibid., pp.74-77. Hereafter, the information on the invasions of 1971 and subsequent years is drawn from the ANUC files at CINEP’s (Centro de Investigación y Acción Popular) library in Bogotá. For quantitative data by departments and counties, see Heinz Murle et al., “La Lucha por la Tierra: 1970-1978,” Cuadernos de Agroindustria y Economia Rural, No. 3, 1979; and Leon Zamosc, Los Usuarios Campesinos y las Luchas por La Tierra en los Anos Setenta (Bogota: Editorial CINEP, 1984), pp.231-239.  return to text
  87. The following description of the land invasions is based on Reyes, Latifundio…op.cit., pp.155-159; Rudqvist, op.cit., pp.253-277; Soles, op.cit., pp.45-64; and Zamosc,The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.89-91.  return to text
  88. See Soles, op.cit., p.46; and Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…, “op.cit., p.88.  return to text
  89. Escobar, op.cit., pp.27-28.  return to text
  90. Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.97-99.  return to text
  91. Ibid., pp.103-104.  return to text
  92. Ibid., pp. 100-103. See also Escobar, op.cit., pp.47-49.  return to text
  93. Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.77-78 and 104.  return to text
  94. Ibid., pp.111 and 128.  return to text
  95. Ibid., pp.109-111 and 114-115.  return to text
  96. Ibid., pp.231-239.  return to text
  97. Ibid., pp.126-129.  return to text
  98. Ibid., pp.184-187.  return to text
  99. On this law, see Alcides Gomez, “Politica Agraria de Lopez y Ley de Aparceria,” Ideologia y Sociedad, No. 14-15, 1975; Victor Moncayo, “La Ley y el Problema Agrario en Colombia,” Ideologia y Sociedad, No. 14-15, 1975; and Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., p.126.  return to text
  100. Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.124-125.  return to text
  101. Ibid., pp.192-193.  return to text
  102. Ponciano Torales, La Dinamica Interna de los Movimientos Migratorios en Colombia (Bogota: Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social, 1979), pp.35-89.  return to text
  103. Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.133-139.  return to text
  104. For accounts of ANUC’s internal political crisis, see Silvia Rivera, Politica e Ideologia en el Movimiento Campesino Colombiano: el Caso de la ANUC (Bogota: Editorial CINEP, 1985), pp.115-151; Rudqvist, op.cit., pp.312-352; and Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.113-121.  return to text
  105. Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.165-178.  return to text
  106. See Escobar, op.cit., pp.163-169; and Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.187-201.  return to text
  107. Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.154-155.  return to text
  108. INCORA, Las Empresas Comunitarias en la Reforma Agraria (Bogota: Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria, 1977), p.54.  return to text
  109. Zamosc, The Agrarian Question…op.cit., pp.156-157.  return to text
  110. INCORA, Empresas Comunitarias: la Experiencia del INCORA (Bogota: Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria, 1981), pp.32-32a.  return to text
  111. INCORA, Estadistica segun Actividades: Formas Comunitarias (Bogota: Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria, 1985).  return to text
  112. Alejandro Reyes, “La Violencia y el Problema Agrario en Colombia,” Analisis Politico, No. 2, 1988 p.34.  return to text
  113. Ministerio de Agricultura, Cifras del Sector Agropecuario (Bogota, 1979); and Ministerio de Agricultura, Boletin de Estadisticas Agropecuarias (Bogota, 1985).  return to text
  114. DANE, Colombia Estadistica 1985 (Bogota: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica, 1985), pp.189-201 and 315-319.  return to text
  115. Luis Lorente et al., “Distribucion de la Propiedad Rural en Colombia, 1960-1984 (Bogota: CEGA, 1986), pp.484-485.  return to text
  116. The following is based on interviews with peasant leaders, political activists, and government officials during field visits in 1987 and 1988.  return to text
  117. On the Rehabilitation Program, see DANE, El Plan Social por la Paz: una Estrategia de Participacion Comunitaria (Bogota: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica, 1986); and Presidencia de la Republica, Plan Nacional de Rehabilitacion: Una Estrategia de Desarrollo Social y Regional para la Reconciliacion (Bogota: Secretaria de Integracion Popular, 1988). The new agrarian reform law (Law 30 of March 1988) was approved while this work was being written. Ruling out expropriation, the law is designed to enable INCORA to purchase, at prevailing market prices, lands that are voluntarily offered by landowners. It forbids negotiations in cases of land invasions, and stipulates that the funds for land purchases must come from a special tax on imports. For the text of the law, see Republica de Colombia,Reforma Agraria: Ley 30 de Marzo de 1988 (Bogota, 1988).  return to text
  118. Charles Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1978).  return to text
  119. Istvan Meszaros, “Contingent and Necessary Class Consciousness,” in Istvan Meszaros, ed., Aspects of History and Class Consciousness (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971).  return to text
  120. de Janvry, op.cit., pp.208-209.  return to text


Table 1

Demographic and Agrarian Profile of the Ecuadorian Sierra, 1954/1960

Osvaldo Barsky, La Reforma Agraria Ecuatoriana (Quito: Corporación Editora Nacional, 1984), p.355

CIDA, Ecuador: Tenencia de la Tierra y Desarrollo Socio-Económico del Sector Agrícola (Washington: Comité Interamericano de Desarrollo Agrícola, 1965), pp.10, 17, and 525-526

1. Rural population, 1960 (millions) 1.5

As % of total Sierra population


As % of total Ecuadorian rural population

2. Total agricultural area, 1954 (thousand hectares) 3,020.4 100.0%

In 252.488 peasant units (smaller than 50 hectares )


In 5.962 medium-sized units (50-500 hectares)


In 719 large units (larger than 500 hectares)

3. Area in peasant units, 1954 (thousand hectares) 858.4 100.0%

Land owned by the peasants


Land worked under other forms of tenancy

4. Total number of peasant units, 1954 (thousands) 252.5 100.0%

Sub-family size (smaller than 5 hectares)


Family size (5 to 50 hectares)

5. Total number of rural families, 1960 (thousands) 264.0 100.0%


191.7 72.6%


19.7 7.5%

Under other forms of tenancy

48.2 18.2%

Wage laborers without access to land

4.4 1.7%

Table 2

Number and Size of Huasipungo Units in the Ecuadorian Sierra, 1960

Osvaldo Barsky, La Reforma Agraria Ecuatoriana (Quito: Corporación Editora Nacional, 1984), p.73

Provinces Huasipungos Area
Number of units % hectares %
Carchi 1,110 5.6 2,900 4.9
Imbabura 1,890 9.6 4,400 7.3
Pichincha 6,440 32.7 18,400 30.4
Cotopaxi 2.380 12.1 11,000 18.1
Tungurahua 550 2.8 1,200 2.2
Chimborazo 3,975 20.2 11,100 18.2
Bolívar 230 1.2 1,700 3.0
Canar 690 3.5 1,900 3.2
Azuay 1,059 5.4 3,900 6.5
Loja 1,350 6.8 3,700 6.2
Total 19,674 100.0 60,200 100.0

Table 3

Liquidation of Huasipungos in the Ecuadorian Sierra, 1959-1970

Osvaldo Barsky, La Reforma Agraria Ecuatoriana (Quito: Corporación Editora Nacional, 1984), p.72

Fernando Velasco, Reforma Agraria y Movimiento Campesino Indígena en la Sierra (Quito: Editorial El Conejo, 1983), p.86

Years Number of families Area (hectares) Average size (hectares)
Anticipated entregas 1959-1961 88 404 4.6
1962-1964 2,931 8,899 3.0
Redistribution IERAC 1964-1966 15,876 53,685 3.4
1967-1970 1,515 6,586 4.3
Total 1959-1970 20,410 69,574 3.4

Table 4

Distribution of Land in the Ecuadorian Sierra by Number and Size of Farms, 1954-1974

Eduardo Archetti, ed., Campesinado y Estructuras Agrarias en América Latina (Quito: CEPLAES Editores, 1981), p.302

Number of farms (thousands) Area (thousand hectares)
1954 1974 1954 1974
Size (hectares) Total % Total % Total % Total %
Up to 10 234.6 90.4 281.0 87.1 496.4 16.4 560.8 18.2
10 to 50 18.3 7.0 32.1 9.9 362.2 12.0 663.1 21.6
50 to 100 3.6 1.4 6.0 1.9 218.7 7.2 368.1 12.0
100 to 500 2.4 0.9 2.9 0.9 471.1 15.6 504.7 16.4
500 and more 0.7 0.3 0.6 0.2 1,472.2 48.8 977.6 31.8
Total 259.6 100.0 322.6 100.0 3,020.6 100.0 3,074.3 100.0

Table 5

Demographic and Agrarian Profile of the Colombian Atlantic Coast, 1960

CIDA, Ecuador: Tenencia de la Tierra y Desarrollo Socio-Económico del Sector Agrícola (Washington: Comité Interamericano de Desarrollo Agrícola, 1965), pp.28, 72, and 398

1. Rural population (millions) 1.4

As % of total Coastal population


As % of total Colombian rural population

2. Total agricultural area (thousand hectares) 7,008.0 100.0%

In 164,534 peasant units (smaller than 100 hectares)


In 12, 225 medium-sized units (100 to 500 hectares)


In 2,356 large units (larger than 500 hectares)

3. Area in peasant units (thousand hectares) 1,732.0 100.0%

Land owned by the peasants


Land worked under other forms of tenancy

4. Total number of peasant units (thousands) 164.5 100.0%

Sub-family size (smaller than 10 hectares)


Family size (10 to 100 hectares)

5. Total number of rural families (thousands) 273.7 100.0%

Peasant proprietors

108.4 39.5%

Peasant tenants and sharecroppers

56.0 20.5%

Wage laborers without access to land

86.1 31.4%

Other families

23.2 8.5%

Table 6

The Subordinate Peasant Economy in the Colombian Atlantic Coast:
Percentage Distribution and Average Size of Farms, by Type of Tenancy, 1960

DANE, Censo Nacional Agropecuario, 1960 (Bogotá: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, 1960).

Type of Tenancy Percentage distribution
Average size of farms
Fixed-rent (in kind or money) 16.3 7.3
Sharecropping (variable rent) 14.8 4.9
Service tenancy 13.5 2.9
Other arrangements (pasture-rent) 55.4 3.9
Total 100.0

Table 7

Repeasantization in the Colombian Atlantic Coast, 1970-1979

DANE, Censo Nacional Agropecuario, 1970 (Bogotá: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, 1970).

DANE, Censo Nacional de Polacion, (Bogotá: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, 1973).

INCORA, Resumen General de las Principales Realizaciones del INCORA por Proyectos, 1962-1979 (Bogotá: Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria, 1980)

INCORA activity, 1970-1979
Families serviced
Total area in hectares
Average size
Land distribution 12.1 180.8 14.9
Titles on public land 14.4 416.1 28.9
Total 26.5 596.9 22.5
Scope of the repeasantization process
Families (thousands) %
A. Total number of rural families in 1973 208.5
B. Families with enough land of their own in 1970 (more than 30 hectares) 33.3
C. Potential beneficiaries of agrarian reform [A-B] 175.2
D. Families that gained access to land during the 1970s 26.5
E. Repeasantization as % of the total number of rural families [D/A x 100] 12.7%
F. Repeasantization as % of the potential beneficiaries [D/C x 100] 15.1%

Table 8

Colombian Atlantic Coast: Changes in the Situation of the Rural Families vis-a-vis the Wage-Labor Market

DANE, Censo Nacional Agropecuario, 1970 (Bogotá: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, 1970).

DANE, Censo Nacional de Polacion, (Bogotá: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, 1973).

INCORA, Resumen General de las Principales Realizaciones del INCORA por Proyectos, 1962-1979 (Bogotá: Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria, 1980)

Families of wage-laborers (A) 23.8 17.8
Peasants who depend heavily upon working outside their farms (B) 39.9 30.9
Peasants who depend partially upon working outside their farms (C) 17.9 31.4
Independent peasants (D) 10.6 11.5
Rural employers (E) 7.8 8.4
Total 100.0 100.0
(total number in thousands) (208.5) (193.1)
Percentage of families participating in the wage-labor market (A+B+C) 81.6% 80.1%
(A) With no access to land
(B) Holdings of up to 5 hectares (regardless of tenancy status)
(C) 5 to 30 hectares (regardless of tenancy status
(D) 30 to 100 hectares (regardless of tenancy status)
(E) Larger than 100 hectares (regardless of tenancy status)