Publication Date

1999

Abstract

Bolivia is a small, landlocked country in the heart of South America. Of the current total population in Bolivia of 7.4 million people, 42 % still live in rural areas and dedicate their daily lives and economic activity to agriculture. A large portion of these rural residents live in the isolated highlands (altiplano) at altitudes of over 10,000 feet. They have limited contact and communication with the outside world and still live in very primitive conditions compared to the rest of Latin America. The rural highland peasants are among the world's poorest populations. During the summer and fall of 1998, I spent an extended period of time in the highland communities of Mizque in the Cochabamba region of Bolivia. I was working for Project Concern International (PCI) on a short-term emergency relief project to address the disastrous affects of a drought brought on by the "El Niño" phenomenon in Latin America. During my work in the highlands, I worked side-by-side with rural peasants in 48 different communities. One of the main contact points for my work was through highly structured community organizations already in place in many of the communities. The community organizations in Bolivia are known locally as sindicatos or peasant unions as translated loosely in English. They are the cornerstone of all community activity and are actually required by Bolivian law under the Agrarian Reform Law of 1952. During my time in Bolivia I slowly became familiar with the history of the agrarian reform movement and the structure of peasant unions but I had more questions than answers. I wanted to learn more about these unions and try to understand how they help communities stay involved, survive, and in many cases, thrive in such adverse conditions. I also wanted to learn how non-governmental institutions like PCI could work effectively with these unions and the community organization structures already in place. This paper analyzes and seeks to document the current community organizational structure in the rural highlands of Cochabamba, Bolivia. It details the history of peasant unions overall in Bolivia and describes the unique utility of these structures in rural Bolivian society. I chose one community in particular, Raqay Pampa, to analyze and concentrate the bulk of my research and findings. I worked very closely with this community over a period of six months and found them distinctly representative of many of the positive aspects of community organization in Bolivia. I utilized, as a frame of reference, the theoretical ideas of Milton Esman and Norman Uphoff and their extensive work dealing with local organizations and rural development. I believe my findings will demonstrate that in the remote highland communities of Bolivia there exists a unique form of community organization that is helping the rural peasants in that area overcome great hardships and daily struggles.

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