The face of white separatism in Bolivia

This is not a new story, and in the context of repressive oligarchy it’s frankly a really old one. What is new, is that this may be the only readable English translation of the report that originally appeared at Bolpress on April 5, 2008. Democratic Underground was all over the story, but had to rely on a Google translation.

There are several interesting aspects to the story. One is that in the version that appeared in the mainstream press, Ronald Larsen claimed that Bolivia’s Vice Minister for agrarian reform showed up at his ranch at 3 in the morning, drunk, and because Larsen didn’t know who he was, he shot out the tire on the Vice Minister’s car to “shut him up.” Of course this fanciful version leaves out a few details, such as the 24 foot trailer he parked on the road (among other things) to block the Vice Minister’s entrance, and the brazen attack on the 80 or so people who accompanied the Vice Minister. Larsen may have to go back to Montana and see if he can figure out how to make a living when he has to pay his “employees” a living wage.

Which brings us to the second interesting aspect. There are reportedly 12 Bolivian families living on Larsen’s pleasure ranch. Depending on the source, they are either indentured servants with no hope of escape, or happy little Bolivian campers. Judging by the nature of a boss who settles arguments at gunpoint, Machetera will leave you to draw your own conclusions. Certainly one has to wonder about what Larsen didn’t want the Vice Minister to see.

His connection with the CIA Peace Corps is naturally a bit foggy. This report associates him rather directly with the Peace Corps, albeit 40 years ago. Other reports claim that his first trip to Bolivia in 1968 was in the company of a former Peace Corps volunteer who he’d known at the University of Montana. His son, Duston (sic) who is a large landowner in his own right, won the Mr. Bolivia beauty pageant in 2004, which speaks volumes about those who are in a position to judge such things.

Finally, there is the mention of the threat to continue this kind of nonsense until the separatists hold their illegal referendum on May 4th, when Larsen and the other handful of families behaving like medieval manor lords in the Bolivian highlands hope to make their end run around the law.

Thanks to the folks at Democratic Underground who have been following the story closely and researching the loose ends.

* * *

North American Rancher Arms Shock Troops to Defend Latifundios in Bolivia

Bolpress, April 5, 2008

Translation: Machetera

Officials from the Vice Ministry of Lands and the INRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform) were attacked with stones, firecrackers and bullets in the vicinity of the Caraparicito ranch, located in Lagunillas, about 80 kilometers from Camiri. Those who planned and backed the attack are ranchers and landowners, among them a North American linked to political and business elites in the Santa Cruz (Cruceña) capital.

Although sanitation in the area will benefit 10,000 small landowners and consolidate a TCO (designated indigenous territory) in favor of indigenous Guaraní communities, many of whom are exploited workers, the landowners and ranchers have formed armed “defense committees” in order to impede the entry of government officials and halt sanitation work.

It’s not the first time the Cordillera landowners used violence to impede the sanitation of their ranches. On February 29th, they kidnapped and threatened to kill the top national agricultural authorities and shot at their vehicle’s tires.

At 10 in the morning on Friday, April 4th, an official committee made up of 40 people from INRA and the Vice Ministry, accompanied by 40 policemen, resumed its sanitation work in Alto Parapetí, and once again met violent resistance from the ranchers.

The caravan was detained in Ipati by a group of people in more than a dozen vehicles, who threatened to burn the vehicles transporting the government officials. Nevertheless, the contingent broke through the blockade and continued on its way under continued siege by threatening ranchers who tried to board the 6 vehicles.

At 3:30 p.m., the government representatives arrived at the Caraparicito ranch. The road was completely blocked by a 24 foot trailer missing its wheels, several tree trunks and boulders. Behind these obstacles the ranchers had erected a barricade and further on, a cistern had been placed in the center of the road.

A heated argument with insults and shoving followed. The ranchers refused to recognize the Evo Morales government. “This is going to continue a few days longer because then you’ll no longer be around,” said one of the ranchers, alluding to the Autonomy Statute the Cruceño businessmen intend to adopt on May 4.

The ranchers shouted that they had no captives on their estates, although the Guaraní accompanying the official delegation contradicted this. The journalists who were covering these events asked why the sanitation was being blocked if there were no captive indigenous on the land, but the ranchers did not respond. Later with heavy equipment, the trailer was removed and the committee and police advanced.

Then the North American Ronald Larsen came out of his ranch, screaming and threatening the Vice Minister of Lands, Alejandro Almaraz, directly. In the February 29th kidnapping, this same person threatened Almaraz with guns. The ranchers’ shock troops began to launch firecrackers, rockets and stones, left and right, injuring a policeman in the face and a Guaraní, as well as a councilmember from Lagunillas. The police had to use teargas to stop the attack. Later a truce was negotiated, without either party abandoning its position.

Both sides remain in place; an official contingent of 40 officials, 36 police and around 50 indigenous Guaraní, facing a rancher “defense committee” made up of 50 people, some armed and equipped with walkie talkies.

Who is Larsen?

Ronald Larsen is a North American who has led two attacks on a commission official in less than 40 days. This seditious foreigner contracts hired assassins to prevent the Guaraní from obtaining a TCO in Alto Parapetí. Associated with the Peace Corps, he arrived in the Bolivian Chaco in 1968 and the following year bought the Caraparicito ranch. Over the years his ranch has been turned into a tourist complex with nature attractions, a gymnasium, game room, dining room, meeting room, library, sauna and jacuzzi.

The cattle ranches of Chaco are part of a tourism project promoted by the Prefecture of Santa Cruz. The investment in private property reaches a million dollars, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), according to a report by el Nuevo Día.

Larsen is well connected with the Department’s political hierarchy. The Cruceña Prefecture designated Caraparicito as an example of environmental management. Within the 2800 hectare ranch is a “Private Heritage Nature Reserve” of 2,335 hectares. On June 4, 2007, Larsen hosted the Prefect Ruben Costas at his ranch, the president of the Civic Committee, Branko Marinkovic, and the president of the Chamber of Commerce (CAINCO), Gabriel Dabdoub.

All for the Land

Larsen and the ranchers in the Cordillera province, in alliance with the Santa Cruz elites, formed a “defense commitee” made up of medium and large landowners, among them Juan Carlos Santistevan, owner of a 1,885 hectare piece in Mandioty, and the family of Elvy Abbet of Malpartida, owner of the 9,783 hectare Itacay property.

The most active of the clan are the Larsens. According to INRA data, the father, Ronald Larsen, owns Caraparicito with 3,377 hectares and Caraparicito II with 3,399 hectares. His son Duston owns the Yaguapoa property with 2,696 hectares. All properties are located in the cantons of Choreti, Camiri and Cuevo (Santa Cruz) and Sapirangui and Guembe (Chuquisaca).

Out of a total of 98,875 hectares in Alto Parapeti, 51,512 or 52% of all the land is concentrated in 14 properties categorized as businesses. The 40 small properties identified in the area total an area of 7,755 hectares, or 7.8% of the land.

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

9 responses to “The face of white separatism in Bolivia

  1. There is a chapter in William B. Karesh’s book Appointment at the Ends of the World about Larson. He is said to be a conservationist who has been helping the endangered jaguar by not killing them but using unconventional humane methods to protect his cattle.

  2. That’s rich.

  3. I went and looked up that passage in Karesh’s book, yr 2000. Here is the paragraph description of Larsen.

    “After graduating college in the late 1960s, Ron drove through South America in a Volkwagen bus and decided to spend the rest of his life in Bolivia. Eventually he came to own a two hundred thousand acre ranches, one where we would be looking for peccaries and the other in the south. Within ten minutes of talking with this tall, lanky Montanan, you realize that he is a hard working, ethical man, committed to the people of the land. Ron had done well with his two ranches, introducing commercial popping corn production to Bolivia and becoming the popping corn king of Bolivia. His bags of kernels, found in stores throughout the country, bear the silhouette of his great dane, Tracker.”

    Hence why I’m not too hot on animal rights people, they need to learn humans (brown people) exist as well.

    What I find really interesting about accounts of Ron Larsen is that he seems to give a slightly different account of how exactly he ended up in Bolivia, and with all that land, each time. I am really looking forward to the day we get to find out the truth about this man’s activities in Bolivia between 1969- say ’79. A shady period to be an American just “living” in Bolivia.


    Larsen like many nobodies un the US came to Bolivia with poor, worked in anything and then took over land and used the local tribes to slaved them to work,lived or married ,a local girl poor and bad reputation.
    Our families had their land returned to the peasants in 1952, many were part pf the Revolution that produced this Agrarian Reform and here we have a real slave master with a huge amount of lanfd that NO BOLIVIAN IS ALLOWED TO OWE.
    This people are trash and should give back the land to the local tribe,
    I am not for Morales but I am against foreign people stealing in my country.

  5. I don’t see why Peace Corps is mentioned. What is their connection?

  6. The peace corps is a CIA front organization to gather on-the-ground information about target countries. I was in Guatemala with the Peace Corps after completing my education at an Ivy University. I know this, because I was approached by the CIA and I refused to collect information for them.

    Not all Americans are bad. Please remember there are always good with the bad.

  7. I met Mr. Larsen about 15 years ago. He seems like a good man. I also met a good number of people who worked for him. They were very happy people. I was in his living room and he had a tiger hide over his couch. He said he shot it on one of his ranches. No idea how a tiger was loose in Bolivia but it sure is an interesting story. Must have been a pet that got loose.

  8. Anyone that says that Mr Larsen is mistreating the Guaranis that work for because he only pays them $6 per day is an idiot. Does anyone know how much a school teacher makes per day? The bolivian government only pays school teacher $3 per day. Who is mistreating who? Whoever says that getting paid $6 per day in Bolivia is a horrible thing, has obviously never lived there and has no understanding of that country.

  9. I’m amazed when I read some of this. I know Ron Larsen personally. Our family met he and his 1n 1988 and knew of their efforts, both on the ranch a in philanthropy. They are good, honorable, people. Look! (1) Ron didn’t buy “a sprawling ranch”. He bought several pieces of wilderness that people ran cattle on but never developed. (2) He had nothing to do with Hugo Banzar, his dictatorship, or the narcos, (3) the Guarani people were in a terrible situation. The area nick-name is “the Green Hell”. The government and Santa Cruz society considered them animals. They were reduced to a hunter gather existence. They had no income, no permanent homes, no schools, no medical care. Ron Larsen hired them to develop the ranch and, as it grew build homes, a school, a clinic, and when the government couldn’t supply staff-brought them in. The residents grow home gardens, they are paid, they now get access to services.
    Now–40 years late– the government cries, “Oh! Let’s save these poor down trodden people!”.—After finding the area was over a pool of oil and gas. Yeah. I also did a contract for the YPFB when they were exploring the area.

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