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.
* * *
Bolpress, April 5, 2008
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.