The coup regime
When Evo left the country in 2019, a government led by Jeanine Áñez took control. Áñez was part of the “Demócratas” party, a political vehicle with its base among the agrarian elite of eastern Bolivia. She was allied with a more extreme sector of that elite as well, the forces tied to Luis Fernando Camacho and his soy and vegetable oil baron backer, Branko Marinkovic. Marinkovic had been living in exile since 2009, having been accused of participating in a plot to kill Evo Morales. Yet after the coup, he came back. His family is one of the largest landowners in the east. Like many, his family has used the state (especially subsidized loans and low taxes) to accumulate wealth, and unsurprisingly has sent earnings overseas for sheltering, as revealed in the Panama Papers. Between the Demócratas and this more reactionary political sector, it was clear that coup government represented the agro-industrial elite. By the end of Áñez’ time in office, Marinkovic himself was named Minister of Development and Planning, a far cry from his alleged role in a criminal plot from years before.
The interim government made a number of policy moves that sought to take advantage of presidential decree power. In relation to land policy, the new president handed over control of the national land reform office (INRA) to the wealthy, naming Eliane Capobianco, also a representative of the eastern agrarian elite, as Minister of Rural Development and Lands. Capobianco, to Indigenous movements and environmentalists alike, was a notorious figure. In the early days of the MAS, when the country was rewriting the constitution, she is remembered for her racist statements in the constitutional assembly, admonishing Quechua representatives to either speak Spanish or remain silent (Gustafson 2009a). Capobianco had been a director of INRA in the pre-Morales era, during which time she was accused of running a network of corruption that used the agency to benefit large landowners. Her own family was involved in fraudulent efforts to avoid the payment of taxes. The family of Branko Marinkovic was also implicated in these corruption rings (La Prensa 2007). She was also an advisor to the cattlemen’s chamber of Santa Cruz (FEGASACRUZ) and the Association of Vegetable Oil Producers (ANAPO), both entities tied to the most conservative factions of the agrarian capitalist elite. In this context, the government set about signing an accord with the agrarian chamber of commerce (CAO) that actually directed the land reform office to confirm thousands of acres of land titles for businesses.
In May of 2020, the President of Bolivia, Jeanine Áñez, signed into law a Supreme Decree (DS 4348), that allowed for the identification of areas for the use of GMO corn. Over 100 social organizations and NGOs immediately cried foul, signing a manifesto that decried the move, arguing that not only would it incentivize further deforestation (and fires, already raging at the time), it was an attack on the “genetic patrimony” of the country (Página Siete 2020). Just a few months earlier the Áñez government had also signed another decree (DS 4232) that removed obstacles to the approval of GMO corn, sugar, cotton, wheat, and soy - abbreviating oversight processes that are established in the Constitution. Although GMO corn has been planted illegally since at least 2015, the agro-industrial elite wanted to legalize and expand its use as it had done with soy, along with these other crops (Fundación Tierra 2020:24). Furthermore, the government of Áñez itself was seen by many as illegitimate - or at least as lacking a mandate -having come to power after the social upheaval and the forced resignation of Evo Morales in November of 2019. It seemed that the so-called “interim government” which represented by proxy and in the flesh the agro-industrial elite of eastern Bolivia, was working as fast as it could
Bolivian land politics and policy 97 to deepen the political grip that these agrarian elites have long held over land policy in Bolivia.
In May of 2020, as the interim President signed the pro-GMO decree, the agribusiness chamber (CAO, Cámara Agropecuaria del Oriente) also staged a press conference to tout a supposed agreement with a lowland Indigenous organization, the Confederación Indígena del Oriente Boliviano (CIDOB). Though it did not mention GMO seeds specifically, the stunt was aimed at performing a convergence of interests between Indigenous organizations and big agro-capital. Other Indigenous organizations denounced the agreement as a farce, and the CIDOB itself denied that the individuals signing the document had any authority. But in point of fact, in early 2019 a more curious statement emerged from the peasant unions of the northern Santa Cruz region. Though ostensibly identified with the MAS, the organization issued a statement supporting the expansion of GMOs, suggesting efforts by big business to cajole - or coerce - smaller growers into supporting GMO seeds. As with other policies tied to land and territory, this revealed a schism between those more commercially oriented farmers and Indigenous organizations (CIPCA 2019). The bigger point is clear: the agro-industrial elite are determined to use deceptive and illegitimate strategies to defend their interests. In addition, the event brought to light a deeper problem inherited from the MAS period: the division of Indigenous movements and the coopting of leaders separated from the organic decision-making control of their bases.