First filming: Visit to Gran Chaco

On Tuesday, we took a 10 hour, overnight bus from Santa Cruz to Yacuiba, a small city (100,000 residents) in the Bolivian lowlands. We arrived at 5:00 a.m. and ate a traditional sopa de gallina (chicken soup) at a small bodega across from the bus station.  By 6:30 a.m., we had hired a taxi and driver to take us to Los Sotos, one of five MST settlements in the Gran Chaco region.  It was about a 30 minute drive and was accessible from a main, paved road.


Life at Los Sotos, Gran Chaco The Main Road through Los Sotos, Gran Chaco House & School in Los Sotos, Gran Chaco 

We were welcomed into the community, and a campesino friend fed us a breakfast of tea and bread.  We started interviewing people almost immediately, and we learned of their deep pain and struggle to survive.  The Gran Chaco region is the birthplace of MST-Bolivia. Prior to settling Los Sotos, most of the people had been working in the region as slave laborers.  Those who were not slaves were still living in terrible conditions – overcrowded housing, violent bosses who abused them, and bosses who often denied them fair pay for their work.

After being fed up with these unjust conditions, some of the region’s campesinos organized and decided that they needed to take some action.  A group of approximately 200 campesinos decided to occupy a plot of unproductive land, called Pananti (now Los Sotos).  Under the provisions of the Bolivian Constitution, the state is supposed to seize unproductive land and redistribute it to farmers.  For the past fifty years, the state has not fulfilled its land redistribution promises and MST’s primary objective is to pressure the state to uphold this constitutional provision.  The occupation at Pananti was MST’s first organized act of resistance.  For more information about MST and the Pananti (Gran Chaco) settlements, visit

While people are occupying land, the conditions are very difficult: they do not have any running water, they have very little money, sick children are unable to obtain medical care, and they are not protected against violent acts.

On February 9, 2001, a paramilitary group hired by the latifundista (wealthy landowner) attacked the Los Sotos settlement at dawn.  They burned their fields and homes, six people were killed, including a 15 year old child, and 21 people were injured.  We interviewed the mother of 15 year old boy who was shot and killed. To date, no one has been convicted.  This violence gave the movement an initial identity and organizing strength.  The Pananti massacre mobilized many women to march from Tarija to La Paz to pressure the federal government (Goni was president at the time) for two main reasons: first, to hold the perpetrators of violence against the landless accountable, and second, to put land reform, a vital element for the survival of poor, indigenous people, back on the national agenda.

Currently, all five MST settlements in Gran Chaco officially have title to these lands.  The Morales government is sympathetic to MST’s fight, but the government is slow in providing infrastructure, such as water, schools, and electricity, to these remote communities.  While there has been success in the initial fight to acquire land titles, it is difficult for community residents to meet their subsistence needs and ultimate production goals due to lack of water.  They did show us, however, their harvest of hot peppers, which will likely provide a more stable source of income for the community. During our visit, we saw the women’s collective fields, where they are growing produce for local consumption and market sale. In order for these fields to be successful, the women must carry buckets of water over long distances.  Despite all of this, there is a positive spirit about the importance of small scale farming, environmental sustainability, and collective labor.  The community has built a successful school for their young children on their own (we interviewed the teacher and a young student), and there is much hope that such collective labor will continue to reap positive benefits for future generations.


Women Sorting Peppers 


The School at Los Sotos


We returned to Santa Cruz on another 10 hour, overnight bus ride — the ride home was a little rougher ride than the ride there. We are rested, recovered, and ready for more filming.  We will spend Friday and Saturday filming in and around Santa Cruz (the life story of one MST organizer who lives here), and we head to Pueblos Unidos, another MST settlement, on Sunday.  We will post more tomorrow (Friday) and over the weekend… keep checking.


1 comment so far

  1. […] se mostraron imágenes del desfile cívico en Viacha, el Mercado Central de Sucre y una visita al Gran Chaco. Además se escribió sobre las III jornadas cruceñas de investigación, una noche fría en la […]

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