Dominican Republic 1972

Peasants Take Land in Dominican Republic

Published: October 16, 1972;
Source: Intercontinental Press, Vol. 10, No. 37 p. 1117;
Transcribed: by Amaury Rodriguez, 2016.

Transcriber’s note: This article appeared in Intercontinental Press (IP), a weekly magazine published in New York on behalf on the Fourth International from 1963 to 1986. I thank Pathfinder Press for granting me permission to post this article.

“Today the country is seeing more unrest in rural areas than it has in decades,” the editors of Ahora! said in the September 11 issue of the weekly Dominican magazine. “Now it is not just small groups who are demanding land for those who work it, but hundreds of peasants who have decided that the moment has come for them to lead a stable and civilized life.”

The unrest reached a high point during recent weeks with a wave of land occupations by landless or near landless peasants. Ever since President Joaquin Balaguer announced his agrarian reform early this year the peasants’ demands for land have been building up. The land reform, which Balaguer himself called “very timid,” allows the state to buy only idle land from the big landholders. The regime has no intention of eliminating the big estates but only of limiting them somewhat. (See Intercontinental Press, May 1, 1972, p. 492.)

Even Balaguer’s timid reforms are being implemented at a snail’s pace. Ahora! summed up the present situation as follows in its August 7, issue: “Up to now, those who have benefited from Balaguer’s famous agrarian laws are the big landholders who took advantage of them to sell property at a nice profit. But the peasants who have nothing still do not see the day when they will receive the land that they need to keep from dying of hunger.”

It is out of desperation that the peasants have begun to take over land. A United Press International dispatch in the New York Spanish-language daily El Diario-La Prensa September 29 indicated that in the eastern town of HigŁey the “massive arrests” of peasants who had occupied land provoked “problems” so serious that the head of the national police, General Neit Nivar Seijas, was sent in to deal with them. “Around 110 peasants jailed this week were freed by the police chief following a meeting the evening before with them in the town’s jail,” UPI stated.

“A police officer said that the meeting had been satisfactory and that the peasants assured General Nivar Seijas that they had not been instigated to invade the estates by any extremist organization.”

The government’s explanation for the turmoil is that it is the work of “subversives.” Even the police officer, however, had to agree that what really motivated the peasants was the need for land. Figures provided by the September 11 Ahora! show in part why the peasants in the Dominican Republic are so desperate. Though the figures are based on the 1960 census (the most recent available on the agricultural situation in the entire country), they still indicate the reality in the countryside. While a small handful of 2,- 500 landowners own 13,441,972 tareas of land (one tare a equals one tenth hectare or .247 acres), 310,340 poor peasants together own barely half as much land (7,242,806 tareas). Put another way, 0. 7% of all those who own land hold 41.1% of it, while 87.9% own only 23.3%.

This disproportion does not tell the whole story, of course. The suffering of the peasants must be measured in other ways as well. For instance, 66% of the rural population is illiterate. Their diet is around 1,500 calories a day as compared to the 2,500 to 3,000 required. And the consumption of animal proteins is below 20 grams, or around a quarter of the minimum requirement.