Cultivating the State: Migrants, Citizenship and the Transformation of the Bolivian Lowlands, 1952-2000 Open Access

Nobbs-Thiessen, Ben (2016)

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In the wake of a 1952 Revolution, Bolivia's new leaders began to re-imagine their small, landlocked, "Andean" nation through its vast Amazonian frontier. While Bolivia had historically depended on highland mining, the National Revolutionary Movement looked to the creation of farming communities in the tropical lowlands as an alternative form of development. This initiative, known as the "March to the East," centered on the department of Santa Cruz, the largest of Bolivia's nine territorial divisions. By sending migrants from the "overcrowded" Andes to the frontiers of Amazonia, Bolivia would move, with U.S. assistance, from an "extractive state" to a "cultivated one" achieving food security, territorial integrity, and demographic balance. A compelling range of migrants took park in this project of internal colonization. As Bolivian officials had hoped, hundreds of thousands of indigenous Andeans left the highlands to become citizen-farmers in the tropics. They were joined by a surprisingly transnational cast of foreigners who also forged a role as agrarian citizens. This included "horse-and-buggy" Mennonites who arrived from Northern Mexico in search of a frontier where they could maintain their autonomous socio-religious systems. Several thousand Okinawan colonists, who had been displaced by the construction of U.S. military bases on their home islands after WWII, also settled in the region with U.S. support. Settlers were not the only migrants to arrive in the Bolivian lowlands. As Santa Cruz became a laboratory for rural modernization it attracted filmmakers, missionaries, planners, sociologists and agronomists. These mobile experts brought knowledge cultivated in other locales and thereby linked lowland Bolivia to the broader context of Cold-War era development and the Green Revolution across the Global South. Foreign plants, animals, and technologies also arrived in lowland Bolivia. Improved soybean varieties, farming equipment, and agro-chemicals - to name a few of these new migrants - transformed the forested landscape of Santa Cruz. These intertwined histories of migration make Santa Cruz an exceptionally fertile terrain for understanding how the national and local consequences of a defining element of twentieth century modernization, namely, the desire to transplant people, ideas and technologies across the globe.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Transnational Migrants on a Tropical Frontier. 1

Visions of Territoriality and State Sovereignty in a Truncated Nation. 5

Cultivating the State: The March to the East in National Context. 10

Migration and Citizenship in Bolivian Historiography. 14

The March to the East in Regional, Global and Transnational Context. 22

Methodology. 25

Structure of the Dissertation. 29

Chapter 1 - Moving Pictures: Narrative and Aesthetic in Bolivia's March to the East. 41

Filming a National Romance: Jorge Ruiz and the National Cinematography Institute. 48

Rivers, Roads and Railways: Regional Understandings of Mobility in Santa Cruz. 60

Sites of Spectacle and Sedition: Movie Theaters and Popular Mobilization during Santa Cruz's Civic Struggles. 77

Transposing the Tropics: Representing Rural Development in Bolivia, Ecuador and Guatemala. 87

Documenting a "Human Transplant" in The Alliance for Progress-era. 96

Conclusion. 104

Chapter 2 - Military Bases and Rubber Tires: Migrants at the Margins of Nation, Revolution and Empire, 1952-1968. 109

Agrarian and Militarized Landscapes in Post-War Okinawa. 123

Settling Okinawans and Paraguayan Mennonites in Santa Cruz. 135

An Inauspicious Start: The Origins of Mennonite Migration to Santa Cruz. 154

Mennonite Braceros: Drought and Diaspora in the High Desert of Northern Mexico. 162

Conclusion. 181

Chapter 3 - Cultivating the State through Letters: Discourses of Hope and Abandonment in the Colonization of the Bolivian Lowlands, 1952-1968. 185

"Speaking to a State:" Imagining the Lowlands from the Highlands of Revolutionary Bolivia. 188

Transnational Andeans: Bolivian Braceros in Northern Argentina. 204

Abandonment Issues: Letters from Bolivia's Settler Frontier. 214

Conclusion: New Repertoires and Old. 243

Chapter 4 - To Minister or Administer: Faith and Development in Revolutionary and Authoritarian Bolivia, 1952-1985. 247

"Death Trails," a "Land of Decision," and the "Bolivia Mystique": Religious Actors and the Appeal of Lowland Colonization. 253

From Disaster to Dictatorship: New Models of Political Radicalism and Settler Orientation, 1968-1971. 271

Negotiating the Transition - Faith and Authoritarianism in the Banzer Era. 292

Circular Logic, Secular Logic: Missionary and NGO in the San Julián Project. 301

Road Blocks on the Path to Development: San Julián on the verge of the "Lost Decade". 317

Conclusion: Trajectories in Development. 324

Chapter 5 - "A Sort of Backwoods Guerrilla Warfare": Mexican Mennonites and the Origins of the South American Soy Boom, 1968-2000. 331

"We did not invite them in order to socialize": Understanding the arrival of Mexican Mennonites in Santa Cruz. 338

Mennonite Mobility: Border-crossing Bishops and Transnational Traders. 353

Mennonites, the Soy Boom and the Debt Crisis in Latin America's "Lost Decade". 369

Conclusion: Survival Strategies and Mennonite Expansion in Neo-liberal Bolivia. 397

Conclusion: Past and Present in the Bolivian Lowlands. 403

Epilogue: From Abandonment to Autonomy. 423


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