The ambitious agrarian reform begun 12 years ago that organized 75,000 peasant families to become land-owners has been thrown into reverse by Chile's rightist military rulers.
Present leaders and former government officials charge that the military government has dismantled peasant cooperative organizations and revoked the land claims of more than half the peasant families promisedism that the centrist and leftist governments that ruled Chile from 1964 to 73 had expropriated.
Some peasants have been selected by the government to receive 20 acre [WORD ILLEGIBLE] but agricultural experts say the face an uphill struggle against exhibitant interest rates, lack of technical training and competition from [WORD ILLEGIBLE] farms in Chile's strict free market economy.
Chile's radical land-distribution program, begun in the 1960s at the encouragement of the Alliance for Program was intended to modernize the country's agriculture by expropriating thrast, largely idle lands held in tradinal estates and organizing peasant in cooperatives to farm the land more efficiently.
The military government, which seek power in a 1973 coup with the suprt of conservative land-owners, allied that many of the expropriation were illegal and that political agtors had used the agrarian refot to sow chaos in the countryside. Sir then the government has been rally disposing of the 25 million act of expropriated land in its has.
The peasants settled on expropriate land by previous governments "had no legal right to the property," said the director of land tenure charges of the government Agrarian Rem Corp.
According to the corporation, almost three-fourths of the expropriated lands has been returned to the original owers, sold to non-peasants, or declad unfit for preasant ownership.
High corporation official in a previous government said he believes that the present government policy is intended to "reduce by whatever means the amount of land in peasant hands."
The program is being administered by government appointees linked to the rightist land-owner associations that were its declared enemies from the beginning, he said, adding that the military "turned the Ministry of Agriculture over to the extreme rightists as if it were war booty."
Expropriation of large land-holdings to be paid for in 30 year government bonds began peacefully in 1965, after the election of Christian Democrat Edwards Frei. But violence marred the program as it gained speed after 1970 under leftist President Salvador Allende. Several persons, including a government official serving an expropriation order, died in clashes begween landowners and peasants, as the radicalized peasants became better organized and the land-owners formed armed vigilante bands.
Farms larger than 200 acres of irrigated land were subject to expropriation, and by 1973 more than a third of Chile's farmland had been taken over.
The law allowed the peasants to choose between cooperative and individual ownership of the land after several years under government tutelage on the provisional settlements. Both the Frei and the Allende governments encouraged them to choose cooperative ownership, and almost all of the 10,000 families titled before 1973 did so.
The peasant cooperatives were dissolved when the land was divided up into individual plots by the military government, and programs of credit, technical assistance and marketing were discontinued. All but a few price supports for farm products have been eliminated.
"Individual property," said an official of the Agrarian Reform Corp., "gives better results and is the only way the property owner can be free from political manipulation."
"Many will fail," he added, referring to the peasants, "but that doesn't frigten us. We feel mobility is beneficial."
One peasant who received a plot in 1974 about 30 miles from Santiago said he did well the first year, but last year borrowed about $600 to buy seed potatoes. Because of falling prices and a bad harvest, he sold his crop for less than he had paid for seed, and now must pay back the loan, which with interest and inflation adjustment, has grown to about $1,000. Until he pays, he cannot get a new loan for this year's planting and is thinking of selling his land.
Another peasant on the same settlement said: "The banks send people out to ask us if we are ready to sell yet. One man has brought six plots," Another added: "Last year 12 of us sold out. This year maybe 20 of will sell. In four or five years there won't be any of us left."
A study commissioned by the Chile mission of U.S. Agency for International Development concluded that in some areas more than 20 per cent of the plots distributed have been sold by peasants.
James Roush, AID director in Santiago, said that on the basis of the study, "We know that if the new farmers don't get financing and technical assistant they're not going to make it."
The AID study painted a bleak picture of small holders struggling at below-subsistence earnings, without effective self-help organizations, and unable to buy hybrid seed, pesticides and fertilizer to improve yields. The study said that in an area with 103 plots, there were only three tractors.
Hundreds of tractors previously assigned to the peasant cooperatives have been sold at public auction to pay debts, other sources said.
Oscar Valenzuela, director of the aid study in two provinces south of Santiago, said, "Those who survive do it by reverting to subsistence farming and barter. They drop out of the national market."
A 60-year-old peasant now working in a relative's candy store in a small town said he had been evicted from his plot "for being a Communist." He denies being a member of any party. The man, whose story was corcoborated by an agricultural extension worker, said police had evicted him and 50 other families several months ago from their plots on a 2,500-acre farm expropriated in 1969.
The extension worker said the eviction was based on a decree that bans those who participated in land seizures from receiving plots. He said the peasant workers seized the farm in 1969 after petitioning the government to expropriate it because it was partially abandoned by the owner, who owned two other large farms.
Peasant union leaders say the same decree is commonly used to excluse peasants who were active union leaders or associated with leftist or Christian Democratic parties. In contrast, they say, the sons of well-to-do land-owners, townspeople and even government officials have been made eligible for land grants under present policy.
One case was reported in the usually taciturn Chilean press and documented by a Roman Catholic bishop.
The sources reported that the Agravian Reform Corp. divided up four cooperatives occupying more than 2 million acres of Tierra del Fuego steppe lands on the southernmost tip of Chile in January. Only 45 of the 592 peasant workers living on the land were granted plots.
Among the 90 non-peasants granted land at 30-year mortgages were the two top officials of the corporation's land-tenure office for the province, a partner in the consultant firm that laid out the boundaries of the plots, and nine other former employees of government agricultural agencies.
An outraged agrarian reform specialist whose independent agency began to promote the reform in the early 1960s said:
"The process is awakening hatred that never existed before in Chile. Before the peasants were given land they didn't hold a grudge against the land-owners. But once they have had land and it has been taken away from them, it is a fearful thing."