Fields of Power, Forests of Discontent: Culture, Conservation, and the State in Mexico

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HAENN, NORA. Fields of power, forests of discontent: culture, conservation, and the state in Mexico. xvi, 229 pp., maps, tables, illus., figs, bibliogr. Tucson: Univ. Arizona Press, 2005. $45.00 (cloth)

The subject of this engrossing book is a formerly active programme in agrarian folk communities that had dual goals of forest conservation and sustainable development. Its author, an anthropologist, follows the early history of a forest reserve established in 1989 in southeastern Campeche state, Mexico, detailing personalities amid economic and political cross-currents. Promoted originally as a park to preserve the enormous Maya archaeological site of Calakmul, the expanded tract's ultimate establishment was as the Campeche Biosphere Reserve covering both the ancient site and neighbouring forest lands--an area of more than 723,000 hectares. Surrounding it are lands newly granted by Mexico and Campeche to swidden subsistence farmers as ejidos. Under a charismatic leader and with the politically purchased backing of the state governor, reserve officials aimed to follow principles of both UNESCO's 'Man and Biosphere Programme' and the 'Plan Piloto Forestal' of the next-door state of Quintana Roo, where local farmers were induced to hold portions of their forest lands as a reserve devoted to sustainable timber use in which the campesinos themselves were the conservationist entrepreneurs.

The thinly populated area of greater Calakmul became an agricultural frontier, the focus of steady immigrations as Mestizos and Yucatec Maya from Campeche were awarded full membership as voting ejiditarios, with promises of money subsidies for development. As lands filled, later immigrants, including many Ch'ol Maya from nearby Chiapas, were allowed to farm as unenfranchised renters of ejido lands. Although the reserve was initially resisted by some of the earlier ejido members, among them individuals who claimed use-rights on tracts now locked up in the preserve itself, over the next few years the dual development-conservationist enterprise thrived modestly. The beginning of the end came in 1995, when an announced Easter pilgrimage, with a large proportion of Ch'ol, erupted into protest. The only east-west highway across the southern Peninsula of Yucatan was seized, traffic was halted for tolls, and demands were made for government improvement of water facilities, the paving of roads, payment of subsidies for growers of some crops, fulfilment of promises for payments for children attending schools, and other measures specific to certain ejidos. Demands were for measures to aid development, without attention to the conservationist half of the intentions enunciated for the reserve region. …