Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Rise, Fall, and Reconfiguration of the Mexican Ejido *

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Rise, Fall, and Reconfiguration of the Mexican Ejido *

Article excerpt


Mexico's long experiment with state-led agrarian reform (SLAR), between 1917 and 1992, has ended. During the 1990s, counterreforms were seemingly in full swing throughout Mexico's communal landscapes. Or, at least, that was the impression left by social science literature of the late 1990s as Mexico joined a number of other countries in implementing a new wave of so-called market-led agrarian reforms (MLAR).Just as new redistributive land reforms are emerging in some less-developed countries, others are gradually being modified from their original purpose (Moseley and McCusker 2008). Mexico abandoned the idea of addressing inequalities through state-led measures (Bobrow-Strain 2007). The postrevolutionary and communal resource institution, the ejido, has been loosened from state support, and the fate of any individual ejido depends largely on its location and socioeconomic context. And yet the story of the collapse of SLAR and the triumphal nature of MLAR is not so clear in Mexico.

During the twentieth century, governments attempted to mitigate inequalities in resources, largely through land reforms (de Janvry 1981; Randall 1997; Rosset, Patel, and Courville 2006). Mexico's multidecadal efforts to address landlessness and rural inequity were remarkable for their duration and overall results. Few other national examples, certainly in Latin America, can boast of longevity as great as that of Mexico. The ejido, granted legal status in Article 27 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution, became the foundation for these reforms and land redistributions throughout Mexico. (1) Technically, ejido members neither owned nor held title to land; rather, they had usufruct rights to the land and waters redistributed by the Mexican government to so-called agrarian nuclei. Despite the apparent benefits of land redistribution in Mexico, regional inequalities and ethnic imbalances remained, and pockets of resistance persist (Stephen 2002; Bobrow-Strain 2007). Mexico's experience contrasts rather sharply with those of other Southern Hemisphere and Latin American countries, in which such efforts were either long delayed or, as in Brazil, ineffectual (Wright and Wolford 2003).

My main argument in this article is that mapping ejido boundaries or even plots does not translate to privatization per se. Instead, these communal groups have chosen a variety of pathways through the cadastral survey of communal lands, with some choosing to only map the outer boundaries separating communal from private properties and with only a minute percentage pursuing individual title ownership to parcels. Thus the latest counterreforms have not produced wholesale, evenly distributed privatization in Mexico tied to the so-called Washington Consensus of free-market globalization (Gore 2000). These newly outfitted forms of privatized development initiatives are being countered on the same terms as past efforts to privatize the Mexican countryside were (Escobar 1995; Kouri 2004). A free fall of the Mexican ejido is not occurring. However, these measures have legally formalized many of the informal practices, such as the leasing of communal farm plots, that were illegal prior to the counterreforms.

The ejido has not been subsumed under the new fabric of market-led approaches. Despite the deployment of a new, national cadastral mapping strategy to initiate these counterreforms, the process of creating local cartographies of communal spaces has resulted in an ambivalent product that neither the government nor concerned critics of the program anticipated. The mapping process, undertaken largely by the federal government but with some outsourcing to private companies, was intended to formalize communal and parceled boundaries.

Examples from ejidos in two Mexican states, Guanajuato and Sonora, counterpose the conventional wisdom of the ejido's imminent demise. The two states share a spatially dichotomous character, in that particular regions have either pursued parcelization or title ownership or have resisted the impulse to formally reaffirm communal boundaries. …

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