[To Our Readers: Mexico’s Congress recently passed energy “reforms” into law. They are structural reforms that functionally undo major accomplishments of the 1910-1917 Mexican Revolution. Luis Hernández Navarro, editor of La Jornada’s Opinion section, analyzes the effect on rural life.]
THE NEW RURAL LATIFUNDISTAS*
By: Luis Hernández Navarro
A new social class is at the point of emerging in the Mexican countryside. It is the class of the energy latifundios . The new legislation not only permits the dispossession of the lands and territories of ejido owners, comuneros and small property owners, but it also re-concentrates a significant part of the land in a few hands: those of the large hydrocarbon and electric companies.
There will be no limit for the energy companies in the extension of land that they acquire or “temporarily occupy” for extracting oil or gas, or for generating electricity. Nor will hindrances exist in their access to water. They will be the new latifundistas.
If in the past the lords of the land that legally and illegally monopolized large surfaces were dedicated to extensive cattle ranching and to plantation crops, like coffee, cotton and sugar cane, now the new latifundistas will extract natural resources.
With the State’s endorsement, the companies will have at their disposal practically any surface that they desire. Despite being private, they will embody a public utility cause. The lands that are appropriated will not be destined to cultivating food, breeding cattle or practicing forestry.
The appropriation of land and territory by these new latifundistas will irremediably break the countryside’s associative fabric. With all the limitations that one wants, the agrarian nuclei have permitted up to now the survival of small campesino production and its forms of life. Around 70 percent of the rural population is occupied in it, and produces around 40 percent of the food.
The promises of wellbeing and employment for rural society with which are wrapped the poisoned apples of the reforms to constitutional article 27, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the neoliberal policies never arrived. To survive, the campesinos took refuge in immigration, growing drugs and the return to the countryside. With the new latifundistas foraging, the coexisting in ejidos and communities is mortally wounded.
The new relationship between energy companies and campesinos will seriously divide ejido owners and comuneros with rights to land and to the use of common areas, from the settlers that live in the rural populations. They (the energy companies) will be able “to distribute” benefits to those who have agrarian rights and leave out the residents that lack them. Moreover, inside of the same ejido or community they will be able to deal with some ejido owners and comuneros and leave others out of the agreement.
Immediately, the incursion of this new latifundista class in the Mexican countryside will provoke expropriations in fact, land speculation, over-exploitation (and contamination) of the ground water and the privatization of water. Simultaneously, it will facilitate uprooting, the rupture of the social fabric, the proliferation of private guards at the service of the companies, flourishing of a rental culture, the strengthening of local political bosses, human rights violations and the emergence of a new kind of social resentment.
The companies will dispossess those that have titles to land or otherwise own property through different legal mechanisms: rental agreements, voluntary servitude, surface occupation, temporary occupation and sale. With different names we’re dealing with the same fact: spoliation (plunder).
Although expropriation was formally eliminated from the energy law and temporary occupation was substituted for it, dispossession is maintained. The agrarian law already contained the legal mechanism of expropriation of ejidal and communal lands and with the new legislation it remains in effect. Expropriation continues being a sword of Damocles that can fall on the head of the campesinos at almost any moment. Nevertheless, to this threat is now added that of temporary occupation. The mechanism leaves in Limbo how “temporary” the occupation will be. Its duration has no expiration date; in other words, it can literally be maintained for decades. During that time, it would permit the new latifundistas to indiscriminately extract the riches of those lands without having to worry about their sustainability. When the lands are no longer useful, they will return them devastated and lacking in value.
The energy consortiums that are thinking to invest in Mexico cannot ignore the possibility of running into social expressions of discontent, given a theme as sensitive as that of land. The mining companies have already experienced a taste of what can happen to them in almost the whole country: the wind farms in Oaxaca, the CFE in the southeast, the irrigation zones of the north and the Pemex in states like Tabasco.
Enormous misinformation and incredulity dominate rural society today about the effects that the new energy laws will have. Many campesinos simply and plainly do not believe that they can be dispossessed of their lands. When they comprehend the true reach of the plunder underway, their response will be of a guarded prognosis. Moreover, it occurs at a time in which the emigration escape valve has stopped functioning as it had in the past, and many of those without documents are returning to the country to plant their plots of land.
The history of Mexico has been marked by incessant agrarian rebellions. Peoples and communities have been rising up time and time again in defense of their lands and territories. Against wind and tide, the campesinos have persisted in their determination to continue being campesinos. There is no basic reason that it’s going to be different now.
- Latifundio – a large estate of land owned by a one party.
* Latifundista – The party owning a large estate of land
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Tuesday, August 5, 2014