Agrarian land reform in Mexico
Before the 1910 Mexican Revolution that overthrew Porfirio Díaz, most of the land was owned by a single elite ruling class. Legally there was no slavery or serfdom; however, those with heavy debts, Indian wage workers, or peasants, were essentially debt-slaves to the landowners. A small percentage of rich landowners owned most of the country's farm land. With so many people brutally suppressed, revolts and revolution were common in Mexico. To relieve the Mexican peasant's plight and stabilize the country, various leaders tried different types of agrarian land reform.
During the first five years of agrarian reform, very few hectares were evenly distributed. Land reform attempts by past leaders and governments proved futile, as the revolution from 1910-1920 had been a battle of serfdom, capitalism, and industrial ownership. Fixing the Agrarian problem was a question of education, methods, and creating new social relationships through co-operative effort and government assistance. Initially the agrarian reform led to the development of many ejidos for communal land use, while parceled ejidos emerged in the later years.
1856 Lerdo Law
Finance Minister, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada passes the Lerdo Law (Ley Lerdo). The Lerdo Law allowed the government to force the sale of Church real estate and all communally-held land. Not all church land was confiscated; however, land not used for specific religious purposes was sold to private individuals. This changed the nature of land ownership allowing more individuals to own land, rather than institutions.
Land reform from 1910 to 1934
During the Álvaro Obregón presidency, Mexico began to concentrate on land reform. Agrarian reform was a revolutionary goal for land redistribution as part of a process of nationalization and "Mexicanization". Land distribution began almost immediately, and affected both foreign and large domestic land owners (hacendados). The process was very slow, however. In 1914, Obregón and Pancho Villa called upon Venustiano Carranza to form a policy of land distribution. This resulted in the Agrarian Decree of January 1, 1915, which promised to provide land for those in need of it. Between 1915 and 1928, 53,000 square kilometres was distributed to over 500,000 recipients in some 1500 communities. By 1930, ejidal (communal land holdings) constituted only 6.3% of national agricultural property (by area) or 9.4% by value.
The revolution reversed the Porfirian trend towards land concentration and set in motion a long process of agrarian mobilization. The power and legitimacy of the landlord class, which had underpinned Porfirian rule, never recovered. The radical and egalitarian sentiments produced by the revolution had made landlord rule of the old kind impossible.
Cardenista land reform 1934 to 1940
President Lázaro Cárdenas passed the 1934 Agrarian Code and accelerated the pace of land reform. He helped redistribute 45,000,000 acres (180,000 km2) of land, 4,000,000 acres (16,000 km2) of which were expropriated from American owned agricultural property. This caused conflict between Mexico and the United States. Cárdenas employed tactics of noncompliance and deception to gain leverage in this international dispute.
Agrarian reform had come close to extinction in the early 1930s. The first few years of the Cárdenas' reform were marked by high food prices, falling wages, high inflation, and low agricultural yields. In 1935 land reform began sweeping across the country in the periphery and core of commercial agriculture. The Cárdenas alliance with peasant groups was awarded by the destruction of the hacienda system. Cárdenas distributed more land than all his revolutionary predecessors put together, a 400% increase. The land reform justified itself in terms of productivity; average agricultural production during the three-year period from 1939 to 1941 was higher than it had been at any time since the beginning of the revolution.
Step back 1940 to 1970
Starting with the government of Miguel Alemán (1946–52), land reform steps made in previous governments were rolled back. Alemán's government allowed capitalist entrepreneurs to rent peasant land. This created phenomenon known as neolatifundismo, where land owners build up large-scale private farms on the basis of controlling land which remains ejidal but is not sown by the peasants to whom it is assigned.
1970 and statization
In 1970, President Luis Echeverría began his term by declaring land reform dead. In the face of peasant revolt, he was forced to backtrack, and embarked on the biggest land reform program since Cárdenas. Echeverría legalized take-overs of huge foreign-owned private farms, which were turned into new collective ejidos.
Land reform from 1991 to present
In 1988, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was elected. In December 1991, he amended Article 27 of the Constitution, making it legal to sell ejido land and allow peasants to put up their land as collateral for a loan.
Effects of land reform
Today, most Mexican peasants are landowners. However, their holdings are usually too small, and farmers must supplement their incomes by working for the remaining landlords, and/or traveling to the United States.
- Charles Cumberland, The Meaning of the Mexican Revolution(US: D. C. Health and Company, 1967), 41
- Carleton Beals, Mexico an Interpretation(New York: B.W.Huebsch Inc., 1923), 89
- Carleton Beals, Mexico an Interpretation(New York: B.W.Huebsch Inc., 1923), 92
- Malcolm Dunn, "Privatization, Land Reform, and Property Rights: The Mexican Experience," Constitutional Political Economy, 11(2000):217
- Lee Stacy, Mexico and the United States,(New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2002) 699
- Linda Hall, "Alvaro Obregon and the Politics of Mexican Land Reform, 1920-1924,"The Hispanic Historical Review, 60:2 (May 1980):213
- John Dwyer, "Diplomatic Weapons of the Weak: Mexican Policymaking during the U.S.-Mexican Agrarian Dispute, 1934-1941,Diplomatic History, 26:3 (2002): 375
- John Dwyer, "Diplomatic Weapons of the Weak: Mexican Policymaking during the U.S.-Mexican Agrarian Dispute, 1934-1941,Diplomatic History, 26:3 (2002): 379
- Hector Camin, Lorenzo Meyer, & Luis Fierro, In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History, 1910-1989,(Austin: University of Texas, 1993), 132
- A History of Latin America, Keen & Haynes, p. 301: Cardenas and the Populist Interlude