Mexico’s Agrarian Reform: A Crisis
Joseph C. Goulden

A. Governmental Fact-Facing.

The Mexican government is somberly but manfully accepting the realization that land reform, backbone of its Revolution for more than half a century, has not produced a farm system capable of feeding its burgeoning population. A study by the official Banco de Mexico, now being circulated in government and financial circles, predicts serious food shortages in 1970 that will become even more grave in 1975, ranging as high as a 34 percent difference between the supply of and demand for beef. By 1975, says the Banco de Mexico (akin in function to the United States Federal Reserve System) Mexico’s present population of 41 million persons – many of whom are by no means eating well now – will have swelled to 61 million persons. Even projecting an increase in agriculture output (with market-glutting surpluses of cotton and wheat, for example), the bank says Mexico will be producing eight percent less food for each of its citizens in 1975, and will have to turn to imports to find something to put on the plate for everyone.

The Banco de Mexico’s study, 400-odd pages long a d written in the statistical jargon of the economist, by no means raises the specter of mass starvation in the country. It does a clear, however, that the Batter Life that has been promised to Mexican workers and campesinos for decades once again might have be postponed, and that the Mexican who pulls himself into the middle class is going to find it economically difficult to break away from his traditional diet of tortillas and beans. The second warning sign raised by the study relates to a worsening o Mexico’s foreign trade position if she suddenly has to increase ma her imports of foodstuffs. Mexico traditionally runs a balance of payments deficit ($74 million estimated for the first four months of this year alone) and needs every dollar she can find to buttress her industrial plant.

Mexico’s dilemma, and the route she ultimately follows in trying to escape it, has implications in many areas. Internally, the government almost certainly will make permanent changes in its land distribution program, one which has its roots in the “tierra y libertad” – land and liberty – rallying cry of Emiliano Zapata in 1913. The Mexican Revolution has been described as lacking a formal credo and ideology; yet it does have a universally recognized theme, and that theme is land reform. A cardinal rule of politics is that whosoever tampers with the national saints runs the risks of a quick, merciless clubbing, and the Mexican government is no exception. Thus its first tentative steps towards changes in the agrarian program – granting of individual, rather than communal, titles to redistributed lands – has been explained, re-explained and defended to the point of redundancy, so as to avoid the risk of having President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz’ administration labeled “non-revolutionary.”

Any fundamental change in agrarian policy also eventually will affect the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional – the Party of Revolutionary Institutions, or PRI. Change means debate, even in PRI’s tightly-knit ranks, and debate ultimately results in dissent; some observers go so far as to say that the government, unless it treads cautiously indeed, could a alienate campesino groups to the extent that the farm sector – or he bulk of its members, at any rate – break away from PRI and provide Mexico a true “alternative” democracy rather than its present “institutional” democracy.

The ruling establishment also faces possible trouble from another direction, the business leaders who feel that industrialization, by sheer weight alone, ultimately will make agrarian reform a success by “rescuing” peasants from the fields. Octaviano Campos Salas, the minister of industry and commerce, said as much in late March, maintaining in a talk to the Harvard Club here that industrial expansion must take preference over agriculture. Campos Salas’ view is parallel to that of industrialists who feel that Mexico would be wiser to exploit foreign markets rather than wait for the development of consumer-goods outlets among rural Mexicans who eke out a sub-marginal existence in the countryside, and that exports of industrial goods, rather than of agricultural “products, will prove most lucrative in the long run. A few days after Campos Salas’ speech, Lauro Ortega, head of PRI, pointedly recalled previous statements by President Diaz Ordaz and other members of the Familia Revolutionaria (the Mexican “establishment,” to borrow a term from Professor Galbraith) that agriculture is the “number one problem of Mexico” and deserves priority in government planning and spending. (It might be noted in passing that ideological tussles in PRI and the Familia Revolutionaria are not carried out in public, with the press observing each round and relaying the results to the waiting populance. President Diaz Ordaz eventually will make a speech spelling out the government’s future attitude towards land distribution and spending in the agricultural sector of the economy. Dissidents then will have the alternative of accepting the decision or bumping heads with PRI’s powerful institutional structure – the latter course heretofore a futile one.

Mexico’s present situation also serves as a lesson for hemispheric politicians, north and south, who take the doctrinaire stance that land reform is a panacea for Latin America. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was correct when he said in the Senate on May 9 that “land reform is the essence of human dignity and democracy in Latin America.” Senator Kennedy also said: “To give land to the man who works it is to give him, for the first time, a degree of security – something more than subsistence living – a place to stand for his rights as a citizen, a share and a stake in the society around him.” Idealistic as these sentiments may be, they overlook the simple reality that, given his choice between land ownership and two good meals a day, the average apolitical campesino – be he in Mexico, Cuba or Colombia – will choose the meals. As Senator Kennedy asserted, land reform without the wherewithal to maintain and increase production is nonsensical; akin to “reforming” a newspaper by giving each reporter ownership of his typewriter while denying him access to the print g shop. Riding through the State of Hidalgo, east of Mexico City, a few weeks back I witnessed time and again the tragedy Mexican agriculture: the solitary farmer following a plow over harsh, rocky ground, tilling his little plot sans water and mechanization. Theoretically these farmers are noble yeomen, endowed with sacredness because of their independence of the landlords who formerly owned Mexico. This, of course, is bunk: Given the realities of Mexican farming methods and the Latin American climate, the small farmer’s prime concern is the elementary one of survival.

Lastly, the United States is caught in the vortex of the Mexican agricultural situation by virtue of its tacit control of the world cotton market. Cotton is Mexico’s largest export crop; of total exports during 1965 of about $1.1 billion, almost 20 percent, or $212 million, was the “white gold” from the northern states. The bulk of these exports went to Japan. Hanging over Mexico’s head like an economic anvil, however, is the subsidized cotton crop, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture in past years has dropped on the world market at a price lower than Mexico’s production costs. Cotton will provide Mexico with one of her major sources of foreign exchange through 1970 and 1975, according to the Banco de Mexico’s projections (with external sales of 445,494 and 437,296 tons in each of the years) whether she can obtain a reasonable price could be vital to Mexico’s balance of payments picture. Foreign Minister Antonio Carrillo Flores has discussed this problem at length with U. S. officials and the Mexican press quoted him in April as saying that farmers would feel “deceived” if the U.S. “dumped” its cotton in the wake of President Johnson’s goodwill visit here.

B. Historical Background.

A review of the history of land use in Mexico puts into perspective the complexity of the Mexican agricultural organization; the importance of land redistribution as a component of the Mexican Revolution; and the intensity of emotion the subject evokes in the Mexican people. It is only a slight exaggeration to say the history of land is the history of Mexico, for the quest for equitable use of land was the catalyst for the three major revolutionary movements in Mexico history: Hidalgo’s battle for independence beginning in 1810; the constitutional reforms of Juarez in 1857; and, finally, the Mexican Revolution (with capital letters) to differentiate it from the sordid, non-ideological barracks uprisings of the mid-19th Century) of 1910-17. The Spanish conquistadors, when th6y came to Mexico in the early part of the 16th Century, found hundreds of scattered Indian tribes with varying ideas on land ownership. To the nomads of the northern plains and coastal regions, land was space in which to roam, hunt and fish, with no concept of individual ownership. The Indians of the Central Mesa and Yucatan, however, hid a rather complex organization based on the tribe and communal ownership. Restoration of this system, in modified form, served as the basis for agrarian reform in this century. The central mesa tribes each were composed of several calpulli, or clans, which in turn consisted of a number of households. Each calpulli was assigned a portion of the tribal lands – the aggregate of which as called the altepetlalli – for farming; other parts of the altepetlalli were reserved for communal hunting, fishing and grazing and for the support of the village chiefs and priests. Land records were kept in the form of pictoral maps by the village pariente mayor, or executive. Inheritance was from father to son, and the tribes had strict rules to insure that ownership didn’t pass into outside hands. A family that didn’t till its land during a two-year period lost all rights, and it was forfeited; rights could not be transferred outside the calpulli; and if a family died out or left the tribe for any reason, the land reverted to the calpulli. The system by no means was a perfect one: and many of the abuses for which latter-day Mexican historians blame the Spaniards already existed when the first conquistadors arrived. The parientes mayor, by virtue of their tribal position, gradually accumulated large estates and hired men from the tribe to work them. The tribal chiefs awarded land to warriors for outstanding service in battle, giving them overlordship of entire villages in the best tradition of Dark Ages feudalism. The priesthood, always an expensive appendage of Mexican life regardless of the deity involved, acquired extensive holdings temples. While the Indian village was the basic holding unit for land at the onset of the Conquest, the existence of estates and a class of landless peons was already a fact of Mexican life.

The Spaniards quickly accelerated the class division. Spanish kings used land to reward the conquistadors who put gold into the Royal coffers, granting the generals encomiendas, or the right to exploit villages by collecting tribute and demanding involuntary household and field services from the population. The Spaniards slipped easily into the role formerly occupied by the Indian chieftains and pocketed the money formerly paid the Aztec emperors by the villages. The tracts involved were of staggering size: Hernan Cortez, leader of the conquistadors, is said to have had 25,000 square miles of land containing 22 towns and 23,000 heads of family. Rank and file soldiers got smaller parcels – mercedes reales, or royal favors – of up to 1,000 acres, but without human exploitation rights. The Spaniards also reorganized the village land system, imposing laws that supposedly guaranteed each village at least one square league of communal land for crops and grazing, and another plot for tribal buildings and uses. The communal land, known as the ejido, replaced the old altpetlalli. Their legal sanction notwithstanding, the villages were powerless before the land hungry encomenderos, who by force and debt bondage gradually reduced the Indians to serfdom. Neither special courts for land disputes nor a Papal bull threatening excommunication to those who accused Indians deterred the encomenderos. The pattern of Mexican history was set for the next four centuries: The villages versus the haciendas; the latifundos, or large estates, versus the minifundos, or small holdings.

The first rebellion again the system created yet another pattern: of bitter disappointment for campesinos who risk their lives to overthrow oppression. The night of September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo called for agrarian revolution: “My children, this day comes to you a new dispensation. Are you ready to receive it? Will you make the effort to recover from the hated Spaniards the lands stolen from your forefathers 300 years ago?” The Indians were ready, and for eleven years fought the Spanish, finally driving them from Mexico. In the turmoil, however, a wealthy hacendado, Augustin de Iturbide, emerged as emperor of Mexico. He promised fellow landlords he would maintain the status quo and the stratification of Mexican society continued Creoles replaced Spaniards as the feudal overseers. The Indian’ sole gain was legal equality with the whites, theoretically giving him the right to make labor contracts.

Another factor in the land situation was the church, which with its supply of tax-free money had aggregated large estates. One hacienda owned by the Carmelites extended almost unbroken from Mexico City to Tampico on the Gulf coast, a distance of 383 miles. The church owned four-fifths the real estate in the Diocese of Puebla, to the east of Mexico City. Overall, the church was the single largest landholder in the nation. The leaders of the fledgling Mexican Republic watched church wealth accumulate and decided some of it should help pay costs of government. The church resisted with force; but Benito Juarez, in the Constitution of 1857, put through a proviso outlawing ownership and administration of real property by civil and ecclesiastical corporations. Despite a three-year war with landowners – who had church financial support – Juarez made the reform stick. In 1859 he extended his attack on church holdings to an outright nationalization of all religious properties. (All churches in Mexico are still owned by the government, and their use as places of worship is by government permission. This includes even the National Cathedral on the Zocalo in downtown Mexico City; a U.S. comparison would be Federal ownership of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.)

His good intentions notwithstanding, Juarez’ 1857 Constitution was a disaster for Mexico. The church lands, instead of being distributed, passed virtually intact into the hands of new hacendados who had no religious scruples against abuse of peasants. And the ban on corporate ownership of land pulled the legal props from under villages, which tilled communal holdings. Juarez’ intention was to put new life into Mexico’s farm system by making the peasants independent small farmers. But the campesino, lacking equipment, capital and skills, was an easy target for the omnipresent greedy hacenderos.

If the campesinos suffered under Juarez, who was after all their friend, their life was converted into incessant misery under Mexico’s next strong president, Porfirio Diaz, who, save for a four-year hiatus, ruled as a dictator from 1876 until the Mexican Revolution forced him into exile in 1911. With ruthless deliberation and premeditation Diaz literally gave Mexico to a favored handful of political friends and money-bearing foreigners. Diaz put public lands up for “colonialization” sales to speculators, who in return for surveying and settling tract received one-third the area gratis and the chance to buy the remainder at cut-rates. Between 1883, when the colonialization law as passed, and 1892, an estimated 20 percent of the land area of Mexico went into the hands of land companies – more than 74 million acres. The colonialization scheme proved a sham, with the owners directing more attention to the establishment of cotton and cattle estates than they did to immigrants. In 1894 Diaz abandoned even the pretext of colonialization and began doling out public lands to political cronies and businessmen – Mexican and foreign – as “concessions.” Once again the sizes of the lands involved are impressive: In the State of Chihuahua alone seven concessionaires divided 34.5 million acres; another company was granted about 13 million acres spread across the northern frontier states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua and Tampaulias. The total area given away has been subjected to differing estimates; Jesus Silva Herzog, who is one of the foremost historians of Mexican Revolution, puts the total at 49 million hectares (122.83 million acres). Other estimates go as high as 63 million hectares (155.61 million acres). For grants Mexico received in return an estimated 411.8 million, much of it in worthless bonds.

Concurrently, Diaz moved to destroy the last remaining vestiges of the village communal land ownership. He strictly enforced the 1857 constitutional ban on corporate land ownership, forcing villages to turn titles over to individual campesinos who were easy prey for the hacenderos. Silva Herzog cites instance after instance in which a campesino would trade his newly acquired title for a bottle of pulque or tequila and awaken the next day, head aching, to find he was being evicted from or charged rent for the parcel his family had occupied for generations. The Diaz government permitted the “colonizers” and concessionaires to take over private parcels included within their grants by requiring the occupants to prove ownership – an impossible task because of the lawless preceding years. By cutting off water supplies by damming rivers, the hacenderos starved out entire villages. Any village which opposed government policies was declared to be in “rebellion” and was expropriated by Diaz’ rural police. In one of the cruelest bits of recorded history an entire tribe of Yaqui Indians was transported all the way from their native Sonora, just south of the Arizona border, to Chiapas, on the Guatemalan border, and put into slavery on hennequen plantations. By 1911, 90 percent of the villages in the Central Mesa were without communal lands; the Indian was thrust deeper and deeper into the arid mountains; those who remained worked on the haciendas for a wage of either dos reales (25 centavos) or tres reales (37.5 cents), a stipend unchanged since the first of the 19th Century. During the same period the price the campesinos paid for beans Increased six-fold, and for corn, the other half of his diet, three-fold. Francisco Bulnes, the Mexican economist, has estimated that the buying power of the Mexican peasant at the turn of the 30th Century was 1,400 times less than that of his North American counterpart. These figures mean, in substance, that the campesino lived in misery. According to the 1910 census, 11.8 million of Mexico’s 15.2 million persons lived in rural areas, and most of the 69,500 communities in which they resided were contained within haciendas. Debt welded the peasant to the hacienda. A favored technique of the hacenderos took advantage of the Mexican’s love of the fiesta to celebrate weddings, birthdays, christenings and other occasions. The Master would advance the campesino money to buy enough pulque and roasting goats to fete the community – a sum equal to three or four years’ wages. Even death didn’t rescue the peasant from a hacienda: his debts were passed on to his children. The peasant seldom saw real money: His wages were something to be marked in a book at the tiendas de raya – literally, the “payroll stores” – and be checked off when he bought goods there at exorbitant prices; his day started long before dawn, so that he could walk to the fields and be ready for work at daybreak, and ended with the darkness of evening; his wife and daughters were subject to the whims of the hacendero at any time. Writing in the immediate pre-Revolutionary period the Mexican historian Luis Orozco said:

“The hacienda peon of today is still the predestined successor of the Indian slave, he is still like a beast of burden, destitute of illusion and of all hope. The son receives at an early age the chains which bound his father and passes them along in turn to his sons…The landlords, and especially the administrators of the haciendas, are still the despots who, whip in hand, are allowed to perpetrate every class of infamy against the workers, their daughters and their wives…”

C. Revolution and Agrarian Reform.

The Mexican Revolution, arising as it did from conditions of despotism and oppression, was vicious and fratricidal; it bloodied Mexico with seven years of unending war, from 1910 to 1917 and the last shots didn’t truly die away until 1939. An estimated one million persons died, and agricultural production went down 40 percent. Yet Mexicans today can speak of this era with detachment, understanding the violence and its roots without condoning it. The beginning of the Revolution was simply a blind, leaderless burst of rage against Diaz. Francisco I. Madero, the first Revolutionary president (he was elected in 1911 after Diaz resigned) never seemed to comprehend the hidden fortes that propelled him into power. His slogan, “Effective suffrage and no re-election,” was meaningless to the bulk of the Mexican people, who considered access to a hoe and a dinner plate of their own more important than access to a ballot box. Madero was round to bits between the opposing forces of the Diazists whom he permitted to retain power and the faction of Emiliano Zapata, an illiterate sharecropper from Morelos State. Zapata threw down the gauntlet to Madero in his Plan of Ayala, which cut away the underbrush surrounding the real basis for the Revolution:

“Let Senor Madero – and with him all the world – know that we shall not lay down our arms until the ejidos of our villages are restored to us, until we are given back the lands which the hacenderos stole from us during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, when justice was subjected to his caprice. We shall not lay down our arms until we cease to be the unhappy tributaries of the despotic magnates and landholders of Morelos…”

(If Zapata’s language seems lush for an illiterate person, let it be noted that he had the service of personal house intellectuals, including Antonio Diaz Soto y Gama, who perhaps more than any other man put Mexico’s aspirations for land reform into reform of laws.) In the Plan of Ayala, Zapata called for immediate repossession of lands by villagers and campesinos from whom they were illegally taken, and for expropriation of private properties for villages without a valid claim to lands.

The events of the next six years of the Revolution were tedious, with revolution and counterrevolution, manifesto and answering manifesto, sudden alliances and overnight treacheries. (One provisional president managed to stay in office from 7 P.M. to 7:46 P.M., about the time it would take to inspect his office in the National Palace.) Overriding the turmoil, however, was the unmistakable message of Zapata: The peasants wanted land, and Mexico would not have peace until they received it. Zapata never gained the presidency, but his ideas on agrarian reform, embodied in the Mexican Political Constitution of 1917, are his monument in Mexican history.

Mechanically speaking, Article 27 is a model land reform plan. The bulk of its 5,000-odd words are devoted to the procedures to be followed in distribution of the land, and creating the necessary state, local and federal commissions to carry out the program. But several generations of Latin American liberals, denied land reform in their own countries, have read enviously the two “meat” paragraphs of Article 27, to wit:

“The ownership of the lands and waters compromised within the boundaries of the national territory is vested originally in the Nation, which has had, and has, the right to transmit title thereof to private persons, thereby constituting private property.

“The Nation shall at all times have the right to impose on private property such limitations as the public interests may demand, as well as the right to regulate the utilization of natural resources which are susceptible to appropriation, in order to conserve them and to insure a more equitable distribution of public wealth. With this end in view, the necessary measures shall be taken to divide up large landed estates; to develop small landed holdings in operation; to create new agricultural communities with the indispensable land and waters; to encourage agriculture in general and to prevent the destruction of natural resources, and to protect property from damage to the detriment of society. Centres of population which at present either have no lands or water or which do not possess them in sufficient quantities for the needs of their inhabitants, shall be entitled to grants thereof, which shall be taken from adjacent properties, the rights of small landed holdings in operation being respected at all times.”

Under the constitution the Revolutionary government proceeded on the assumption that, at one stage in history, all land in Mexico had belonged to the state, and that vesting of titles in private hands by previous governments – Spanish and post-Colonial – was not binding on the Revolutionaries. The intent of the Revolution was to correct the errors of the past by restoring the la to its original use, even if this meant wresting properties from private owners, Article 27 had at its raw materials Zapata’s demand that peasants obtain land, and Zapata’s revolutionary fire; the constitutional technicians went two steps further, however, and the article has three thrusts:

• First, return of “lost communal lands,” with titles vested in the villages, as demanded by Zapata.

• Second, private, fee-simple tracts for non-Indian farmers who were unaccustomed to communal farming, mainly in the northern sector of Mexico.

• A mixture of private and communal holdings, with retention of estates large enough to produce cotton, cattle and other export crops essential to the Mexican economy. The hacienda worker, in addition to a daily wage high enough to give him decent living standards, would be allowed to farm a small tract of his own to supplement his income.

The mechanics of the land distribution system have been frequently modified since 1917, but the routes remain the same: Restitution, in which a village proves its right to ownership of land which was illegally taken from it; and dotation, in which villagers put forward a claim to a share of an illegally-sized hacienda surrounding or near them. A third source of land is that which is in the state’s name; however, no expropriation involved in this instance. In the restitution and dotation process petitions for land are directed to state governors, who in turn pas them on to a “mixed commission” – with equal representation from farmers, the Federal government and the state government – for review. The mixed commission has the right to recommend an award of land. The final decision, however, is made by the President of the Republic, after further screening by a National Agrarian Commission.

The law puts the burden of making petitions upon he farmers and villages; in practice, the petitions are usually drafted by a campesino group, either the Confedaracion Nacional Campasina (CNC), which is a PRI sector, or the Confederacion Independiente Campesina (CCI), an insurgent leftist group. At the beginning the program provided for indemnity to landowners, who were given 30-year five percent bonds; however this has been discontinued. “Theoretically speaking,” says D. Juan Sanchez Navarro, Mexican lawyer and economist, “landholders may receive money, but for all practical purposes their lands have been confiscated.” Title to the distributed land is vested in the center of population, but it may be exploited either individually or communally. The individual ejido owner, however, does receive a title granting him limited property rights, including that of transfer to another person economically dependent on him. In the “collective” ejidos, there is no division of the land, which is titled and worked jointly. Additionally, a scattered handful of Indian tribes insisted on communal grants of land, which their ancestors worked collectively in pre-Colonial times. Ownership is in the tribe and work is on a profit-sharing basis. (The government is discouraging these arrangements and attempts to steer the Indians into a more conventional ejido system)

The amounts of land covered by an ejido grant, and the size of a “legal” holding of private property, have varied. Originally, an ejido grant was from 7.41 to 12.35 acres of irrigated humid land; 9.88 to 14.82 acres of land which received regular fall, or 14.82 to 19.76 acres of other seasonal land. (The amounts are given in the Constitution in the hectare, the Spanish unit of land measurement, which is 2.47 acres; this explains the odd sizes of the tracts.) In 1947, however, President Miguel Aleman, expressing concern over the impractical size of the small ejido plots, increased the minimum grant to 24.7 acres of irrigated land; 49.4 of seasonal land; 98.8 of pasture land “of good quality;” or 197.6 of “mountainous land or pasture or arid land.” The constitution also sets limits on the size of private, non-ejido holdings as follows:

• ”Small agrarian property.” 247 acres of first class irrigated or humid land, or the equivalent thereof in other types of land. (Under the equivalency formula, one acre of irrigated land is considered as two of seasonal land, four of pastureland, or eight of mountainous land or pasture in arid land.)

• Cotton properties. 370.5 acres of irrigated land.

• Other plantations. 741 acres when planted in bananas, sugar canal hennequen, coffee, rubber, coconuts, vineyards, olives, quinine, vanilla, cocoa or fruit trees.

• Cattle. The amount of land necessary to maintain 500 heads. (No size is spelled out in the constitution because of differing range conditions in Mexico; some cattle ranches in the northern states, however, have as many as 50,000 acres.)

Holders of private properties in these categories are granted “certificates of inaffectability” under which they are assured that they will not lose their lands through ejido proceedings. And a landowner who improves the quality of his property through an irrigation project has insurance that he will not have to surrender a portion of it.

Despite the explicit language of Article 27, land distribution got off to a slow start. Venustiano Carranza, the first president elected under the 1917 constitution, was a landlord and former governor of Coahuila, a northern state where the idea of communal ownership was foreign. Because of pressures from Zapata, he promised to break up large estates and did not object to inclusion of Article 27 in the constitution. But during the first five years of Carranza’s reign, only 190 villages obtained land. (In an open letter to Carranza in 1919, Zapata accused the president of forgetting his promises and enjoying instead “riches, honors, business, banquets, luxurious fiestas, Bachanalian pleasures, orgies of satiation, of ambition, of power and of blood,” and of replacing the old landlords with military cronies “dressed in charro costumes, military hats and with pistols in their belts.”) Carranza was deposed eight months after the letter; his successor, General Alvaro Obregon, although he later was to have second thoughts about the wisdom of the rapid dismantling, of large estates, nonetheless brought land to 814 villages containing 187,702 ejidatories. But the Mexican revolutionary fire momentarily cooled, to be replaced by caution over the direction of Mexican agriculture. “I quite agree with the agrarian principle,” Obregon said, “but we must act with great caution; we must act so carefully as to solve the problem without endangering our welfare and our economic interests. …We must not destroy big estates before creating the small one as unbalanced state might follow, shortly leading us o death…” Obregon’s successor, General Plutarco Elias Calles, also moved timidly, saying that agrarian reform should be done “within the limits of method and order, so that our agricultural production may not suffer and harm come to those we are seeking to benefit…

From 1917 through 1934 seven Mexican presidents managed to distribute 24.15 million acres of farmland. Then came a thunderclap: General Lazaro Cardenas, who is either the blackest villa n or the whitest hero of Mexican agrarian reform, depending upon who is passing judgment. In six years Cardenas distributed no less than 49.40 million acres of land – or double that of his predecessors combined. Cardenas staggered the land monopoly system, and the hacenderos somehow never were quite the same again; he a so instilled a new faith in government in the campesinos. But Cardenas also made grievous errors: His administration was oblivious to natural and man-made boundaries, distributing tracts that were on steep mountain slopes, split by rivers, in the middle of arid deserts. Unable to earn a living on plots of less than 10 acres, campesinos abandoned the land and flocked into Mexico City. Cardenas proceeded on the assumption that the ejidos could feed Mexico while the larger farmers provided the export crops. Alas, he was wrong. And no succeeding president has tried land distribution on the Cardenas scale. In fact, much of the work done by Mexico’s agrarians since Cardenas has been devoted to the resolution of the problems he created: Irrigation projects to make the distributed lands suitable for cultivation; access roads to open them to markets; technical assistance for the campesinos; subtle campaign to persuade the farmers to move to newly opened areas near the California-Arizona border and on the Gulf coast south of Veracruz. But regardless of the judgment passed on Cardenas by the professional agronomists, one fact remains; Because of his vigor and initiative he is today as much a folk hero to the Mexican campesino as is Zapata. And, because of his audacity, agrarian reform once again became the cornerstone of the Mexican Revolution.

D. The Problems of Reform.

As is the case with any pioneering project, Mexico’s agrarian reform program has been beset with difficulty after difficulty, the sum of which would be sufficient to make a less hardy, determined government call off the whole thing Mexico had no guide to follow in drafting its reform, and both man and nature have put obstacles in her path. Here are some of the more important ones:

Land Shortage. Mountains, rocks, deserts and jungles make Mexico a scenic dream but an agricultural nightmare. One-fourth the area of the United States (760,373 square miles, or 485,604,830 acres) Mexico has only 70 to 75 million acres of land fit for farming, and only slightly more than 30 million acres of this has been put to the plow. According to Ricardo Acosta, Undersecretary of Agriculture, 75 percent of Mexico is mountainous (by agrarian definition), 17 percent is rolling, and only eight percent level. Twenty-eight percent of Mexico is arid, 22 percent semi-arid, 37 percent with scattered rains, and only 13 percent with sufficient rains.

Non-Availability of Credit. Mexico’s private sector bankers, who are accustomed to a return of from eight to 14 percent on loans to industry, shy away from extending credit to the small farmer. And when the money is available, it is expensive, as much as one percent per day in interest. A host of Federal credit institutions extend crop loans to farmers, but, as was stated in late May by Carlos Hank Gonzalez, one of the chief agricultural economists in the Diaz Ordaz administration, Mexico is not in a position to subsidize or underwrite the nation’s entire farm crop. He noted that doing so would mean guaranteeing the livelihood of 50 percent of Mexico’s population, that which lives on the farm, whereas the much-richer United States is having trouble raising crop loans for farmers who comprise only eight percent of, its population. Ernesto Fernandez Hurtado, deputy director of the Banco de Mexico, says lending to farmers is in precarious imbalance. “My concern is that a larger proportion of our increasing credit resources has not been used for land improvement loans,” says Fernandez Hurtado. “Traditionally, perhaps no more than tan percent of our credit has been given to the farmer in the form of credits for land improvements. Yet such improvement loans would transform the characteristics of the land itself and would convert it from unproductive to fertile land.” The Banco de Commercio Exterior, in its April newsletter, gently chided private bankers for ignoring agriculture, stating: “It does not seem logical that a productive sector which generates an important volume of the gross national product should be taken care of only marginally by credit institutions.” In defense of the bankers it should be stated that there is some justification for the r wariness of lending to small farmers: A Mexico City businessman to d me of attending a meeting of an ejido committee just after a crop had been sold at a profit. The debate centered around whether to repay the loan which had financed the crop or simply to split the cash and forget the bank – which, after all, was miles away in Mexico City.

Lack of Mechanization. Given enough time, patience and strength, man can substitute his sweat for almost any modern method. And the Mexican campesino, to varying degrees, has all three qualities. Consider the fences on the stock ranches of Nuevo Leon and San Luis Potosi States to the north of Mexico City, built of rocks no larger than a man’s head, and many as small as a man’s hand, four to five feet tall. On a train one afternoon, by checking distances by the kilometer posts alongside the track, I measured such a fence at 17 kilometers (10.2 miles) and then lost sight of it as it veered away from the tracks and off into the hills. These fences – and they are in sight for hours – represent staggering investments in human labor, and are also a visual demonstration of the distance Mexico still must travel before it reaches total agricultural modernization. In a 1964 report the Secretaria de Recursos Hidraulicos (Ministry of Water Resources) gave a breakdown on the degree of mechanization in its 59 irrigation districts, which encompass 5.28 million acres of Mexico’s most choice farmland. The report said 41.65 percent of the irrigated land was totally mechanized; 38.19 percent was partially mechanized, and 20.16 percent was farmed solely by the force of humans and work animals. But the overall percentage is misleading: About 40 percent of the total acreage was concentrated in the vast cotton and wheat fields of the northwest, 65.81 percent of which are totally mechanized. (This reflects the relatively easy access to credit unique to the large commercial farmers.) The percentages of total mechanization, however, fall off sharply for the remaining four agricultural zones: north, 31.57 percent; northeast, 37.61; central, 13.63, and south, 16.54. Similarly, the no-mechanization figures show a wide variance: northwest 1.62 percent; north, 14.83 percent northeast, 31.65 percent; central, 42.44, and south, 76.32 percent. Another part of the survey showed the dollars-and-cents meaning of mechanization. In the north zone, for instance, the district of Don Martin was 60.39 percent unmechanized, and had a cotton yield of $200.70 per hectare (2.47 acres). In the same zone, the district of Ciudad Delicias, which had no acreage without some degree of mechanization, got $304 per hectare for its cotton – a difference of $103.30 per acre. In the central zone, the district of Morelia y Querendaro, 54.85 percent unmechanized, got a yield of $118.32 per hectare for its crop of garbanzos (a variety of bean) while Cienega de Chapala, mechanized, produced $170.64 per hectare in the same crop, a difference of $52.32 these amounts appear picayune, keep in mind the fact that the average Mexican agricultural income is a little over $120 per year.

Concurrent with the lack of machinery, the Mexican farmer is curst with a shortage of technical training. In mid-1965 Mexico had only 180 agronomists at work in the countryside – less than the number in the entire state of Texas. Says Fernandez Hurtado: “About two percent or more of Mexico’s (gross) national product is spent to educate children and youth, but less than .2 percent is spent to educate the farmers, who constitute half of the working population of the country….We have not yet properly planned to meet the need to give intensive education to the man in the field.” New funds for education almost invariably go to the urban Mexican. President Diaz Ordaz, however, is giving this problem considerable attention, and the Mexican Department of Agriculture is now training 400 agronomists and 400 home service workers for assignment to rural areas.

Continuation of Latifundos. Despite the clear language of Article 27, and the vigorous assaults on the latifundistas of Lazaro Cardenas, the large landed estate still exists in Mexico, both as carryovers from the Diaz regime and as new holdings accumulated from lands that supposedly were redistributed. The most common subterfuge, and the one that is the most difficult to detect and prove, is the straw ownership. The owner of an illegally-large estate splits the land into tracts of a permissible size and puts the titles into the names of his wife, his sons, his lawyers, his cousins, According to campesino union sources, the general who commands one of the northern military zones now owns, in his name and that of his sons, tracts of 48,000; 6,000; 10,000; 100,000 and 6,000 hectares. A maximum of seven hectares is required to support one head of cattle in the region in question, meaning that the legal limit should be 3,500 hectares – or one-fiftieth of the general’s holdings. The depoliticization of the Mexican Army notwithstanding, it is a rare state governor who does not find occasion when a regiment or so of troops and a friendly general are handy; thus the general’s latifundo remains untouched. In southern states, latifundistas exist because of their strong political ties with the caciques, the local political bosses whose happiness is considered expedient by Mexico City. And, if a landowner doesn’t happen to own a set of general’s stars or access to a cacique, he can always fill a suitcase with money and ride the train to Mexico City, which is filled with bureaus where money speaks louder than the Constitution.

In early May I paid a visit to a latifundo on the Gulf coast. The trip was a surreptitious one, and the exact location of the latifundo, and the identity of the campesino leaders who guided me, must remain veiled. Why? Because later this summer the campesinos plan to seize the plantation, evict the landlord and petition Mexico City for title to the land. As one of the campesino leaders put it, “We’ll have sufficient trouble with the army without telling the cacique and the latifundista in advance that we are coming.”

To go to the latifundo we left a steamy little coastal town in Veracruz State just after sundown, squatting in a 12-foot skiff, which reeked of shrimp end rancid bilge water. The outboard motor carried us swiftly past Petroleos Mexicanos oil tugs, assorted fishing vessels and a gaily-lit barge on which conventioneers were dancing and dining. (One of my escorts spat into the water and said a string of very, very dirty words about this group.) Under the highway bridge and then into the Veracruz jungle, strange chatters of birds and animals from the shore, fish splashing the surface of the murky, salt river. Darkness came in a hurry during the five-mile ride inland, and only the occasional flicker of a lantern broke the black density of the shoreline. The boat went ashore just below the plantation’s pier, the prow grinding into the mud, and we clambered onto the back of a stake bed truck with outsized tires and a high wheel base designed for the rough jungle roads. My escorts explained that the driver, who earns six pesos (48 cents) for a 14-hour day, was their contact man on the latifundo – a risky business, for the owner had announced more or less publicly that he would shoot any of the campesino leaders he caught on his property. Tonight, however, the latifundista was in Mexico City, and the driver was one of the “guards” he had commissioned to watch for “agitators” while he was away. We went about two miles inland, the truck lurching and bouncing and occasionally scraping a tree alongside the dirt road, until finally the lights caught the thatched-roof of a hut perhaps 30 feet off to the side, in a little clearing.

This was the home of a man I’ll call Navario, a man who was born 32 years ago within the bounds of the same plantation. He is a short, wiry fellow with the round face and slightly slanted eyes of the Mexican Indian, clad in the loose-fitting white cotton shirt and trousers, resembling pajamas that are the garb of the Veracruz campesino. Navario was barefoot now, but he said he wore huaraches – leather sandals – on his monthly trip into Tuxpam, the largest nearby town. (According to the 1960 Mexican census, 586,909 persons in rural Veracruz go barefoot; another 779,898 wear shoes, and 230,003 the huaraches.) Navario’s house was a one-room hut with a thatched roof, with a lean to off to one side; he and his wife sleep in coarse rope hammocks; the seven of his even children who are alive huddle together in piles of rags a two blankets on the hard-packed earthern floor. My escorts told me there are 37 similar houses on the plantation, which contains between 3,200 and 3,400 hectares (the legal limit is 1830.27). They said they simply wanted to illustrate for me the reasons they intended to help ‘the resident campesinos seize the plantation. What Navario had to say went something like this:

“I was born here with my five brothers and two sisters. When I was six or eight, I do not know which age, I began working alongside my father, helping him clear the brush from around the banana trees. I did not go to school, for there is no school, not on the plantation, at any rate. I was the oldest boy, and when my father died I began getting the money from the padrone. I was 13 then; I think he gave me three pesos a day and then some extra centavos for my other brother. When my brother got older and began earning money, too, I married Rosita and we moved into this house. The man who lived here before left one night and moved into Tuxpam; he owed the padrone money, and we heard later that the padrone sent men after him who killed him. I do not know for sure, for I was not there. But the house was vacant, and we moved into it. The padrone charged us only 1,000 pesos (about $80).

“I now earn eight pesos a day (64 cents). This includes the work of my oldest sons (13 and 10) who are with me all the day. We are responsible for keeping clear our part of the plantation, cutting the weeds and trimming the trees. We also cut the bananas when they are ready and carry them to the road for the truck. We start at light and we work until dark; Sarita (a 12-year-old daughter) brings us food in mid-morning and we eat again when we come home at night. We can by our maize (corn) and frijoles (beans) either in the tienda at ____ (naming a small village which is on the fringe of the plantation, and which the campesino leaders said is owned by the latifundista) or ride the bus or truck into Tuxpam. But that costs two pesos, so I usually buy at the tienda. I have seen a doctor one time, which is all I can remember. That was three years ago when I cut my leg with my machete, and the padrone had a man drive me into Tuxpam. I did not work for two months, but the padrone saw to it that my wife got maize and frijoles. For this he did not pay my son who continued working, and I paid him back some money later when I returned to work. How much I do no know, for the padrone kept the record.”

Navario said he had been able to save “some” money while working, but wouldn’t elaborate. (My escorts later explained that it is considered extremely poor form to seek an admission fro a peasant that he has money and thus single him out as a possible target for a robber.)

Why was Navario interested in the campesino leaders’ plan to siege the plantation? (By this time Navario had convinced me he lead a fairly sordid life, an impression I confirmed visually with one glance around his house. The following statement, however, I think perhaps had its genesis in campesino propaganda; as a newspaperman I am leery of quotes that are just “too good” to be spontaneous. Supply your own grain of salt and listen to Navario, at any rate.) “Every day of my father’s life he cut the brush and cared for the banana plants. Every day of my life I cut the brush and care for banana plants. Every day of my life I cut the brush and care for the banana plants. We work the land, why should we not own the land? The padrone is not a bad man; he does not whip persons who live here, as his father did sometimes, and as do other pardones in Veracruz. But he is rich and lives in a big house and eats meat and fish and goes to Mexico City and Veracruz, and has girl friends there and in Tuxpam, too. And he does not even pay me enough to go to Tuxpam. When I was in Tuxpam once two years ago at night I stood on the street with my companeros in front of a tienda and saw for the first time television. The picture showed children in Mexico City, and they could read and they wore shoes, and when they talked they sounded like maestras (teachers). I am tired of this life here, and when these people here – gesturing towards my escorts – say they can make it so that I can go to school, that my children can go to school, that I can make more money, I say, I help them.”

The campesino group, if it is successful in seizing the land and gaining title for the occupants, has hopes of establishing a communal farm with a marketing cooperative allied with other plantations in the area, which produce bananas and other crops. One of the leaders estimated the padrone’s income at 300,000 pesos ($24,000 a year). “With this money,” he said, “we can hire an efficient manager and also raise the income of each of the workers. These people don’t particularly care who is boss so long as they get money and are left alone.’” The campesinos’ first obstacle, of course, is the army, which is used frequently eject just such invasions. And, late the same night, when we returned to town end talked about the trip over platters of the tiny Veracruz shrimp and bottles of Dos Ecces, the dark Veracruz beer, the campesino leaders conceded they had doubts of the abilities of the peasants to manage the plantation once it is in their hands. “But that is not important, it one of them finally blurted. “Ownership of the land is what is just, and that is what we demand for them.”

E. Outlook for 1975: Gloomy

The paradox is cruel, but Mexico’s pending agricultural crisis can be, attributed partially to her improved living standards of the past three decades. Because of the nation’s advances, Mexicans are living longer and eating better. Agriculture, unfortunately, is losing a footrace with Malthus. Or, at least, that is the learned opinion stated in the Banco de Mexico’s report, “Projections of Supply and Demand for Agricultural Product in Mexico for 1970 and 1975.” The report was prepared with e aid of the Mexican ministries of treasury and public credit “ a of agriculture and livestock; the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Rockefeller Foundation also participated. The report has not yet been officially released, although it has been circulated to government officials and financial institutions for some months; smatterings of it also have appeared in the Mexico City papers. (The Banco de Mexico was perfectly willing to give me a copy but said the U.S. Department of Agriculture wanted to handle distribution for American media. The agricultural office at the U. S. Embassy said yes it had copies but that I would have to write Washington if I wanted one. I walked over to CalIe Venustiano Carranza, the Wall Street of Mexico City, introduced myself to an officer at one of the banks, and within three minutes was given both the report and a desk at which to read it. So much for Agriculture Department and Embassy “release dates.”)

Were Mexico’s population to remain stable through 1975 the agricultural sector would have scant difficulty in satisfying national needs, for the report projects substantial increases in all areas of production. But: In 1930 the life expectancy of the Mexican male was 32.4 years, for the Mexican woman, 34.1 years. By the 1960 census the expectancies increased to 57.6 and 60.3 years, respectively, and are estimated at 63.8 and 66.5 years for 1970 and 67.7 and 70.4 years y 1980. The population rate of growth was 3.1 percent per year from 1951 to 1963, when Mexico soared from 26 million persons to 40 million; it is projected at 3.6 percent through 1975. Four of every five “new” Mexicans will live in towns of more than 2,500 population – and, says the Banco de Mexico, city-dwelling Mexicans eat more and better than their country cousins. A status symbol for the new middle class is bread made of wheat rather than the traditional corn tortilla. Thus per capita wheat consumption will rise from 33.4 kilos, the 1960 figure, to 38.3 kilos in 1975, while corn consumption will drop in the same period from 121.4 kilos to 101.4 kilos per person. (Corn consumption would probably slump even more were it not for the government’s subsidy program in the Federal District. The fixed price for tortillas in public markets is 90 centavos – 7.2 cents – per kilo. The same stack of tortillas costs one peso 50 centavos, or 12 cents, in Tampico, and a fraction of a cent less than 12 cents in other major cities.) Statistics from the 1960 census substantiate the Banco de Mexico’s assertion on differing diets of rural and urban Mexicans. In the Federal District, only 396,494 of 4,705,031 persons said they never ate meat, fish, milk or eggs. But in Puebla State, just to the southeast of Mexico City, 851,461 of 1,912,770 persons – more than 40 percent – never got the four items in their diet. And in the states of Queretaro and Tlaxcala more than half the population went without the four foods.

Based on its projected population and internal consumption and production figures, the Banco de Mexico predicts these shortages for Mexico by 1970:

Vegetables, 15 percent; fruits, 16 percent; oleaginous (beans), 8 percent; sorghum, 9 percent; chickpeas, 26 percent; barley, 16 percent; beef, 34 percent; and pork, 20 percent. Substantial quantities of the foodstuffs are involved. For instance, the bank projects fresh milk production at 6,645,312 tons in 1975 and demand at 7,284,414, meaning a difference of 639,162 tons that must be found somewhere.

The shortages are already being reflected to some degree in Mexico City retail food prices. According to the Banco de Mexico, the retail price for 16 commodities in January of this year was index 168.9, compared with indices of 166.5 in 1965; 163.8 in 1964; 156.5 in 1963, and 157.2 in 1962. (The base of 100 was in 1954.) Milk producers are engaged in a court fight with the Secretaria de Industrio y Commercio over a proposed price increase, with the SIC attempting to enjoin any rise. Meat dealers used a minor sanitation tax as a pretext boost prices 40 percent in me weekend. Twice in the Iast year the government has temporarily banned meat exports to United States because of domestic shortages.

The internal shortages by themselves are not necessarily fatal. Forced adjustments of diets would overcome cert in of the shortages. While the garbanzo variety of bean will be in short supply, for example (97,618 tons in 1975), the report projects a substantial surplus (182,000 tons) in the production of frijoles, a less palatable variety. Too, some agricultural observers are skeptical of the projected shortages in fruit production, noting that much of the present crop doesn’t even get to market because of poor transportation facilities. (At any number of rural bus stations in Veracruz I could have purchased oranges for three or four pesos (24 to 32 cents) per bushel, and women vendors were selling peeled oranges at three for 20 centavos (1.6 cents). Mexico could also overcome part of its beef shortage by eating more chicken; because of lack of demand, and consequent low production, the few meat stores in Mexico City that even sell chicken charge 30 to 40 percent more per pound than they do for steak or veal. (Chicken production in 1975 will be only 47,496 tons, compared with 594,306 for beef.)

More important than the Mexican’s eating habits, however, is the fact that the shortages mean that Mexico is not going to be able to make sales abroad that it has been making it the past, and that she must consequently turn to exports to make up the difference. As the Banco de Commercio Exterio said recently in an analysis of the Banco de Mexico’s report, “Should the present trends continue unchanged, the proportion of imported consumer goods considerably increase in 1970, with the consequent reduction in the availability of exchange at might be assigned to import foreign capital goods necessary or a continued economic development.” The losses are substantial: The report predicts that Mexico could sell 33,400 tons of beef abroad in 1970 and 38,700 tons in 1975, yet will not be able to do so because of the internal situation. Other lost markets, according to the report, are oranges, 341,732 tons in 1970 and 589,336 in 1975; pineapple, 71,990 and 138,884 tons; bananas, 72,972 and 141,822 tons; and tomatoes, 67,969 and 138,014 tons.
F. The Search for a Solution.
What, then, is Mexico doing to attempt to solve its problem? The most surprising step came in late March during a tour by President Diaz Ordaz of the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca. The ritual for one of these junkets calls for a ceremony at which campesinos are given ejido grants. (The subtle implication is that the President is giving the land, and therefore the campesinos should be grateful not only to the President, but also to the party, which put him into office. The practice is not unique to Mexico; presidents of the United States have been known to dedicate public works.) But the Veracruz ceremony was different from the previous tours of President Diaz Ordaz: Without advance notice, he gave the peasants individual deeds, with 70,000 acres going to 3,887 heads of family. One village chairman called the event an “historical epoch” and predicted prompt private and public sector credit for the new owners of the pequenas propiedads (small properties). President Diaz Ordaz has since repeated the process on tours to other states; however, he has also been careful to keep his revolutionary credentials in order. At a convention here of the National Zaptista Front, an agricultural organization which has the Caudillo del Sur as its patron saint, the President announced he had distributed 7,410,000 acres of land since he took office Dec. 1, 1964. Through its own machinery, and that of PRI, the Diaz Ordaz government is also suggesting to existing ejidos that perhaps they should abandon the idea of communal titles and go into business for themselves. What the administration is seeking is a chain of medium-sized, privately-owned properties, somewhere between the unprofitableness of the minute ejido and the inefficiency of the large estate, “which answers to the progressive and dynamic stimuli of individual profit.

Concurrently the government is taking steps to make it easier for the farmers to mechanize. By doing so it is answering such critics as Governor Fernando Lopez Arias of Veracruz, who in recent months has issued statement after statement criticizing the execution of the ejido program. Lopez Arias decries an agricultural system based on the machete alone, and wants more technical assistance for his Veracruzanos. And this the government apparently is trying to provide. Since January 1, five tractor manufacturers have received permits to build factories in Mexico, at an expected investment of $40 million. About 65,000 tractors are in operation in Mexico now, and imports run 5,000 a year. With the government putting the arm on private banks to make more farm loans, and with more extensive irrigation, the demand is expected to rise to 12,000 traitors per year by 1970. Too, fertilizer production has increased 15-fold since 1950, with fantastic results in per-acre yield. (Wheat alone increased from 870 kilos per hectare in 1950 to 2,800 in 1960.) If the government continues its heavy investment in state-owned fertilizer factories, and the campesinos receive the credit they are expecting, per acre yields in other crops could be increased as dramatically.

The GDO administration also has the frank goal of attempting to discourage persons from depending on the farm as a livelihood. The present project is that the 6,086,000 work force oh the farms in the 1960 census will go to 7,070,000 in 1970 and to 7,623,000 in 1975. As Mexico’s land supply diminishes it become less and less likely that these persons will ever receive title to land of their own. (One current estimate is that there are now approximately one million persons in the Mexican countryside who are legally entitled to land, and for whom no land is available.) Previously, the bracero program, under which campesinos spent several months a year working in the United States, helped relieve the rural pressure. With this program at a virtual end, the same campesinos now flock to Mexico City, which is overcrowded and cursed with the urban problems of a New York City or a thrice-multiplied Philadelphia. One means of keeping the rural refugees away from Mexico City is a government investment of $65 million during the next two years to develop industry in the northern frontier states of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila. The money will be spent for dams, roads and-irrigation projects, and water and sewage systems. With the service facilities, the government hopes that businessmen will be encouraged to establish industrial parks for packaging agricultural products for sale in both the U.S. and in Mexico. Local governments are cooperating by offering potential investors such inducements as free land, low taxes, and cut-rate water and electricity. The same carrot being dangled before businessmen in an attempt to lure them away from Mexico City when they build new factories. (The biggest drawback, according to businessmen, is the lack of trained labor Once they leave the Federal District; people in many of the outlying states have no mechanical experience and take a casual attitude towards time clocks and other such gadgets fostered upon them by civilization. One manufacturing company adopted the norteamericano policy of shutting down its entire operation for two weeks at vacation time so as to have a minimal interference with production, paying workers two weeks’ wages in advance. Five weeks lapsed before enough of the workers drifted back from the hill’s to enable the frustrated manager to reopen the plant.)
Through vast irrigation projects, GDO is also attempting to open up more Mexican land for farming. In May he inaugurated the vast Netzahualcoyotl Dam in Tabasco State, which will make about 202,000 acres available for cultivation by 1970, and another 140,750 acres in the following six years. The initial acreage will go to 6,250 heads of family in parcels of 32.11 acres, Yet the reclamation of land by irrigation is a tiresome, slow and costly process; the Banco de Mexico report estimates that Mexico can add to its available land supply at the rate of only 1.3 percent per year. It also states that as of 1960, Mexico had reclaimed 81.2 percent of the farmland that can be reclaimed, and 92.2 percent of the grazing land.

Mexico is also willing to permit foreign capital to help its agricultural development. Anderson, Clayton & Company, based in Houston, is largely responsible for the opening up of the cotton lands along the California-Arizona border. (Its continued presence there is frequently denounced in the left-wing press; judging from its continuing investments, however, the company is not nervous in the least.) Another big investor is Campbell Soup Company, which has a plant in the hamlet 6f Villagran in Guanajuato State. When Campbell started operations there in 1959 the local farmers grew only three of the vegetables, which the company needed. So Campbell installed the same “crop contracting” system which it uses with its suppliers in the United States, whereby the farmer knows the price he will receive, the acreage he will produce, and the quality expected of him. Campbell furnishes technical advice. In six years Campbell induced the farmers to increase their crop varieties from three to 26, and its red-and-white cans of soup are a familiar sight in Mexican supermarkets. (Some of the varieties would be a bit strange to the U.S. housewife, however; one local best seller is sopa de tortilla, or tortilla soup.)

G. The Political Implications.

Unfortunately for Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, it has fallen the lot of his administration to tell the Mexican campesino that the land is filled, and that the land distribution program as it has been known in previous years is at a virtual end. Bearers of bad news are never popular, and thus Diaz Ordaz must make the best of the situation. This he is doing through elaborate explanations of the “true revolutionary character”’ of the individual private property, as opposed to the ejido. The private property is now being depicted – by PRI, by government agencies, and by the portion of the Mexico City press that is “cooperative” – as the ultimate aim of the Revolution and the land distribution program. The effectiveness of the selling job wont be apparent perhaps for months; if it does not succeed, GDO will quietly revert back to granting of ejido titles, and nothing more will be said.

The new policy automatically received the blessing of the Confederacion Nacional Campesina (CNC), the largest farm group and a sector of PRI. Every resident of an ejido automatically becomes a CNC member, which means its ranks include more than 3,000,000 persons. CNC leaders have limited their public discussion of GDO’s actions to a formal endorsement; sources familiar with their thinking said the leaders agree with GDO that something had to be done about the farm situation, and that they were willing to experiment with the private property idea.

The thinking of rank-and-file CNC members is another matter. I heard heated denunciations of Diaz Ordaz in Veracrus, Jalisco and Nayarit States in the weeks after his switch, with the critics expressing fears that government was “abandoning” the peasant. These persons were also fearful that the peasant would not be able to retain ownership of land: That weak-minded campesinos would be prone to sell their property at the first opportunity, or that credit has as many dangers as benefits.

There is nothing subdued about the feelings of the Mexican left, however, which views the ejido as an acceptable variety of (or first step towards) socialism. A government emphasis on private ownership is a reversion to “capitalism on the farm,” in the opinion of the left. The bulk of the noise comes from three groups: The Partido Popular Socialista, or People’s Socialist Party; the Union General de Obreros y Campesinos de Mexico (UGOCM), or General Union of Workers and Peasants of Mexico, which is the labor wing of PPS; and the Central Campesina (CCI) the agrarian sector of the Mexican Communist Party. All three groups immediately increased their volume of propaganda aimed at campesinos, and the CCI claims defections from PRI’s farm sector in Veracruz, Sonora, Nayarit and Tabasco. The brother of the Nayarit governor suddenly appeared on a roster of PPS members, a veiled warning to PRI that campesinos there should not be taken for granted. CCI leaders are also hinting at resumption of a form of agrarian psychological warfare known as the paracaidista (literally “parachutist”) raid, wherein campesino bands physically invade large estates. The UGOCM, under longtime agrarian leader Jacinto Lopez, successfully used this tactic numerous times in the late 1950s and early 1960s; one raid on a 400,000-hectacre cattle ranch in Sonora resulted in distribution of lands to more than 1,500 families. (Lopez, however was jailed for five months for “social dissolution” in an aftermath. Undeterred, he led another paracaidista foray against the same ranch and the government eventually expropriated it.)

What does the dissension mean in terms of votes? Again, the answer is largely dependent upon whether GDO is able to explain his drift away from the ejido program. However, the left now without a doubt is able to display new evidence of the increasing conservatism of PRI. It is significant that Carlos A. Madrazo, former governor of Tabasco State and chairman of PRI until a fatal row last winter with a handful of powerful local caciques, is talking now openly about the desirability of the left having more of a voice in government chambers. Any effective alternative to PRI that develops is likely to come from the left: Given enough disaffected campesinos, and enough union members who are wary of the PRI-lining leaders, a vigorous politician such as Madrazo would put together a party fairly quickly.

PRI, based or, past Performance, is unlikely to let protests swell out of hand. One cynical foreign observer here has likened Mexican government and politics to a fire brigade: “When there’s fire somewhere you get a lot of activity. But once the smoke is gone no one pays any attention to you. So the best way for any group or any region to become ‘visible’ is to make noise.” When pressured by such groups as CCI and UGOCM the government is quite willing to expropriate properties and to break up latifundos. But it also tries to do so in a way in which credit can go to its favored CNC. Lack of unity also hampers insurgent groups, which do not let their animosity towards PRI outweigh their animosity towards each other. Last month UGOCM organized a “hunger” march of 5,000 campesinos on Juernevaca, the capital of Morelos State; midway CCI leaders persuaded the peasants to switch affiliation, to the chagrin of UGOCM. The government also insures that agencies, which deal with agrarian problems, maintain an open door policy towards campesinos. For about two hours one recent morning I wandered through the Departmento de Asuntos Agrarios y Colonizacion, (the Department of Agrarian and Colonization Affairs) and chatted with campesinos who had come in from the countryside, many of them barefoot, sitting patiently on the sidewalk until their time came to enter the building, then sitting patiently in anteroom after anteroom until their time came to see an official. Their problems were manifold: an uncertainty of title to their property; a snag in a son’s receipt of his father’s property by inheritance; an attempt by a rural loan shark to foreclose on a property which had an ejido title; crookedness on the part of a village ejido committee. Luis G. Alcerreca, secretary general of agrarian affairs and number two man in the department, talked about the system later in his office: “These people, when they have it a problem, desire to talk to the jefe (boss) only,” he said. It requires infinite patience, but they are Mexicans, and they are citizens, and they have a right to have access to their government. It is hard for us, certainly, for most of the problems could be handled very easily by a clerk. But so long as the Revolution continues, my door is open to them.” Resultantly, Sr. Alcerreca’s workday begins at his home at 8 A. M., and he is at his desk long after the remainder of the Mexican bureaucrats are gone for the day. Sr. Alcerreca, however, has a personal interest in keeping the Revolution alive: As a teenage boy he left school to fight with Venustiano Carranza, and a photo static copy of Zapata’s Plan of Ayala dominates his office wall.

A cursory reading of results from past Mexican elections gives an indication of the uphill battle insurgent farm groups face when they tackle PRI. The poorer agricultural areas consistently give PRI the highest percentage of their votes of any region in the nation, while the most highly developed states contain the largest pockets of anti-PRI sentiment. In 1961 opposition candidates – of PPS; Partido Nacional Accion (the National Action Party, or PAN); a Partido Autentico de la Revolucion Mexicana (the Authenic Party of the Mexican Revolution, or PARM) --received .73 percent of the vote in Chiapas; 7.37 percent in Guerrero; 1.25 percent in Hidalgo; 10.12 percent in Oaxaca, and .27 percent in Tlaxcala. The remainder went to PRI. By contrast, the same year the opposition groups accumulated 33.01 percent of the vote in Baja California Norte; 35.32 percent in the Federal District; 26.90 in Morelos, and 18.09 percent in Chihuahua. (Roughly the same figures are found in any given year: In 1928, for instance opposition groups got .32 percent in Chiapas; .53 percent in Guerrero; 5.05 percent in Hidalgo, and 5.24 percent in Tlaxcala.) The figures cited are for elections to the Chamber of Deputies, but presidential results are similar: In 1958 PRI candidate Adolfo Lopez Mateos received 98.65 percent of the vote in Tabasco; 90 percent in Chiapas; 98.09 percent in Hidalgo, 98.19 percent in Guerrero and 98.92 percent in the State of Mexico, Nationally he got 90.43 percent of the vote. Any new opposition party, therefore, must have as its persons who now vote for PRI; and, as a matter of practical politics, the task would be much easier if one of the PRI sectors – such as agriculture – could be delivered intact.

H. The Impact of Agrarian Reform.

In three months here I met one person who argued that agrarian reform was a bad thing for Mexico; to buttress her arguments, she gave me a book by a conservative Mexican intellectual who, in passing, “exposed” the Communism and statism of the New Deal, and the Bolshevik tendencies of John Nance Gardner and Herbert Hoover. Indeed, one of the most discerning discussions I heard on the question was by D. Juan Sanchez Navarro, lawyer, economist and head of Cerveceria Modelo, one of the nation’s largest breweries. After Sanchez Navarro had praised the program for half an hour someone mentioned casually that before the Revolution, the Sanchez Navarro family was one of the largest landholders in Chihuahua, and that its estate was confiscated. Yet Sanchez Navarro spoke of the program with the detachment of a classroom professor. He credited it with these chief accomplishments:

• By destroying the old agrarian system, and modifying the land tenure form, agrarian reform provided a channel for the aspirations of the Mexican people, transforming their income scale and providing the basis for the political stability the nation has enjoyed the last 30 years.

• “The ecclesiastic or civil large estate system, with its lordly type of political and social structure, cannot return to Mexico. The initial objective of the agrarian reform, the destruction of the traditional forms of land tenture, has been definitely achieved..”

• “The destruction of the large estate and the liberation of the farmer from the ties which bound him to the land brought about a social mobilization which plays such a decisive role in the industrialization of any society.” Resultantly, Mexico’s gross national product doubled from 1945 to 1965, and its rate of economic expansion was the highest of any Latin American nation.

• “The agrarian reform brought to the country the sweeping forces of innovation. Mexico got rid of the inertia of the Colonial period to enter into the cosmopolitan current of the 20th Century…”

• “Unwillingly, the, requisites for the industrial revolution had been complied with. The barriers that prevented economic expansion were overthrown. Under the new conditions, technological progress became compulsory for survival.”

On the other side of the coin, Sanchez Navarro noted that there are grounds for continuing concern over the agrarian program, and the achievement of its final objective is still in question: “That is: has it increased the farmer’s welfare? Thousands of them abandon their land and go to the cities in search of a higher standard of living; others become laborers in the United States, and many more thousands can barely subsist at their ejidos. And unless changes are made, Sanchez Navarro warned, the agricultural sector could become an impediment to general economic development of Mexico.

I. A Pattern for Latin America?

As other Latin American nations move towards land reform in the coming decades – and such a move is inevitable – they should be able to use the Mexican as a teacher, but not as an exact pattern. Mexico’s history of Iand use and land tenure is so complex and so diverse that the solutions ultimately found by the Mexican reformers will be of scant use elsewhere. In the opinion of persons active in the Mexican agrarian field their country offers two vital lessons:

1. Land reform, if enacted as an overnight movement, is apt to be so bloody as to negate any short-term gains. Mexican agricultural production was down 40 percent from 1910 to 1930 – and no nation in the hemisphere could stand such a loss at present without wide scale starvation.

2. Mexico has satisfied itself that maximum agricultural production does not come from a small estate such as the ejido.

Nor are communal farms, without individual profit motivation, the answer. The Mexicans suggest that other nations do now what Mexico is beginning after the lapse of 50 years: Establish medium-sized farms with private ownership and inundate the farmer with credit and technical assistance.

In offering this advice the Mexicans hark back to what Emiliano Zapata said in 1919, just before his assassination. “In each region of the country one can feel the special needs, and, for each one of them there must be a solution that can be adapted to the actual conditions of the environment. That is the reason why we do not try to absurdly impose a fixed and universal criterion.” Zapata’s statement was for Mexico, but its wisdom applies to the entire continent.

A Note on Sources: A reporter is a professional brain picker, and this newsletter is a distillation of what I learned from weeks of conversations with persons at every level of the Mexican agrarian program: From campasinos in the fields to government officials in Mexico City, from leftist politicians to officers of the nation’s richest banks and financial institutions. Because of the delicate subject matter many of these persons were candid only because their anonymity was assured. For that reason I am not matching individuals with opinions. And any conclusions, which I formed personally, are based on the facts I was able to find during interviews, reading and field trips.

Received in New York June 13, 1966

©1966 Joseph C. Goulden, Jr.

Mr. Goulden is a 1965 Alicia Patterson Fund fellowship winner on leave from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Permission to publish this article may be sought from The Managing Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer.