Mexico Energy Reform Creates New Rural Latifundistas
Luis Hernández Navarro*
Translated by Sally Seward
A new social class is about to appear in the Mexican countryside. It is the class of the energy latifundios.
The new legislation not only allows for the plunder of the land and territories of ejido [land owned and worked by indigenous communities, granted by Mexican government at the end of the Mexican Revolution] members, communal land owners [indigenous land granted back by the King of Spain during the colonial period] and small landowners, but also concentrates a large part of the land once again into a few hands: those of the large hydrocarbon and electricity companies.
The energy companies will have no limit on the amount of land they acquire or "occupy temporarily" to extract petroleum or gas or to generate electricity. There will be no restrictions on their access to water, either. They will be the new latifundistas.
If, in the past, the lords of the land who, legally or illegally, accumulated large pieces of land worked with extensive livestock production and plantation crops such as coffee, cotton and sugar cane, now the new latifundistas will extract natural resources.
With the State’s guarantee, the companies will have practically any land that appeals to them at their disposal. In spite of being private, they will embody a cause of public interest. The land they take will not be intended for growing food, raising livestock or practicing forestry.
The appropriation of the land and territory by these new latifundistas will inevitably rip apart the collaborative fabric of the countryside. With all their limitations, the agrarian units have until now allowed for the survival of small production farmers and their ways of life. Around 70 percent of the rural population belongs to them, and they produce close to 40 percent of the food.
The promises of wellbeing and employment for rural society that were used to wrap up the poison apples of the reforms to Article 27 of the Constitution [allowing ejido and communal lands to be divided into private parcels and sold], the North American Free Trade Agreement and the neoliberal policies never arrived. To survive, the farmers took refuge in migration, planting drugs and returning to the field. With the new latifundistas on the prowl, communal life in ejidos and communal lands is fatally wounded.
The new relationship between energy companies and small farmers will seriously divide ejido members and community land owners with a right to the land and the use of the common areas, from those who reside in rural towns. The companies will be able to "distribute" benefits to those who have agricultural rights and leave out those who do not. Even more, within a single ejido or community they will be able to talk to a few ejido and community members and leave others out of the agreement.
In the immediate future, the intrusion of this new latifundista in the Mexican countryside will bring about de facto expropriations, land speculation, over-exploitation (and contamination) of groundwater and the privatization of water. At the same time, it will contribute to uprooting, the breakdown of the social fabric, the proliferation of private guards serving the companies, the flourishing of a renter society, the strengthening of local political chiefdoms, human rights violations and the emergence of a new kind of social resentment.
The companies will dispossess the land owners or holders through different legal instruments: renting, voluntary servitude, surface occupation, temporary occupation and purchase. Even with different names, it is all one thing: plunder.
Although formally expropriation was eliminated from the hydrocarbons law and substituted with "temporary occupation", it is still dispossession. In the agrarian law, the expropriation of ejido and communal lands already existed, and with the new legislation it remains intact. Expropriation continues to be a sword of Damocles that can fall on the head of the farmers at almost any moment. Nevertheless, the threat of temporary occupation is now being added to this one. This method leaves unclear how "temporary" the occupation will be. Its duration does not have an expiration date, meaning that it could last for literally decades. The new latifundistas will be allowed to indiscriminately squeeze out the wealth of the lands without having to worry about their sustainability. When they are no longer needed, they will be returned destroyed and valueless.
The energy consortiums that plan to invest in Mexico cannot ignore the possibility of running into social expressions of discontent. Even more so with a topic as sensitive as land. A little taste of what may happen to them has already been experienced by the mining companies throughout Mexico, the wind companies in Oaxaca, the Federal Electricity Commission in the Southeast and the risk zones in the north and Pemex [Mexican Petroleum] itself in states like Tabasco.
In rural society today there is great misinformation about and disbelief regarding the effects that the new hydrocarbon laws will have. Many farmers simply and plainly do not believe that they could be dispossessed of their land. When they understand the true reach of the plunder taking place, they will respond with a cautious outlook. Even more so at a time when the exhaust valve of migration has stopped working the way it used to and a lot of "wetbacks" are returning to Mexico to plant their plots.
The history of Mexico has been marked by incessant agrarian rebellions. Towns and communities have risen up time and time again in defense of their land and territories. Against all odds, the farmers have persisted in their resolve to continue being farmers. There is no good reason for it to be different now.