Political Landscapes: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico
The Commodification of Nature, 1880–1910
During the presidential administration of Porfirio Díaz (1876–80; 1884–1911), Mexican forests became fully commodified, that is, converted from “natural landscapes” into commodities that could be bought, transformed into lumber. Railroads and mining financed by United States investors were at the leading edge of this process, particularly in the nation’s north. The Díaz government’s political liberalism promoted the rapid expansion of commercial logging that led to the massive dispossession of village land, including the forests claimed by indigenous peoples. In Michoacán, timber barons such as Santiago Slade gained access to woods owned by native Purépecha people (a.k.a. Tarascans) by signing long-term lease agreements that effectively dispossessed the land. In Chihuahua, large American-owned corporations such as the Madera Company received multi-decade concessions that gave them direct access to forests inhabited by Rarámuri (Tarahumara) people. Mexican scientists eventually began to worry that the scale of logging might cause irreparable environmental damage.