Fifty years of agrarian struggle between Mexican peasants, landowner capitalists, and the government in the sugar-cane region of southern Puebla is carefully documented in this excellent political and economic analysis. Desolated during the 1910-21 Revolution, the sugar cane haciendas around Atencingo were consolidated during the 1920s into a single, highly capitalized unit by William Jenkins, a former American consul, who became (reputedly) the wealthiest man in Mexico. The Zapatista peasants of the region, led by the family of Doña Lola Campos and her husband, Celestino Espinosa, fought the land owners and eventually obtained 40 ejido land grants, but the rich irrigated heart of Jenkins’s plantation remained intact. Finally, in 1937, President Cárdenas made most of Jenkins’s land into a single collective ejido, but the terms of its charter made the ejidatarios completely dependent upon Jenkins for credit, transportation, processing, and marketing. The struggle between the mill owner, peasant groups, and various government agencies continued unabated, flaring time and again into armed conflict and assassination of peasant leaders. From the beginning, the ejidatarios fought for four basic rights: (1) democratic control of the ejido organization, as specified by the charter; (2) division of the land into individual parcelas for each ejidatario; (3) the right to grow crops other than sugar cane; (4) division of the single immense ejido into separate ejidos for each of nine communities.
The mill administrators opposed peasant control in every conceivable way, legal and illegal. Government agencies and officials, in addition to seeking to increase their own control of the ejido, have been primarily concerned that sugar cane production not decline, regardless of what this costs the ejidatarios. The peasants’ tactics have included legal suits, bureaucratic lobbying, agitation and propaganda, and direct physical action. Government tactics have included bureaucratic delay, co-opting peasant leaders, and minor concessions.
While the specifics of the Atencingo struggle are unique, the drama is representative of the agrarian situation throughout Mexico, and especially in collective ejido areas. For example the Yaqui-Mayo area of Sonora, and the Laguna cotton region of Coahuila have seen the same kinds of conflicts and tactics, an increasing number of landless non-ejidatarios, the same kind of demands by peasants, the same equivocation and bureaucratic delay by government agencies, and the increasing economic and political power of the private landowner-capitalists.
Almost 500 notes give the sources of specific data—government archives, private files, informant interviews, participant observation, and published works. Individuals involved in decision making at every level are named and quoted, resulting in a description that is real and concrete.
Atencingo is a valuable and illuminating case study of Mexican agrarian reform since the Revolution. It is a welcome addition to the Stanford University Press’s studies of Mexican communities, and a must for all who are interested in collective ejidos.