Barrett presents a useful, instructive, and interesting microcosmic study of a region through a survey of land use and land tenure patterns in the Tepalcátepec river basin. By concentrating on the two major social upheavals (the Conquest and the Revolution) to touch the region and indeed the entire Mexican area, Barrett skillfully provides a succinct sketch of developmental outlines extending over five centuries. To achieve and maintain a perspective on Tepalcátepec development, comparisons and contrasts are drawn to activities elsewhere, especially in the more central region. Broad conclusions on Mexican development are specifically applied to this region with Tepalcátepec’s own corresponding or different development clearly noted, thereby sharpening and deepening the meaning of those generalizations.
Barrett, for example, observed that while pre-Conquest land-holding patterns paralleled those of the central region, post-Conquest changes unfolded at a slower pace in this river basin, in fact not appearing until the late decades of the sixteenth century.
Rapid expansion of Spanish landholdings and the rush to consolidate those properties—familiar activity in other areas—occurred similarly here but with perceptible differences. The real history of land tenure revolves about two poles: the lateness of thorough Spanish colonization and the longer decline of native population extending to the opening of the eighteenth century. Colonization and the effort to acquire holdings, therefore, is a seventeenth-century activity continuing into the eighteenth century with latifundios the dominant pattern and Spanish properties in general greatly augmented.
Barrett’s first volume handles material in a systematic, orderly, chronological fashion. Volume two differs. Nineteenth-century events are quickly established by emphasizing a few major points: for example, the proliferation of ranchos, the persistence of the colonial economy, and the impact of two new latifundios. The latter two-thirds of the writing focuses on twentieth-century changes initiated by the Revolutions agrarian reform and expanded by the Comisión del Río Tepalcátepec created in 1947.
In reviewing ejido development Barrett examines the steady deterioration of the ejido idea. Collective organizational ideas devolved to more individualized efforts as ejidos faced numerous problems, such as poor land utilization, underemployment, underutilization of land, deficiency in production, inept and corrupt administration, poor organization, and low income. Ejidatarios, lacking credit, technical assistance, and even proper equipment to employ known modern agricultural techniques, rented their lands in order to survive. These rentals highlighted government reform failures.
Accentuating change was the task of the 1947 Commission. Now emerged the most profound changes since the conquest. The demand was to create a foundation for commercial agriculture. Expanded irrigation projects as well as better communication, education, and health care faculties were built. Commercial crops were changed to meet shifting outside demands. Lemons, cantaloupes, and cotton assumed exaggerated importance.
Commission-controlled changes have had numerous side effects. While public services grow and income levels rise, the actual beneficiaries of the program are investment and commercial interests. Modern regional development reinforced the colonial economy. The same government that endeavored to aid the dispossessed, giving them land and irrigation works, has in the end undermined those gifts and debased their very value.
This good microcosmic study provides insights by focusing not only on generalizations but also on the activity of the local area. Although occasionally superficial, the two books are unencumbered, straightforward presentations quite befitting of the SepSetentas series. Highly useful charts enhance this readable examination of five centuries of land use and tenure in the Tepalcátepec region.