Writing a Spatial History of Modern Mexico
Geography is not an immutable thing. It is made, it is remade
everyday; at each instant, it is modified by men’s actions.
—Elisee ´ Reclus, L’Homme et la terre
In 1985,on the cusp of signing on to the gatt (General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade), Mexican president Miguel de la Madrid proposed
an ambitious undertaking: the creation of a comprehensive rural ca-
dastre (property register) complete with maps of land plots, each at a
scale of 1:50,000.The project, in part intended to clarify the boundaries
and holdings of Mexico’s many ejidos (inalienable concessions of land
granted to communities by the state), proved to be more ambitious than
he imagined and was quickly abandoned. Mexico’s dire economic cir-
cumstances played some role in the undertaking’s demise but so too did
the complicated agrarian reality that, in part, had been the impetus for
the project in the first place. Like previous administrations, federal of-
ficials found a significant disparity between what appeared in surviving
land grant records and what existed on the ground. Over the course of
thepreviousseventyyears,ejidolands hadbeenillegallysold,rented,di-
vided, and occupied; different petitioners had been granted the same
lands; ejidatarios had migrated away and others had assumed possession
of their lands; and lands assigned to a community in one municipality
were located on land under the jurisdiction of another.1 An array of ev-
eryday acts, a relentless underground economy, had foiled his adminis-
1 Cambrezy andMarchal, Cronicasde ´ unterritorio fraccionado, 133–34, 157.See
also Nuijten, Power, Community, and the State.
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