Political Landscapes is, in one sense, a tale of redemption, or rather of two
redemptions separated from each other by half a century or so. Each of its
two parts follows a similar narrative trajectory, beginning at a moment
when rural people eff ectively lost possession of their woodlands, leading
them to make tentative alliances with sympathetic outsiders such as popu-
list politicians, forestry offi cials, and others. Each story culminates with an
attempt to implement a system of what is now called “community forestry,”
in which those who live and work in the woodlands recover some of their
former lands and become stakeholders in its management and sustainable
use. Th e rst of these historical cycles began in the 1880s, when the com-
modifi cation of forests and nineteenth- century liberalism led to massive
dispossession of village lands, followed by a revolution and land reform
that crescendoed in the 1930s with the socially progressive administration
of President Lázaro Cárdenas. Th e second round began in 1940, when the
Second World War and changes in Mexico’s political priorities vastly lim-
ited rural people’s ability to use their own woods, prompting a new set of
popular movements to recover peasant productive auton omy, and, from
the 1980s to the present, the slow and incomplete return to a modernized
version of community forestry in the context of neoliberalism.
Th ese repeating patterns capture the essential dimensions of Mexican
environmental history, yet I believe they obscure as much as they reveal.
In the rst place, the familiar cycle of dispossession, disempowerment,
and redemption disregards signifi cant changes in the way that professional
foresters understood the relationship of rural Mexicans to their environ-
ment. Whereas the rst generation of conservationists tended to regard
rural people as backward and inherently destructive, the generation of
ex perts who came of age in the 1940s and 1950s began to understand
peasant behavior in economic rather than cultural terms. Th ey shifted
forest policy from a combination of sanctions- based regulations and di-
dactic campaigns, to a more supple program that sought to ensure rural
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