Agrarian Reform in Mexico affected the agricultural sector of the nation, hitting at the fundamental levels of the existing agrarian landholding structure. In fact, Agrarian Reform in Mexico initiated changes in the concept of land ownership, being concentrated in the hands of the aristocratic landlords.
Mexican agrarian condition prior to the introduction of reforms:
Prior to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, most of the land areas in the country were under the direct control of the aristocratic landholders. Though the peasant class working under them was not slaves or serfs, yet they were burdened under the pressure of high debts, and were popularly called the debt-slaves to the landlords.
Being the owners of all the landed properties in Mexico, the elite landlords oppressed the peasants tremendously, for which there was growing discontent and unrest among this community. So, peasant revolts and uprisings were quite common in Mexico during that period. One of the chief aims of introducing the agrarian land reform programs in the country was to offer some relief to the Mexican farmers.
Mexican Agrarian Reform: gradual evolution
The activities of various agrarian reform programs in Mexico were guided by a handful of laws, passed at different time periods, keeping in mind the plights of the oppressed peasants. These laws are mentioned and briefly illustrated below:
- Lerdo Law of 1856: The Lerdo Law was passed by the Mexican Finance Minister, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada. This law empowered the government to force all the Mexican churches to sell their properties.
- Land reform programs between 1910 and 1934: Introduced during the Presidency of Álvaro Obregón, these agrarian reform programs were the first ones in Mexico to consider land reform plans as an important activity. After the Revolution of 1910, there was a rise in the trend of reallocating the lands among the Mexican farmers. Land redistribution formed an integral part of the nationalization process, popularly known as "Mexicanization". The implementation of the "Mexicanization" system was immediately followed by distribution of the land, affecting both local and the foreign landlords immensely. Though the process was a very slow one, yet was effective in the sense that it allocated about 5.3m hectares of lands among half million people belonging to as many as 1500 different communities. By the year 1930, the Mexican communal landed properties (Ejidal) comprised a total area of 6.3% of national agricultural lands.
- Cardenista Land Reform from 1934 to 1940: Passed in 1934 by the Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas in the form of Agrarian Code, the Cardenista Land Reform program hastened the rate of the land reform activities. It initiated a few structural changes in the agricultural sector of Mexico, and allocated about 400% land areas. In fact, the Cardenista Land Reform program intensified the market and increased collective demand, as per the opinion of a handful of economists.
- Agrarian reform plans (1940-1970): Agrarian reform program during this period permitted the capitalist businessmen to put the cultivable lands on rent to the peasants. This process became popular as "Neolatifundismo", where the landlords gained ownerships of huge private farmsteads and the power to control them as well.
- 1970 onwards: President Luis Echeverría in 1970 legalized invasion and acquisition of the Mexican agricultural plots by large foreign landlords.
- From 1991 till date: President Carlos Salinas de Gortari amended Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, legalizing the selling of the Ejido lands and permitting the farmers to make use of their lands as collaterals for loans.
Impact of agrarian reforms in Mexico:
Following a series of land reform laws and programs in Mexico, the overall agricultural sector underwent remarkable changes. At present, almost all peasants in the country are owners of small plots of land. Since small pieces of lands resulted in small yields, hence the farmers supplemented their earnings by working for the Mexican landlords.