Sunday, January 10, 2010: 8:30 AM
Columbia 3 (Marriott)
Between 1910 and 1950, Mexico’s ruling elites attempted to drain completely, afforest, and fertilize the marshy and briny Lake Texcoco basin, located a few miles east of Mexico City. Their goal was to eliminate urban dust storms and create a productive agricultural economy that could produce for the city. My paper examines the conflicts and negotiations over the control and use of the area’s land and natural resources during a period of postrevolutionary reconstruction. I argue that land reclamation projects represented a failure of state formation in the Texcoco basin, despite ephemeral successes in the 1930s and 1940s to incorporate campesino interests into project goals. In the 1910s and 1920s the public works project excluded villagers and degraded their local economies of hunting, fishing, and salt extraction. But in the 1930s, lakeshore residents were able to use their strengthened political position obtained through the postrevolutionary agrarian reform to contest the exclusionary and essentially urban nature of the project. Dovetailing with the revolutionary populism of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40), campesinos appropriated the regime’s developmentalist program—the formation of a productive and healthy citizenry for the national economy—to further their own subsistence needs, only this time rooted in agriculture. The administration of Miguel Alemán (1946-52) signaled a return to a land reclamation program that excluded the rural poor before the project was overwhelmed by the expanding metropolis in the early 1950s.
Land reclamation continues in the Texcoco bed today. However, now the project falls under the rubric of ecological rescue and has been stripped of efforts to fertilize the saline land. Although the lake has been partially regenerated and much of the land forested, this environmentalist project suffers from the same kinds of social conflicts that beset its predecessors decades ago.