How Indian Labours Were Treated In Mexico During The Colonial Rule? – Answered

(ii) There was relative self-sufficiency. Crops grown on the hacienda provided for all food needs, and efforts were also made to produce all the tools, building materials and other ingredients of agricultural operations.

(iii) Hacienda always had a permanent resident labour force. The tie between the peon and the hacienda during the 19th Century increasingly took the form of debt-peonage. Loans would often be advanced by the hacienda store, called tined de raya, with the clear purpose of tying the peasant to the hacienda so that his labour would be available for work when required.

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Debt peonage was more common in the north where labour was scarce than in central Mexico where Indian labour was available in abundance. In some regions^ a share cropping system developed.

In still others, including henequen plantations in Yucatan, tobacco production in Valle National and coffee production in Chiapas, forced labour was also employed by the end of the 19th Century.

Whatever the form, the result was always an extremely cheap and permanent labour supply which, given the nature of seasonal work, was also underemployed.

(iv) Most hacendados (hacienda owners) were absentee owners and lived in Mexico City or Europe.

(v) Most haciendas were poorly managed, producing little but assured income for the owners. They were semi-feudal, and some times, semi-capitalist kind of ventures. It was often said that ‘hacienda is not a business’. Lands were held for social prestige; and by denying land to those who worked on it, political control and domination were exercised by the hacendados.

(vi) Semi-feudal character of haciendas, absentee ownership, permanent and underemployed labour which was available in abundance all meant that haciendas lacked both investments and the introduction of new technologies. It is amazing to see both in land and mines, primitive-some time, pre-Columbian- methods and implements continued to be used.

In the 19th Century Mexico, beside the hacienda, there had existed two other traditional forms of landholdings: the rancho and the Indian communal villages. The average rancho was about a hundred hectare in size, and worked by the owner and his family, and sometimes with few sharecroppers and hired labourers.

As compared, the system of Indian communal landholdings, which had predated the conquest, had somehow survived, though in greatly reduced numbers. Conquistadores and their progenies had gained control over most of the productive land; and Indians were subjected to the encomienda; still, many Indian communities had managed to keep possession of some land adjacent to their villages.

The Spanish crown had provided that each Indian village was to retain control of lands sufficient for its adequate support. Minimum requirements included a town site and an ejido (communal farm) varying in size but always encompassing an area of at least one square league.

Ejidos included the agricultural land of the village, the woodland, and the pastureland. These lands were all inalienable and administered by a town council. These Indian communities and their holdings had, in the 19th Century, constituted an important aspect of the Mexican agrarian system. These villages were surprisingly even more self-sufficient than the haciendas; and remained by and large isolated from the market economy.

It is to be noted here that only those large plantations that produced export crops and those haciendas, which supplied the agricultural needs of the cities had entered the domestic and international commercial economy.

Nineteenth Century saw the triumph of liberal ideas of free trade and the introduction of market mechanisms into the agricultural sector. How to make Mexico a modern capitalist economy; and its population individualistic, enterprising and driven by profit motive? These liberal ideas and goals brought new destructions for the Indians.

Among others, they, as a racial category, were thought of as an impediment to Mexico’s modernisation. Mix them or, if possible, simply exterminate them physically and ‘Whiten’ the country through European immigration was a suggested and accepted policy solution in the latter half of the 19th Century.

Indian communal farming was deemed as one of the root causes of economic backwardness; it was suggested to break up these farms and convert Mexico into a class of individual capitalist farmers. Liberal ideas and policies shattered the tenuous balance that had developed between the haciendas and the Indian villages.

Beginning with the Reform Laws of 1855-57 until the overthrow of the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz in 1910, far-reaching changes were introduced in the landholding system. The net outcome of these changes was further concentration of land into the hands of the hacendados.

For one, the Catholic Church, owner of perhaps as much as two-fifth of the nation’s wealth, and the financial and spiritual mentor of the conservative elites, was divested of its landholdings by the laws of 1857. Confiscation of Church properties became the core of the great private haciendas. Added to this, communal lands of the Indians were also broken up and confiscated.

The famous Lerdo Law of 1856 had denied both civil and ecclesial corporations the right to hold real estate, and the law was interpreted to mean that all Indian communal properties were to be granted in severalty to village members. As stated earlier, the liberals had hoped to create a class of individual capitalist farmers out of the Indians.

No Indian or a rural middle class ever emerged. Only the hacendados took advantage of the breaking up of Indian lands to further expand and concentrate their holdings. The dictator, Porfirio Diaz (1867-1910) especially implemented these laws harshly.

It has been estimated that well over two million acres of communal land were allotted in during his tenure, and literally all of it ended up in the hands of landowners and land companies- many of which were, by then, owned by the US nationals.

Porfirio Diaz had also introduced a system of survey, subdivision and settlement of public lands. By 1890s, about 20iper cent of the entire geographical area of Mexico had passed into the hands of the land survey companies. One person in Baja California was owner of a hacienda, which was spread over 12 million acres of land.

Expansion of cash crops such as sugar and cotton for exports had further led to the takeover of Indian communal landholdings. Together with the land companies, the hacendados had owned over half of the nation’s territory on the eve of the 1910 Revolution.

At the end of the 19th Century, land tenure system had undergone major changes in Mexico. Some 20 per cent of the total area of Mexico was in private hands. Nearly all the communal farms had been destroyed, parcelled out, or simply gobbled up by the large landowners. By 1910, close to 90 per cent of the rural families held no land and most of them were tied to the haciendas through the debt bondage system.

Perhaps only about 15 per cent of the surviving Indian communal villages still possessed some lands though in greatly reduced size. At no time in history had more Mexicans been landless than on the eve of 1910 Revolution. There was hardly a rural middle class. The ranchos, which stood in the middle of the agricultural system, numbered less than fifty thousand and were mostly subsistence- oriented.

Concentration of land in fewer hands was never intended to raise production through modernisation. Production especially of staples had fallen; and on the eve of the Revolution, vast numbers of poor peasants were in fact on the verge of starvation. The question of land redistribution and treatment of the Indians was finally forced onto the centre stage of the Mexican politics by the Revolution of 1910.

Led by the famous peasant revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, Indians had risen up in revolt demanding ‘Land and Liberty’. Heavily armed peasant mobilisation had finally forced the inclusion of land redistribution into the Constitution of 1917.

It was President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-40) who launched one of the most extensive land redistribution programme in Latin America, distributing more than 10 per cent of Mexico’s entire territory during his tenure.

Under him, land redistribution, both in name and substance, took the form of ejidos. Under the ejido form of tenure, land was granted to a village rather than to individuals. While the pastures and woodlands were generally held in common, cropland was in most cases worked individually.

Some ejidos also took the form of collective and few of cooperative farming of the cropland. Though land continued to be distributed after 1940 on a small scale, Mexico could never resolve the problem of landlessness, given the actual possession of land to the title holder, and developing agricultural and rural infrastructure.

A contrary trend emerged as agricultural modernisation intensified after 1940, and actual reconcentration of land took place. The removal of land redistribution clause in 1991 and the termination of whatever state support mechanism that had existed has brought new concentration of land and the rise of foreign owned industrial complexes in a pattern reminiscent of the 19th Century.

In those Latin American countries, which had not seen any worthwhile land redistribution programmes in the past, the situation has remained more or less same of subsistence farming struggling to live under the expanding large landholdings.

There is no doubt that it is the pattern of landholding which remains at the heart of economic inequalities distribution of wealth, a hierarchical social order, and political culture of dependence and clientelism in Latin America.

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