Saka, Mark Saad. “6: The Capitalization of the Countryside, 1856–1884.” For God and Revolution: Priest, Peasant, and Agrarian Socialism in the Mexican Huasteca , University of New Mexico Press, 2013, pp. 83–102.
Chapter 6: The Capitalization of the Countryside, 1856-1884 from Mark Saad Saka’s For God and Revolution depicts the exploitation of the indigenous Huasteca population and appropriation of their historical lands at the hands of a relationship between the Mexican state and enterprising capitalists. Historically, untilled lands had served to support the peasantry: acting as grazing space, a source of firewood collection, and more. Benito Juarez’s regime saw the tide shift against this land being used to serve communal purposes. His liberal regime saw these indigenous landholdings as a barrier to progress, ultimately communal landholdings would be officially outlawed in 1856.
This was followed by a campaign of privatization, lands could be purchased in huge swathes as long as it was deemed “vacant land”. The Huastecan and other indigenous peoples were initially given the impression that they could benefit from this campaign of privatization as well, however, this failed to take hold in local communities, with those who supported the government’s plan finding themselves shunned and shamed by their neighbors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no benefits for the indigenous people. The concept of “vacant land” that allowed for private purchase was a term that became extremely flexible in this era. Most local people used their communal land to grow enough food for their own personal sustenance, and maybe a little bit extra to sell at the market. Under the collusion between the Mexican state and enterprising land speculators, this too could be deemed “vacant land” and those living on it, “squatters”.
The state enacted numerous token ways in which the indigenous peoples could defend their land claims, such as allowing people to show something akin to a deed. However, this was not something that most people would have, and as such, was another means of justifying the appropriation of land by the state. Furthermore, there were some people who were able to provide tax records dating back to the Spanish viceroys. However, due to rapidly increasing land taxes, even people with documented historical claims were forced from their land.
This led to the expulsion of thousands of indigenous peoples from their homes, and their livelihoods. This led to a large amount of migrant labor that followed the seasons, as well as the dominant industries of the era. Most unsettling, perhaps, was the rise in sharecropping, which saw many indigenous people farming the same land that had once been their communal property, now having to pay a landlord a grossly inflated price in order to do the same thing. The government had assigned cheap prices to Huasteca land in order to make it easier for private purchase, and subsequently raised the prices radically, which further disenfranchised its original inhabitants. Before the privatization, crops such as coffee, tobacco, vanilla, cotton, chiles, beans, and corn had been grown in order to be consumed by local inhabitants, with a bit left for trade. After privatization, crops were produced almost exclusively for export, making life more difficult for farmers, and causing ecological damage due to lessened crop rotation.
Ultimately, in 1879, many Huasteca people rose up, and revolted against the state.