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Monday, March 7th 2022

What Is An Ejido?

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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What Is An Ejido?

Introduction

What Is An Ejido

If you’ve been following our series on the historical figures of Mexico, then you may remember that Mexico was like a feudalist country during the Colonial Period. People worked lands they would never own—and in many cases, they were tied to the land, unable to escape.

Ejidos were a way of fixing this injustice. From the Latin word “exitum”, ejidos are a communal land that workers can farm. They don’t own the land, they retain sole right to the fruits of that land. In this article, we’ll explain what an ejido is, tell you the history of an ejido, and how it can affect you today.

The First Ejidos

What Is An Ejido

In the 16th Century, during the Colonial Period in Mexico, indigenous communities, which had remained largely intact, were granted the right to land under their control. This was called the fundo legal.

It also set up a General Indian Court to provide natives and entire indigenous communities with a way to defend these land rights against settlers seeking to steal their lands. Spanish settlers began calling these plots of indigenous lands ejidos.

Ejidos after Mexican Independence

What Is An Ejido

After the Mexican Independence from Spain in 1821, the protections of indigenous peoples—Including their right to land—was discontinued. One of the casualties of this loss of Spanish protection was the General Indian Court.

Though, the reasoning behind the ending of this protection was to make all Mexicans equal under the law, the reality of Mexico at that time was that those with Spanish blood were favored by the government.

For three decades after the Mexican Independence from Spain, political instability and economic turmoil left indigenous lands (these early ejidos) alone. However, in 1855, the Liberals came to power.

The Liberals saw the native people’s autonomy as a problem that needed to be resolved. The Liberal’s ultimate goal was to fold these indigenous cultures into the fabric of Mexican society. Unfortunately, the Liberals saw the secret to achieving this was to break up indigenous lands and sell them to the highest bidder.

It was in 1857 that the Lerdo Law was passed, and all prior ejidos—those land grants from the Spanish Crown—were officially abolished. For the next twenty years, nothing really changed. Mexico was busy repelling a French invasion.

However, once the Liberal General Porfirio Diaz came into power, the policies of the liberals began to be enforced. Large hacienda owners began to expand their estates in the name of economic progress.

Without the General Indian Court to appeal to, native peoples had no way of fighting their loss of land. Thus, the indigenous peasantry had successfully been incorporated into Mexican society—but as a landless working class. This cheap, destitute labor helped to bring Mexico into the Industrial Revolution.

It was also one of the major causes of the Mexican Revolution.

Ejidos and the Mexican Revolution

What Is An Ejido

Land reform was one of the major causes of the Mexican Revolution. For example, in the state of Morelos, where this article is currently being written, peasants under the leadership of Emiliano Zapata waged war against Mexican president, Francisco. I. Madero. (As you may recall from our article on Pancho Villa, Madero was like an interim president who had grabbed power after Porfirio Diaz, but hadn’t really changed anything).

In 1917, a new Mexican Constitution was drafted. In it, Article 27 granted the Mexican government the right to take over and hand out privately held resources.

Many peasants fought in the Mexican Revolution. They expected Article 27 of the Constitution to break up the large haciendas and return these lands to the ancestral communities that had lived on them.

However, Venustiano Carranza—the man who had taken over after Madero—was a wealthy landowner himself. Thus, he was entirely opposed to the idea of breaking up the haciendas.

Ejidos Today

What Is An Ejido

It would not be until 1934, under Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas, that an ejido system was reintroduced to Mexico. The new land reform laws allowed for a four-step process to form an ejido:

  • Landless farmers leasing lands from wealthy landowners could petition the federal government to establish an ejido in the area
  • The federal government would consult the landlord
  • The land would be expropriated from the landlord if the federal government approved the ejido
  • The ejido would be established with the peasants who petitioned the government to be designated as the ejidatarios

Of course this system also had its own fair share of corruption. A rural bank called the Banco Nacional de Credito Rural (Banrural) was established to dispense loans to the ejidatarios, and all manner of illegal sales, ecological degradation, and other forms of corruption ran rampant. These issues were used to bring reform to the ejido system.

In 1992, then Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari amended the constitution of Mexico to change Article 27. This allowed the private sector to purchase ejido land through the use of a fideicomiso.

*To learn more about how ejidos and fideicomisos impact you if you’re trying to purchase property in Mexico, then see our article on Buying Property in Mexico.

Conclusion

What Is An Ejido

The ejido system isn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction compared to the injustices before the Mexican Revolution. Though ejido productivity has still fallen behind what the Mexican government intended when they created the project, it nevertheless has allowed some indigenous people’s to be able to feed their communities.

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