Everywhere in rural northern Mexico there are signs pointing out local ‘ejidos’. The ejido system is a process whereby the government promotes the use of communal land shared by the people of the community. This style of land sharing was common during the time of Aztec rule in Mexico.
The Spanish abolished the ejido system, and it was not until after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) that it was reinitiated. The typical procedure for the establishment of an ejido involved the following steps: (1) landless farmers who leased lands from wealthy landlords would petition the federal government for the creation of an ejido in their general area; (2) the federal government would consult with the landlord; (3) the land would be expropriated from the landlords if the government approved the ejido; and (4) an ejido would be established and the original petitioners would be designated with certain cultivation/use rights. Ejidatarios did not actually own the land, but were allowed to use their alloted parcels indefinitely as long as they did not fail to use the land for more than two years. They could even pass their rights on to their children. This process was an important part of the land reform programme under President Cardenas in the 1930s.
The constitutional right to form an ejido was abolished in the 1990s, largely at the behest of negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement. Foreign business owners were worried that their property could be expropriated by the Mexican people and didn’t want to take the risk of investment with that hanging over them.
Nowadays ejido land is often used for other purposes than farming – tourism for example. Also many parcels of land have been sold for development. There still seems to be a strong sense of community among ejidos though. In the Baja our hosts in Ligui – Darlene and Frank – are members of their ejido and have benefited from the community in a lot of different ways, as well as contributing. The concept of shared land ownership is an interesting one – especially in the context of transition from colonial rule to self-determination in Mexico. I am interested to know whether ejidos exists as we travel further south.