¡Tierra y Libertad! Does History Matter?

zapata-350 El grito ¡Tierra y Libertad! (Land and Liberty), attributed to Emiliano Zapata, was in reality popularized by Ricardo Flores Magón whose prints are all over Zapata’s Plan de Ayala. Flores Magón wrote an article titled, “Tierra y libertad”. Otilio Montaño Sánchez, a local school teacher, introduced Zapata to the works of Peter Kropotkin and Flores Magón.

Land has always been part of the Mexican’s soul, going back to our indigenous times.

Today land is a metaphor for other rights such as education. It represents our struggle for a better and just life.

Recently this struggle became very real. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) struck a deal with California State University Northridge to establish a Center for Mexican and Latin American Studies, which intentionally avoided consultation with the Chicana/o Studies. The surreptitious deal raised questions of what role Chicana/o and Latino scholars should play in Mexico and other Latin American countries?

The obvious questions were why had UNAM picked CSUN? How would the deal affect students and workers on both sides of the border? Would it further the privatization of education on both sides of the border?

Some form or another of privatization has plagued the poor since the colonial era. Roughly it is the act of transferring public resources to private ownership. Privatization in recent years impinged on other rights such as free access to education.

History of Privatization in America

During the Spanish Conquest, the conquerors transferred communal Indian villages to private individuals. The crown gave conquistadores franchises called encomiendas, a grant of land and natives.

Indian labor was also privatized. The repartimiento, a forced labor system, also permitted other assessments on indigenous people, later evolving into peonage.

Further north, the Spaniards set up missions near indigenous rancherias. In theory, mission lands belonged to the Indians–administered by friars until the natives became gente de razon. The loss of land meant the loss of liberty as outsiders encroached on Indian lands and water.

The Indians were conquered because in places like Chihuahua the scarcity of water limited the size of their groups to 20 to 30 persons. In most cases resistance depended on the size of group. For example, the great Yaqui River Valley allowed Yaqui rancherias to grow into thousands. The Yaqui rebelled in the late 17th century, a perpetual rebellion that lasted to the late 1920s.

In the early 18th century the Spanish Bourbons privatized the missions and expelled the Jesuits. This increased the vulnerability of the Indian lands.

The Liberal Party was a product of this Enlightenment of the 18th century. After Mexican Independence (1821) Liberals championed the privatization of the ejidos owned by public institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Indian villages. (An ejido is communal land used for agriculture; community members individually farm specific parcels).

During the Age of Reform (1854-1876) Liberals triumphed over Conservative landed interests, and intensified the assault on land and water. The encroachments were the cause of Indian wars, epitomized by the Yaqui Rebellions that were renewed in the 1870s — led by the great Yaqui leader Cajeme.

Privatization was the hallmark of the Porfiriato (1876-1911) when Mexico’s land and resources were sold to foreign capitalists who built 15,000 miles of railroad track; in return they took Mexico’s land and water rights.

The Porfiriato also accelerated the transfer of ejidos to private hands, i.e., the 1883 land law. By 1888 land companies owned more than 27.5 million hectares of rural land, and six years later, land companies controlled one-fifth of Mexico’s total territory, and by 1910 almost every village had lost its ejidos. A few hundred wealthy families owned 54.3 million hectares of Mexico’s most productive land, more than half of all rural workers worked on haciendas.

Rich Become Super Rich

Under Porfirio Díaz, the rich became super rich. Foreigners received favorable assessments of land and mines, and jefe politicos protected the foreigners’ land and mining interests.

“No hay mal que dure cien años, ni cuerpo que los resista” (There is no wrong that lasts 100 years, or body that can withstand it). The first miners’ strike occurred in Pinos Altos, in the Municipio de Ocampo, Chihuahua on January 21, 1883. The British Mining Company of Pinos Altos demanded that miners spend half their wages at the company store whereupon workers rebelled. The township president with twenty-five armed men arrested the strike leaders and executed five of them. In all the government executed 23 workers. This was three years before the Haymarket Square Riot.

At Tomochic, Chihuahua, on October 20, 1892 1,200 federal troops surrounded the village and opened fire on children, women, and men – young and old. They killed every man and boy over the age of thirteen, and burned the pueblo to the ground. Only 13 women and 71 children survived.

Labor unrest intensified; in 1906 Copper Miners’ strike erupted at Cananea, Sonora. The next year Rio Blanco textile strike in the Veracruz/Puebla area saw federal troops massacre 200 workers.

The Mexican Revolution (1910-1921) was costly. Out of a population of 15 million, Mexico lost 2 million people — half were killed and the other half migrated al norte.

Mexicans hoped to regain their liberties, and protect their rights through the Mexican Constitution of 1917. It was the first Constitution in the world that protected social rights. Article 3 forbids censorship of prohibited books, and guarantees free, mandatory, and lay education. Article 27 vests the nation in the direct ownership of all natural resources, i.e., all minerals and water. Only Mexicans have the right to own land, water, and minerals or to acquire concessions for their exploitation. Article 28 prohibits monopolies of any kind. Article 123 empowers the labor sector.

Relevant to this discussion are Articles 3, 27 and 28.

Today neo-cientificos (technocrats) are attacking these articles under the guise of reform. Mexico’s political parties are supporting a measure that allows the government to grant licenses and share oil profits with multinational corporations such as Exxon and Chevron. These so-called reforms would roll back President Lazaro Cardenas historic nationalization of the oil industry in 1938.

In addition, the reforms would denationalize the state owned electrical industries, and give tax breaks to investors.

In 1982 there were 1,155 state enterprises. They included huge conglomerates such as Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the Federal Commission of Electricity (CFE), Ferronales (railroads) and Sicartsa (steel).

Mexico’s Billionaires

In all, the government operated mining firms, two airlines, eighteen banks, hotels, even jewelry stores and a bicycle factory. The state development bank, Nafinsa, funded the state-run system. Privatization has meant the transfer of the ownership of these enterprises to private individuals creating a new class of billionaires thus widening the economic and social gap between Mexicans; 42 percent of Mexicans live below the national poverty line.

Mexico’s Billionaires:

  • Carlos Slim – US$ 74 billion – Telmex, INBURSA, América Móvil, CompUSA, WorldCom and Telcel.
  • Ricardo Salinas Pliego – US$ 17.4 billion – TV Azteca, Iusacell, Unefon.
  • Alberto Baillères – US$ 16.5 billion – Peñoles.
  • Germán Larrea Mota-Velasco – US$ 14.2 billion – Grupo Mexico
  • Jerónimo Arango – US$ 4 billion – Founder of Aurrerá (currently part of Wal-Mart Mexico)
  • Emilio Azcárraga Jean – US$ 2 billion – Televisa, Univision, Club América, Necaxa, Club San Luis
  • Roberto González Barrera – US$ 1.9 billion – Maseca, Banorte
  • Carlos Hank Rhon – US$ 1.4 billion – Bank
  • Roberto Hernandez Ramirez – US$ 1.3 billion – Banco Nacional de México (Banamex)
  • Alfredo Harp Helú – US$ 1 billion – Banamex, Red Devils Baseball Team
  • Joaquín Guzmán Loera – US$ 1 billion – Sinaloa Cartel

Source: Wikipedia

In 1994 the U.S., Canada and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), setting up a trade bloc. This accelerated the creation of Mexican billionaires, and it uprooted millions of small farmers. As a consequence, the United States is the world’s top producer of corn, 40 percent; Mexico, the birth place of corn, grows about 3 percent. Unable to compete, many small farmers and their families have been uprooted.

Violations of Article 3 have led to student and teacher strikes. From March 11, 1999 to February 6, 2000 students struck UNAM. Administrators wanted to raise tuition to $75 per semester. The university students felt that tuition hikes violated the right a free education, and threatened their social mobility. They saw this as a step toward privatizing UNAM.

In June the students won a partial victory and the tuition proposal was revoked. But the strikers wanted systemic changes, and violent clashes broke out in February 2000. A force 1,000-2,500 Federal Police stormed the UNAM campus and arrested 632 to 745 students. The student battle cry was “UNAM is not for sale!”

Students marched with the Mexican Electricians’ Union (SME) opposing Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo’s proposal to privatize the electrical industry. Along the parade route, large student contingents chanted “University … Electricity!”. They were supported by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Union of UNAM Workers (STUNAM) chanting, “¡Estudiante, escucha, tus papás están en la lucha!” (“Student, listen, your parents are in struggle!”). They demanded transparency and consultation in matters affecting them.

The protracted strike rekindled political unrest on UNAM campuses creating a sense of community and a sense of history. It put students on the front line against privatization. In September 2013, over 60,000 crowded downtown’s Avenida Juárez to listen to Andrés Manuel López Obrador condemn the PEMEX high jacking – they were students and teachers for whom history matters.

When Chicana/o studies found out about the clandestine deal between UNAM and the CSUN administration, for them history mattered. The issues were a lack of transparency, a lack of consultation, privatization and a lack of faculty diversity.

rudy acunaThe Fall 2013 tuition for undergraduates was $3,260.00. Students paid between 70 and 80 percent of the costs of instruction as the result of the state shifting the cost of education from rich taxpayers to working class students. As in Mexico, social mobility depends on a higher education.

CSUN already has a privatized college: the Tseng College where students can get a graduate degree if they pay around $1000 a unit. Because of these reasons and others Chicana/o Studies opposes the deal. “The Right to an Education is Not for Sale!”

Rodolfo F. Acuña

Published by the LA Progressive on November 30, 2013
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About Rodolfo F. Acuña

Rodolfo F. Acuña is the founding Chairperson of the Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Northridge and author of Occupied America.