Land Tenure

Cant, Anna. “‘Land for Those Who Work It’: A Visual Analysis of Agrarian Reform Posters in Velasco’s Peru.” Journal of Latin American Studies 44, no. 01 (2012): 1–37.

Anna Cant’s treatment of propaganda posters put out in support of the 1969 agrarian reform emphasizes the ideological function of graphics while at the same time situating those graphics on a trajectory of dependency theory inspired radicalization of the Revolutionary Government’s platform and program. Generally speaking, and rooting her analysis in the critiques posed by Mayer, Seligmann and Caballero, Cant sees the Revolutionary Government’s program as contradictory, a fact especially evident in the effort to instill the values of capital-intensive production in the minds and administration of workers collectives, or in the delicate position of retaining peasant support for what was a centrally administered program. For Cant, the poster is the ideal medium for teasing out such contradictions precisely because of “its ability to suggest several things at once”. (3) However, though she adds a new and important source to the large body of primary material involving the Velasco years, I don’t know that her central contention (i.e. that posters reflected major tensions in Peruvian politics and society) says much more than someone like Mayer (Cuentos feos de la reforma agraria) or Mallon (“Chronicle of a Path Foretold”) already has. After all, the ambivalent position of a government speaking in defense of the peasantry and trying to mobilize grassroots momentum in opposition to oligarchy, while still vying for centralized, top-down administrative control, seems to me to be well established at this point. That is to say that the superficial interpretations of the Velasco regime as a crazed dictatorship, such as those advanced by Chirinos and Chirinos (1977), have been largely reduced to what they are: one-dimensional, as Cant points out. (11-12)

In my Master's thesis I used two concepts developed by Achille Mbembe that I think might help elucidate the narrative nature of tenure regimes; 1) The integral ties between spatiality and temporality he establishes in "At the Edge of the World: Boundaries, Territoriality, and Sovereignty in Africa" and 2) the form these ties take on in quotidian life, deemed by him conviviality.

Legal regimes are vast and convoluted rhetorical tapestries draped over reality until corrosion, crisis or mere circumstance lifts them up, shakes them out and judges whether they face a good washing or wholesale replacement. I'll need to look more into this, but I don't think this is a notion unknown to the legal field. The field is indeed rife with rich language that points to this fact. Take, for example the concept of “piercing the corporate veil”. Like any good yarn, that veil comes with refurbished subjectivities; it engenders a new economy of spatial configurations; and it constitutes its own temporality.

Mbembe asserts the relative nature of the interaction between spatiality and temporality as the primary explanation for the phenomenon of territoriality in Africa. Similar to the way that Bhabha posits the “ambivalence of modern society” that results from the instaneity of two conflicting temporalities as “the site of writing the nation,” (Bhabha 209) Mbembe employs the idea of instantaneous temporalities to explore the Nation’s physical limitations. Given that boundaries on the continent are in a continual state of flux—pulsating with the ebb and flow of ethnic, economic, religious, sexual and political determinants—territoriality, he argues, must always be conceived not merely in geographical terms, but in temporal ones, as well. Thus the “inviolability of boundaries among states” (Mbembe 2000: 267) (i.e. the semblance of permanence exuded by political boundaries) paints a two-tiered picture of the continent’s territorial divisions, with the static outlines of the colonial past hovering over a dynamic system of continual, relative expansions and contractions. The frequent result of this is a severing of regional idiosyncrasies—of a traditional, economic, or political nature—under the imposition of nation-state boundaries grandfathered in, and in the service of an increasingly distant colonial age.

In his 1925 essay “The Morphology of Landscape,” Carl Sauer launched an impassioned appeal for geographers to return to a classical phenomenological approach to areal study. In the wake of nineteenth-century positivist specialization, in which the natural sciences became a stand-in for chorology and geography, and causality was reduced to a simplistic environmental determinism, Sauer questioned the very essence of his field. Arguing for more integrated, social science-based approaches to geography, he stressed that landscape be treated as both a natural and cultural phenomenon. He lamented the degree to which the natural sciences of geomorphology and physiography had penetrated his field and in response he advocated a static treatment of landscape. For Sauer, landscape was seen as defining the range of possibilities for historical succession, but as far as he was concerned causality and change with time came from cultural processes, not natural ones.[1]

Santiago, Myrna

Santiago, Myrna I. The Ecology of Oil: Environment, Labor, and the Mexican Revolution, 1900-1938. Cambridge [U.K.]: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Santiago blends social and environmental history to explain transformations in the Mexican oil industry leading up the Cárdenas' nationalization in 1938. The guiding concept she uses to bring these two fields together is the notion of an "ecology of oil," which addresses interwoven patterns of land tenure and use with social structures.
The major transformations she describes, then, fall along these three axes: tenure moving gradually from communal to private; use moving agricultural (subsistence and ranching) to drilling and refining; and the social landscape shifting from Huasteca to mestizo, as the industry attracted labour and the instability of the revolution—then post-revolutionary clientelism—pushed labour to the Vera Cruz.

Regarding tenure, the transformation she describes follows a common progression in which commonly held Huasteca land eventually became the property of foreign firms like Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell. However, unlike the situation Melville describes in the Valle del Mezquital, this progression is stunted and interrupted by the nature of the Huasteca landscape and the social transformations of the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period. Although consolidation of ownership did occur in the lead up to the revolution, land was not fully privatized by an invasion of ranching-focused hacendados, partly because the dense jungle and tar pits spotting the land were not conducive to large-scale ranching. Moreover, as foreign firms moved in to search for and exploit reserves, the instability of the revolutionary period made it more reasonable to rent from hacendados instead of purchasing land outright.

Hvalkof, Soren.

Hvalkof, Soren. “Outrage in Rubber and Oil: Extractivism, Indigenous Peoples, and Justice in the Upper Amazon.” In Charles Zerner, ed. People, Plants, and Justice: The Politics of Nature Conservation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. pp. 83-117

Perhaps one of the more conventional works of this volume, “Outrage in Rubber and Oil,” suggests a continuity of injustice that straddles the temporal boundaries of successive export booms in the Upper Amazon. I say conventional because in the end it posits collective land title as the “key to control” (106), a crucial mechanism by which indigenous peoples can transcend debt bondage. In this sense he reiterates the conclusions of most who deal with the region (Varese, Chirif, García, Gray, etc.) without acknowledging the myriad nuanced ways that tenure can give rise to other sets of problems (see Sawyer chapter 1, García and Chirif, or the critique Benavides and Chirif make of the De Soto brand of tenure). Morover, Ribot’s piece in this same volume shows how property rights do not necessarily translate into justice.

Hvalkof opens with a vignette of Siona Indians of Puerto Bolívar (Ecuador) resisting the arrival of Chinese oil company. He explains how the Siona political awakening was nourished in two major ways: their struggle with the administrators of the Faunistic Reserve of Cuyabeno brought them together in a collective effort to delineate their territory and marked yet another crucial moment in their struggle against extractive activities, as immediately after signing a treaty with INEFAN in 1995 INEFAN turned around and granted an oil concession on newly legalized Siona land. Hvalkof uses this story and a conversation with locals to demonstrate the continuity of experience that Cuyabeno area Indigenous have had with extractive activities since the seventeenth century.

Mariátegui, José Carlos.

Mariátegui, José Carlos. "El problema del indio." In José Carlos Mariátegui. Siete ensayos de interpretacion de la realidad peruana. University of Texas Press, 1971.

El problema del indio, según Mariåtegui, es fundamentalmente un problema socio-económico. Para él no se trata de buscar resolverlo con remedios administrativos, jurídicos ni pedagógicos; ni tampoco se puede recurrir a discursos morales o humanistas para contrarrestar el pleito del indio. Para que una solución sea verdadera y perdurable, tendrá que enfrentarse al gamonalismo, y cualquier propuesta que no lo haga es uno más entre “otros tantos estériles ejercicios teóricos … condenados a un absoluto descrédito.” (35) 

No obstante, mientras que Mariátegui pulvoriza todos los argumentos que no se basen en un análisis marxista, también propone algo. Para combatir la lacra que es el gamonalismo y para desfacer agravios padecidos por la masa indígena, la solución estará en la provisión de tierra.

Thurner, Mark.

Thurner, Mark. From Two Republics to One Divided: Contradictions of Postcolonial Nationmaking in Andean Peru. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

From Two Republics to One Divided marshals subaltern theory to address the rocky relationship between the Peruvian state and peasantry during the long nineteenth century. By foregrounding the agency of highland alcaldes and varayoc (a power holding subaltern class, much like the K’iché elite that Grandin looks at), Thurner positions his narrative in between those who saw no forms of peasant nationalism emerge surrounding the War of the Pacific (Spalding, Bonilla) or saw indigenous insurgency as representative of little more than ethnic tribalism (Bonilla, on p. 97) on the one hand, and those who argue peasant communities were a crucial locus of national mobilization (Manrique and Mallon) on the other.

Ostensibly the story of the post-War of the Pacific Huaraz uprising lead by Pedro Pablo Atusparia (an alcalde originario), I would argue this book is more broadly a story of taxation, the contradictory institution by which the state-peasantry relationship was primarily mediated. Thurner spans the period from the Tupac Amaru II uprising to indigenismo, and looks at the way the residual colonial tribute system clashed and converged with postcolonial Liberal reforms in a way that positioned local alcaldes as the linchpin of republican order (127).

Hecht, Susanna and Alexander Cockburn

Hecht, Susanna and Alexander Cockburn. The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon. New York: Verso, 1989.

This is a good book. Even though the final conclusions mark the specific place and time of its writing, the overall approach of fusing a human-rights focus with environmental concerns is still illuminating. This is also a useful source on major debates in species diversity (chapter 2), the structural causes of deforestation (chapter 6) and conservation approaches (chapter 9).

The first half of the book introduces the reader to the nature of the Amazon, the initial incursions of colonial and national actors into the region and the discourses that drove them.

Chapter 1—more or less mirrored by Pizarro—lays out how the regions lent spatial dimensions to discourses of emptiness, abundance, imperial empiricism (echoing Worster), and transcendentalism's Edenic narratives (again echoing Worster). Next Hecht and Cockburn offer a very useful narrative excursion through the geology, hydrology, silviculture and biodiversity of the region, emphasizing how nature influenced history and outlining the various debates on species diversity. Specifically they link trends in environmentalism to theories of species diversity, arguing those who embrace “refugia” models (25) also tend to advocate “Eden under a glass” national parks and preserves of the progressivism ilk. Alternatively, they associate “endogenous disturbance” models—from which I assume the "patchworks" idea emerged—with what we might now call an environmental justice perspective, clearly their lens of choice. Next is a discussion of fire, both as a source of forest succession and destruction, along with the ecological consequences of clearing pasture. Finally, the first half introduces the reader to major economic incursions into the region, beginning with the Pombaline reforms and ending with Ford and the Allied effort to secure rubber supplies.