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L’encadrement des paysanneries dans les zones de colonisation en Amérique latine

Romain Gaignard
Claude Bataillon

Première partie. Grands aménagements et encadrements techniciens

Infrastructural investment and new settlement

The Papaloapan Basin, Mexico

Elisabeth A. Allen

Texte intégral

1This paper looks at the levels of development found in certain new settlements in a peripheral, or frontier region of the humid tropical lowlands of Mexico as part of a process of national development.

2It suggests that the higher the degree of infrastructural investment, the greater the degree of involvement in the political structure of the region and the nation.

3The provision of infrastructure in new settlements is evidence of permanency and a physical proof of establishment, but it is also part of a system of development involving local, regional and national policies.

4Previous personal research in the colonization regions of Colombia had raised important questions regarding the process of regional development in new areas of settlement and the selection of the Papaloapan Basin was a deliberate choice to consider such a process under the auspices of an official regional development agency (the Comisión del Papaloapan) concerned with integrating a peripheral region into the national economy.

5Although a combination of many factors is important in the process-topography, environment, economics, social structures, etc. - field research suggests that perhaps the most important is the political factor, particularly in the allocation of scarce resources such as infrastructure in a frontier area.


6The region lies south-east of Mexico City (see Mao), and covers a total area of 46,517 sq. km. The river system drains into the Gulf of Mexico and in the past has caused severe flooding in the Lower Basin (21,000 sq. km.), a generally humid area of undulating coastal plain. Many regions within the Upper Basin, primarily comprising mountains and canyons (although there are some productive valleys), are isolated and peripheral to regional life but it is into the peripheral, frontier area of the Lower Basin that substantial new settlement has occurred in the last thirty years.

7Data available for 1970 shows that the Papaloapan Basin is a prodiminantly poor, agriculturally dependent region (64 % are employed in agriculture: Mexico 39 %) with lower than average access to education (literacy rate 62 %: Mexico 76 %), health (Basin, 2,299 persons/doctor: Mexico 1,852 persons), electricity (Basin 41 % of houses: Mexico 60 %), sewerage systems (Basin 26 % of houses: Mexico 42 %), and drinking water (Basin 44 % of houses: Mexico 61 %). Average annual income per rural family in the Papaloapan Basin is in the order of US $ 1,318).


8Census date for 1950, 1960 and 1970 from the eight municipios in the frontier area within the Basin provide a general idea of the numbers of new settlements established in the last thirty years, but field surveys found many discrepancies, particularly in the 1950 census which had often failed to enumerate existing villages. The most accurate data concerning settlements are to be found in the statistics kept by the Comision Nacional para la Erradicacion del Paludismo. the department of the Secrataria de Salubridad y Asistencia (SSA) concerned with the eradication of malaria, since its members visit all houses every six months. Unfortunatly, fully comparative date from the SSA was not available in 1976 when the study was conducted. Table I sumarises the data from the above sources.

9The SSA figure, so much higher than those of the censuses, reflects greater attention to detail and is more accurate. Allowing for inaccuracies in the census material, the data suggest that the increase in new settlements founded was in the order of 58 % between 1950-1960, and 46,6 % between 1960-1970.



+ Figures in brackets denote settlements less than 500 pop.
Figures in square brackets denote unoccupied houses/settlements.

10Of the 347 settlements accounted for in 1970, approximately 200 had been established since 1950 within the Basin; in the area known as Uxpanapa, to the cast, 91 settlements were nominally established in that time period (not all were occupied), but have been reorganized in the last five years. The sample studied in the field represents a survey of 18.21 % of these new settlements (53 cases), drawn from both directed (i.e. resettlement villages) and spontaneous examples and including a variety of ejidal and private landholding groups.

11Interviews in these settlements suggest that the most important peak of new settlement activity was from 1956-60 when 28.3 % of the settlements studied were founded. Smaller peaks of activity are found from 1951-55 (16.9 %); 1961-65 (18.9 %); and 1971-75 (16.9 %). The latter boom in new settlements is related to the development of a new colonization project at Uxpanapa, part of the resettlement scheme for the Cerro de Oro Dam, and the construction of the new paved road which crosses the frontier area. The peak from 1956 onwards to 1965 represents the height of resettlement from the Miguel Aleman Dam and a corresponding peak in spontaneous settlement foundation. In this manner the process of frontier settlement has advanced by stages into new areas.


12One of the most important processes within this system of settlement is the provision of facilities for the communities. Theoretically these could be provided by cooperative efforts within and between villages, but, in fact, little has taken place, although some notable exceptions are found within the area. More generally, infrastructure is provided by an official agency and either donated, as in the case of state schools, or paid for during subsequent use, as, for exemple, in the case of the provision of drinking water.

13The agency with the most comprehensive inputs over the whole region is the Comisión del Papalaopan. an autonomous body functioning under the administrative structure of the Secretaria de Recursos Hidraulicos (SRH), now absorbed into the Secretaria de Agricultura under recent reforms, which has the responsibility for water control, road construction, technical assistance in agriculture and general integrated rural development as well as major dam construction.

14The individual states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Puebla (which divide the Basin), place investment in the settlements, for example in the provision of teachers. The Secretaría de Obras Publicas (SOP). is responsible for road construction and maintenance and in at least one instance has been responsible for considerable investment in the zona urbana (the area reserved for house construction) of a settlement. Another government department, the SSA, has schemes for providing infrastructure to settlements, (mainly for the building of water towers, pumps, health centres, etc.), while the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI) provides schools, teachers, technical assistance, and general aid to indigenous communities.

15The role of the credit banks, in particular, and similar agencies, should be remembered, as they are also important in implanting infrastructure in the communities, for example the Fideicomiso Ganadero Ejidal, and the Banco de Credlto Rural.


16Within the settlements studied, the most common investments in existing infrastructure were found to be primary schools (88.7 %); roads of access (83.1 %); churches (79.2 %); credit facilities (75.5 %); technical assistance in agriculture (58.5 %); and improved varieties of seeds (54.7 %); while the lowest incidences were found in secondary schools, sewage disposal, pumps to provide a water supply, INI special schools (this is an area with a relatively high proportion of indigenous groups), airstrips and post offices.

17Analysis of the overall data obtained suggests that the most significant of planned investments are in electricity, drinking water (general provision), wells, technical assistance, roads and health centres. It is possible that schools do not represent their true importance because of their already high degree of provision in number if not in desired quality.


18Table II gives an analysis of the investment in infrastructure found in the settlements studied, comparing the investments by the mode of arrival of the settlers (i.e. spontaneous, comuneros, or resettled), the form of settlement (i.e. ejido, pequeño propietario, or colonla), and by the different regions selected within the area. The figures represent the percentage of the total cases studied which have certain facilities, except in the case of shops and churches where only the settlements without facilities are represented.

  1. Comuneros, groups of spontaneous settlers invoking ancient rights to land, make up 3.8 % of the sample survey. They are, apart from the resettlement schemes resulting from recent dam construction, the youngest in age of establishment-both being founded less than five years ago. Infrastructural investment is found in primary schools, some use of improved seeds and credit, road access and bus services. Despite continue uncertainty in the rights of the groups to the occupation of the lands that they are using, state provision of education has been rapid and effective. The use of improved seeds reflects the driving force of the leaders of these groups to effect rapid change and establish lasting settlement. The use of credit is generally obtained through the region's middle-men, the commerciantes or coyotes, rather than through government agencies, as officials and unknown outsiders are mistrusted.

  2. Spontaneous settlements, excluding comuneros, represent 54.7 % of the total cases studied. They show evidence of investment in primary schools (49.1 %); road access (41.5 %); credit (34.0 %); improved seeds (30.2 %); technical assistance (26.4 %); and bus services (22.6 %). Some 11.3 % of the total cases represented in this category have no shops in the settlement. It is also interesting to note that all types of infrastructural investment are represented in this group.

  3. Reacomodados, resettlement villages resulting from dam construction, represent 41.5 % of the total cases, and have investment in credit and road access (37.7 %); primary school (35.8 %); technical assistance (32.1 %); electricity (26.4 %); improved seeds and bus services (22.6 %); and drinking water (20.8 %). Only 3.8 % of the cases represented have no shops at all, and none have sewage facilities or secondary schools.

19A comparison of spontaneous and resettlement groups reveals a proportionatly greater investment by the latter in electricity, drinking water, technical assistance, credit, health centres, etc. Much of this investment is explained, in general, by the official interest in the settlements, for example through the Comision del Papaloapan, and a willingness to place fairly heavy capital investment into them, at least initially. Available data from Comisión show that out of the total expenditure between 1947-1970 of $ 1,236,171,808 (pesos Mexicanos, unadjusted value, pre 1976 devaluation), some $ 135,190,180 was spent exclusively on "social action" and of that sum $ 44,362,606 was spent on the resettlement of the populations affected by the building of the Aleman Dam. More recently (1972-1976), $ 77,000,000 out of a total of $ 689,200,000 has been spent in the Uxpanapa project on the construction of new townships (poblados). In both these cases additional funds were spent on the promotion of agricultural production and improving agricultural techniques. Between 1976-81, it is planned to spend some US $ 120 m. in an Integrated Rural Development Scheme over the whole Basin. This programme, partly financed by the World Bank, will invest social overhead capital into settlements with populations greater than 500 persons and makes no distinction between spontaneous or directed settlements. Only nine settlements within the sample discussed here are eligible for such investment.



i) figures, unless otherwise specified, represent % of total cases studied
ii) data obtained from sample of 53 settlements, Lower Papaloapan Basin & Uxpanapa Mexico, 1975-1976.
iii) computer programme : Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, CROSSTABS.

20An analysis of infrastructural investment by the form of settlement shows that:

  1. Colonias, a group of smallholders or private landholders characteristic of the frontier region, and who may only sell or mortgage their plots with the consent of their fellow, make up 26.4 % of the total. Substantial investment in infrastructure is found in primary schools and credit (22.6 %); roads (20.7 %); and improved seeds (18.9 %).

  2. Pequeños propietarios, or smallholders, in this instance reacomodados from the Aleman Dam, make up only 1.9 % of the total. They have investment in electricity, wells, primary schools, technical assistance, credit, roads, health centre, and bus service. It is the only settlement in the survey to boast over 22 commercial establishments'. Additional refinements are also seen in the refurnished police station, the paved streets, and the artistically reconstructed central square. By any comparison, the provision in this settlement has been exceptional: it has been conditioned by a series of events such as the surfacing of the adjacent road, giving a through route to major towns, the fortuitous investment by the SOP in redesigning the central area, and a rapidly generated local economy based mainly on trade and provision in the burgeoning commercial establishments.

  3. Ejidos. villages with land held in commun by the inhabitants who have the rights of usufruct but may not sell or mortgage the land they use, constitute 71.7 % of the total cases. None has sewage facilities or a secondary school, but substantial investment is found in primary schools (64.3 %); road access (60.4 %); credit (50.9 %); technical assistance (43.4 %); improved seeds (35.8 %); bus services (34.0 %); electricity (26.4 %); and drinking water (24.5 %).

21A comparison of investments made in the different forms of settlement suggests that the colonia, as a type, has a lower priority for, or little power to attract, investment in items of social overhead capital strictly concerned with the community, such as electricity and drinking water. Significant exceptions are found, for example, in the colonia which has pressured the state for a secondary school and had one built, and in another where cooperative effort and influence in the municipio administration has financed vital road construction. Part of the general lack of investment may be explained by the often scattered nature of the community, allied to the much more individual spirit of work and achievement after initial settlement is made.

22The ejido, on the other hand, in the frontier area has been the main form of settlement for reacomodados (who receive large inputs of infrastructure), and for indigenous groups. It has been the object of State aid and rehabilitation. The awareness of investments made to reacomodados has spurred demands for physical improvements to the zona urbana of other communities, and the concept of development and change is, in general, closely allied to physical improvements rather than economic advancement.

23Regional assessment of the situation includes the analysis that has been made above. Both the mode of arrival of the settlers and the form of settlement are expressed in overall regional characteristics. For example, over 50 % of settlements in La Joya, Cihualtepec, Yogopi, Carreterra (alongside the new road), Sontecomapan and Uxpanapa are ejidal in form, while only Playa Vicente predominantly consists of colonias. Similary, the areas of directed settlement are La Joya, Cihualtepec, Yogopi, and Uxpanapa.

24One of the most striking aspects of infrastructural development on a regional scale is that no one region can claim 20 % of any facility. Perhaps the most comprehensive spread of infrastructure is found in Playa Vicente, one of the older regions (11-30 yrs), while the younger settlement areas of the Carreterra and Sontecomapan show least provision. It is interesting to compare infrastructure alongside the Carreterra with the government directed area of the same age in Uxpanapa. In the latter the intense interest of the officials in new methods of agricultural production, particularly of rice, explains the high degree of investment in agricultural and transport infrastructure. In Uxpanapa, the provision of typical resettlement infrastructure such as electricity, drinking water, pumps, and health centres is merely a matter of continued government funding in the 1977-81 presidential term of office. Alongside the newly paved road investment is much slower to appear, and of limited application.


25In the settlements, the need for further development in infrastructure was clearly seen, partly as a response to a concept of development as a visible, tangible process of construction. When asked what was most needed by the settlement "to improve the quality of life", the first requirements emerged as electricity (25.5 %); improvements to the primary school or for more teachers (2 3.5 %); road construction or improvement (19.6 %); and the provision of drinking water from stand pipes or taps (11.8 %). It is interesting that the overall demand is for the obvious existence of change. Although particular settlements wanted investment in infrastructure associated with agriculture or access to markets (eg. a vitally important bridge built), most did not want investment in items which would directly generate income by an increase in agricultural production or direct integration into the market economy.

26In second place, requirements were a little more varied: electricity is still the most perceived need (27.1 %); followed by drinking water (19.6 %); primary schools (13.7 %); and technical assistance, roads and health centres (7.8 %).

27Particular analysis of the requirements expressed by the communities shows that the spontaneous group wanted electricity, hardly suprising when only 17 % of them have such investment, while the reacomodados claim that their main requirement is for some improvement to the primary school facilities.

28As 86 % of these settlements in fact have schools, their need reflects the lack of quality rather than lack of provision. The comuneros required improved schools and also credit facilities, despite already having efficiently functioning schools and being very mistrustful of outsiders, especially government agents!

29Priority for investment from the ejidos comes in the need for road access and school provision, while the colonias require the installation of electricity. The pequeñios propietarios already had relatively good provision for education with concrete school and plenty of teachers, but were still concerned that provision could be improved.

30It appears that this demand for education in a school situation, rather than in a vocational situation, is a result of general conditioning that school education is important, often neglecting the basic necessity for other aspects of training, such as the use of technical assistance. Nationally and regionally there are insuffisant technical staff to reach all settlements-just as there are insufficient teachers to provide education in general above the third grade of primary school-especially the more remote, but demands for such facilities were not forthcoming, nor perceived as important when compared to a school education "to give the children a chance".

31On a regional basis, the priority requirement in terms of infrastructural investment is mainly for electricity to be provided in the communities. (Playa Vicente, Carreterra and Sontecomapan), and for the provision of schools (Yogopi and Uxpanapa). Three areas saw road building as a vital future investment-although they were not the most poorly provided of the regions - (La Joya, Cihualtepec and Sontecomapan), while only one region had any demand for drinking water (La Joya), mainly because of the very porous nature of the rock and the distant location of the settlements in relation to the rivers.


32The study of infrastructural investment demonstrates some of the problems not only of regional development, but of centre-periphery relations. Development, such as this process of settling new areas, can only be effected and explained within the larger economic and political system; the investment in infrastructure may only be understood by considering the vertical linkages to regional and national processes.

33In this case, the relationship between the agencies of development and the communities, is most important for the direction and control of change in some of the more isolated and peripheral rural areas. The provision of infrastructure depends upon a close working relation-ship between the agency and its employees implementing change, and the individuals or the community receiving investment, and constitutes part of a system to incorporate the communities into national, social, economic and political processes. How much and how little infrastructural investment any settlement has may be indicative of its position within those processes. The key to different levels of infrastructural provision seems to be essentially a political one.

34It is a two way process. Official interest can stimulate investment but may also create problems of dependency-eg. in the resettlement scheme associated with the Aleman Dam. The population, mainly Mazatec Indians, moved from their traditional homeland clearly suffered a traumatic relocation. They were divided up and settled in isolated and poor regions on the periphery, with little transport and access to markets. Wide investment in infrastructure was made, although the quality was not considered good, and the settlements were then left to their own devices. But dependency upon the Comisión as provider of infrastructure had been established in the mob and still continues.

35Later directed settlement (Uxpanapa) received greater investment in order to allay some of the difficulties encountered in the previous project. One of the effects of this has been to make earlier reacomodados jealous and demand equal treatment from the Comisión, and to encourage other groups to seek infrastructural investment.

36National economic and political processes have affected these developments-financial disaster at the end of the Echeveria Alvarez sexeñio meant that all infrastructural investment in the poblados of Uxpanapa was halted-and the repercussions of national decisions hit hardest at the lowest end of the linkage.

37Policy decisions to invest only in larger settlements exclude many isolated on the frontier region, but major road development (Carreterra) has stimulated scattered colonos (inhabitants of a colonta) to move to a zona urbana. there by uniting forces even if not becoming major settlements. They now seek investment in schools, electricity and drinking water, taking part in the drive towards urbanization in the rural areas.

38At the other end of the spectrum, demands by communities for investment are met when they are able to manipulate political power. For example, the comuneros received investment in schools and improved seeds by the determined and vociferous action of their leaders, although from another point of view they could be called invasores or squatters; one settlement developed a wide range of investment because it had the personal support of the state governor who could pull strings in government departments in the capital; and another received largesse because the settlement was named after the mother of a regional official. Access to, and manipulation of, political power encourages and ensures investment in infrastructure as well as determining the form of development.

39It is evident from this study that a large proportion of the sample see development as a physical construction within the community. Both officials and settlements want to see the evidence of improvement, but often the infrastructure is determined by what is available for investment. One settlement desperately needs a bridge over a ravine to transport goods and produce. The agency was unable to help in any way with this and plans to install electricity. Other settlements, wiser to the functioning of the system, look for investments which they stand a chance of obtaining and not what they really need. It may be this factor which explains the lack of stated requirement for the resolution of land disputes (which many settlements had), better access to markets, and technical assistance to improve agricultural production.

40The great importance of vertical linkages within this system of development imbues the personal contact system with political power. At the settlement level, agency or personal contact is vital for investment and change, while the agency clearly needs good national, Presidential and often International relations to effect change and implant infrastructure at the local level.

41This paper has considered the relationship between infrastructure, the development of peripherical regions and access to political and economic power. More work now needs to be done to follow up this theme of development and centre-periphery relations by tracing the results of policy implement down to the lowest level of articulation in the field. It is hoped to do this in the near future by a detailed study of the processes at work in the Brazilian projects of PIN (National Integration Programme) and MOBRAL (Brazilian Literacy Movement) to develop the interior regions of Brazil, a project for which has already been sent to the Social Science Research Council in London.


42Financial support for the fieldwork relating to this paper was provided by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencias y tecnologia on behalf of the Government of Mexico, and the Social Science Research Council of Great Britain. Valuable assistance was also provided by the Comisión del Papaloapan, the Department of Geography at the University of Aberdeen, and the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Glasgow. Above all, invaluable support and help was given by the many people who helped to compile the survey and to interpret the results in the Papaloapan Basin.

Table des illustrations

Fichier image/jpeg, 400k
Légende + Figures in brackets denote settlements less than 500 pop.Figures in square brackets denote unoccupied houses/settlements.
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Légende i) figures, unless otherwise specified, represent % of total cases studiedii) data obtained from sample of 53 settlements, Lower Papaloapan Basin & Uxpanapa Mexico, 1975-1976.iii) computer programme : Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, CROSSTABS.
Fichier image/jpeg, 427k

© Éditions de l’IHEAL, 1979

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