Matters of Justice


Matters of Justice

Pueblos, the Judiciary, and Agrarian Reform in Revolutionary Mexico

Helga Baitenmann

The Mexican Experience Series

342 pages
3 photographs, 8 illustrations, 1 glossary, index


May 2020


$60.00 Add to Cart

May 2020


$35.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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May 2020


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eBook (EPUB)
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May 2020


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About the Book

After the fall of the Porfirio Díaz regime, pueblo representatives sent hundreds of petitions to Pres. Francisco I. Madero, demanding that the executive branch of government assume the judiciary’s control over their unresolved lawsuits against landowners, local bosses, and other villages. The Madero administration tried to use existing laws to settle land conflicts but always stopped short of invading judicial authority.

In contrast, the two main agrarian reform programs undertaken in revolutionary Mexico—those implemented by Emiliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza—subordinated the judiciary to the executive branch and thereby reshaped the postrevolutionary state with the support of villagers, who actively sided with one branch of government over another.

In Matters of Justice Helga Baitenmann offers the first detailed account of the Zapatista and Carrancista agrarian reform programs as they were implemented in practice at the local level and then reconfigured in response to unanticipated inter- and intravillage conflicts. Ultimately, the Zapatista land reform, which sought to redistribute land throughout the country, remained an unfulfilled utopia. In contrast, Carrancista laws, intended to resolve quickly an urgent problem in a time of war, had lasting effects on the legal rights of millions of land beneficiaries and accidentally became the pillar of a program that redistributed about half the national territory.

Author Bio

Helga Baitenmann is an associate fellow of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of London. She is the coeditor of Decoding Gender: Law and Practice in Contemporary Mexico.


"Matters of Justice should be studied as a general course-correction in our understanding of how pueblos, land, and governance intersected during a formative period in Mexico's history."—Morgan Veraluz, New Mexico Historical Review

"Because of the care with which she reconstructs the implementation of the early agrarian reform, Baitenmann's book will be required reading for those teaching or writing about the history of the Mexican Revolution for many years to come."—Timothy M. James, H-LatAm

"Baitenmann excels at grounding her argument in exhaustive archival research within the context of the broader literature."—M. Becker, Choice

“Richly researched and carefully argued, Matters of Justice sheds new light on the agrarian reforms born of the Mexican Revolution, showing how changing political circumstances and unforeseen practical difficulties turned widespread calls for village land restitution into a makeshift system of executive land grants that bypassed judicial sanction and gave birth to a new institution, the Mexican ejido. A must-read for every historian of modern Mexico.”—Emilio Kourí, author of A Pueblo Divided: Business, Property, and Community in Papantla, Mexico

“A landmark history of the Mexican agrarian reform’s juridical underpinnings and the logistical considerations that shaped its execution. Matters of Justice punctures historiographical shibboleths and paints a new portrait of what lawmakers believed the land reform was and how it should be executed. It provides crisp insight into how communities learned to navigate the land reform’s sometimes labyrinthine legal structures.”—Christopher Boyer, author of Political Landscapes: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico

“A much-needed corrective to the first decade of agrarian reform in Revolutionary Mexico. . . . Because the foci shift seamlessly between the federal district and the countryside, the result is a multivocal and balanced assessment of agrarian reform that, despite its shortcomings, contradictions, and inconsistencies, set the course of Mexican rural policy for the next eighty years.”—John J. Dwyer, author of The Agrarian Dispute: The Expropriation of American-Owned Rural Land in Postrevolutionary Mexico

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Hidden Histories of Revolutionary Agrarian Reform
1. The Inherent Difficulties of Winning Pueblo Land and Water Suits in Nineteenth-Century Mexico
2. Pueblo Land and Water Claims during the Madero Administration, 1911–1913
3. The Zapatista Land Reform, 1911–1916
4. The Constitutionalist Land Reform in the Absence of the Judiciary, 1914–1917
5. The Return of the Judiciary in Uncertain Times, 1917–1924
6. The Morelos Laboratory, 1920–1924
Epilogue: Zapatista and Constitutionalist Agrarian Reforms Compared

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