Coercion, Culture and Debt Contracts: The Henequen Industry in Yucatan, Mexico, 1870-1915

Lee Alston, Shannan Mattiace, Tomas Nonnenmacher

NBER Working Paper No. 13852
Issued in March 2008
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

While most contemporary historians agree that the use of debt peonage as a coercive labor contract in Mexico was not widespread, scholars still concur that it was important and pervasive in Yucatan state during the henequen boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The henequen boom concurred with the long rule of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1910), under whose watch property rights were reallocated through land laws, and Mexico's economy became much more closely tied to the United States. In the Yucatan, the accumulation of debts by peons rose as hacendados sought to attract and bond workers to match the rising U.S. demand for twine. We examine the institutional setting in which debt operated and analyze the specific functions of debt: who got it, what form it took, and why it varied across workers. We stress the formal and informal institutional contexts within which hacendados and workers negotiated contracts.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13852

Published: Alston, Lee J. & Mattiace, Shannan & Nonnenmacher, Tomas, 2009. "Coercion, Culture, and Contracts: Labor and Debt on Henequen Haciendas in Yucat?n, Mexico, 1870?1915," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(01), pages 104-137, March.

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