Coercion, Culture and Debt Contracts: The Henequen Industry in Yucatan, Mexico, 1870-1915
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.
For comments we thank Dan Bogart, Steve Casler, Alan Dye, Paul Eiss, Stanley Engerman, Herbert Nickel, Piedad Peniche, Andrew Seltzer, Allen Wells, and participants at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the International Society of the New Institutional Economics and the 2007 Yucatan in Pennsylvania Roundtable. We kindly acknowledge Pedro Bracamonte y Sosa, Maritza Arrigunaga, Herbert J. Nickel and the Church of the Latter Day Saints for supplying us data and Abraham Morales for research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
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.