Negotiating Involuntary Resettlement A study of local bargaining during the construction of the Zimapán dam

University dissertation from Uppsala : Institutionen för kulturantropologi och etnologi

Abstract: This dissertation seeks to present and analyze the negotiation process between the Mexican Power Board (CFE) and the peasants of Ejido Vista Hermosa, who were displaced by the building of the Zimapán dam in central Mexico. I use these negotiations as a focal point to identify the strategies, the reasoning, the priorities, and the conflicts of interest of the two main actors in the resettlement project. I try to grasp and describe some of the items, events and transformations that made up the negotiations during the implementation phase. My attempts have been to show how highly dynamic, multileveled and multifaceted the negotiation process was and how profound and extensive the impacts were in the resettled peasant society. Furthermore, I also demonstrate how a powerful national institution, the CFE, was affected by the process and that an unexpected and dynamic field of social interaction developed between the main actors during the most intense period of the implementation phase.My main conclusion is that the resettled peasants faced a disarticulation of their society. The experts dismantled their society and chopped it up into small defined units (economic, political, social) with an emphasis on the material aspects (gate for gate, tree for tree). The peasants' way of life was scrutinized, objectified, quantified and evaluated. It was emptied of its cultural content and it became abstract and negotiable. The peasants, too, had to take a step back and look at their society with new eyes. They had to make up their minds, under the severe time pressure of the technical schedule for the building of the dam, which set the agenda, what they wanted to do with their future lives. Under these circumstances, they had to negotiate about cultural key symbols: the river, the land and the trees. This objectification, which was necessary for the negotiations, seems to have unraveled a delicate underlying socio-cultural fabric.Throughout the thesis, I have emphasized an ethnographic perspective, even though I have touched upon theoretical issues concerning time and space structures, events and transformations within the local system. I seek this ethnographic specificity because I see it as a way out of the simplistic duality of global contra local and as a way to avoid viewing the negotiations as an inflexible, hierarchical one-way relation.