Rita Gonzalez Martinez La El Ejida del Ejido
If you were born and raised outside of Mexico, chances are you grew up in a capitalistic environment. Not so for some of our fellow Todos Santanians. People here have a much different perspective, especially when it comes to property ownership. Many are Ejidotarios; members of the Ejido system. Simply put, it combines communal ownership with individual use… a democratic communism, if you will. This has fascinated me since I first arrived here, and I’ve wanted to learn more. Meet Rita Gonzalez Martinez, the current president of The Ejido Todos Santos. Tell me, what do you feel is the most common misunderstanding the gringos have of what the Ejido really is? It seems Americans don’t often trust the Mexicans they are buying land from and they come in here asking for our help. We are not mediators between landowners and buyers. I see. How many Ejido members are in this area? We have 252 here in Todos Santos, with 254 rights. (two members have two rights each). Some of us are fishermen, others are farmers or people with livestock. But we are all equal and on the same level. What was the thinking that created this system in the first place? Was it basically to provide land or livelihood to poor farmers or fishermen? The people who worked the land created the Ejido, with the help of Emiliano Zapata, who fought for the farmers to own the land they were working on. It’s sort of like a union. And the government during President Salinas’ term, gave us legal rights. What is your internal structure? We have our governing body..the comiseriado, or board of directors. I am the current president, and I have a vice president, secretary, and treasurer. There is also an “oversight” committee made up of a president and two secretaries. We are elected for three year terms. We need board approval to do any transaction. We all meet and must agree, according to rules and laws, on what can or cannot be done. Are you the first woman president? And how were you chosen?
Yes, I am the first woman president, and we have our first woman vice president, too. We campaign and everyone votes. It’s a majority decision. Do you get paid? No. How often do you meet? We meet the last Sunday of every month. If someone isn’t able to come, they must send a representative. Do you experience internal conflicts amongst yourselves? Well, we have so many members and don’t always agree, but we are a family. We all get equal profits and benefits, which makes it easier to agree. We have minor discussions and must sign off on each decision. We have to agree. We have to register everything we do every time we meet. Since the Constitutional reforms were made in 1992 to allow land to be converted to private property, and also allow sales and rentals to foreigners, do you think this has benefited Ejido members? Yes, now we have the freedom to invest in properties and enterprises, and don’t have to be limited to being just farmers or fishermen. We are more independent from the government. Can a foreigner become an Ejidotario? No, but he can enter into a partnership with one. How does one become an Ejidotario? If your family was part of the original workers who formed the Ejido, the right is passed on. One has the ability to sell their right to other family members or to another Ejidotario. What is your biggest challenge? We have a lot of land and not enough water. It’s our big priority now. People think Todos Santos has a lot of water and that it’s being wasted. But we only have a certain amount for our use, and it’s not enough. Our water is separate from the city water. And who regulates the use of your water?
We have a concession for the water and a special group regulates it. Each parcel gets a designated amount according to the needs. How is that controlled? Well, right now, everyone does whatever he wants, but that is going to change. Oh, so is that why all the canals are piped with control valves now? Yes…and it was just decided that there will be a person in charge of the valves, which will be padlocked. There will be a schedule and everyone will be informed and get the amount of water needed for their property, if the property has deeded rights to it. I have a feeling this is not free anymore? True…the concession is called Superficial Water, and there will be a one time charge of $2,000 pesos per hectare, and a monthly fee of $100 pesos for the valve control person. And how will each property’s needs be determined? It will be the responsibility of the property owners to come to our office to discuss their needs and request an assessment. If you need six or seven hours of water, we will give it to you. That sounds fair enough, I suppose. So, back to piping the canals… a lot of people are upset about so many old palm and mango trees dying and shrimp disappearing from the free flow of water throughout the canal system. It seems to have gotten worse since the pipes were installed. What about that? Piping the canals is not why trees have died. Water was being wasted in the canals… in fact the trees were getting too much water. Also the palms were drying up from a plague, called Pucudo de la Palma. No foreigners helped us fight this plague. We saved many trees and nobody is talking about that! It costs us a lot of money to continue to do this. We have ten people working every day on it, and we have been working with the University of La Paz. Lots of those dying trees are green again. It sounds as though there is a great need for more communication between all of us, then.
Oh yes. It’s a shame that most foreigners don’t know what the Ejido is doing, and they don’t understand what they are seeing. It would be nice if they came and talked to us to better understand. It’s easy to point fingers. Maybe this will help, then. I am glad you are doing this because it is needed. The people who were concerned about specific trees on their properties came and asked to install faucets in the pipes for them. Lots of people never showed up to make those requests, and it is not our responsibility to save people’s trees on private property. The canals were in very bad shape. The pipes actually make it easier to get water quicker. I see. What about all the talk about diverting water to the larger farms? We have thirty-‐three members who are starting to do organic farming, called Group 33. Another group, Canada Honda, is already working south of La Pastora. They need water and we are trying to send it to that area. The schedule will allow for everyone to get their designated water and the faucets which were installed will make that possible. Who funds the capital for equipment, maintenance, and labor? The president and the treasurer raise the funds. For any enterprise we start, each person pays something and shares in the profits. Everyone gets paid something every month… could be $15,000 pesos one month, $10,000 another. When we decide to start a new enterprise, like the new gas station, a percentage of any property sold goes to the person and the rest to the Ejido, to fund the project. It’s worked out on a sliding scale. Which brings up another sore subject. That gas station! How did it happen it was placed directly over the aquafer? Wasn’t anyone concerned about polluting the town’s water supply? Oh, that’s been a big problem for us. That project has been delayed eight months because of all the protests, which has greatly increased our costs. What people don’t know is that we have permits, based on many environmental studies. That location was chosen because it never floods, and it is close to town. So how is this going to get resolved?
We had to make costly compromises to solve the situation. The solution was to not put the tanks underground. We will be using brand new technology to build concrete “coffins” or tanks, above-‐ground. They are costing us $1,500,000 pesos! And that has satisfied the environmentalists? We think so. It has been very difficult for us. Pemex only gives you a certain amount of time to create and build a station. If you don’t do it within the time frame, you have to pay another $250,000 pesos. And Pemex is really picky. Do you ever feel pressured by members to do or not do a particular thing? I feel as long as I don’t hurt my community, all decisions are to make things better. Do you like this system and feel it is still necessary? Yes… we have our own criteria and can present new ideas and have new projects. Having grown up here, how do you feel about all the changes happening in Todos Santos? Until now it was pretty quiet and calm. We are lucky with the changes happening here…not like in Cabo San Lucas, which is a mess. Compared to other Ejidos, we have very little land, but what we have is much better quality. The people who have moved here seem to want to maintain the integrity of the town. Do you think some Ejido members regret selling their land? Only the ones who don’t have the money anymore. I don’t hear many complaints. Besides, we are getting more property. We have lots more territory to give, but won’t do that until the water resources are plentiful and people can work with the land. Is there anything more you would like to say to our readers? I don’t want people to be afraid to come talk to us because of what they hear. We are not all the same. We need more communication between us. I want our members to be informed more about what the foreigners are doing. And I want to encourage more people to support the Red Cross,
the Fire Department, and children’s sports Also, make sure when you donate that it goes directly to the cause… not through someone else’s hands. I want people to know that if I live here it’s because I love it and want to make it better. Well, Rita, it’s been very interesting talking to you. I’ve learned a lot. Sounds like we all should have a great big barbeque sometime and get to know each other better, to bridge some of the communication gap. We would love that! Let’s plan it. We have the room!