Rural elite and peasant strategies in the restructuring of the coffee market in Veracruz, Mexico, 1989-1996
This thesis is based on two main arguments. First, the coffee market is strongly regulated and embedded because of its natural setting and social make up. Coffee is a perennial cash crop mainly cultivated in tropical and semi-tropical mountains, where small producers have played an important role. Issues of labour intensity, land access and property rights, massive investments in infrastructure and credit, and cyclical behaviour of markets have shaped the emergence of coffee sector institutions. Countries, in which complex institutional arrangements were made to face these convergent factors, have succeeded in overcoming many "coffee crises". I present the case of Atzalan, Veracruz, in Mexico, as a case of institutional failure and loss of a privileged opportunity for rural development in poverty-stricken areas. Second, elites have commonly been neglected in analyses of how peasant practices and identities change in the context of agricultural 'modernisation'. This is particularly pertinent in the context of Mexico, where caciquismo has long been of extreme economic, social and political significance, both within and beyond state institutions. Elites are important in rural societies because they establish a privileged link with peasants, both in the coffee market and in other areas of social interaction. Their strategies of accommodation vis a vis the state and powerful actors have created opportunities for regional development, specialisation and integration in national and international markets. I present a historical perspective of a coffee producing region in Central Veracruz, whose local elites channelled federal and state resources, mobilised peasants and challenged state intervention in key economic activities. Elites are interlocked with peasant communities in many different and complex ways. Elites' knowledge of coffee markets has an effect on business making and market institutions (contracts and grading systems, price formation, value creation incentives). In turn, peasant organisations and their economic strategies are strongly influenced by this elite framework.