The ostrich politics of groundwater development and neoliberal regulation in Mexico

Jaime Hoogesteger
Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands; jaime.hoogesteger@wur.nl

ABSTRACT: In this article I present the politics that spurred groundwater development in Central and Northern Mexico between 1930 and 1990, and analyse the working/effects of the neoliberal groundwater policies that were implemented in the country since the 1990s. I first present, based on an analysis of the Comarca Lagunera and the state of Guanajuato, the socio-economic, political and institutional dynamics that shaped groundwater development between 1930 and 1990, with a special focus on how with state support large commercial farmers and small ejidatarios developed groundwater irrigation. My analysis shows how the actors involved in groundwater development, just like ostriches, stuck their head in the sand, oblivious to aquifer overdraft and its environmental consequences. Then I present how – since the 1990s – neoliberal groundwater regulation policies have worked out on the ground opening the doors to regulatory capture and groundwater accumulation through capital, oblivious to sustained aquifer overdraft, a shrinking peasant ejido sector, increased rural outmigration and the health threat of toxic concentration of Fluoride and Arsenic in many groundwater dependent areas. This analysis raises serious doubts about the capacity of – often (inter)nationally lauded – neoliberally inspired groundwater policies to contribute to socio-environmental sustainability and equity.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, water policy, water markets, water grabbing, agrarian policies, Mexico