El 20 de Noviembre

(Extracted from “Design as Freedom in practice”)

The Ejido 20 de Noviembre is located in the State of Campeche, in the Municipality of Calakmul, which was officially created in 1996 (Gob. De Calakmul, n.d. b) through the integration of 82 lowly populated communities (H. Ayuntamiento de Calakmul, 2012). As described by Baltazar González, who served as the municipal president of Calakmul in the period 2012-2014, these communities were settled mainly because of the agrarian reformations and land distribution[1] that took place between the 1940s and 1970s, which attracted migrants from 24 different states within Mexico. Since it was established in the fifties, until the forest was nearly exhausted towards the end of the eighties, the Polish company called Mexican Mahogany was another reason to establish in the area.

Calakmul is also the name given to the largest protected area of the state of Campeche, a biosphere that extends over 723,000 hectares and that is listed as UNESCO Natural Heritage site (UNESCO, n.d.) and produces 13% of the oxygen on the planet (Gob. De Calakmul, n.d. a). Calakmul is the name given to an ancient Mayan city discovered by Cyrus Longworth Lundell in 1931. It means two adjacent mountains, which are in fact, pyramids (INAH, 2010). In 2014, UNESCO registered Calakmul as a Mixed Site on its World Heritage list (Hernández, 2014a), becoming the first of its kind in Mexico.

The town of Xpujil, which is located 26 km from the border that divides the states of Campeche and Quintana Roo functions as the capital of Calakmul, and is the middle point in the road that connects the cities of Escárcega and Chetumal, one of the two routes to Cancun, the main tourist destinations within Mexico. The reserve and the archaeological site attract tourists, but also researchers and NGOs.

The community ‘20 de Noviembre’, or “El 20”, as its inhabitants refer to it, is located within the buffer zone of the reserve, and only 15 km away from Xpujil. It was settled in 1971 by a group of families who migrated from the Mayan town of Dzitbalché, (Calkiní, Campeche). For this reason, the inhabitants of El 20 say that their village was founded by Mayan families; according to Eng. González, out of 82, El 20 is the only Mayan community in Calakmul, although nowadays non-Mayan and mixed families also live in the community.

Within Mexico, vast inequality prevails. Despite being the 14th largest global economy (World Bank, 2013) and therefore belongs to the G20, 46% of its population, which accounts for nearly 52 million people, live in poverty (CONEVAL, 2010). Despite its rich natural and cultural diversity, the Mexican assessment of poverty from 2012 shows that the state of Campeche is considered an area of high marginalization. Additionally, 85.8% of the total population of the Municipality of Calakmul live in poverty, while 46.1% live in extreme poverty (CONEVAL, 2010).

When the community was founded, within their primary rules, they established the conservation of ‘the jungle’ by defining an urban area, where they built their houses, and by limiting the amount of agricultural land. In principle, and in step with the revolutionary ideals, each ejdatario (head of the family, typically a man) could possess as much agricultural land as he could work. The voluntary preservation they made of their jungle would later allow them to become part of the national forest preservation programs run by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR), and to work closely with the Commission for the Natural Protected Areas (CONANP).

A recently elaborated territorial sorting analysis of Calakmul (Arreola et al., n.d.) shows what Julia Carabias (2012) points out, that the designation of forests as agricultural lands was a terrible mistake. Traditionally, families who practice subsistence agriculture in Mexico, alternate agricultural lands, so that part of the land that has just produced a crop is burned down and left to rest. However, with every generation, land gets divided and redistributed to the point where there is no chance to let any piece of land rest. In the jungle area, farmers would need to cut down parts of the forest to be used as agricultural land, which causes depletion and erosion. The new programmes for the protection of the forests do not allow the farmers to extend their agricultural land and also restrict livestock activities. Nonetheless, when farmers live from what they grow, restricting agricultural lands puts their fundamental security at risk. For that reason, the territorial sorting analysis aims to define the best locations for existing cultural-economic activities, such as the extraction of gum and apiculture, as well as creating new activities (Arreola et al., n.d.).

[1] Land distribution, as discussed earlier, was one of the drivers of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. In different reformations that occurred after that date, peasants who formerly owned no land and worked for a lord were granted plots of their own under ‘ejido’, which is roughly translated into commune, and which is basically a model of shared property.


A video of El 20, by Antti Seppanen (2013):


A slideshow, by Claudia Garduño García (2012):


2 thoughts on “El 20 de Noviembre

  1. This is really cool! Never heard of 20 de Noviembre before. Reminds me of a hippy commune a bit. Really an interesting place, I’m curious how the residents that grow up there respond to visits to the big city.

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