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Haciendas of Yucatán

The Yucatecan henequen haciendas emerged in the second half of the 19th century as a result of the old families who had owned large landholdings since colonial times. These haciendas were the result of the transformation of the corn-livestock haciendas established by the Spanish during colonial times. The great henequen haciendas represented for 100 years, the base of the Yucatan economy. The incredible accumulation of wealth of the families that owned the haciendas was based on the most acute and even inhumane exploitation of human labour. More than a thousand haciendas worked at the beginning of the century, and Yucatán annually sold henequen abroad worth some 20 million pesos.

Haciendas of Yucatán were agricultural organizations that emerged primarily in the 18th century. They had a late-onset in Yucatán compared with the rest of Mexico because of geographical, ecological and economical reasons, particularly the poor quality of the soil and lack of water to irrigate farms. Commonly the farms were initially used exclusively for cattle ranching, with a low density of labour, becoming over time maize-growing estates in the north and sugar plantations in the south, before finally becoming henequen estates.

"Haciendas were created during the 19th century when the henequen industry debuted. These haciendas required large staffing for the cultivation of the fields, as well as, the development and maintenance of industrial processes, such as shredding the leaves. One of the regions of Yucatán which had produced maize but evolved into the henequen industry is the area adjoining and near Mérida. Along the main roads and in the "camino real" between Campeche and Mérida, these haciendas became established. By the 19th century, the hacienda henequenera developed on a wider scale throughout Yucatán, particularly in the north-central region, where the soil was better suited for the cultivation of henequen.

In Yucatán, the first regions where haciendas were established were adjacent or near the capital of Mérida along the main roads and the highway between Campeche and Mérida.[1] Predominantly from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, there was no large-scale production and the haciendas were strictly for raising livestock, which did not require concentrations of labour. Agricultural production was limited to feeding the livestock. From the middle of the eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century commercial agriculture was introduced because of growing urban demand and rising profitability potential.[2] Initially, the crop grown was maize, but increasingly the change was made to henequen production, in the cases of the estates of ItzincabSan Antonio SodzilTemozónUayalcehXtepen, and Yaxcopoil, among others. In areas farther from Mérida, sugar cane and livestock breeding were more prevalent. The Caste War of Yucatán, which began around 1847, destroyed much of the sugar industry in the southern and eastern parts of the peninsula. The invention of the mechanical scraper in 1852 for pulping and the high demand for rope, convinced farm owners throughout the state of Yucatán to switch to the production of sisal, though the north and northwest part of the state is typically known as the "henequen zone".[3]

Between 1868 and 1871 steam-driven machinery began being imported to process sugar. Many of these "powerhouses" on the haciendas were later converted to process sisal. Approximately 160 machines were imported. Some of the largest were for the haciendas of UayalcehMiraflores and Acu, all with 20 horsepower motors; Yaxcopoil with a 16 horsepower motor; Xcehus with a 14 horsepower motor; LepanSodzilMukuiché; and with 10 horsepower motors: CanicabCheumánHumchectamánltzincabSan Antonio OolSan BernardoSan IgnacioSanta MariaTankuchéTecohTexanTeyaTicopóTzitzXcuculXcuyunXtabay, and Yaxché.[4]

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