May 15, 2008

Catemaco invasions

One of the favorite pastimes of have-nots in beautiful uptown Catemaco and the rest of Mexico is a game of "invasion de predio". Loosely translated as "invasion of property" the game is to occupy a parcel of land that appears unoccupied or is known to be in the dire straits of Mexican title laws, usually because of inadequate intestate property rules or infrequently because of land hunger for federal or private lands by impoverished native peoples..

This game is usually supported by "haves" with political power who play this game for political reasons, namely future vote getting and a share of the profits.

These invasions occur in such touristic places like Cancun and Baja California but are much more popular in unmentioned corners of the other 30 states of Mexico.

A common version of the game starts when a few or few hundred persons decide to take posession of a piece of property by entering it, setting up a shack, fencing it and frequently posting armed guards (usually machete bearers). Usually it requires the knowledge of someone well versed in the local politics and deed registrations to pick properties to be invaded. And frequently that involves local government officials intent on vote getting and a share of the profits.

If there is no legal contest to the invasion, usually within a half dozen or more years, squatters receive titles to these properties.

If there actually is an owner, often sparks begin to fly to the point where land squabbles produced some of the highest kill rates in Mexico before the advent of the drug war madness.

A legal contestation will drag through courts 2 , 3 or more years. Many property owners therefore avail themselves of extralegal means such as paid off federal or state police agents to dislodge the invaders. That's where often the bloodshed comes in.

I have watched two of these confrontations in Catemaco and am now personally involved in one. And I do not understand the legalities which allow this perversion of land ownership from an owner's viewpoint, except under the Mexican concept of "guilty until proved innocent". Simply producing a current deed and getting the local sheriff to evict the squatters does not work here.
The legal machinery goes into motion and unless very well oiled with payoffs will cause nightmares to property owners.

So next time you see giants walls or fences around most every piddling piece of unimproved terrain in Mexico, maybe these remarks will provide you with a reason for their construction.


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