Natural Resources & the Environment
Property Rights, Environmental Regulations, and the Legal Culture of Post Revolutionary Mexico
Antonio Azuela
Attorney General for Environmental Protection, Federal Government of Mexico

INTRODUCTION: The purpose of this paper is to analyze recent developments in Mexican law regarding the definition of property rights on land in front of the emerging environmental interests of society, and in the context of globalization processes. In particular, I will try to explore those developments in the context of Mexico's legal culture. The main question is the way in which global developments influence the balance between community and individual interests in the regulation of the use of land and the way Mexican legal categories (as ‘read' by operators with the legal culture of post revolutionary regimes) can absorb that influence.

The tension between individual and community interests has been a classic subject for legal thinking on property for more than a century. After communism predicated the abolition of private property as the center of its political program, those societies that did not chose to follow that program had to redefine old liberal theories on property. In spite of deep intellectual and ideological diversities, many countries where a social pact allowed for some form of redistribution of wealth adopted a doctrine to account for a limitation to private property rights in the name of social needs and interests. The names of Henry George, Richard Tawney and Leon Duguit should be enough to illustrate this.

In Mexico dominant legal ideas about property occupy a central position in legal culture, as they embody the program of social reform that emerged from the 1910 Revolution in two crucial subjects: control over natural resources and agrarian reform. The first section of the paper I present a summary of the constitutional doctrine on property, as the context in which recent developments in land use regulation in the country are taking place. As it will be seen, in some respects, those developments are consistent with that constitutional doctrine, but in others they represent a departure that it is interesting to consider.

In order to establish the relationship between globalization processes and the new ways of regulating land uses (and therefore property rights) in Mexico, I follow a cultural approach to consider legal institutions. The emphasis is not on the technical aspects of legal institutions, but on their meaning beyond the world of lawyers and judges. One of the main thesis in the paper is that the influence of globalization upon the Mexican legal system is important not so much because of specific changes in legal norms, but in the fact that Mexican legal culture becomes exposed to new legal ideas. The presence of these ideas in the debates about property in Mexico, as promoted by new social actors – most notably NGOs – is a cultural change that deserves attention because it is the social context within which the law makes sense to society.

It is important to make clear that, by emphasizing the relationship between globalization and new forms of land use regulation in Mexico, I do not mean to affirm that the main force behind those regulations is globalization. Certainly, it is important to be aware of overrating the impact of globalization. As we will see, some of the new developments in Mexican law emerge from internal developments such as political reform. However, there are aspects that would be difficult to explain in terms of social changes taking place only within Mexican borders. Those aspects are worth the emphasis.