División de Estudios de Posgrado e Investigación
Instituto Tecnológico de Oaxaca.
Biannual publication of regional and technological development reports
Message from the Editor
It gives us great pleasure to announce the launch of which could be considered as the second edition of our virtual publication, “Desarrollo Regional y Tecnológico”. The first edition which name was “Unidad y Diversidad” was cancelled due to adverse circumstances beyond our control. However, with a sense of renewed enthusiasm and pumped-up energy we are now back, happy to be introducing our second edition to the light of day.
We have decided to name our journal “Desarrollo Regional y Tecnológico” (Regional and Technological Development) considering the fact that our home State of Oaxaca is a wide set of diverse environments, resources and cultures functioning as a multicultural entity. As a general review, we could claim that Oaxaca’s complex and intricate orography offers a great variety of landscapes: mountain ranges, canyons, valleys, waterfalls, rivers, brooks, coastal lagoons and beaches that are home to a great number of diverse plant communities, such as tropical deciduous and semi-deciduous forest, tropical evergreen forests; temperate oak and coniferous forest; cloud deciduous forest, on the high lands, arid tropical scrub, thickets and grasslands in arid zones; mangroves and coastal dune vegetation on the State’s shores swamps and beaches throughout its Pacific front.
These assorted numbers of ecosystems shelter a great variety of animals such as jaguars, pumas, coyotes, foxes, tapirs, deer, raccoons, badgers, armadillos, hares, rabbits, eagles, falcons, owls, hawks, vultures, bats and many reptilian species like iguanas, vipers and snakes, arachnids, insects, and an incalculable number of unknown microorganisms living in the soil. Likewise, there is a great number of marine species living along the seacoast.
The reigning environmental diversity has brought about a wide variety of available natural resources that allowed the development of a considerable number of ethnic groups. Throughout history the State of Oaxaca has been home to a myriad of well-defined cultures (Zapotecas, Mixtecas, Mazatecos, Cuicatecos, Popolocas, Chinantecos, Mixes, Triques, Amusgos, Chatinos, Chontales, Nahuas, Zoques, Ixcatecos Chocholtecos) whose cultural characteristics were determined by the ecological conditions of the areas where these cultural groups established and evolved. Environment and time made the characteristics of each human group and biological communities. We can say that topography and clime determine habits; these made customs, customs made traditions and traditions made the identity of these communities. As a result, the population of Oaxaca encompasses a great diversity of valuable cultural expressions derived from the unique abilities of each community to cope with their surroundings and the different and diverse biological backdrops.
When we discuss the concept of “cultural wealth” or value, we refer to the identity –that is to say: the social structure, traditions and values– of a given human community in relation to its environment. This type of wealth cannot be based on monetary terms and thus cannot be measured economically. Any attempt to do so would mean that it ceases to be cultural wealth and becomes material gains or capital. Hence cultural expressions, which can be shared, given and bequeathed, run the risk of becoming that, which can be bought, sold, stored and discarded.
Cultural wealth is priceless, but when quantified, it can no longer occur spontaneously at the centre of human interaction. How can we give monetary value to the act of listening to a traditional melody or folklore song, or to the feelings we get when a cool and fragrant breeze blows by touching our senses? When all of this is priced in money, cultural wealth acquires a different type of value, one that goes beyond experience and becomes a saleable commodity, subjected to a reified value of market consumption, utilitarianism and the tourist attraction. In brief, cultural wealth and monetary value hold no relation whatsoever.
According to data of Mexico’s 2010 population and housing census, 53% of the population of Oaxaca dwell in rural areas, their main activities are agriculture, cattle raising, forest management and local fishing. These activities are structured and organized through communal labour practices known as Tequio, Guelaguetza, Mayordomía, Gozona and Padrinazgo, in which profits are not translated into monetary gains, but into the welfare of the community itself, as well as the local prestige bestowed upon those who engage in these non-lucrative activities. This is also what we mean when we talk about Regional Development (Desarrollo Regional) in our journal. Thus we agree with Schumacher (1985) who considers that: “meanwhile in urban centres, capital is the generator of wealth; in small rural communities it is communal labour.”
Within capitalist modes of production, accumulated capital is in charge of assigning resources for public investment, whereas in the rural peasant modes there cannot be such accumulation of capital, since the plot of land is worked within the frame of survival agriculture, harvesting only that which it can yield in a year’s time. Consequently, in the small rural communities of Oaxaca wealth resides in peoples’ work, which is translated into the construction of roads, lanes, dikes, schools, churches, housing for local teachers; the preparation of local festivities and the organization of community based companies, created for the commercialization of local resources. In Oaxaca, communal labour has been an important part of society since pre-Colombian times.
As modernity and globalization takes a hold, private property displaces community proprietorship, which tends to disappear progressively and further problems arise as the injection of great capitals disrupts communal systems of organization, via the insertion of large scaled development planning projects that displace and marginalize the local population. We could call this type of progress “unequal regional development.” In addition, this model of development tends to greatly modify the natural conditions of the site where it is introduced. Large-scale projects materialize into large companies, businesses and sophisticated institutions, which require specialized workers and management that must be brought in from distant places and who will gain higher wages than the local population, thus acquiring higher economic power. Their demand for accommodation and basic products will raise the cost of living, leaving local people in a significant disadvantage. Since local people are used to a totally different social dynamic, they are not prepared to become part of large-scale development; thus, they will usually end up employed as cleaning personnel or engage themselves in such activities as food and handcraft street vending, finding themselves marginalized from large capital enterprises.
Furthermore, Oaxaca’s rural communities find themselves getting the short end of the stick when engaging in most sorts of trade exchanges. When they try to commercialize their agricultural, cattle raising, fishing or handcrafted products, they usually receive unfair payments for their products, while they find themselves forced to pay a lot more for industrialized goods that possess the financial and accounting backup which allows industrial producers to value the cost of production in regards to the price of raw materials and of working hours. Artisans and rural labourers are not generally equipped with enough financial savvy so as to commercialize their products by taking into account to their hours of labour and use of raw materials.
Economists terms this rural modes of production as “subsistence economy,” maybe it should be referred to as –five hundred year old– “resistance economy,” for people have survived by it in spite of the exploitation they have had to suffer. People living under a “subsistence economy” have neither the habits nor the possibility of accumulating goods or capital. Under these circumstances, Oaxaca stands as a paradox, being a rich state with a vast array of mineral, marine and terrestrial wildlife, agricultural and forestry resources inhabited by a poverty stricken population. Another crucial determinant behind the fact that most of the population of Oaxaca lives under the poverty line, stems from the ancestral exploitation practiced by those who have held the economic and administrative power in the state since its inception.
Oaxaca embodies a poignant and profound duality that marks an opposition between poverty and richness; modernity and tradition; between solemnity and kitsch; Spanish and the multiple native languages spoken throughout the state. Where laughter and tears are fused and the party and the wake become indistinct ceremonial acts; political demonstrations are confused with calendas (festivity in streets). Two faces of the same coin. Complex are people as complex is the territory.
Intricate landscapes have to beget intricate human characters. Amidst this contrasting dualities, the government policies that have ruled over the destinies of Oaxaca on the one hand brag about the natural wonders and cultural riches (exploiting the folklore of the state), and on the other sought to attract large capital investments and introduce exogenous technologies so as to establish development projects of questionable profits, which tend to disrupt the local culture and natural resources.
Fast paced scientific and technological development, reached by mankind, has induced a sense of globalization to all of its endeavours. We talk of a global economy and the global exploitation of natural resources; but this also has led to global environmental deterioration. Those who determine global “development” policies belong to the governments and economic powers of industrialized countries as well as international financial organizations. These powers have been guiding the procedures by which we could all strive to take a share of the bounties of industrialized life. However, their proposed actions have directed the course of mankind towards environmental collapse. Furthermore, these power groups have always considered underdeveloped societies as mistaken and backward. Unfortunately, there has not been the minimum intent, on behalf of these power groups, to question if this so called development should not be sought through wiser means or methods that could respect natural resources’ recovery rhythms in a more rational way, as some “underdeveloped” cultures do.
This and many other interdisciplinary subjects dealing with sustainable development, the environment, science and technology as well as culture and society, will be discussed and featured in our journal “Desarrollo Regional y Tecnológico”.
Enrique Martínez y Ojeda.