"Invasores" Squatters, Informal Cities, and the Co-Optation of the Urban Poor in Latter Twentieth-Century Mexico

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Joseph U. Lenti


Millions of people fled urban and rural poverty in latter twentieth-century Mexico and squatted on marginal urban lands, establishing shantytowns using whatever resources were available to them. Derided as invasores (invaders), squatters faced eviction, surveillance, and repression, but for many, the outcome was regularization—a process that saw the government provide them land titles. Built on ministerial studies, intelligence reports, newspaper coverage, and secondary analyses, this article contends that the Mexican federal government confronted the crises of land invasions and urban informality by distributing patronage and legalizing the land claims of squatters in ways that subordinated them politically and reduced the threats they posed to national stability. Empirical studies from Acapulco and Chihuahua in the 1960s and 70s and an assessment of federal policy demonstrate how land invasions and the rise of informal cities in the latter century compelled authorities to use land tenure regularization as a means to establish patronage networks, demobilize political alternatives, and, ultimately, perpetuate the status quo.

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Author Biography

Joseph U. Lenti, Eastern Washington University

Joseph U. Lenti is an associate professor of Latin American history at Eastern Washington University and can be reached at jlenti@ewu.edu.