In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

133 in 1889 a letter of grievances was sent to Yucatán’s governor, Teodosio Canto, by the residents of Santiago, one of Mérida’s suburbs, who complained about the unsanitary conditions of their community markets, slaughterhouses, and medical clinics. Invoking their rights as vecinos (citizens), they railed against the current administration’s practice of turning a blind eye to public health infractions. Residents pointed to the generally deplorable conditions in which they lived. “We have to do something immediately,” they urged, “before we are subjected to a great concentration of miasmas that will be formed from the blood of the cattle.” They demanded the enforcement of general cleanliness standards “for the benefit of public hygiene.”1 The conditions that had thrown Santiago residents into an uproar were commonplace in late nineteenth-century Mexican urban areas.2 This rash of objections about unsanitary conditions coincided with a period of profound economic prosperity for Yucatán. As affluence became a distinct possibility for the urban dweller, abuses and conditions that had once been overlooked were now unacceptable. Complaints ranging from the lack of supplies of vaccine to the accumulation of garbage in the streets are woven throughout the Superior Health Council’s administrative papers.3 In the last chapter, we surveyed Yucatán’s health situation in the 1850s, when the countryside lay in ruins due to the civil war, and the state government was, essentially,bankrupt.Twenty yearslater,thescenehadchangeddramatically.This was partly due to events that had transpired far outside of the Yucatecan sphere. In the United States, the mechanical reaper invented by Cyrus McCormick in C hapter five Modernizing the Periphery Henequen, the Caste War, and Yellow Fever } chapter five 134 the 1830s had sped up the harvesting of grain but still required workers to tie the grain. To solve that labor problem, a number of reaper-binder prototypes were invented. The most successful one was the Appleby twine binder, which had the advantage over wire binders of adjusting the bind more closely to the diameter of the grain to be bound. After the American Civil War, grain cultivation on the farms of the Midwest took off, and so did the need for twine. These events were directly relevant to Yucatán, as it turned out that the best twine was made from the fibers of an agave plant indigenous to Yucatán.4 In the late 1870s, this boom in the worldwide demand for cordage had brought into being a henequen plantation economy in the region, which rapidly changed the entire socioeconomic composition of the peninsula. The success of henequen exports set into motion massive modernization programs. Under President Porfirio Díaz, who ruled over Mexico for close to three decades between 1877 and 1911, the peninsula received a spate of infrastructural projects such as railroad and telegraph construction, expansion of hospital facilities, and the beautification of public spaces. These transformations required a public health system and sanitation services that would be adequate to the massive changes wrought by modernization, and the clear need for an overhaul of health and sanitation services was evident by the number of citizens’ complaints.5 Yet, implementation of public health legislation was anything but swift and comprehensive. The citizens of Santiago were not the only ones who noticed the poor state of sanitation in their neighborhoods and regions. Such was the ad hoc nature of improvement that Yucatán did not enact a comprehensive health and sanitation code until 1891. In this chapter, I will explore two concurrent developments, one Yucatán’s transformation from a marginalized indigenous “backwater” into a new economic frontier, and the other the attention being given to the proliferation of diseases such as smallpox and, in particular, the tropical diseases of yellow fever and malaria. My analysis of Yucatán’s transformation falls into two stages. First, I will show how the expansion of the henequen hacienda and Porfirian modernizing projects were key factors in Yucatán’s emergence into the national limelight. The revenue generated by the henequen boom permitted the rapid realization of a number of modernization and beautification projects. These projects, I contend, ultimately obscured the real damage being wrought by overlapping smallpox, yellow fever, and malaria episodes that were tied into the expansion of the henequen zone and the consequent disruptions of rural life. The mobilization of rural labor and the expansion of the plantations compromised land ownership, impeded access to public services by the Modernizing the Periphery 135 rural workforce, and...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.