Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Politics of Water

The Politics of Water: Urban Protest, Gender, and Power in Monterrey, Mexico

Vivienne Bennett
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Politics of Water
    Book Description:

    Monterrey is Mexico's second most important industrial city, emerging in this era of free trade as a cornerstone of Mexico's economic development. But development has been uneven and has taken a toll: As recently as the early 1980s, nearly a quarter of the city's almost three million inhabitants did not have running water in their homes. At the same time, heavy industry - especially steel, iron, chemical, and paper works - were major users of water in their production processes.

    Extensive industrialization coupled with a lack of infrastructure development astonishing in a major industrial city raises serious questions about the process of planning urban services in Mexico. Bennett uses the water crisis of the 1980s as a lens through which to reveal this planning process and the provision of public services in Monterrey. She finds three groups who were central to the evolution of the city's water system: federal and state government leaders, the regional private sector elite (the Grupo Monterrey), and women living in the low-income neighborhoods of the city.

    Bennett unravels the politics of water in Monterrey by following three threads of inquiry. First, she examines the water services themselves - what was built, when, why, and who paid for them. She then reveals the response of poor women to the water crisis, analyzing who participated in protests, the strategies they used, and how the government responded. And, finally, she considers the dynamics of planning water services for the private sector and the government in investment and management. In the end, Monterrey's water services improved because power relations shifted and because poor women in Monterrey used protests to make national news out of the city's water crisis.

    The Politics of Watermakes a significant contribution to the emerging scholarship on regional politics in Mexico and to a deeper understanding of the Monterrey region in particular. Until recently, most scholarly writing on Mexico spoke of the national political system as a monolithic whole. Scholars such as Vivienne Bennett are now recognizing the power of local citizens and the significant differences among regions when it comes to politics, policy making, and governmental investment decisions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-9054-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
    (pp. 3-17)

    THE first time I visited Monterrey, Mexico, in August 1980, I was struck by two phenomena: the intense heat, and the water shortages that left the entire city with only a few hours of running water each day. The more time I spent in the city the more I realized the scope of the water problem. The squatter settlements and shantytowns on the outskirts of Monterrey either had no piped water whatsoever or shared public faucets that were dry more often than not. All other neighborhoods in the city, even the affluent ones, had only a few hours of water...

  2. 2 URBAN WATER SERVICES: Theory and Planning
    (pp. 18-32)

    AS urbanized areas have expanded in Latin America, so has the need for the development of new water resources and the extension of urban water systems. Urban water services have technical, political, and social dimensions. On the one hand, the provision of water to a city comprises a technical puzzle that usually has more than one set of technical solutions (Etherton 1980). Water for cities comes from wells tapping underground aquifers, from dams, from infiltration galleries, from rivers, and so on. Each city has a finite number of sources for its water. While decisions about the siting of wells or...

  3. 3 BUILDUP OF A CRISIS: The Evolution of Monterreyʹs Water Service, 1909–1985
    (pp. 33-66)

    WATER availability has been a necessary condition for the emergence of cities since the first communities appeared on this planet. No town or city of any significance, either present or past, could survive without access to water, be it from a river, a lake, an oasis in the desert, or an underground aquifer (Mumford 1961; Jones 1966). Typically, at the moment of initial settlement, the source of water appears to be bountiful. Over the decades, as the course of history shapes regions, towns may grow into major metropolises. The transition from settlement to town to city takes on a life...

  4. 4 THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE: Protests Over Water Service in Monterrey Between 1973 and 1985
    (pp. 67-105)

    FROM 1940 to 1970, the decades that constitute the “Mexican Miracle” in terms of economic growth, the expansion of Monterrey’s water services did not keep pace with the city’s population, industrial, and commercial growth. By the early 1970s, over three hundred thousand residents, almost 30 percent of the population,· were not connected to the municipal water system. In addition, shortfalls in the water supply itself forced the Water Service to implement rationing in neighborhoods that did have municipal service. As water service deteriorated, city residents responded with outrage. Complaints poured in to the Water Service and to local newspapers, and...

  5. 5 GENDER, CLASS, AND WATER: The Role of Women in the Protests Over Water
    (pp. 106-127)

    THIS chapter analyzes the role of women in the protests over water in Monterrey, thereby helping to create a historical memory of urban development in which women are protagonists. The protests over water in Monterrey are representative of social activism in contemporary Latin American cities. Research on urban problems in Latin America has documented the rise of protest activity and social movements responding to the dramatic deficiencies of urban infrastructure in the sphere of social reproduction (Watson 1992; Jacobi Nero 1987; Zolezzi and Calderón 1985). Poor urban women are often the protagonists of these protests because infrastructure problems, especially inadequate...

  6. 6 AGUA PARA TODOS: The Governmentʹs Response to the Water Crisis
    (pp. 128-163)

    DUE to the highly centralized nature of policy making and resource allocation in Mexico, the public service problems of Mexican cities are the concern not only of municipal governments but also of the state and federal governments. Mexico’s centralized system of governance originated during the colonial period,¹ was institutionalized after independence in the nineteenth century, and consolidated after the Revolution, in particular during the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas in the 1930s (Meyer 1986: 31; Rodríguez 1987: 43). Basing his observations on research conducted in the 1960s, Graham (1971: 3) wrote, “the crucial questions in Mexican local government [dol not revolve...

  7. 7 CONCLUSION: The Politics of Water
    (pp. 164-190)

    THE research presented in this book exposes the social and political relationships that underlie the provision of water to the city of Monterrey, and therefore permits conclusions in three areas. First, the exploration of Monterrey’s water service development contributes to a deeper understanding of relations of power in Mexican society and in its political system. Second, the history of protests over water in Monterrey suggests that protest has an impact on planning and portrays the impact of gender on protest. Third, the history of water service development in Monterrey provides data for the ongoing debate about the benefits of government...

    (pp. 193-196)