Henequen: Yucatán’s Green Gold

Henequen also known as sisal is raw fiber from the henequen plant. The plant’s long leaves are soaked to soften and dried in order to gather the fiber which is mainly used to produce rope or sacks but could also be used in other numerous ways. Henequen had always been successful but production skyrocketed during the presidency of Porfirio Diaz from 1876 -1919. During the Porfiriato, Mexico attracted more U.S direct investment than any other country in the world .[1] The development of new technology became a factor that lead to the massive exploitation of the henequen plant in the Yucatán Peninsula to the United States and Europe.

Therefore, with the large boom of production Yucatán became one of the richest states during the time. The production of henequen lead to a period of prosperity in Yucatán so much that the plant became referred as the “green gold.” Yucatán became ideal for the mass production of the henequen plant because the plant does not require much water or care and grows well in Yucatán’s hostile environment . It takes five or more years from when the henequen plant is planted until the leaves are ready for production. Haciendas and plantations became very important during the Porfiriato in the eighteenth and nineteenth century in Yucatán because they were used in order to produce vast amounts of Henequen bales.

By 1915 during Yucatán’s peak, provines shipped more than 1,200,000 henequen bales out of Yucatán and into the United States. The numbers became so high that almost 70 percent of all cultivated land in Yucatán was devoted to the henequen production.[2] The port of sisal became of great significance to Yucatán because it became very valuable in transporting bales from different ports throughout the world. Due to the high demand hacienda owners demanded long hours from poor peasant workers. Not only did the workers have horrible working conditions but they were literally making no money. Hacienda owners produced their own currency which limited workers and left them with huge debts that many could not pay back even in their lifetime. The production of henequen had both negative and positive effects on Yucatán and it's people and has become a important part of their history.