Explaining land use change in Mexico requires understanding the behavior of the local institutions involved. We develop two theories to explain deforestation in communities with and without forestry projects, where the former involves a process of side payments to non-members of the community and the latter of partial cooperation among community members. Data collected in 2002 combined with satellite imagery are used to test these theories. For the forestry villages, we establish a positive relationship between the distribution of profits as dividends instead of public goods and forest loss. For communities not engaged in forestry projects, deforestation is largely related to the ability of the community to induce the formation of a coalition of members that cooperates in not encroaching. This happens more easily in smaller communities with experienced leaders. A disturbing result of the analysis is that deforestation is higher when a community engages in forestry projects, even after properly accounting for self-selection into this activity. This suggests that forestry projects as they now exist in Mexico are not sustainable and contribute to the deforestation problem.