We assessed deforestation in Southeast Mexico (a surface area of 29 000 km2 in seven states) through the comparison of land use/land cover maps at a scale of 1:250 000. This facilitated mapping of the land use/land cover change (LULCC) processes and calculation of the rates of change and the change matrix for the period 1978–2000. An original method was used to assess the accuracy of the LULCC map. The verification sites were selected through a stratified random sampling and were corroborated with aerial photographs for 1978 and 2000. Error matrices were elaborated using both hard and fuzzy set approaches in order to take into account the errors related to generalization of the map in fragmented landscapes. The results showed an average annual deforestation rate of 1.1 per cent which represents an average annual loss of 190 000 ha of forest, or an estimated total reduction of 4.2 million ha over 22 years. Furthermore, deforestation processes are concentrated in some areas such as Yucatan and Chiapas states, which registered major forest conversions to grassland and slash-burning. The overall accuracy of the LULCC map, assessed with hard and fuzzy set approaches, was 72 per cent and 88 per cent respectively.