Monday, December 17, 2018
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Indigenous communities without the right to consultation
Karen Trejo
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Government imposes infrastructure projects without taking into account opinion of affected communities.

The violation of the right to consultation, which is constitutionally established, is systematic in Mexico, as is the right to participation in public affairs.

One of the primary reasons, according to reports from civil society organizations, has to do with a governmental strategy to illegally impose infrastructural megaprojects in indigenous and rural areas, as well as in nature reserves.

This problem has been aggravating social and agrarian conflicts in various regions of the country; this in turn has increased the vulnerability of indigenous communities that, not having been informed or consulted, are seriously threatened with the dispossession of their lands, environmental degradation and forced displacement.

Priscila Rodríguez, a lawyer with the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, or CEMDA, explains that among the factors that prevent the indigenous communities from fully securing the right to consultation is the failure to apply Article 2 of the Mexican Constitution, which requires authorities to carry out consultation processes when it comes to planning and implementing legislation, development programs, and infrastructural construction projects that impact the communities’ territories and natural resources.

In March 2010, a debate began in the House of Representatives over a bill called the Consultation with Indigenous Peoples and Communities to regulate that article; from December to May, a consultation process was conducted with indigenous peoples and communities in several states across the country to discuss the project. The result was not encouraging.

While this initiative, promoted by the center-right Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, envisages the obligation of federal and state governments, as well as the legislature, to ensure the right to prior consultation with the indigenous communities on issues relating mainly to the establishment of legislative measures, the care and enjoyment of natural resources in their territories, and the implementation of operating rules and regulations in social programs at all three levels of government, it also maintains that neither public budget allocation nor the appointment of leaders in charge of the specialized agencies that deal with indigenous peoples, except the delegates of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, or CDI, may be the subject of consultation. Nor can it be considered binding law because it does not impose penalties on officials and/or private companies for breach of agreements or if the consultations are not performed properly.

Against this backdrop, social activists for the rights of indigenous peoples in Mexico have formally requested the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IACHR, to chair a working group with the Mexican state and civil society to bring this bill in line with standards for the protection of human rights established by international treaties that Mexico has ratified. This proposal has not yet materialized.

Struggles of resistance
In the middle of streams and mountains in the western Sierra Madre, on land considered a natural and cultural heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, live the Huicholes (Wixárika), an indigenous community. Since 2005, they have been involved in a social and legal battle to defend their ancestral territories and the region’s biodiversity, which are threatened by the government’s insistence on supposed development projects that include the construction of a highway called Bolaños-Huejuquilla in the highlands of the western state of Jalisco.

Humberto Fernández Borja, president of the civil organization Conservación Humana, which since 1995 has worked for the rights of these indigenous communities, legally represents the affected population and denounces that “since 2005, they tried to start construction on a highway without the permission of the owners of the land that would be affected. In fall 2007, the invasion and dispossession of the Huicholes’ communal lands in Tuapurie started; for four months, at the beginning of the works, sacred sites and houses were destroyed, springs and streams were affected, and hundreds of the community’s trees were felled and stolen.

In the southern state of Guerrero the situation is also complicated.

The campesino population of the rural area in the municipality of Acapulco, dedicated to fishing and farming, sees its territory is threatened by the attempt to impose a government project to build a hydroelectric dam called La Parota, which would mean flooding 17,300 hectares (43,250 acres) and displacing 25,000 people, with another 75,000 affected.

Rodolfo Chávez Galindo, community representative and member of CECOP, a board of ejidos (communal lands) and communities opposed to the La Parota dam, states that “in January 2003, the state-run Comisión Federal de Electricidad, or CFE, broke into our territory, destroyed trees and fields, dynamited hills to divert a river and brought in machinery without the consent of the people.”

Both Fernández Borja and Chávez Galindo have reported to national and international bodies like the IACHR that the Mexican government has flagrantly violated the rights to consultation and participation in public affairs of those indigenous and campesino communities.

Together with other civil organizations, the two activists joined a campaign to denounce these and other cases in communities such as San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, southern Mexico, and Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí, in the center of the country, among others.

Illegal mechanisms
Through public forums, diffusion through social networks, and the production and promotion of documentary films, civil society organizations have highlighted the Mexican government’s strategy to impose the construction of infrastructural megaprojects, supposedly designed as a public service for all: the extortion of leaders, the falsification of signatures on alleged proceedings at communities assemblies, as well as acts of political repression, armed harassment, fabrication of crimes and the murder of community leaders.

The documentary “And the River Flows On” by director Carlos Pérez Rojas, winner of international awards, narrates the resistance of the campesino communities of Guerrero that oppose the construction of the La Parota dam.

For León Olivé, professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM, and author of the book Interculturalism and Social Justice¸ this scenario confirms that “until now, we have been incapable of establishing the political, economic and legal structures and institutions that guarantee the rights of the different communities in our country to survive and develop in an autonomous way, as decided by their members, to choose how to maintain or change their ways of life, to participate effectively in decisions about the use and future of the material resources in the territories where they live, and to participate actively in the construction of the Mexican nation.”

Mexico, a country with vast inequalities, faces the huge challenge of turning itself into a multicultural country where the right to consultation and decision-making for the indigenous peoples on the matters that affect their lives is guaranteed.
—Latinamerica Press.


Campesino community of Guerrero sees its land threatened by La Parota hydroelectric plant. (Photo: Karen Trejo)
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