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MEXICO
Indigenous rights only acknowledged on paper
Ana Lilia Esquivel Ayala
8/6/2013
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Lack of institutional recognition for indigenous rights undermines the ability to demand them.

Despite  ongoing legislative progress on indigenous issues in Mexico, native communities are still fighting for the recognition of their collective rights and for the creation of tools that would uphold them. Their demands have contributed to the creation of new institutions and  laws and the modification of old ones to advance their wellbeing, but a long road ahead remains.
 
In 2010, Mexico’s National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI), stated there were more than 15 million indigenous people in the country from 62 native communities, each with their own culture.
 
Likewise, the National Indigenous Languages Institute (INALI), recognizes 68 native languages and 364 linguistic variants.

The federal government created CDI in 2003, replacing the National Indigenist Institute, to support and evaluate activities that develop indigenous communities as holistic and sustainable.

CDI’s advisory board includes indigenous representatives and experts. However, they only provide temporary assistance, limiting their role in the advancement of  long-term policy and programs for indigenous development.

The recognition of indigenous rights at the international level certainly influenced the Mexican legal system. The International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples was adopted in 1989, and formally enforced in Mexico two years later following congressional ratification.

In 1992, the fourth constitutional article was amended to recognize the country’s pluricultural nature, establishing that the law would guarantee indigenous communities “effective access to the jurisdiction of the state.”

Although there have been attempts at the recognition and modifications of legislation regarding indigenous rights, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), said there is much more to be done. In its 2010 report on the human development of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, “The Challenge of Inequality of Opportunities,” it said that while Mexico “has significantly increased its efforts to achieve economic, social and cultural rights for the county’s indigenous population, increased levels of investment and targeted spending are still necessary to reduce the inequality gap that victimizes the indigenous people.” It also recommends “further encouragement of indigenous participation in the decisions that affect them.”
 
The Zapatista rebellion
Responding to this failure to recognize indigenous rights, on January 1, 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN, led an uprising in the southern state of Chiapas to demand them from the Mexican government. The state countered with a military offensive to dismantle the Zapatista movement.

Two years later, the San Andrés Accords, which demanded constitutional reform on indigenous issues, was signed by the EZLN and the government. The federal government pledged to recognize the autonomy, self-determination, and self-governance of the indigenous community. The accords undoubtedly placed indigenous rights at the center of the national agenda, but the government failed comply with them.   

In response, the EZLN has both raised its voice and remained silent. But despite lacking a public presence, it remains tied to many of the country’s most significant ongoing struggles. It’s worth noting that in December 2012, after silently marching in five Chiapas communities, the movement issued a statement signed by “subcomandante Marcos,” EZLN`s renowned military leader: “Did you hear? It is the sound of your world collapsing. It is our world coming back. The day that was day, was night. And night shall be that the day that will be the day.” With a few more supporting statements, the Zapatistas put compliance with the San Andrés Accords back on its political agenda.

For Armando Bartra, professor and researcher at Mexico City’s Autonomous Metropolitan University and expert on campesino issues, or issues surrounding rural areas where indigenous people often reside, “Zapatismo is alive and rejuvenated…and those forces that say they are willing to protest for, defend, and demand the national government´s compliance with the [San Andrés] Accords are very good news.” He added that the recognition of indigenous political rights is necessary.

In response to the Zapatista demands, the Mexican government— through the Secretariat of the Interior— in February created the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, with the goal of bringing together the country’s diverse indigenous communities to ensure respect for their human rights, meet their needs and strengthen the right to self-determination and autonomy, as well as to preserve their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions. That commission, in the words of its director, intends “to make policies to build the conditions for resuming dialogue.”

That dialogue would concern the agenda of indigenous people, based on the fulfillment of their collective rights: territorial, political, economic, legal, social and cultural.

For example, as INALI highlighted, the application of Convention 169 would strengthen indigenous language education in elementary schools. However, Mexico has yet to enforce it.

Ernestina Ortiz Peña, an indigenous Otomí and representative of the Indigenous Bartering Council (el Consejo Indígena del Trueque) in Santiago Tilapa, in the state of Mexico, told Latinamerica Press that public policy should include matters of interest to the indigenous communities, like environmental degradation as a result of over-exploitation and plundering of natural resources, discrimination against women, the safeguard of traditional practices like barter, and the recovery and promotion of indigenous languages.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Zapatistas are unrelenting in their fight to defend the rights of Mexico’s indigenous communities. (Photo: http://desinformemonos.org)
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