Mexican Land Rights: Government Authoritarianism and Judicial Rule

Francisco López Bárcenas

La Jornada, 12th June, 2014

Translated by Julie Kawamura

The authoritarianism of the federal government and the states of the Republic is obligating Mexicans–citizens, organizations, and indigenous communities–to turn to the courts as a means to defend their hereditary property rights, which have been carelessly plundered for years for the benefit of companies intending to appropriate the land. The violation of human rights that are recognized in the federal Constitution and international treaties is so great that the number of administrative, agricultural, and appeals court cases increases every day. Even though the courts rule in favour of the claimants, order protection of the land rights and require that the responsible authorities stop actions that violate those rights, any resolutions dictated by the courts are later set aside by executive authorities at the hour of implementation.

temacThe Zapotillo dam in the state of Jalisco may be the most representative example of them all. Since 2007, when the Let’s Save Temacapulín, Acasico and Palmarejo Committee began its opposition of the dam because it would flood those towns, half a dozen court cases were won for annulment and protections. In addition, three provisional suspensions are currently in force, yet the work on the dam continues, as if the mandates did not exist. Another representative case in the situation involves the Yaqui tribe in the state of Sonora, which obtained Federal Court protections against the construction of the Independence Aqueduct well over a year ago; however, the responsible authorities have ignored them and continue forward with their plans.

The aforementioned cases are the most well-known, but there are others. In this group, one can include the Rarámuris communities of Huitosachi and Repechique in the state of Chihuahua. The former had a solid decree against the Copper Canyon Project, and the latter had a provisional suspension against the construction of a tourist airport in the municipality of Creel. Similarly, one must include the group of court cases won by the Wirrárika community of Tuapurie (Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán) in Jalisco, and the suspension granted to the town of Nealtican for the gas pipeline that is planned to be constructed on land belonging to towns in Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Morelos. This is not a complete list of cases. If one continues digging, many more issues will be found where the people turn to the courts to defend their rights.

FotoAlthough they are very diverse, in all of the cases one can find similarities. One is that, generally, the actions are collective and, in many cases, from indigenous towns. Another is that in their claims, they allege stripping of the lands, natural resources or property in general. Lastly, most of the complaints are lodged in federal courts, although there are also cases, like in Jalisco or Chihuahua, where the lawsuit is brought to the state courts. In all cases, nothing is demanded except compliance with the law and, by ruling in their favour, the courts confirm what the affected parties have denounced: that the conduct of the government authorities, like the companies, is done outside of the law. They are the illegal actors, not the people who are demanding their rights. Yet they continue acting illegally as they disobey the court rulings.

All this is happening three years after a constitutional reform which elevated human rights treaties to the constitutional level. The reform also ordered that in these cases, beneficial preference be given to the people, and it required all authorities at all government levels to promote, respect, protect and guarantee human rights, observing principles of universality, interdependence, indivisibility, and progressiveness. During the presidential elections race, the reform was supported by all parties that participated in the constitutional reform. However, now that they are in office, the President of the Republic, government authorities, city halls, and federal and state congresses, all refuse to comply with it. Meanwhile, Mexicans still believe that the institutions can do something to ensure that their rights are respected.

*Francisco López Bárcenas began professional work as a corporate lawyer, but subsequently became one of the most prominent indigenous legal theorists. This change was triggered by his participation in the Dialogues of San Andrés as advisor to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation between November 1995 and September 1996. "San Andrés," he says "not only changed the way I see the world, it changed my whole life. I learned what it is to be indigenous."

Posted by Dorset Chiapas Solidarity 21/06/2014


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