Mexico’s Indigenous People: Run Over Consistently

La Jornada: Editorial, 9th August, 2014

Today is International Day of Indigenous Peoples. In its commemoration, yesterday the United Nations (UN) pointed out the precarious situation faced globally by these groups, which represent fifteen percent of the world’s population. According to Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, indigenous peoples remain disproportionately affected by poverty and face discrimination and systematic exclusion from the settings where political and economic decisions are made.

This assessment is a point of contrast forced by the emptiness of official rhetoric in our country on indigenous issues; speeches are characterized by handfuls of good intentions and cliches that, nonetheless, sidestep the reality of misery and exclusion suffered by this population group. As reported yesterday on these pages, 76.8 percent of Mexican nationals who speak indigenous languages ​​live in poverty, and 44 percent earn less than the minimum for well-being, i.e., they lack resources to acquire the basic food basket.

With regard to indigenous rights, not a lot of research is needed to bare in all its nakedness the circumstance of abuse and disregard suffered by members of indigenous groups whenever they have to relate to institutions charged with administering and enforcing justice: cases like those of Jacinta Francisco and Teresa Alcántara and the teacher Alberto Patishtán stand out as examples in a string of stories intertwined with racism, inefficiency and institutional corruption. According to data from the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), of the country’s 8,334 prisoners, 80 percent have involved violations of due process.

Similarly, the history of dispossession of land and resources suffered by indigenous groups is persistent and systematic. This plunder has occurred at the hands of foreign companies and groups linked to the powers that be is both legal (mining, energy and real estate companies, among others) and illegal (loggers, paramilitaries, drug trafficking cartels), often with official complicity. This scenario is ominous in itself, but it is expected to deepen with the recent adoption of legal reforms that establish the legal takeover of land in order to produce and transport electricity, gas and oil. This takeover will affect the power of small property owners, ejidatarios and comuneros[traditional forms of indigenous community where land is owned and worked collectively] living on their land. It is no coincidence that the only social sector that has protested against the energy reform in a massive, coordinated manner has been the campesino [small, often indigenous, farmers] organizations.

In a situation like this, official words of sympathy for indigenous peoples are insufficient. A fundamental step, if one wanted to begin to correct this situation, would be recovery of the original terms of the so-called Law of Indigenous Rights and Culture drafted by the Congressional Commission for Amity and Pacification. Made up of a set of legal reforms, the original bill was nullified thirteen years ago when the Legislature approved a parody [of the original] that left unresolved legal circumstances that have led to the marginalization, exploitation and discrimination of indigenous peoples by various institutions and private sectors.

Translated by Jane Brundage


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