Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 241 | Agosto 2001



The Puebla-Panama Plan and the Indigenous Law: Cut from the Same Cloth

As the illusions aroused by President Fox’s election dissipate, he is promoting the Puebla-Panama Plan as his top economic initiative. Meanwhile, the process of approving the indigenous law, which wrongs and insults Mexico’s indigenous peoples, has revealed a deeply divided country.

Jorge Alonso

Mexico is bumbling forward without a clear course. As internal divisions and wounds deepen, President Vicente Fox appears less concerned about reality than about his standing in the polls, where he is rapidly losing ground.

The economic picture is poor;
first sympathies are dissipating

Fox recently presented a National Development Plan that reads more like a list of good intentions than a plan and says nothing about indigenous autonomy. Mexico needs to create 1.3 million jobs a year, but last year, even with a 6.9% economic growth rate, it managed barely half that. So far under this administration, 201,000 jobs have been lost, partly because a number of companies financed by foreign capital have been shifting their factories from Mexico to countries with even lower wages. While government officials continue to bicker over the figures, some say the country will only grow 2.5-3% this year, and some international agencies are predicting a growth rate below 1%, largely due to the crisis in the United States, Mexico’s main trading partner.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has described Mexico’s development potential as limited due to the fall in oil prices, fiscal problems stemming from the bank bailout and the country’s fragile financial system. The Bank of Mexico has used the exchange rate to keep inflation under control but the peso is consequently overvalued, which makes Mexican exports less competitive on the international market and aggravated the current accounts deficit. Financial destabilization remains a real danger. There is an increasingly urgent need to impose restrictions on the international flow of speculative capital, but the Mexican government is determined not to touch it, arguing that speculative capital has helped keep the currency strong.

The last three months have seen massive demonstrations by teachers protesting their meager salaries, and by farmers demanding fairer prices and the past-due payments from the agro-businesses that buy their production. A recent study revealed that the Mexican countryside is more depressed today than it was in the years before the revolution, and the crisis in the agriculture sector is increasing the risk of a social explosion. Fox’s government sees agriculture as nothing but a business opportunity for big agro-industries, and peasant farmers as a mere labor pool for the maquilas or as migrants to be exported to work in the United States. Seen through this prism, the government’s only task is to administer the rate of their expulsion.
The conservative tendencies taking hold within Fox’s government are dissipating the initial sympathy the government enjoyed. The disillusionment is most clearly focused around the indigenous legislation issue. Thus, one year after the elections that toppled the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from power, Fox’s National Action Party (PAN) government continues to give out mixed signals while vital demands remain unsatisfied. Nor has Congress been able to respond to those demands. The political parties are discredited and grassroots civil society is making its way on its own, distanced from and fed up with the politicians and businesspeople who are united in a narrow anti-grassroots alliance.

Puebla-Panama Plan:
Creating an "American jaguar"?

President Fox has devoted most of his efforts to promoting himself and the country abroad. One of the economic plans he has presented as a fundamental part of his project is the Puebla-Panama Plan (PPP). In his trip to Central America in mid-June, accompanied by the nine governors of Mexico’s southern states, Fox presented this plan to the region’s seven heads of state in a Mexican-Central American summit meeting. He explained that the plan sought to break the passing down of poverty from generation to generation and convert the region into a development pole on a global scale.

The main points of the summit were to hammer out a strategy for financing the PPP and schedule its infrastructure projects. The plans’ strategic lines were also set; they include consolidating a commercial partnership between the Central American countries and Mexico to increase trade and tourism, integrating the highway system and encouraging the integration of the energy system. One of the first steps announced at the summit was the creation of a Financial Engineering Commission chaired by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which has offered US$2 billion to begin financing the plan. The commission will present a study to launch the PPP within the next three months. The plan also includes proposals related to security, especially the fight against trafficking in drugs and stolen cars and a so-called "democratic clause," according to which any alteration to or rupture of the democratic order in a Central American state will disqualify the government of that state from participating in the PPP.
From what can be seen, the PPP is one more piece within NAFTA, following the proposal made in Quebec in April 2001. Participants at the summit euphorically proclaimed that the region would be the new "American jaguar" by 2025 and Fox predicted that the PPP would transform Mexico and Central America into a "world class" development pole in Latin America. Inviting investors to join in the PPP’s economic development process, Fox made a confession already ratified in practice by his government many times over: his is a government of the businesspeople, by the businesspeople, and for the businesspeople.
Critics of globalization have argued that the PPP is nothing new and is not even Mexican in origin. It stems from the old geopolitical national security strategy cooked up in the White House with bipartisan support. It seeks to ensure cheap labor and exploitation of the region’s resources, consolidating transnational companies in the region in order to form an area that can compete with the Asian tigers. The goal is to attain the lowest possible industrial production costs based on over-exploitation of labor and subsidies to private capital, which will attract transnational companies and direct foreign investment. The IDB’s financing follows the lines set by the World Bank and Mexico has been assigned the chief overseer role in the plan.

Demagogy, colonization
and counterinsurgency

Writer Carlos Fazio described the PPP as the project of "Mexico’s owners." The goal of promoting the massive influx of unregulated foreign capital and subsidizing infrastructure through the state is to transform the region into an enclave of maquilas and mono-crop plantations, an ideal place for exports based on depressed labor and aggressive local resource exploitation.
No analysis of the PPP and its domestic and foreign promoters can avoid identifying which classes will benefit from it and which will be sacrificed to it. The PPP aims to "Americanize" the region in the sense of keeping it at the mercy of the designs and "manifest destiny" of the United States. It is inscribed in the so-called "Washington consensus," aimed at savagely colonizing southwest Mexico and all of Central America. The neoliberal "modernization" proposed by the PPP seeks to legitimate a form of exploitation that will accentuate the already dependent nature of our economies.

The PPP is presented as a way to promote development by investing in job creation to alleviate marginalization and poverty, but left unsaid is that the jobs will be low-paying ones that can compete with cheap labor from other parts of the world. Researcher Armando Bartra has warned that the PPP combines demagogy and counterinsurgency and calls for a new colonization. While all international conventions should consider power differences, the PPP does not. It merely follows the footsteps of previous trade agreements, which have simply been licenses for investors to do whatever they please, without taking labor, migration and environmental rights into account.
It can be argued that there is no other course in a globalized world, but the critics are also presenting alternatives. If the first step is to unveil the plan’s true intent, it is then essential not only to call on people to resist, but also to present options. A PPP proposed by grassroots civil society must emphasize regional self-government, in which indigenous autonomy and economic self-management focused on the south’s small producers would be key points.

Chiapas and the PPP

A plan that would truly foster development of the peoples involved would have to begin by empowering the autonomous self-management experiences that have been developed collectively, in solidarity, in the Chiapas region of the country, so that people could regain food security and sovereignty over their labor. This would be difficult to do, but not impossible. We must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the illusions of democracy—limited to electoral democracy—contained in the PPP. The true goal must be to achieve social and cultural democracy guided by a market logic subordinated to human ends.

The plan Fox presented leaves no room for indigenous autonomy understood as the power to decide on the use of resources in their territories, which was a key point in the bill drafted by Congress’ Peace and Harmony Commission (COCOPA) and endorsed by the President but cut from the new indigenous legislation. Fox’s statements about the Zapatista movement at the Central American summit should be set in this context. He said the Zapatistas have begun a deactivation process and thus believes there is no need to give them more room or power, claiming that there is now peace in Chiapas, and that the PPP is "a thousand times more than the EZLN or a community in Chiapas." Trying to minimize the Zapatista movement, Fox emphasized that there was no violence even though no talks were taking place. He defiantly said that if some PPP project proposed for implementation in Zapatista territory was not accepted, it would be shifted somewhere else. Along these same lines, the PPP’s coordinator in Mexico has announced that projects will not be implemented where the social groups involved don’t accept them, trying to cover up the fact that in the current globalization process, the globalizers are the winners and the globalized are dispensable.

Both the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Center criticized Fox’s statements on Chiapas at the Central American summit. The center rebutted the notion that the Zapatista movement was deactivating and warned that it was not simply a local movement. The PRD described Fox’s statements as irresponsible and even provocative, since they seemed aimed at inciting the Zapatistas to take up arms again. The PRD noted that when Fox said that no more room needed to be made for the Zapatistas, it carried an implicit threat that they would be cornered and repressed. One thing clear is that until the Constitution has been reformed to authentically respect indigenous peoples’ rights, the PPP will represent nothing more than a new way of sacking and plundering their resources.

Conflict over the indigenous law

After the alliance formed by Fox’s PAN and the PRI succeeded in pushing through indigenous legislation to reform the Constitution that was contrary to indigenous peoples’ demands, the problem shifted to the state legislatures. The majority of these legislatures—which means those of 16 states—must approve the new law for it to become part of the Constitution. This process has revealed a deeply divided country.
In early June, Rodolfo Elizondo, the President’s coordinator for the citizens’ alliance, said that federal authorities supported the indigenous law as passed by Congress, adding that there was nothing the executive branch could do about it if the Zapatistas or the Indigenous National Congress did not. His remarks were cause for concern in COCOPA: was this the President’s position or a personal opinion? The Secretariat of Government sketched out two scenarios: if the state legislatures approved the law, changes would be made in 30 government offices; if they rejected it, meetings would be arranged with the main actors involved. The government ministry pulled out an old line often used under Zedillo, explaining that the government wanted to see evidence of the Zapatistas’ willingness to make progress in the peace process. It was an attempt to make the Zapatistas look responsible for the break in the talks, ignoring the mockery represented by the new law on indigenous rights and culture. Elizondo also said that the government was waiting for the state legislatures to decide on the law before designing actions in Chiapas.

Labor Party deputy Félix Castellanos argued that the only thing clear was that the constitutional reform had not contributed to peace. The senator who had been the only PRD member to defend the new law against the continuing criticisms responded that the objections raised by his own party and by those state legislatures that did not approve the law could be resolved through secondary laws. He argued that the new legislation required states to meet the federal norm but that nothing prevented them from going beyond that to create better legislation. PRD and Labor Party representatives refuted this argument, however, explaining that secondary laws could not resolve the problem because they must be subordinate to the constitutional reform, so that the only solution would be to reform the reform.
COCOPA expressed concern to the Government Secretary and the head of the citizens’ alliance office over increasing tension in the areas of Chiapas where the army has withdrawn. The population of Guadalupe Tepeyac showed their rejection of the government proposal by shutting down the buildings earmarked for the new development center, refusing to receive attention through federal offices. The presidential coordinator of the citizens’ alliance said that regardless of the state legislatures’ final decision on the law, Chiapas’ problem does not lie in a law. He recalled that Fox has pledged to take strategic actions to resolve the land ownership, justice, health and education problems that gave rise to the conflict in the first place. He never referred to the indigenous peoples’ demand for dignity or their right to decide for themselves. The government commissioner for peace, Luis H. Alvarez, complained that the Zapatistas have blocked implementation of the government’s social projects in their areas of influence and asked COCOPA to review its legal framework, insinuating that it should disappear, although this would violate the pacification law. The governor of Chiapas had to recommend that the presidential commissioner for peace be more judicious in his opinions.

Chiapas: an open file

After declaring their opposition to a reform that did not take them into account, the Zapatistas remained silent. The Indigenous National Congress has continued to object that although the reform talks about indigenous autonomy, it establishes no mechanisms by which autonomy can be exercised and does not recognize the communities’ territories or recognize indigenous peoples as subjects of public right.
In early June, the community network of human rights defenders in Chiapas denounced the resurgence of tension in the conflict zone. It reported that military patrols had increased in several places over the past month and denounced army movements that were intimidating communities, especially in the autonomous municipality of Flores Magón. Civil society organizations questioned the fact that members of the criminal paramilitary group sarcastically named Peace and Justice had been freed on bail despite having committed serious crimes. The impunity in this case was obvious: in making its decision, the Federal Public Ministry did not incorporate into their files the extensive evidence it had against these men. This suggests that the men were imprisoned only to project the image that the paramilitary bands were being pursued, when they were really being protected. The newspaper La Jornada revealed that "kaibiles," members of a Guatemalan military force that had violated human rights with full impunity during the conflict in that country, had offered to train Mexican soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics. On June 24, the governor of Chiapas said that the paramilitary forces were weakened because his government had stopped protecting and supporting them and dismissed the complaint of military harassment against the communities. He differed from the federal government, however, in recognizing that there is not peace in Chiapas but rather an open file, and said he respected the Zapatista resistance.
Fox visited Chiapas at the beginning of July, where he said that Mexico and Chiapas were not made for confrontations, and presented two government projects: the National Crusade for Legal Security in the Countryside and the National Health Program. He never referred to the Zapatistas and let it be understood that the region’s problems would be solved by such government programs. As July wore on, Zapatista communities increasingly denounced growing threats from paramilitary activists, the main ones of which belong to Peace and Justice. People in the autonomous municipality of El Trabajo and the community of Roberto Barrios had received death threats; houses had been sacked and animals slaughtered; there had been assaults and pressure to accept the government programs; and a catechist was harassed for criticizing the Puebla-Panama Plan. Meanwhile, 25 army encampments surround the 11,000 displaced people living in Polo. Many indigenous people have expressed their sense that nothing has changed with the new government.

"May the Virgin of Guadalupe
forgive the mestizos"

Nationally and internationally, people continue to support the Zapatista cause. On June 19, renowned intellectuals and social groups from around the world reiterated their backing of the Zapatista struggle in a statement titled "For the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Culture," which charges that the constitutional reform approved by Congress substantially altered COCOPA’s initial proposal. Presuming that a majority of state legislatures will ratify the approved reform and it will thus become law, the communiqué warned that the Zapatistas and the Indigenous National Congress will not accept it since it violates the San Andrés accords. "We recognize the rights of indigenous peoples, who, although not recognized by the law, have contributed to the struggle for dignity, democracy and justice for all people all over the world."
On June 20, in accepting a doctorate honoris causa from Madrid’s Complutense University, Pablo González Casanova described the Zapatista philosophy as one of the highest expressions of human culture because of the way it brings Mayan culture together with Spanish and universal culture, in both their modern and postmodern manifestations.
On July 1, former Bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas Samuel Ruiz, along with Pablo González Casanova, Conchita Calvillo de Nava, and thousands of others including NGO representatives, religious leaders, academics, intellectuals and artists asked the state legislatures to reject the reform since it worked against indigenous peoples’ interests and was a threat to peace. On July 22, Bishop Raúl Vera, who had been Ruiz’s assistant in San Cristóbal de las Casas then was sent to the other end of the country instead of being confirmed by the Vatican in that diocese, expressed concern that peace was "hanging by a thread." He asked the Virgin of Guadalupe to forgive the mestizos for having approved a reform contrary to indigenous peoples’ interests.

State legislatures refused to
hear the "voice from the south"

Following intense lobbying from both sides, the state legislatures voted on the law during June and July. While Oaxaca’s PRI governor called on state legislators to vote down the reform because it was not an instrument for achieving peace, PRI senator Manuel Bartlett and PAN senator Diego Fernández de Cevallos—the two men largely responsible for drafting the reform that was ultimately approved—pressured state representatives in their respective parties to support it. Both men have notorious political records: Fernández de Cevallos had worked for discredited President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and Bartlett was responsible for managing the scandalous electoral fraud against PRD presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in 1988.

In the end, PAN representatives voted for the reform, the PRI divided according to local interests and the PRD unanimously rejected it. The various combinations in the different states revealed the country’s deep divisions. By the first weeks of July, 15 state legislatures had approved the reform and only one more was needed to make it law. A third of the legislatures had rejected it, including in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Hidalgo, where the majority of the country’s indigenous population lives. In Guerrero, indigenous people from four ethnic groups symbolically took over the legislature to demand that its members vote against the reform law since it was "troublemaking, racist and discriminatory." Chiapas’ indigenous people demonstrated outside the legislature to demand that it vote against the bill. The Chiapas legislature, in doing precisely that, argued that it would not resolve the conflict since the Zapatistas insisted that it betrayed the San Andrés accords on the substantive points of autonomy and self-determination. The governors of Chiapas and Oaxaca and the current bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas called on the state legislatures and the citizens to take note of the fact that the states where most of Mexico’s indigenous population lives had rejected the law.

Indigenous people also demonstrated in the states where the legislation was approved. Huichol and Nahua Indians occupied the legislature in Jalisco and, seated in place of the representatives in a symbolic session, voted it down.

Finally, the state legislatures of Michoacán and Nayarit approved the constitutional reform on July 12, bringing the total number approving it to 17. Michoacán’s legislators cast their vote in a closed-door session to prevent indigenous groups from entering to protest. With their approval, the legislators of that state ignored the results of five forums they themselves had called with the indigenous population, who had firmly rejected the reform. The person chairing Michoacán’s indigenous affairs commission recognized that it was an affront to all indigenous peoples of Mexico. The morning of that same day, the governors and legislators of Chiapas and Oaxaca had issued a statement calling on all the legislatures that were still to vote to hear the "voice from the south." The authors emphasized that the indigenous people’s rejection of the reform was a sign that it was inadequate and would not further the cause of peace. But they were not listened to either.

Debates over quorum

In the state of Morelos, the majority vote against the new legislation was invalidated because the required two-thirds quorum had not been met. The case gave rise to questioning of whether the law’s approval in other states had been constitutional, since there had been no quorum in Sonora, Jalisco, Aguascalientes, Durango, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, Tabasco or Tlaxcala. Nor had there been a quorum in Baja California Sur, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí or Sinaloa, which had voted against the reform. In the states with larger indigenous populations, quorums were met when the law was rejected. The PRD argued that the law had actually been approved by only 9 state legislatures, since quorum had not been met in the 8 others that voted to approve, and with only 4 not yet having voted, the law could not get the 16 states required by law. PRI senators responded that a quorum was not needed in state legislatures, and Congress members from the PAN and PRI quickly signaled their intention to close the case by tallying up the state legislatures that had passed the law. The PRD then accused them of trying to avoid legal challenges.

The governor of Tlaxcala vetoed his state legislature’s approval. One municipality in Puebla initiated a constitutional challenge against the legislation, arguing that during the process, Congress ignored International Labor Organization Convention 169, which establishes that governments must consult indigenous peoples whenever they plan legislative or administrative measures liable to directly affect them. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the first time it has admitted a case examining the legitimacy of a constitutional reform. It added, however, that should the municipality win, it would apply only to this municipality and not the rest of the country.

The PRD declared that the reform was stillborn since it did not respect the spirit of the San Andrés accords and violated provisions of ILO Convention 169. It thus prepared to present a constitutional challenge to the Supreme Court against the legislatures where a quorum had not been present when it was approved. This would presumably imply provisional suspension of the law until the Supreme Court issued its decision. The PRD announced mass demonstrations to demand that debate on the indigenous issue be reopened.

The indigenous peoples and governors of states with an indigenous majority have spoken out repeatedly against the new legislation. Chiapas’ governor has insisted that its rejection in the states with the largest presence of indigenous groups was a "traumatic" sign for Congress, which should discuss the issue again, since the law was worthless if it was unacceptble to its purported beneficiaries.

July 18: The outrageous final act

Given the signs of division the legislation caused throughout the country, some suggested that Congress should reflect and resolve the crisis by abstaining from issuing the final declaration required to put it into effect. In numerous forums, indigenous people spoke out to demand that the President veto the law, but Fox’s team felt this was not an option given the correlation of forces in Congress.

On July 18, Fernández de Cevallos and Bartlett pulled off what the PRD, the Labor Party and the Green Party described as a "legislative reveille" in Congress. Although it was not on the agenda, the two men overrode parliamentary procedures and protocol by insisting on tallying up the state legislatures that had approved the law. During the debate, the opposition recalled that Fernández had spoken disrespectfully of indigenous people as "those barefoot people" and criticized him an obstacle to peace, but the PAN representative arrogantly challenged them to meet him in court, and went out drinking to celebrate the reform’s final passage. Bartlett gloated that the law had been consummated.

Disagreement and rejection

The President’s office announced that it would accept Congress’ decision. The President’s representative for the development of indigenous peoples agreed that a veto was not a viable option, although she recognized that there was discontent among the indigenous peoples. Cárdenas met with his party’s executive committee to begin preparing for the constitutional challenge that it will submit to the Supreme Court. The PRD also analyzed the Puebla-Panama Plan relative to this issue, and declared that Fox’s government is not responding to people’s demands.

The governors of Chiapas and Oaxaca considered the option of presenting a joint constitutional challenge of the indigenous law, while several municipal governments in Chiapas decided to denounce the violation of their collective and individual guarantees implied by the law’s approval and the government’s failure to comply with ILO Convention 169. On learning that Congress had already tallied up the votes, state legislatures, governors, local councils and municipalities opposed to the law expressed their disagreement and rejection. Some indigenous organizations announced that they would not accept the law and called for a national meeting to analyze strategies to oppose it. Pablo González Casanova referred to two counter-reforms to the Constitution that have taken place in Mexico: one modifying article 27, which defended the rights of peasant farmers, and the other on indigenous affairs, consummated so outrageously on July 18. COCOPA criticized the approval of the new law and pointed out that the hasty, imprudent way in which Congress had reached the final stage would lead to harsh debates. It also announced that, given the new situation, it would seek alternative paths.

Not a single indigenous
voice in favor of the law

Once the state legislatures had approved the law in this legally dubious process, COCOPA and the government’s peace commissioner announced that they would examine what had happened. The PRD accused Fox of having failed to sufficiently defend his bill to reform indigenous affairs, while excessively promoting his fiscal reform proposal. In an interview, French sociologist Alain Touraine argued that the parliamentary groups that put COCOPA’s bill aside and drafted a completely different one did so more out of their fight with President Fox than their fight with Subcomandante Marcos. He warned of the danger inherent in the government’s refusal to make the indigenous issue a priority.

There is no obvious sense in maintaining a law at odds with its purported purpose. The PAN, with an ideology that clearly runs against indigenous peoples’ interests, has become an enormous obstacle to the recognition of their rights. It is especially aggravating that the legislation for indigenous peoples was drafted and successfully promoted by those opposed to indigenous peoples’ defense of their rights to both equality and difference. With the reform, the alliance of PAN and PRI legislators has sought to ignore the struggle carried out by significant social groups for the past seven years.

Francisco López Bárcenas, a lawyer specializing in indigenous legislation, called attention to the fact that a constitutional reform implies modifying the political pact through which society establishes the general norms guiding its members’ conduct. Paradoxically, the Zapatistas, the Indigenous National Congress, the Indigenous National Assembly for Autonomy, the Mexican Indigenous Movement, the legislative and executive branches of states where a large part of indigenous Mexicans live and specialists in indigenous rights who have studied the case all repudiated this law on indigenous rights and culture. And López Bárcenas emphasized that not a single voice in the indigenous world spoke out in favor of it.

An historic mistake

A few days after the law had been pushed through Congress in mid-July, COCOPA members had met with indigenous affairs specialists who amply demonstrated that the law had divided people rather than serving to build agreements around indigenous rights and culture. They demanded that COCOPA, as a commission working towards peace, adopt a firmer and more courageous attitude in drafting a new peace proposal. They warned that the indigenous peoples’ situation would become more conflictive—and not only in Chiapas—if the supposed victors arrogantly persist in their "historic mistake." They suggested that the President be made aware of how deeply the reform had divided the nation and that he veto the legislation. The director of the Indigenous National Institute and the President’s representative for the development of indigenous peoples declared that there was still time to rectify things. If one of the objectives of the initiative had been to resume talks to move forward in building peace, this had not been achieved, and Congress had the duty to listen to everyone.

Bishop Emeritus Samuel Ruiz’s group, Services and Counseling for Peace, made a pessimistic analysis of the new legislation, stating that the old regime has not disappeared despite the electoral change. They concluded that the law has put Chiapas in one of the worst crises since 1994, increasing the risk of backtracking to conditions, criteria and strategies prevalent under Zedillo. Their analysis found that Fox’s government has not given the three signs the Zapatistas demanded, that the use of arms is still the only viable route to many groups and that the actions of the dominant political class have brought the country from the great hope aroused by the Zapatista march to great disillusionment. The resurgence of the conflict is thus likely, since Fox’s government has announced that it will try out social solutions imposed without dialogue, regardless of the communities’ desires, and there is increasing risk that it will resort to military solutions. Bishop Ruiz’s group called on people to search for a new civil peace strategy and proposed holding an international meeting for peace in Mexico.

Pablo González Casanova, in turn, called on people to fight discouragement and the idea of defeat, arguing that what had happened was the beginning of a battle that will be won by "indigenous people and grassroots civil society." Indigenous rights specialist Magdalena Gómez commented that, despite the setback implied by the counter-reform, the indigenous peoples are still active and have closed ranks against Congress. She noted that COCOPA de-legitimized itself by not defending its own initiative strongly, and the executive branch, hiding behind the separation of powers, allowed things to come to this pass by failing to take a position congruent with its initiative. What remains now is to see how the judicial branch will respond to the constitutional challenges against the new law.

Researcher Luis Javier Garrido objected that, while there had indeed been a defeat, it was the new government’s. He warned that a constitutional reform imposed by the political class against the interests of indigenous peoples could not prosper, adding that the government would learn another lesson from history if was gambling on defeating the indigenous peoples’ resistance, because they would make their rights respected with or without legal recognition.

The indigenous law and the PPP:
Cut from the same cloth

Mexico is going through a severe political crisis caused by the gulf between people’s expectations and what the rulers and legislators do and have shown they will continue to do. Most of the country’s citizens are prevented from exercising their basic rights in the economic and especially the cultural realms. Social outbreaks are a daily possibility. The new legislation on indigenous affairs opens the door to discouragement and discontent. The Zapatista movement continues both to defend threatened cultures and demand economic and social democratization. Now even more than before, what is required is the creative capacity of civil society’s organizations to reign in the politicians, get them out of their elitist circles and oblige them to be accountable, listen to people, give convincing responses to the needs expressed and include citizens in the decision-making and oversight processes.

The new indigenous law is congruent with the Puebla-Panama Plan; they constitute two fundamental pieces of neoliberalism in the region. A strong civic movement is urgently needed, one capable of proposing a viable alternative and building conditions to make the liberating utopia a reality.

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