Background and legal framework
With 17 million indigenous citizens, Mexico is the country with the largest population of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Mexico has identified 78 distinct indigenous peoples, and according to the country’s Census Bureau (INEGI), 21.5% of the total population identifies as indigenous.1
Indigenous peoples are overwhelmingly poor compared to the rest of the population. In 2010, 46.2% of the total population in Mexico lived under the poverty line, with 10.4% living in extreme poverty. But 79.3% of the Mexican indigenous population lived under the poverty line and a staggering 40.2% lived in extreme poverty.2
Population distribution in Mexico according to poverty categories
An estimated 54% of the Mexican indigenous population lives in urban areas. The remaining 46% live in rural areas. Throughout Latin American, indigenous peoples that inhabit urban settings typically have better access to basic services and market opportunities than rural indigenous populations.4 Though all of Mexico’s indigenous populations experience social exclusion, the issue is particularly acute in rural areas.
For example, in terms of access to education—a basic social right according to the Mexican Federal Government—the indigenous population in Mexico lags far behind the rest of the population: 57% of rural indigenous peoples and 40% of urban indigenous peoples have not completed primary school. And only 5% of rural indigenous peoples and 17% of urban indigenous peoples have completed secondary education. Tertiary education attainment drops to 4.9% for indigenous peoples in urban settings and 0.7% for indigenous peoples in rural settings.5
On the other hand, in the past 20 years Mexico has achieved concrete progress in terms of approving legislation that guarantees indigenous peoples a path to social inclusion, following a global trend triggered by ILO 169. Table 7 provides a summary of the most important legislation approved at the national level to guarantee the protection indigenous rights.
A path to social inclusion for indigenous peoples in Mexico
Timeline of approved legislation
|Year||Reform / Approved Legislation|
|1990||Mexico ratifies ILO 169|
|1992||Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution is reformed to recognize the pluri-cultural composition of the Mexican State.|
|1996||The Federal Government and the EZLN (a guerrilla group that fought to advocate for indigenous rights in the southern State of Chiapas) negotiate the “San Andres Peace Accords.” Through these accords, the State makes the commitment to: a) the right to self-determination; b) increase the political participation and representation of indigenous peoples; c) guarantee the access to justice and recognize the internal normative systems (“usos y costumbres”); d) promote cultural policies; e) ensure multicultural education; f) further social policy focused on indigenous children and women; g) and promote the participation of indigenous peoples in development.|
|2001||Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution is reformed and broken into two sections. Section A outlines the rights of indigenous peoples, while Section B commits the government to create all the necessary organisms to cater to the indigenous population. It recognizes the following indigenous rights: application of normative systems (“usos y costumbres”) to solve indigenous peoples’ internal conflicts; the right to choose authorities and representatives according to indigenous norms and traditions; the right to access and preserve land and property; the right to preserve and enrich indigenous languages; and the right to choose representatives for the city council in municipalities with indigenous populations.|
|2003||Approved on March 13, 2003, the General Law on the Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the status of indigenous languages as national languages and states that indigenous languages will be valid for any public matter. The Law leads to the creation of the National Institute of Indigenous Languages.|
|2003||The Law on the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) is approved on May 21, 2003. The newly created CDI replaces the former National Indigenous Institute (“Instituto Nacional Indigenista”). CDI then becomes a decentralized organism that is created to promote, monitor and evaluate all the programs, projects, and policies regarding indigenous peoples.|
|2003||Approved and published June 11, 2003, the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination creates affirmative action policies for indigenous peoples (as well as other vulnerable groups). The Law also creates the National Commission to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED).|
|2010||The Ministry of Education and the General Education Law go through a series of reforms that includes the reformulation of articles 21 and 33. Among the main modifications are the fostering of intercultural bilingual education, requiring teachers in indigenous regions to certify that they have bilingual credentials, and sponsoring the production of bilingual education materials.|
|2013||The newly elected government under the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) releases the National Development Plan (NDP) 2013 – 2018 and the Special Program for Indigenous Peoples. One of the strategies of the NDP (2.2.3) includes the promotion of the social and economic development of the indigenous peoples, fostering their participation in planning for their own development. The Special Program for indigenous peoples specifically recognizes that the right to prior consultation has not been fully implemented in Mexico and calls for its active implementation.|
In addition to the approved legislation highlighted in Table 7, many Mexican states have created specific legislation for their indigenous populations at the local level. Twenty five of 32 Mexican states recognize the right to prior consultation in their own constitutions and laws: Baja California, Campeche, Colima, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Estado de México, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, and Yucatán. Two of these states—San Luis Potosí and Durango—have passed specific laws on prior consultation. Seven states—Aguascalientes, Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Ciudad de México, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa and Zacatecas—have yet to recognize the right on prior consultation.6
While the federal government has made significant progress on the recognition of indigenous rights, the implementation gap in Mexico is frustrating. According to a survey by CONAPRED (the National Commission to Prevent Discrimination), 44.1% of the population believes that the rights of indigenous peoples are not respected and 31.3% believe those rights are only rarely respected. Most of the indigenous Mexicans interviewed by Global Americans recognized that there had been advances in the formal legislation, but with little effect in the lives of the indigenous population since the laws have been partially implemented or not implemented at all.7
Public agencies and bodies working in favor of indigenous peoples
Legislation designed to protect indigenous populations has led to the creation of agencies and bodies within the federal government specifically dedicated to the wellbeing of indigenous peoples. These agencies and bodies are:
- National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH): The commission was created in 1990 as a decentralized organism within the Secretariat of the Interior (“Secretaría de Gobernación”). In 1999 the CNDH became autonomous, with an allocated budget of its own. CNDH’s mission is to promote, protect and defend human rights. It receives complaints regarding human rights violations from federal public officials (except the Judiciary power), investigates the violations, and issues non-binding recommendations.Regarding work with indigenous peoples, CNDH has conducted training programs for public officials, indigenous leaders and students on indigenous rights, techniques for working with indigenous peoples, and rights of indigenous women, among other topics. CNDH has also signed collaboration agreements with the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) and the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI) to promote human and linguistic rights of indigenous peoples. In 2016, the CNDH presented a recommendation on prior consultation of indigenous peoples (recommendation 27/2016), which called on federal and state level executive and legislative powers to debate and pass a law regulating prior consultation.8CNDH correctly argues that the right is necessary to guarantee collective rights of indigenous peoples, for the preservation of the right to self-determination, sustainable development, ancestral property, cultural biodiversity and cultural identity.9Recommendation CNDH 27/2016 resulted in the General Law of Indigenous Consultation law initiative (“Ley General de Consulta Indígena”).10 Approval is still pending in Mexican Congress.
- National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI): Created in 2003, CDI has a wide array of attributions, but its status as a decentralized body in the federal public administration system makes it hard for the Commission to mandate and intervene over federal level ministries. Unfortunately, it’s a rather toothless institution.CDI’s mandate includes designing and implementing public policies, programs and projects regarding indigenous peoples. Under President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration (PRI 2012-2018), CDI’s priorities have included: a) indigenous rights and access to justice; b) social development; c) economic development; d) participation of indigenous peoples in public decisions; and e) preservation of culture.Many of the indigenous individuals interviewed by Global Americans considered the work of the CDI to have a very minor impact on the state of indigenous rights, since it is mostly focused on small social development programs.
- National Commission (or Council) to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED): Also founded in 2003, CONAPRED recognizes that the indigenous peoples are one of the most vulnerable and excluded groups in Mexico; nevertheless, they do not have a specific line of work to tackle particular issues. According to an interview with CONAPRED personnel, this organism has limited dialogue with CDI even though their objectives overlap.
- National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI): Founded in 2003, INALI’s line of work includes: a) defending the linguistic rights of indigenous peoples; b) promoting the use of indigenous languages in both the private and public spheres; c) increasing the presence of speakers of indigenous languages in the media; d) raising awareness about the legal framework of the linguistic rights of the Mexican State; e) promoting research and recognition of the linguistic diversity of the country; f) promoting intercultural policies.11
There are also other offices and departments that specialize on indigenous issues within several ministries and institutions of Mexican federal and state governments. In an interview Global Americans had with Dr. Rodrigo Gutiérrez Rivas, Human Rights Coordinator at the Institute of Legal Investigations (IIJ) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), we learned that there seems to be an increasing recognition of indigenous peoples as a collective demographic deserving of protection.12 However, Dr. Gutiérrez also noted a persistent and underlying racism in many public servants, which makes progress and advances in the legal sphere more complicated to achieve: “Many public servants have a brutal resistance to any affirmative action policies or equalizing measures.”
The exercise of the right to free, informed and prior consultation in Mexico
The Mexican Constitution recognizes the right to prior consultation. Article 2, section B, fragment IX explicitly states that the government should consult with the indigenous peoples when implementing development plans at the national, state, and municipal level.
So far, there is no single overarching law that defines how prior consultation should be implemented in the country. However, most of the indigenous peoples, human rights defenders, and academics that Global Americans interviewed noted that the right to prior consultation should not be regulated by a single law, since it would create a straitjacket to the free exercise of the right. Dr. Gutiérrez explained this best. He argued that ILO 169 explicitly states that the terms of each consultation should be agreed upon with those who would be affected by a new project or policy. Therefore, if there were a specific procedure with fixed timelines in place, the consultation process would fail to take the unique needs of the affected population into account.
Though there is no specific law regulating the right to prior consultation, some laws reference the right. For example, the law that created the CDI (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas) required consultation with indigenous peoples in the creation of development plans. This representation is guaranteed through an advisory council composed of indigenous representatives named by CDI authorities. Francisco López Bárcenas, a Mexican lawyer and expert in indigenous peoples’ rights, explained that the Commission’s obligation is to design and operate a system of consultation, with participation of indigenous peoples, which must be operated through the Commission’s Advisory Council. But since the same Commission proposes the Council, the Council fails to legitimately represent indigenous peoples or their communities.13
Similarly, the Law of Sustainable Forest Development specifies that when forests are located in areas where indigenous peoples live, these populations should be able to participate in the design of forest programs. However, there is no clarification on how the opinions of indigenous peoples should be incorporated in the programs.
More recently, the hydrocarbon law and the energy reform laws, passed during the first year of President Peña Nieto’s administration, also include the right to prior consultation. However, according to experts consulted in the matter, those same laws allow companies to occupy those territories, even without consent from indigenous communities.
The existing laws in Mexico demonstrate that protections for prior consultation don’t guarantee that proposed projects will be studied and rejected, even if they will negatively impact indigenous populations.
Beyond the letter of the law, consultations in Mexico are being implemented—often in name only—as a way to validate projects that are already operating or that have operational permits approved. These consultations often take place in a framework of violence against the communities who oppose those projects.14 Additionally, governments and companies do not provide full and clear information to affected communities. The imprisonment of indigenous leaders is common.15 In general, companies work to divide indigenous communities before and during the consultation process with the knowledge that a divided community is easier to manipulate.
In terms of incorporating rulings by the inter-American Court of Human Rights into national law, the Mexican court has ruled that those rulings are mandatory but non-binding. In fact, the Mexican court has downplayed the interpretation of the Saramaka case (see Box 1), a paradigmatic case in terms of prior consultation and consent.16 The court sentence stated that whenever there is significant impact in the communities, consent is mandatory, but the Mexican court selectively interpreted the ruling to mandate consultation but not consent.17
The experts Global Americans interviewed collectively agreed that there hasn’t been a single case of successful and well-implemented prior consultation in Mexico. In fact, through these interviews, Global Americans came to the conclusion that consultations typically take place after an indigenous community complains that it hasn’t been consulted about a project that affects their well-being. The sad fact of the matter is that in Mexico there have been certain advances, but every provision on prior-consultation is below international standards, and the implementation of these provisions leaves much to be desired.18
Political integration of indigenous peoples in Mexico
On the same day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, a rebel group in Chiapas declared war on the Mexican Federal Army. On January 1st, 1994, the National Liberation Zapatista Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional-EZLN) sieged the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas and nine other small towns in the southern state of Chiapas, putting the indigenous peoples of Mexico in the international spotlight.
While the EZLN is not solely composed of indigenous peoples (in fact, its most iconic figure, Subcomandante Marcos, is not indigenous), it is based in one of the Mexican states with the highest concentration of indigenous peoples. From the beginning, EZLN has advocated for the indigenous agenda, focusing especially on the right of self-determination.
The EZLN movement gave way to a series of negotiations, which led to the signature of the “San Andres Peace Accords” in 1996. These accords represent a milestone in Mexican law; it was the first time the government made a commitment to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples. The main commitments included in the accords are: a) the right to self-determination; b) the increase of political participation and representation of indigenous peoples in government; c) the guarantee of access to justice and the recognition of internal normative systems (“usos y costumbres”); d) the promotion of cultural policies; e) the promise of multicultural education; f) the furthering of social policy focused on indigenous children and women; and g) the promotion of participation of indigenous peoples in development.19
To this day, many of these demands are still unfulfilled. However, the EZLN’s uprising began the process that eventually led to the 2001 Constitutional reform. Article 2 of the new Constitution includes the recognition of the Mexican state as a pluri-cultural nation, where indigenous peoples and communities have a right to self-determination. This article mandated the creation of a series of institutions and public policies to guarantee the social inclusion and sustainable development of the indigenous peoples.
Political parties in Mexico: Background and composition
For most of the 20th Century, a single party—the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) —dominated Mexico’s political system.20 However, this changed during the 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of two other relevant political parties, the right wing PAN (National Action Party) and the left-wing PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), which was a born as a PRI spin-off. However, none of the three major political forces have been effective in providing a space for the representation of indigenous peoples. While all the political parties formally express the importance of representing the indigenous peoples, in most cases political action never follows.
In its Declaration of Principles of 2013, the PRI did attempt to go beyond statements. The declaration incorporates the defense of the rights of the indigenous peoples and the respect for their own normative systems (“usos y costumbres”) as a premise.21 In its Action Plan for 2013, PRI includes a specific section about the development of indigenous peoples, stating the right to self-determination, advocating the promotion of bilingual inter-cultural education, and emphasizing the importance of the political participation of indigenous peoples and the promotion of affirmative action policies in the country.22 The party also appointed a “Secretariat for indigenous action.” However, its website has not been updated with new documents or articles since 2015.23
PAN’s Declaration of Principles of 2012 contains only one mention of indigenous peoples. The party acknowledges that municipalities should determine the characteristics of their own government to guarantee the development and respect for indigenous peoples and communities.24 In its 2014 electoral platform, the PAN declared its commitment to protect the rights of indigenous communities through strengthening indigenous institutions, cultures, and traditions.25 In 2011, the party launched the “Indigenous Peoples Council” to promote indigenous candidacies.26 However, in the party’s website there is no mention or reference to the council whatsoever.
The bylaws of the third most important party at the national level, the PRD guarantees the presence of indigenous persons in the party’s governing bodies.27 They also pledge to respect the electoral practices under “usos y costumbres” from the indigenous communities, even for choosing representatives within the party. Finally, they also formally recognize the indigenous right to self-determination.28
All minor nationally registered parties— MORENA, Citizen Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano), New Alliance (Nueva Alianza), Workers Party (Partido del Trabajo), and the Green Party (Partido Verde Ecologista de Mexico)—also mention to indigenous peoples in their principles.
While the EZLN brought international attention to the situation of indigenous peoples in Mexico and Latin America at large, no indigenous political parties have emerged in Mexico’s national government, even as minor players. However, states like Oaxaca and Chiapas, which have the highest numbers of indigenous citizens, do have local political parties that are tailored to meet the demands of indigenous communities.
One example is the Popular Unity Party (Partido Unidad Popular-PUP), an indigenous political party in Oaxaca. The PUP seeks to provide a voice for indigenous communities through all branches of the government and to create a national political party exclusively for indigenous peoples. The party has been presenting candidates for state elections since 2004, albeit with mediocre results. In the last elections, PUP only received 2.6% of the votes for their candidate for governor, and won only 5 out of 153 municipalities.29 In the Oaxacan state legislature, PUP only has one deputy out of 42 seats.
Affirmative action policies
The San Andrés Accords demanded increased spaces for political participation of indigenous Mexicans. The accord includes a section that specifically mentions the importance of the political participation of indigenous peoples in National Congress and in indigenous municipalities. The document also mandates that state governments should guarantee and respect indigenous rules for filing positions at the municipal level according to their own normative systems (“usos y costumbres”). 30
The 2001 constitutional reform included an attempt to bring the indigenous protections in the San Andrés accords into practice. However, the indigenous communities rejected the final product because it left out a large number of issues, including the need for larger political representation of indigenous peoples. In 2005, the Federal Electoral Institute (Instituto Federal Electoral-IFE) defined 28 indigenous electoral districts, where at least 40% or more of the population is indigenous. However, the seats in Congress from these districts have not always been filled by indigenous politicians. 31
Oaxaca is the only Mexican state that formally recognizes the political autonomy of indigenous communities. There are 570 municipalities in the state of Oaxaca; 417 of them select their authorities through traditional and ancestral norms.
Instead of using a secret ballot and having political parties, the members of the indigenous community “earn” their right to participate, both as candidates and electors, through public service and activities called “tequios” (collective work that a person owes to his or her community). Those members who complete the “tequios” participate in the assembly that chooses the municipal authorities. Each community decides how to exercise the vote (show of hands, ballots, making a mark next to the candidates’ name on a blackboard, etc.) and has a different number of positions, depending on the population and their own tradition. The system tends to be hierarchical, as members typically serve lower-ranking positions before being considered for the more important ones.
Political representation: Indigenous peoples in the Mexican Congress
In order to better understand the issue of political representation of indigenous peoples in Mexico, Global Americans investigated the presence of indigenous Mexicans in the national congress.
Oddly, for a country with the highest indigenous population in the Americas, information on indigenous members of congress proved very difficult to find. There is virtually no accurate information indigenous participation in national government in general.
Global Americans requested this information from various sources, including the Commission for the Development of Indigenous peoples, the office of the President of the Indigenous Peoples Committee in the Senate, the Federal Registry of Electors—an entity in charge of the consultations to indigenous communities—and scholars who specialize in indigenous political participation. None of them could identify how many national legislators identify as indigenous.
Nonetheless, the team went through the profiles of all 500 legislators—both in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate—and identified only five members of Congress who have publically identified as indigenous.
Political representation of indigenous peoples in the Mexican Congress
|# of legislators that identify as indigenous||5 (out of 500)|
|# of bills introduced by indigenous legislators related to indigenous issues||23|
|# of bills passed||2|
|# of bills rejected||5|
Global Americans found that the five indigenous legislators have introduced a total of 23 bills in Congress during their terms. Most of the bills relate to cultural issues. It is curious that this is one of the topics that matters most to the indigenous congressmen, since none of the indigenous peoples interviewed during our trip talked about the defense of culture as a top priority. It’s unclear whether the political prioritization of cultural issues is a façade to give the impression that politicians care about indigenous issues, or if indigenous legislators view cultural bills as more likely to succeed in a national congress that has repeatedly failed to address more pressing issues for the national indigenous communities.
The only two bills that have been approved refer to non-controversial issues. One of them has to do with the right of indigenous legislators to express themselves in their original aboriginal languages and request a simultaneous translation. The other one provides indigenous community radio stations a tax exception.
The rejected bills are mostly related to more controversial topics, such as enhancing political participation of indigenous communities and promoting the usage of indigenous languages and translations. One of those bills, which had the support of several indigenous deputies from various political parties, proposed making all indigenous languages—together with Spanish—national languages. Another rejected bill promoted hiring indigenous-speaking personnel in health centers. The three other rejected bills were brought to the floor by Modesta Fuentes Alonso, one of the most active indigenous legislators and a member of MORENA. Two of them promoted increased indigenous political participation in the legislative power, either though the creation of a quota of indigenous peoples at the Federal Congress (10% of total seats), or by requiring political parties to include indigenous peoples among the first five names of their ballots in the pluri-nominal circumscription process (a system through which 200 of the 500 representatives that compose the Deputies Chamber are elected).
The remaining bills addressed a diverse set of issues. Most of them referred to cultural protection, including the recognition of author and property rights for indigenous peoples, promoting the publication of books in indigenous languages, and protection against plagiarism. Other failed laws referred to indigenous justice, the use of indigenous languages, promotion of handicrafts, and political representation. There have been no proposed laws regarding access to basic services, social rights or prior consultation.
Breakdown of initiatives presented by indigenous legislators at the Mexican Congress
|Translation and use of language||6|
|Indigenous justice and indigenous rights||3|
Political participation of indigenous women
A common belief is that indigenous peoples in Mexico don’t allow women to participate in political activity at all. But Global Americans found cases in the state of Oaxaca that disprove this myth.
In Oaxaca, 18% of municipalities had a ban on female participation in 2015.32 Of course, 18% is still far too high, but the myth that all indigenous communities repress women’s right to vote is fortunately just that, as 343 municipalities allow women the right to vote. But being able to vote doesn’t mean that women have open access to run for office. As of 2015, only eight women across Oaxaca’s 417 municipalities have been through the “usos y costumbres” system.33
In 2016, Oaxaca’s electoral institute imposed a new measure, which forces communities following the “usos y costumbres” system to present and elect female candidates. So far, 18 women have been elected as municipal presidents (more than double the number of women occupying the same position in 2015).34 In total, 789 indigenous women were elected for a position in Oaxaca in 2016.
From a western perspective, this sort of affirmative action measure is seen as a way to overcome structural and cultural barriers to rights and opportunities. But many indigenous women in Oaxaca believe the requirement is an imposition over their traditions.
One of our interviewees, a community psychologist participating in the Assembly of Oaxaca’s Indigenous Women (“Asamblea de Mujeres Indígenas de Oaxaca”), expressed this point of view: “There are many indigenous women working on the political participation of women, and we are criticized for not taking a radical feminist discourse. […] the current norm only puts colleagues in certain positions of authority within the community but it doesn’t help them stay there.”
The psychologist made two main arguments. First, most of the positions in Oaxaca’s system of “usos y costumbres” are voluntary. She explained that for most women, being elected can represent a double burden, because not only do they have to work for the community, but they still have to take care of their domestic chores. Making women’s representation a requirement makes sense in state legislature, where there is a monthly salary, but in indigenous municipalities being a woman occupying a political position represents an additional chore few can manage. Second, the psychologist mentioned the gender distribution requirement does not value other ways in which women participate politically. For example, women may feel that they have an active participation when their husbands are elected to office, since they assume many of the men’s regular responsibilities.
So, if there is so much resistance by both women and men in the communities to these changes, why don’t they speak up? When the Global Americans team asked this question, many of the interviewed leaders raised the following point: Whenever a community doesn’t comply with all of the federal election rules or when there is an internal conflict after the elections, the state government can assign a “municipal administrator” to intervene in the community. Formally, these administrators are only supposed to stay for three months and help set up a new election, but they have been known to stay for much longer and manage community resources at their own discretion.35 Some interviewees mentioned that the indigenous communities were not fighting this newly imposed rule because they feared intervention.
Is the federal government advancing female participation with a secret agenda, hoping that they won’t comply with the new norms so that they can intervene and gain access to the communities’ resources? That’s hard to know, but some indigenous leaders suspect so. The most important lesson, however, is that policies and programs implemented from a western perspective—in this case affirmative action policies designed to advance female participation—may, even with the best intentions, violate other rights. The leaders Global Americans spoke to feel that the electoral reform violates their customs and their right of self-determination.
Challenges and priorities: What matters the most for indigenous peoples in Mexico?
To learn about the issues that most concern indigenous peoples in Mexico, Global Americans interviewed 30 people, including indigenous leaders, public officials from institutes that work with indigenous issues and Congress, NGO representatives working on advocacy, and academics. We asked every interviewee what he or she thought were the main challenges that indigenous communities faced in contemporary Mexico.
Challenges to development
(ranked as percentage
of mentions by interviewees and rounded to whole numbers)
|Access to services and poverty||35%|
|Prior consultation and indigenous rights||18%|
|Racism and discrimination||15%|
|Lack of political participation and representation||12%|
|Access to land||12%|
|Loss of culture||6%|
The main topic of concern among the interviewees was the condition of poverty and the lack of presence of the state in indigenous communities, especially in terms of access to education and health. This is a dire situation, proven by the fact that the states with the highest indigenous population (Oaxaca and Chiapas) are the poorest. Many interviewees pointed out that the indigenous populations have the additional disadvantage of language barriers and—while there are laws for multicultural education—the quality of the services they receive is generally worse.
The second and third most mentioned topics were the right to prior consultation and the ubiquitous racism and discrimination that indigenous peoples face. All 30 interviewees mentioned that while the Constitution and ILO 169 recognize the right to prior consultation, there is a tremendous implementation gap. For example, many new laws regarding the hydrocarbon and energy reforms directly contradict the implementation of prior consultation.
Interviewees also pointed out that there is a deeply ingrained racism in Mexican society. According to a survey by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination, 44% of the respondents thought that the rights of indigenous peoples were not respected. This was the highest percentage when compared to other vulnerable groups such as children (20%), women (24%), migrants (41%) or the LGBT community (42%).36
When asked about the importance of political representation, most interviewees downplayed the power of political change. Several interviewees were skeptical of political parties that said that they represented the indigenous communities. In contrast, many of the interviewees stressed the importance of the political participation within the communities, through their normative systems, commonly known as “usos y costumbres.”
Though certain parts of Mexico have made progress on incorporating affirmative action policies for indigenous political participation at the state and municipal level, Mexico’s indigenous communities continue to experience extreme levels of social and political exclusion at all levels of society. Despite a massive indigenous population and seemingly advanced institutional infrastructure, indigenous peoples in Mexico are faced with a massive implementation gap. Until the Mexican government begins to actively work towards aligning its practices with its written promises, indigenous peoples in the country will likely continue to experience extreme degrees of exclusion.
Unfortunately, both the Mexican and Guatemalan cases demonstrate that progress in building institutions, embracing international norms, and (in the case of Mexico) affirmative action policies do not translate into less severe exclusion for indigenous peoples. Increased protections are needed, both in the law and in practice especially, if Latin America’s governments truly have an interest in making their societies more inclusive of their indigenous peoples.
1 INEGI. “Resultados Definitivos de la Encuesta Intercensal 2015.” Aguascalientes, AGS: INEGI. December 8, 2015. P. 3. http://www.inegi.org.mx/saladeprensa/boletines/2015/especiales/especiales2015_12_3.pdf (accessed August 2017).
2 Gobierno de la República. “Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2013-2018.” Estados Unidos Mexicanos. P. 48. http://pnd.gob.mx/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/PND.pdf (accessed July 2017).
3 Gobierno de la República. “Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2013-2018.” Estados Unidos Mexicanos. P. 48. http://pnd.gob.mx/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/PND.pdf (accessed July 2017). According to the Mexican Federal Government, extreme poverty is defined as lacking the minimum income necessary to acquire a basic food basket, in addition to not being able to exercise three or more social rights. Social rights are education, access to health, access to social services, access to housing and basic housing services, and food security.
4 The World Bank. “Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century: The First Decade.” Washington, DC: World Bank, 2015. P. 31. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/23751 (accessed September 2017).
5 Ibid., P. 34,35.
6 Gutiérrez Chong. “La autonomía y la resolución de conflictos étnicos: los acuerdos de San Andrés Larráinzar.” Nueva Antropología, vol. XIX, núm. 63, October, 2003. Distrito Federal, Mexico: Asociación y Nueva Antropología, A.C. P. 16. http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=15906302 (accessed July 2017).
7 CEPAL. “Ley General de Derechos Lingüisticos de los Pueblos Indígenas.” Observatorio del Principio 10 en América Latina y el Caribe. https://observatoriop10.cepal.org/es/instrumentos/ley-general-derechos-linguisticos-pueblos-indigenas (accessed July 2017).
8 Cámara de Diputados del H. Congreso de la Unión. “Ley de la Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas.” Secretaría General, Secretaría de Servicios Parlamentarios. P. 1. http://www.cdi.gob.mx/normateca/dmdocuments/ley-de-la-cdi.pdf (accessed July 2017).
9 SEGOB. “Ley Federal para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación.” Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación. http://www.conapred.org.mx/index.php?contenido=pagina&id=23&id_opcion=20&op=20 (accessed July 2017).
10 Diario Oficial. “Decreto por el que se reforman y adicionan los artículos 21 y 33 de la Ley General de Educación, en materia de educación indígena.” Secretaría de Educación Pública. http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/ref/lge/LGE_ref19_02jul10.pdf (accessed July 2017).
11 Gobierno de la República. “Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2013-2018.” Estados Unidos Mexicanos. P. 116. http://pnd.gob.mx/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/PND.pdf (accessed July 2017).
12 Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. “Recomendación General No. 27/2016 Sobre el Derecho a la Consulta Previa de los Pueblos y Comunidades Indígenas de la República Mexicana.” Ciudad de México: CNDH México, 11 July 2016. http://www.cndh.org.mx/sites/all/doc/Recomendaciones/generales/RecGral_027.pdf (accessed July 2017).
13 National Council to Prevent Discrimination. “National Survey on Discrimination in Mexico, ENADIS 2010, Overall Results.” Mexico: P. 35. http://www.conapred.org.mx/userfiles/files/ENADIS-2010-Eng-OverallResults-NoAccss.pdf (accessed Juy 2017).
14 CNDH México. “Informe de actividades del 1 de enero al 31 de diciembre de 2016.” Mexico: enero 2017. P. 50. http://informe.cndh.org.mx/uploads/principal/2016/Informe_2016_resumen_ejecutivo.pdf (accessed September 2017).
15 Ibid., P. 51.
16 Secretaría de Gobernación. “Iniciativa que expide la Ley General de Consulta Indígena y reforma el artículo 2o. de la Ley de la Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, a cargo del Dip. Christian Joaquín Sánchez Sánchez (PRI).” Sistema de Información Legislativa de la Secretaría de Gobernación. México: P.1. http://sil.gobernacion.gob.mx/Archivos/Documentos/2017/04/asun_3534517_20170427_1490391014.pdf (accessed September 2017).
17 Gobierno de la República. “Programa Institucional del Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas 2014-2018.” Estados Unidos Mexicanos: http://site.inali.gob.mx/pdf/INALI_Informe_Logros_2016.pdf (accessed August 2017).
18 López Bárcenas, Francisco. “El Derecho de los Pueblos Indígenas en México a la Consulta.” P. 5. http://www.lopezbarcenas.org/files/escritos/derecho-consulta.pdf (accessed August 2017).
19 Interview with FUNDAR
20 Interview with Dr. Rodrigo Gutiérrez, Human Rights Coordinator at the Institute of Legal Investigations (IIJ) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
21 Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. “Caso del Pueblo Saramaka vs. Surinam. Sentencia del 28 de noviembre de 2007.” P. 2. http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_172_esp.pdf (accessed September 2017).
22 Interview with Dr. Rodrigo Gutiérrez, Human Rights Coordinator at the Institute of Legal Investigations (IIJ) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
24 Gutiérrez Chong. “La autonomía y la resolución de conflictos étnicos: los acuerdos de San Andrés Larráinzar.” Nueva Antropología, vol. XIX, núm. 63, October, 2003. Distrito Federal, Mexico: Asociación y Nueva Antropología, A.C. P. 16. http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=15906302 (accessed February 2017).
25 Magaloni, Beatriz.”Voting for autocracy: Hegemonic party survival and its demise in Mexico.” Stanford University, Cambridge University Press: 2006. http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/polisci/cpworkshop/papers/Magaloni.pdf (accessed February 2017).
26 PRI. “Declaración de Principios, Un México compartido.” 2013. http://pri.org.mx/JuntosHacemosMas/Documentos/DeclaracionDePrincipios2013.pdf (accessed February 2017)
27 PRI. “Programa de Acción.” 2013. http://pri.org.mx/JuntosHacemosMas/Documentos/ProgramadeAccion2013.pdf (accessed February 2017)
28 PRI. “Secretaría de Acción Indígena.” http://www.indigenas.pri.org.mx/ (accessed February 2017)
29 PAN. “Proyección de Principios de Doctrina del Partido Acción Nacional.“ 2012. https://www.pan.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Principios-de-doctrina-2002.pdf (accessed February 2017)
30 PAN. “Plataforma electoral 2014-2015” http://www.ine.mx/archivos3/portal/historico/recursos/IFE-v2/DEPPP/DEPPP-PlataformasElectorales/2014-2015/PAN.pdf (accessed February 2017)
31 Sandoval Alarcón, Francisco. “Busca PAN impulsar candidaturas indígenas.” Animal Político. May 7, 2014. http://www.animalpolitico.com/2011/05/busca-pan-impulsar-candidaturas-indigenas/ (accessed February 2017)
32 Singer Sochet, Martha. “Justicia electoral. México, participación y representación indígena.” México : Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación, 2013. http://www.trife.gob.mx/sites/default/files/38_justicia.pdf (accessed February 2017)
34 IEEPCO. “Proceso Electoral Ordinario 2015-2016.” 2016 http://www.ieepco.org.mx/elecciones-2016 (accessed February 2017)
35 Secretaría de Gobernación. “Propuestas conjuntas que el gobierno federal y el EZLN se comprometen a enviar a las instancias de debate y decision nacional correspondientes al punto 1.4 de las Reglas de Procedimiento.” Chiapas: Enero 18, 1996. http://zedillo.presidencia.gob.mx/pages/chiapas/docs/sanandres/p-conju-doc2.html (accessed September 2017).
36 Singer Sochet, Martha. “Justicia electoral. México, participación y representación indígena.” México : Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación, 2013.
http://www.trife.gob.mx/sites/default/files/38_justicia.pdf (accessed February 2017)
37 Lozano, Ignacio. “Eufrosina Cruz: la rebeldía indígena sin pasamontañas.” Newsweek en Español. Marzo 13, 2016. http://nwnoticias.com/#!/noticias/eufrosina-cruz-la-rebeldia-indigena-sin-pasamontanas (accessed September 2017).
38 Instituto Estatal Electoral y de Participación Ciudadana de Oaxaca. “Resultados elecciones Sistemas Normativos Indígenas 2013.” Observatorio de Participación Política de las Mujeres en Oaxaca. Oaxaca: 2016. http://www.ieepco.org.mx/observatorio/sistemas-normativos-indigenas/resultados-elecciones-sistemas-normativos-indigenas-2013 (accessed September 2017).
39 Instituto Estatal Electoral y de Participación Ciudadana de Oaxaca. “Al triple, elección de mujeres a cargos municipales.” Oaxaca: December 11, 2016. http://www.ieepco.org.mx/comunicados/al-triple-eleccion-de-mujeres-a-cargos-municipales (accessed September 2017).