The Indigenous World 2022: Mexico

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The following information is kindly provided to us by IWGIA (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs) and can be found here: https://www.iwgia.org/en/mexico/4670-iw-2022-mexico.html


Mexico is home to 68 Indigenous Peoples, each speaking their own native language and together comprising 364 different variants. According to the 2020 Census, 6.1% of the population aged over three was recorded as speaking an Indigenous language, or some 7.36 million people. The equivalent figure in the 2010 Census was 6.6%. The 2020 Census furthermore indicated that 11.8 million people were living in Indigenous households, 5.7 million of them men and 6.1 million of them women.

In terms of Indigenous languages, Nahuatl continues to be the most widely spoken, accounting for 22.5% of Indigenous language speakers or 1.65 million people, followed by Mayan with 774,000 speakers (10.6%).[i] In addition, 2.0% of the national population indicate that they belong to an Afro-descendant people, of which 7.4% confirm speaking an Indigenous language.[ii] It is, however, important to note that issues of under-reporting of the Indigenous population were exacerbated by the early suspension of census data collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the census data, the National Institute of Indigenous Languages suggests that 25 million people identify as belonging to an Indigenous people.[iii]

Due to factors such as marginalisation, discrimination, violence, land grabbing and lack of access to decent housing and public health services, the Indigenous population in Mexico has been particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. To respond to this, Indigenous communities decided to design and implement their own methods and protocols to combat COVID-19, such as disseminating information through their community communication channels and in their native languages, restricting people from entering or leaving their territories, and strengthening their sense of solidarity and community, among other things.

The indigenous communities continue to be the most vulnerable to the situation of inequality, since according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), 69.5% of the indigenous population, 8.4 million people, experience a situation of poverty, and 27.9%, 3.4 million people, of extreme poverty. 2 In addition, 43% of the speakers of an indigenous language did not complete primary education, while 55.2% work in low-skilled manual jobs. 3

Mexico signed the ILO Convention 169 in 1990, and in 1992 the country was recognized as a multicultural nation by modifying article 2 of its Constitution.

On January 1, 2019, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) celebrated 25 years since the beginning of its uprising. He expressed his opposition to the infrastructure projects that the federal administration has programmed, such as the Mayan Train or the Transisthmian Corridor. 4

Indigenous women in migration: from the domestic space to the labor market

In the current mobility process, the presence of indigenous women is increasingly noticeable, who, along with the rest of the migrants, go from the most marginalized areas, located mostly in the southeast and center of the country, to the most developed ones. including some cities, agro-commercial development areas, tourist areas in different parts of the country, northern and southern borders, and even internationally, particularly in the United States and Canada. The 2010 Population and Housing Census recorded that of 174,770 indigenous language speakers, state migrants, 82,416 are women, that is, 47% of the total. While of international migrants (37,117) women make up 6,858 people, which represents 18% of the total. These are approximate figures if we consider the undercounting of the indigenous population due to the denial of ethnicity and in some cases the loss of the mother tongue, a criterion used by INEGI to identify the indigenous population. The foregoing is associated with discrimination against indigenous peoples as documented by studies on the subject: “In places of destination there is a strong tendency to discriminate against indigenous migrants”, a situation experienced by women who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, due to their triple condition: migrants, women and indigenous.

According to INEGI, 20 states in the country registered the largest migratory flows of indigenous women state migrants. This trend may also vary by ethnic group. For example, in 2006 there was an increase in the migration of women and entire families who moved out of the state or the country, although it indicates that the migration of the male population is greater. The presence of indigenous women in migration is also not recorded in the data by state because they are undernumbered. Even the INEGI does not quantify them by ethnic group and thus further limits the measurement of the phenomenon. For this reason, it is necessary to consider qualitative information even from previous years to reconstruct the history of migration. According to ethnographies carried out in the indigenous areas of the country, by various researchers,

The causes of indigenous migration are multiple. Even with this, structural factors are the main causes that explain the continuity of the phenomenon. In addition, indigenous women have the highest rates of illiteracy, school dropout, lack of employment opportunities, domestic violence, health problems and risk during pregnancy, high levels of fertility and mortality, among other factors. Domestic service, informal trade, work in restaurants and maquilas, or even begging,  are some options for indigenous women to obtain income in the cities. Work in agricultural areas is another option they turn to.

Megaprojects, consultation, indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples

Mexico is recognized as a multidiverse country, with great contrasts, especially in economic matters. The Federal Government has applied a strategy to combat corruption, which began with the transformation of care programs for the population in a situation of social deprivation as registered in the National Development Plan 2019-2024; such as the economic contributions that are distributed in a personalized way, which do not consider the cultural perspective or the worldview of the indigenous peoples, ignore their organization and their solidarity practices derived from their internal regulatory systems, thus undermining their community structure and weakening its social fabric.

The vision of national development has also been imposed on the indigenous territories through large infrastructure projects, without considering their participation, needs and aspirations, which puts the survival of the peoples as collective entities and their territory at risk, as said the representative of the United Nations.6 For example, the Mayan Train is considered the most important infrastructure, socioeconomic and tourism development project of the current federal administration. It covers a route of 1,525 kilometers in the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo; with 15 stations and an approximate investment of between 120 and 150 billion Mexican pesos. 7However, some indigenous communities have reacted against what they consider to be an imposition by filing amparo claims with the Federal Judiciary. This is the case of Xpujil, Calakmul, in Campeche, which obtained the provisional suspension of the project because they do not know the technical studies or the Environmental Impact Statement, in addition to pointing out that the consultation was simulated and fraudulent, without complying with international rights standards. humans. However, the greatest opposition to the megaprojects is represented by the EZLN, whose members have expressed their willingness to die as guardians of the land, before allowing them. 8

With the procedures of the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection, it is difficult to take care of the environmental impact because it leaves the responsibility to the communities to request consultations when there is an Environmental Impact Statement, and not before it is designed. the project. 9The right to consultation of indigenous peoples is based on article 2 of the Constitution and article 6 of ILO Convention 169, which must be prior, free and informed; in addition to being part of their right to autonomy, self-determination and development. However, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation has turned this right into a mere administrative procedure, since it restricts the content of the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights by determining that there must be a significant impact 10 for it to be carried out. a query; and determines that this will be considered prior if it is carried out before the execution of the project. eleven

In this context, the Federal Constitution was amended to include Afro-Mexican peoples and communities in Section C of Article 2 of the Constitution, without expressly stating their rights. This makes their inclusion mandatory in the next 2020 National Population and Housing Census, which for the first time contains the question: “Do you consider yourself Afro-Mexican, black or Afro-descendant because of your ancestors, traditions, and customs?” 12

Although this year the Senate ratified two international instruments: the Inter-American Convention against all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance; and the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance; Indigenous peoples and Afro-Mexicans have been recognized exclusively as cultural subjects, and not as legal entities of public law within the legal system, which prevents them from having legal personality to defend their collective rights and their heritage.

Murders of indigenous rights and environmental activists

According to various international organizations such as Global Witness and Amnesty International, Mexico remained in 2019 as one of the most dangerous countries for activists who defend the environment and human rights, who experience harassment, threats, repression and deadly attacks. In 2019, at least 14 environmental activists and defenders, belonging to various indigenous peoples, were murdered, some of whom had already filed complaints for receiving threats. The crimes were committed mainly in the states of Chiapas, Chihuahua, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco, and Veracruz, as a result of territorial conflicts, opposition, and resistance against infrastructure, extractivist and energy production megaprojects.

One of the most representative cases of the violence and impunity faced by indigenous peoples is the murder of Nahua peasant activist, communicator and teacher Samir Flores Soberanes, a member of the Peoples’ Front in Defense of Land and Water of Morelos. , Puebla and Tlaxcala, opposed to the Morelos Comprehensive Plan and the two Huexca thermoelectric plants, the gas pipeline and the Apatlaco river aqueduct. In the early hours of February 20, 2019, he was shot while leaving his home in Amilcingo, Morelos, on his way to the Amiltzinko community radio station , founded by him in 2013. 13The case became even more relevant because just two days later the public consultation was held for the start-up of the thermoelectric plant, in which, according to official figures, 59.5% of the population voted in favor of the project, with 55,715 participating. citizens.

25 years of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)

On January 1, 2019, it was the 25th anniversary of the uprising of the EZLN, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, who continue in open opposition to the Mexican State since, despite the quarter of a century that has passed since they declared war, their claims have not been resolved. Within the framework of this anniversary, Subcomandante Moisés, spokesman for the EZLN, expressed his disagreement with the economic and infrastructure projects of the current federal government.

In an environment of constant struggle between the Federal Executive and the EZLN, various activities were carried out throughout the year. For reasons of space, here we only register two. On December 21 and 22, 2019, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, the EZLN held, together with the National Indigenous Congress and the Indigenous Governing Council, the Forum in Defense of Territory and Mother Earth, in which they participated. present 921 attendees and delegates from 25 states of the Mexican Republic and 24 countries. The main discussion revolved around the various megaprojects, such as the extraction of hydrocarbons and the construction of gas pipelines, hydroelectric, thermoelectric, and wind power plants, mining projects, agribusiness, and tourism, which affect indigenous communities through dispossession and pollution. of their territories. At the conclusion of the forum, it was agreed to hold the Conference in Defense of the Territory and Mother Earth “Samir Somos Todxs” in February 2020. Later, from December 27 to 29, the EZLN held the Second International Meeting of Women Who Struggle , with the purpose of reflecting, making visible and denouncing violence against women; as well as, develop strategies to put a stop to violence. The meeting took place in the so-called “Footprints of the Walking of Comandanta Ramona del Caracol Tzots Choj” (“whirlwind” in Mayan) and was attended by more than 4,000 women from 49 countries. During the three days,

Indigenous women in Mexico

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), there were 3,783,447 women speakers of an Indigenous language in Mexico in 2020. This figure increases if we take into account all those women who self-identify as belonging to an Indigenous people, as they number 11,949,189, or 51.4% of this population.

The current situation of Indigenous women in Mexico is blighted by the most serious forms of discrimination, racialisation and structural violence. They suffer from educational, health and economic difficulties that result in real barriers to their development and well-being. Despite this, however, they play a fundamental role as key agents in the production, dissemination and reproduction of their peoples’ and communities’ culture, promoting actions aimed at addressing the problems they face. Zapotec women, for example, are promoting “resilience, self-care, collective health, and strengthened community identity and roots”.[iv] The Oaxaca State Institute of Public Education has also highlighted their role as poets, writers, academics, researchers, singer-songwriters, traditional midwives, healers, cooks, artisans and athletes.[v]

Alongside this, however, statistics show that they have the poorest rates of education in relation to men in terms of illiteracy (64.6%)[vi] and lesser school attendance between the ages of 12 and 14.[vii] This has an impact on their employment opportunities as well as their employment rate, which is even lower than that of non-Indigenous women (17.7% vs. 22.9%).[viii] They also frequently suffer domestic violence: 59% have experienced emotional, physical, sexual, economic or asset-related violence.[ix] Risks during pregnancy have resulted in a maternal death rate of 11.2% among this population.[x] This is coupled with a high level of fertility that is reflected globally: an average of 2.85 children per woman was recorded in 2019.[xi] The National Institute of Public Health has emphasised in this regard that: “Living conditions (…) make it difficult for them to enjoy good food or timely access to health services, (…) frequent pregnancies and heavy workloads result in a series of illnesses and diseases”.[xii]

In addition to the above, some Indigenous women have experienced obstetric violence in health centres where they suffer “disrespectful, abusive, neglectful treatment or denial thereof […] during the pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum period”.[xiii] These situations are aggravated by the fact that they are not provided with an interculturally-appropriate service so the attention they receive is limited by: “lack of qualified interpreters; lack of adequate infrastructure and access to information”.[xiv] Social stigma has meant that some women are subjected to discrimination and mistreatment because of their culture: “When they do attend to us, they mistreat us for practising our traditional medicine and discriminate against us because of our mother tongue and traditional dress,” explains Esperanza Pérez Ruiz, representative of the group Nosotras no olvidamos nuestras tradiciones (“We’ll never forget our traditions”).[xv] Their vulnerable health status can also be seen in the greater prevalence of problems affecting their sexual and reproductive rights such as cases of forced sterilisation,[xvi] rape and sexual exploitation,[xvii] unwanted pregnancies, sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, and prostitution “as a means of labour integration or death”.[xviii]

The problems they experience are exacerbated yet further when they migrate and have also tended to be complicated by the pandemic. Their economy has been undermined due to the impossibility of working: “The production and sale of handicrafts, which accounts for more than a third of the sector’s jobs, is practically paralyzed”. They are also employed on insecure terms: “part-time and contract workers or services, […] have no access […] to social protection and public health mechanisms”.[xix] These are nonetheless the sources of livelihood they have to rely on.

This situation reflects the multiple forms of discrimination that affect Indigenous women both inside Mexico on the basis of gender, generation, ethnicity and social class, and outside of the country where they are undocumented migrants. It does not reflect the progress made in the human rights of Indigenous Peoples (and, in particular, of women) as enshrined in various legal instruments.[xx] In fact, the Council for the Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination in Mexico City has recognised that women’s access to their rights is limited by the gender gap.[xxi]

Despite the above, women are using different means to seek access to their rights, economic, political and educational, and receiving support from organisations such as the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Technological Institute of Oaxaca, the Centre for Scientific and Higher Research of Ensenada, and so on. Their participation in the leadership of multiple organisations such as the Alliance of Indigenous Women of Central America and Mexico, the Network of Indigenous Women for Peace, Indigenous Women, Migrants and Day Labourers (Sinaloa), the Assembly of Indigenous Women of Oaxaca, the Tatei yurianaka Wixaritari Women Artisans Collective, among others, is likewise noteworthy.

They are also seeking greater political participation: “118 women were registered in recent electoral processes [in Mexico City], 7.98% of whom were Indigenous”.[xxii] This is still limited, however, and needs further encouragement, as pointed out by the president of the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City, “so that their political proposals can permeate the legislative agenda”.[xxiii] This has, in fact, been one of their demands, as stated by the National Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Women, which “called upon the National Electoral Institute to guarantee […] [their] free and non-violent participation in the political life of the country”.[xxiv] It is worth noting that 13 Indigenous candidates were nominated for a place in the Congress of the Union in 2018, only three of these being women.[xxv] By 2021 this had increased to 13.[xxvi]

In sum, Indigenous women’s access to justice and exercise of their rights has not yet been achieved in Mexico due to major barriers. In addition to those mentioned above, women also face other cultural problems: “Their lack of knowledge of the judicial system and of their own rights, institutional discrimination and insufficient public policies aimed at addressing their particular problems”.[xxvii] The State and society therefore need to establish a new relationship with Indigenous women in order to guarantee gender equity and access to and exercise of their rights.

The EZLN’s Journey for Life

To mark the 20th anniversary of their historic tour through Mexico called “The March of the Colour of the Earth” (2001), in 2021 a delegation of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), Squadron 421, crossed the Atlantic aboard the boat La montaña, to commence their tour known as “Journey for Life”. They visited several European cities[xxviii] in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Holland, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom and Russia, among others, with the aim of reaching out to other movements, groups and collectives involved in the continent’s anti-capitalist struggle. This was seen as a reverse journey to that taken 500 years ago by the Conquistadors, and one aimed at challenging the European movements to wake up and organise together to struggle for life.

We Zapatista communities have named the one thing that is responsible for all these evils and it is ‘capitalism’. And only with the total destruction of this system will it be possible for everyone, each in their own way, with their own calendar and their own geography, to create something new. Not perfect, but better. And whatever is built, these new relationships between humans and between humanity and nature, will be given whatever name we want to give it.[xxix]

During the Zapatista delegation’s travels around Europe, different press releases were published aimed at providing information about the organisation and the objectives of the trip, pointing out a number of specific problems with the capitalist system, and highlighting the importance of resistance and rebellion, striving across the world to fight these problems (summarised in the phrase “a struggle for life”), and the Zapatistas’ intention to seek and listen to other voices that share their same concerns.[xxx]

The press releases followed the journey of Squadron 421 (composed of four women, two men and unoa otroa [“another”], which is the name given to a non-binary person) from its departure from Mexican ports on 2 May 2021 through to its arrival on European soil on 21 June. They also followed the organisation of La Extemporánea, the Zapatista group that arrived in Europe by air comprising 28 teams that would cover 28 European countries at the same time, a group composed of Zapatista girls and boys and a coordinator, up to and including the return of all EZLN delegations to their respective towns and places of origin in December 2021.[xxxi]

Forgiveness asked of the Yaqui people for State crimes

On behalf of the Mexican State, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador apologized to the Yaqui people for the marginalization, abuses and injustices committed during the Porfiriato era (1876 – 1910).[xxxii] He maintained that this regime was now behind us and those reparations would as far as possible be provided for the harm caused, on the basis of a comprehensive program that includes the return of up to 20,000 hectares, a guaranteed right to water and a social welfare plan. The ceremony took place on 28 September 2021 in the town of Vícam, Sonora.

The request for forgiveness was made in the context of violence against members of the group when, on 21 July 2021, the location of a mass grave was reported containing the bodies of five people who had been missing since 15 July 2021. In May 2021, the disappearance and murder of activist Tomás Rojo Valencia, one of the driving forces behind the defence of the water of the Yaqui River, was also reported.[xxxiii] This context has highlighted the problems faced by the Yaqui peoples, ranging from the presence of organised crime on their lands and territories to changing water use and exploitation policies on the part of local and federal governments, who have handed over water for industrial use to various corporations and thus exacerbated the situation of these communities.