Mexican Indians unite for autonomy, land and justice

March 15, 1995

The Zapatista uprising testifies to a new radicalism of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. A range of Indian organisations drafted the following declaration during the November assembly of the National Democratic Convention. They call for autonomy, and for full involvement of the Indian masses in common struggles for land, liberty and justice.

For over 500 years, we Indian peoples of Mexico have suffered marginalisation, poverty, discrimination, exclusion and contempt for the cultural forms of our social and communal life. All through this period, there has been an attempt to convince us that our problems are the consequence of our cultural level. But now we are aware of the real situation, that what we, the Indian peoples, are subjected to, is a direct result of the fact that we have been excluded from power, from the possibility of taking part in the national decisions which concern the whole country — the regions, the municipalities and the communities where we live. So this is not a problem created by our culture but by the absence of a political power which acts for our people. However power is divided, the Indians are always excluded.

The problem of the Indian peoples of Mexico will not be solved by the adoption of economic and social programs or projects alone. The experience of the past five centuries has clearly taught us that unless these programs rely on the participation of the indigenous peoples working under their own authority, on the basis of their own conceptions and equipped with sufficient power, they do not offer a far-reaching and enduring solution to marginalisation and poverty. Deprived of power, the partial and unarticulated programs that the government is proposing have no positive effect.

Our historic experience is one of deprivation. We have been deprived of our territories and resources, of our land, of our own forms of social organisation and often of our language, clothes, celebrations and ceremonies. They wanted to strip us of our roots and identity; they even want to strip us of the whole future of our society, groups, and peoples. Throughout this painful process, all right to participate in the political and national power structures has been taken away from us. This despoilment is accompanied by imposition: the imposition of authority of forms of organisation, of methods of exploiting and working the land, on health care and education. We have had government programs brutally imposed upon us, in a way that is both crushing and disrespectful of our dignity.

No single solution to change our situation exists: society and the national structure must be transformed, which implies our full participation in decision making and the exercising of political power. We want to be masters of the affairs that concern our communities and peoples, but also to participate in the political, economic, social and cultural life of our regions, states and the whole country.

The present political system and organisation of the state (centralised, intolerant, authoritarian, normalised and refusing pluralism) must be replaced by an autonomous state which makes it possible to respect pluralism and opens the door to the Indian peoples' participation in the definition of a country for everyone.

The autonomy that we demand is not a new system of exclusion. It subscribes to the deep hope of the majority of Mexicans who want democracy, justice and liberty. In fact autonomy is the Indian peoples' way of enabling accession to a democratic life for the first time in modern history; it is also their contribution to the construction of a more democratic, more just and more humane national society. From this point of view, our fundamental claim for autonomy identifies with the aspirations of all the Mexicans who are not Indian, towards a new society.

Our fundamental project for autonomy does not exclude the regions or zones where different cultures live together. For these regions, where different socio-cultural groups live together, the possibility of living freely together in unity, diversity, equality and mutual respect is proposed. This signifies establishing multicultural and multi-ethnic regions.

Our project of autonomy has a national character: it does not deny or reject the unity that the collective of Mexicans have constructed throughout their history. We want to find a solution for all within a single Mexican nation. But we think that the political, social and economic regime imposed by a restricted elite weakens our national unity — it excludes the majority, misunderstands our roots, marginalises the underprivileged and divides the people. Our project for autonomy has nothing to do with separatism, which is for us, the Indian people, a sterile idea. By autonomy we mean to feel and live as authentic Mexicans, an active part of a living nation which is ours.

Our project for autonomy is also national in that its implementation will contribute to making our country a great democratic society, more just and prosperous for everyone; a Mexico than can be home to everyone. For as long as the numerous Indian peoples remain excluded, there can not be democracy in Mexico.

For the Indian peoples, autonomy is something profound. It is an age-old aspiration which is part of the daily life of the communities, of their forms of organisation and production, of time and resource utilisation, the practice of our beliefs, our choice of authority and our method of respect and being respected. Autonomy is the base of our system of life. Our fundamental plan is aimed at transforming these practicalities and ways of life into constituent elements of the political system of the country, which transforms a de facto autonomy into a de jure autonomy.

But not an autonomy of life on a reservation! We do not want to become isolated from the rest of the country, or see our realms of self-determination reduced, whilst the government finds ways of further isolating or separating us from our Mexican brothers who, like us, fight for democracy, justice and liberty. The community is the base of autonomy but autonomy goes beyond in enforcing the unification of the peoples governed by their own regional governments.

We have clear ideas about the inalienable objectives of our great plan for autonomy. We want to establish specific regional governments which will regroup autonomously at a municipal and community level; we want to create autonomous regions where the civil, cultural, political and social rights of the people are respected; we want autonomous regions where the people, represented by their autonomous governments, are concerned with solving the multiple social and economic problems of the communities and regions; by means of our own representatives we want to take part in the political institutions of federal entities, in which our autonomous regions must be located, and likewise in the national and political representations; in short, we really want to participate, by means of our own autonomous organs within Mexican society.

The autonomy plan has still not been defined in detail. Its concrete definition must come about through the thoughts and commitment of the different peoples. We know that in other countries, the Indian peoples who have attained autonomy have established the kind of autonomy which suited them. This "process of autonomy" presupposes discussion and agreement. All the Indian people of Mexico must take part in this discussion in order to establish a form of autonomy which will suit us. We formally declare to Mexico that the process of autonomy has opened, launching this vast debate that we want to fuel the whole country.

We have to discuss and analyse the rights and duties that will be included in our autonomy, the method in which we intend to organise our autonomous governments, the way of electing these regional authorities and the methods that will be used to solve the problems of our people. At the same time we have to have more in depth discussions to further accelerate the definition of the territories and of the communities and municipalities that we want to bring together in each specific territory.

The plan for autonomy does not have a place in the present legal system and territorial organisation of the country. A new political and juridical system has to be established to provide a place for civil rights and the autonomy of the Indian nations.

Our constitution must be modified too. All the articles which overlook us Indians or prevent our participation as peoples must be abolished. We must adopt a constitution which fully recognises us as peoples and recognises our right to satisfy our needs (in particular recognising our territories and lands) to live in well-being and with dignity; to recognise our right to govern ourselves in new forms at a national level, adopted democratically by everyone. A constitution which not only acknowledges our autonomous governments (regional, municipal and communal) as legitimate, but which also guarantees the necessary resources for regional development defined and established by the people.

We the Indian peoples have offered our blood and sacrifices to the construction of this nation in the course of its history. In the course of our heroic history we found ourselves in the front line. Our brothers the Mayas of Chiapas now offer themselves in the sacrifice to build democracy, justice and liberty in Mexico. They have given the most dramatic example. But up and down the country, silently from day to day, the Indian peoples carry the sacrifice of their dead in the struggle for democracy, land and freedom.
[From International Viewpoint.]

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