The extinction of indigenous people would also be the end of Mexico as a nation, warned Nahua lawyer Carlos González, member of the Indigenous Governing Council and National Indigenous Congress (CIG-CNI). The struggle that has been forced on us by the “Fourth Transformation” [reference to the López Obrador administration and his supporters] is definitive, he asserted. Indigenous people will not accept any “consultations” that seek to legitimize the loss of their territories, we will not even accept those “consultations” that take place under the rules of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. To claim that indigenous people are “conservative” [as López Obrador has] is the product of a 19th century imaginary.
Abasolo, Guanajuato. The indigenous peoples of Mexico are resisting the war that is being waged against them. One of an endless number of wars waged against them during the last five centuries of wars. Or maybe it’s been one long and continuous war against them. But it is clear for Nahua council member Carlos González that this time the war is definitive. The originary nations, tribes, and people of Mexico are engaged in a struggle for nothing less than their very existence. For many of these indigenous peoples, to lose this battle will mean that there will be no tomorrow—their culture and history will forever be laid to rest.
Carlos González wears a big, bushy mustache and his hair is cut into a neat little cap. He explains that the disappearance of the indigenous peoples will also mean the end of Mexico as a nation, as he explains, the indigenous people are the cultural, social, and even the constitutional basis of the Mexican nation.
He goes even further; the struggle of indigenous peoples is the struggle for what they call Mother Earth – which they consider themselves to be part of – and what the hegemonic culture calls, from the outside, “nature” or “the environment.” If the indigenous peoples of the world are defeated, the planet will collapse soon thereafter.
As a lawyer specializing in agrarian law, Carlos González has a convincing, clear, and argumentative way of speaking. As a man of books and documents, he can bring up precise data, concepts, and long historical periods entirely from memory. He has never stopped being indigenous. He is a man of the mountain and of the field, which is to say, a man of the spade, the hoe, and the machete. Today, along with María de Jesús Patricio Martínez [Marichuy], spokesperson for the National Indigenous Governing Council (CIG), and other council members, he travels the entire geography of indigenous. Together, from the coast to the mountains; from the mountains to the valley; from the desert to the jungle; from the countryside to the city, they listen, propose, dialogue and organize.
He draws on details from every one of the hundreds of conflicts that today engulf the indigenous communities in Mexico. He knows the communities involved, their culture, the forms of expulsion used against them, the mega-projects imposed on them, the capitalist corporations behind these actions, the parameters of a legal defense – when there is one – as well as the conditions of the larger political struggle.
ZC [Zósimo Camacho]: Within the entire geography of conflicts in Mexico, which struggles do you think merit the most urgent attention?
CG [Carlos González]: Right now, it is imperative that Mexican society turn to two questions that are of the utmost importance. First, the survival of the indigenous peoples of Mexico in the face of the new government’s planned megaprojects. The projects include: the Trans-Isthmus Corridor (from the coast of Oaxaca to Veracruz); The Mayan Train (which passes through all five states located on the Yucatán Peninsula – Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Chiapas); the Special Economic Zones (which adds Guerrero and Michoacán to the list of affected states), which they now claim won’t continue, but that will in fact continue behind a new facade; the Comprehensive Morelos Project (which affects not only Morelos but also Tlaxcala and Puebla), and an endless number of projects in mining, oil and gas, roads, and real estate projects. Second, the impact that these very same projects will have on nature, on the environment. These are two points, two themes that must be on the agenda, that must be top priorities for Mexican Society.
ZC: The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has decided that all of these projects will move forward. There seems to be no space for negotiation or dialogue and the president wields the 30 million votes he received as evidence of support for these plans. Given this, on what basis might the indigenous peoples of the country build a response?
[Before answering, González takes time to think. He is neither arrogant nor dogmatic. He analyzes the question. He finally responds, but as if responding more to himself than to this reporter.]
CG: In quantitative terms, in numbers, you might say that the resistance is not very significant (when we take into account the supposed 30 million votes received by López Obrador), but if we think about who resists, how they have resisted, and how they will continue to resist, I think that this resistance has to be taken seriously. The indigenous peoples of this country have resisted and have survived for centuries.
[González accepts that although the National Indigenous Congress has grown over the past two years, Lopezobradorismo was also able to create divisions among some tribes, peoples, nations, and even internal to some communities. That is why, as he explains, the resistance has begun from within neighborhoods, communal lands, villages, and tenancies.]
CG: Yes, at present its true that many members of indigenous communities, for no reason other than money, we have to be honest—for what they entirely misunderstand as a little “progress,” in scare quotes—have accepted the development projects [of the new government]. But in the communities, there are people, there are nuclei, there are organizational structures, and there exists a leadership for the resistance.
ZC: But what are the indigenous communities resisting? What is their struggle?
CG: They are resisting occupation, expulsion from their territories, and the destruction of their cultures, languages, and forms of government as a result of these massive development projects. They are also resisting the destruction of nature. This is something that I want to make very clear, because some people accuse us of being “conservative” because we oppose the current government. No. It is not a question of returning to the 19th century paradigm of liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is a question of subsistence, of existence, and of indigenous people surviving into the future; and, therefore, it is a question of the Mexican nation, whose very livelihood and foundation are these communities. And I will repeat that what I have been saying about the Earth is fundamental. The Earth is being mercilessly destroyed by the politics of supposed “progress” and supposed “development.” And we are undermining, destroying, the very conditions for human life in the country and across the entire planet. So the questions that we are putting forth here are vital. They don’t have anything to do with the politics of tired ideologies from past centuries nor do they have to do with the petty squabbles and fights of the contemporary political class and its parties. They transcend this entire situation, they see far beyond it. In other words, the questions we are posing have to do with the continuation of the originary peoples who have sustained themselves for millennia, with the very question of the continuation of the Mexican nation, and also with the viability of life itself.
ZC: If in the past indigenous peoples were able to resist such threats – for example, they survived the attempted “Conquest” – why do indigenous peoples now find themselves in a situation where their very survival is threatened?
CG: Because [this process] has been gradual. We say that, at least since the 16th century, since the arrival of the Europeans to what is today Mexico, there has been an ongoing war of invasion, of occupation, and of conquest. We say that this war never stopped, that this war has been permanent. And [those waging this war] have been determined to destroy the indigenous peoples. In the 19th century, there were nearly 200 indigenous languages spoken in what is today Mexico; today there are less than 70. In the 19th century, they say that approximately 80 percent of the population of the country spoke an indigenous language [a language other than Spanish]. Today this number doesn’t even extend to 10 percent of the population. The political system has been perfectly planned to destroy and exterminate indigenous peoples. And this politics has progressed. Despite that, the indigenous peoples of this country have persevered. But this war waged [against indigenous people] has been extremely destructive.
[Today, the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (Inali) recognizes 11 linguistic families with 68 languages (and an indeterminant number of variations on these languages). According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), these languages are spoken by less than 7,400,000 people.]
ZC: What will the resistance consist of: will it be in the streets? In the courts? What form will this resistance take?
CG: The resistance is multiple. The resistance happens first in the communities and in different regions, based in whatever forms of struggle and organization each community has. And apart from that there is a level of national political articulation that takes place in the National Indigenous Congress and the Indigenous Governing Council as well as through many other indigenous and non-indigenous phenomena across the country.
The National Indigenous Congress is not the only expression of resistance. There are many expressions of resistance at the national level. And these forms of political struggle are based in community mobilization and organization, and in many places they are also supported by legal resources. There are instances of the indigenous movement that no longer pursue juridical strategies, that are completely separate from the Mexican State, I am referring here most specifically to the autonomous communities of the Zapatistas. But there are many other autonomies and forms of indigenous organizations that draw on legal resources, and on building legitimacy within the national State. And all of these different forms of resistance add up; there are a lot of them. We don’t think in terms of only one form of resistance or of an exclusive vision of resistance.
ZC: From a legal perspective, is it still possible to defend the indigenous communities from within the courts?
CG: Yes, that possibility stil exists but only if there is collective organization, the organization of entire communities. Why is that level of organization necessary? First of all, because the Constitution and secondary laws have been subject to horrible changes that push for the privatization of land and natural resources that belong to either the communities or the nation as a whole. Second, because the judicial organs, the federal judicial branch and the judicial powers at the state level, have been profoundly corrupted. It is internationally recognized that when it comes to the administration of justice, Mexico is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and a place where judges and the courts as a whole are subordinate to big business interests. Therefore, both the constitutional and legal structure and the endemic and profound corruption of the Judicial Power reduce the possibilities that these legal resources have to offer.
But we believe, and I tell you this because I am a lawyer and I have been defending indigenous communities for many years, that when there is collective organization, when there is community resistance, legal resources can complement the struggle of the communities. Now, today this has become even more difficult because of the ‘structural reforms,’ which apparently will not be reversed, around oil, electrical energy, mining concession regimes, water, and domestic goods. These reforms tend to privatize, to put these resources in the hands of those who have economic power, both the resources that belong to the communities and those that belong the nation.
ZC: Since the Other Campaign [an initiative that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the National Indigenous Congress launched in 2006 to organize an anti-capitalist resistance] the Zapatistas have emphasized that Mexico was on the path to chaos and its disintegration. Are we really in such a situation today?
CG: We are. We have been living this chaos for several years now. It has to be said that this chaos did not start yesterday. As Andrés Manuel López Obrador himself pointed out, he is not the cause of everything that is happening now. The causes stem from years and years of policies and projects that have been built from above, from the position of power. So it worries us that it is this very logic that continues—that in this new government what continues to predominate is the desire to impose projects and policies on indigenous peoples.
[Carlos Gonzalez was critical of the alleged consultations that López Obrador intends to use to impose the projects and agreements that his administration has made with big business. But Gonzalez was not only critical of these types of consultations, he also critiqued the consultations that could be carried out according to the guidelines of International Labor Organization Convention 169, which guarantees free, prior, and informed consultation with the indigenous communities affected. What we are calling for, he explained, is a new relationship between the Mexican State and the indigenous peoples so that the indigenous people themselves can decide what they want to do with their territories and communities.]
CG: We say that the right to consultation is a ruse, it is a big lie. They shouldn’t be trying to consult the indigenous peoples about projects that they plan to impose on them regardless. What they should have to do is build a new relationship where the people decide on their priorities for development and what projects should be developed in their territories. Coming to indigenous peoples with the intention of imposing projects from above, or from the outside, and then legitimizing them with a ‘consultation’ is just more of the same: at its base it perpetuates the same relationship [of imposition].
That is why in the National Indigenous Congress we have been discussing for months what is known as the right to consultation. And we say that even when these consultations are carried out according to the guidelines of international conventions, namely ILO Convention 169, it remains an imposition; it is still part of a colonial national and international juridical structure.
ZC: On the one hand we have the decision that the federal government has already made to implement various megaprojects. And on the other hand we have the decision that various communities have made to not allow what they consider to be dispossession, appropriation, and war. In this train crash, are you expecting an unfortunate bloodbath? Should we be preparing for something?
CG: No. We have said this at absolutely every turn. We have not opted for the path of war. That path would certainly mean a bloodbath. From above, yes there is a war. But the originary peoples, and they have proven this in many different ways, seek to avoid violence and the path of war. I think that the originary peoples will insist on a peaceful, civil, and organized resistance.
ZC: But there is already violence from above toward below?
CG: Yes, this violence is permanent. The violence from above toward below has been permanent. It has nothing to do with a government saying it is on the left, or saying it is on the right, or with a first, second, third, or fourth transformation. All of the transformations that we have had in this country have meant violence toward originary peoples and this violence is still ongoing today.
ZC: But the violence will get worse?
CG: To the extent that dispossession gets worse, that there is greater pressure on indigenous territories, that the capitalist economy increasingly depends on wars, on criminal cartels, on drug cartels, on arms trafficking, well obviously the violence will grow not only against the originary people, but also against all of humanity and across the entire planet.
ZC: What does the indigenous struggle contribute to the anti-capitalist struggle?
[Carlos González is not condescending towards the communities. He has a critique of the communities and seeks to offer an honest analysis. He distances himself from both mere propaganda and self-praise.]
CG: Indigenous peoples are immersed in the capitalist economy, in capitalism. There is no need to romanticize them. They are immersed in this sea of capitalist contradictions. Nevertheless, on the horizon, in the historical perspective and in the collective dream of the indigenous peoples, there is still a substantial weight to community organization. There is this collective organization of the communities and there is also their relation of deep respect toward Mother Earth, with nature. I think that both of these elements are absolutely fundamental and they fly directly in the face of capitalism.
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