Challenges ahead for Mexico's indigenous presidential candidate
On the 7 of October, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez (also known as Marichuy), the spokesperson for a recently created Indigenous Governing Council (CIG), turned up at the offices of the National Electoral Institute (INE) of Mexico City escorted by a crowd of grassroots organizations and sympathizers. She had come to register as an independent presidential candidate, for the upcoming 2018 elections. "This structure [the INE] is designed for them, not for the people below, not for the working people. But we have still managed to take this first step," she declared after submitting her application.
To make her candidacy official, María will need to collect 867 thousand signatures distributed in at least 17 states by February 12, 2018. This will entail an exceptional logistical effort from those who are actively involved in the initiative. "How will we do that?" she asked. "According to our style. With the support of our people. Not that different from the way we organize our festivities, when we get ready to receive people from other communities... this is how we are going to proceed." She also announced that her campaign will not accept a single peso from the INE.
María has no formal political education. She grew up in poverty in Tuxpan, a small indigenous town in the state of Jalisco. From a young age, she was trained as a healer. Now she is the director of a health center that practices and researches indigenous medicine. After the Zapatista uprising of 1994, María became a founding member of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), which the EZLN has integrated into their movement.
She speaks a language that one could describe as sincere and familiar to ordinary people. Her vocabulary does not include specialized or technical expressions; her discourse is never obfuscated by double meanings or rhetorical flourishes, and it is accessible and comprehensible to everybody. In her latest public appearances there was a marked improvement in the rhythm of her speeches, highlighting her ongoing learning process.
She repeatedly explained that the movement selected her as an individual candidate only to comply with electoral law, which does not allow a fully assembly to register. However, the movement firmly rejects an individualist conception of politics, and she emphasized that "the Council will always come first." Any decision or declaration issued by María will be the result of a collective discussion and the expression of popular will. Not only will the CIG follow the seven principles of mandar obedeciendo (ruling by obeying) that underpin autonomous government in Zapatismo, but it will also attempt to apply them to the functioning of the state.
The conformation of the CIG still needs to be completed. So far, it comprises 141 members (concejales) representing 35 indigenous groups based in 62 regions. The initiative plans to eventually cover 93 regions. The idea is that the Council will operate as an intermediate space between the state apparatus and society, between the government and the organized people affiliated with the CNI.
Using this strategy, the indigenous movement of Mexico intends to use or "occupy" the electoral deadline as a means to set off a widespread process of articulation of autonomous and grassroots organizations at the national scale, aimed at radically transforming a highly corrupt political system from the bottom up. The CNI and the EZLN present this as an openly anti-capitalist project with four principal goals:
Bringing to an end widespread/structural violence. In Mexico, constant low-intensity warfare has turned into a form of governance facilitating processes of accumulation by dispossession (predominantly of land and natural resources) and producing a passive, fragmented, and confused type of subjectivity that is conducive to corporate profit-making. Between 2007 and 2014, at least 164,000 people were murdered, and about 25,000 are currently reported missing (desaparecidos).
A new environmental approach respecting "Mother Earth" and indigenous people's dignity. Because of recent constitutional reforms, it is estimated that a quarter of the national territory (more than 50 million hectares) has been leased to international extractive companies. The impact of these developments has been particularly harmful for territories that are legally organized under collective forms of tenure and mainly (but not exclusively) inhabited by indigenous groups.
Confronting patriarchy and macho culture and working toward a society shaped by gender equality. "Women live in a condition of oblivion and marginalization, especially when they are indigenous and poor. The time has come to fight for our rights, to get ready and rise up", declared María after submitting her application to the INE.
A widespread process of decolonization of Mexican society and statehood, with the ultimate goal of inclusion, respect, and legitimation of indigenous forms of life. This is a task that María de Jesus has referred to as the "reconstitution of our people, who have been under attack for centuries. The time has come" she observed, "to find a new configuration for us to keep existing."
From the 13th to the 19th of October the CIG and its spokesperson toured Chiapas to meet the authorities of the five regions that comprise the Zapatista territory. This was a symbolic act expressing a continuity with the struggle of the EZLN. However, it cannot yet be considered as part of María de Jesús Patricio's electoral campaign. Indeed, as the result of a decision to be fully independent from the state, the Zapatistas have no voting credentials. From the beginning of this initiative, the EZLN has declared that it would not take part as voters. So their mobilization in the electoral process would be paradoxical, like the participation of milicianos armed with wooden rifles in the 1994 uprising, whose sacrifice became a statement of war and revolutionary commitment, and played a decisive role in that conjuncture.
Between November and December, María de Jesús Patricio will visit dozens of indigenous communities around the country. Political powers and lobbies have already begun to test their boycott mechanisms, from the repeated technical failures of the application designed by the INE for the collection of signatures to the actual breakdown of the telecommunication services in the areas where María was meeting the Zapatista authorities. "No obstacle or trap will make us move a step back," declared María. The indigenous movement's challenge to the Mexican political system has just started.
These are the 7 principles: Lead by Obeying; To represent - not replace; To work from below and not seek to rise; To serve - not self-serve; To convince - not conquer; To construct - not destroy; To propose - not impose. ↩︎
See Toledo Victor, Garrido David, and Barrera-Bassols Narciso. 2015. “The struggle for life. Socio-environmental conflicts in Mexico”. Latin American Perspectives 204, Vol. 42 – 5: 133-147. ↩︎