‘We are tired of the system destroying us’ A grassroots bid for the presidency from Mexico’s margins

Photo: allimite.mx

De nuestro dolor nació nuestra rabia, de la rabia nuestra rebeldía y de la rebeldía nacerá la libertad de los pueblos del mundo.  Porque el corazón de nuestra madre tierra vive en el espíritu de nuestros pueblos.”

“From our pain our anger was born, from the anger our rebelliousness, and from the rebelliousness freedom of the peoples of the world shall be born. Because the heart of our Mother Earth lives in the spirit of our peoples.”

by María Ramírez Flores

  On a chilly morning, a woman sits on a sidewalk near the Cathedral in Mexico City. She is wearing a lime green blouse and a bright pink long skirt. To fight the cold morning air, she wraps herself and her baby with a black, blue and white rebozo — a shawl. A plastic container with a few coins lays in front of her. She is a “María”: a poor indigenous woman — often accompanied by children — who begs for money.

Her real name does not matter, and for most people neither does she. She represents the idea of “indigenous” among the urban middle-class: a poor illiterate person who speaks broken Spanish. Some middle-class Mexicans do not even look at her. More than one blames her for her situation: if she were not lazy, she would get a job instead of begging. Others toss their spare change. A few may think it is unfair. Truth be told, non-indigenous and middle-class Mexicans rarely dwell on the systemic oppression and discrimination that indigenous communities suffer. In contrast with this silence, indigenous communities are raising their voices.

In the last decades of the 20th century, scholars like Bartra and Otero document an increase in movements that demand an end to injustice and abuses against indigenous people. The most iconic is the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). The Zapatistas denounce the exploitation, oppression, and injustices that indigenous communities and other marginalized groups suffer under the current political and economic systems. On the first day of 1994 the EZLN declared war against the Mexican State—the same day that NAFTA came into effect — they said NAFTA was a death sentence for the indigenous way of life, and they were obligated to resist. The Zapatistas stormed five cities in the state of Chiapas. The Army responded.

Civil society pressured the government for the army to retreat: the Zapatistas had gained national and international sympathy. In February 1996 the EZLN and the Mexican Government signed the San Andrés Sakamch Agreements. These Agreements established the inclusion of indigenous rights into the Mexican legal framework. In October of that year members of 43 native tribes, nations, and peoples created the National Indigenous Congress (CNI). The CNI embraces the San Andres Agreements and supports people’s resistance. In October 2016, the CNI established the Indigenous Government Council (CIG), a grassroots organization that seeks to become a political alternative.

Last May, the CIG elected María de Jesús Patricio Martínez “Marichuy” — a 57-year-old indigenous woman — to run as a CNI supported independent candidate in the Mexican presidential elections on July 1. Her election is itself an act of defiance: an indigenous woman is standing up against racism, classism, and misogyny. The movement has an openly anti-capitalist agenda that denounces the exclusion of indigenous peoples, women, LGBT communities, and migrants. They are vocal about the exploitation of workers and the accumulation of resources in the hands of a few. The movement also condemns the destruction of the environment, and they berate national and multinational companies that pollute water and ravage the land.

Marichuy entered the Mexican political arena with a platform based on human rights, individual dignity, and solidarity. The implications of the movement go beyond the introduction of an anticapitalist platform into Mexican mainstream politics. Marichuy’s bid makes visible the state of indigenous populations in Mexico. She also provides a voice for those who are at the margins. Her candidacy is symbolic, but it brings real hope to people who want a change. Per Mexican electoral law, to be on the ballot she needs to get 866,593 citizens to provide their signature before February 19, 2018.

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