Indigenous communities in Mexico say ‘no’ to political parties and demand self-rule

People in Cherán, Michoacán

Mexico held local elections on 6 June. But some Indigenous communities refused to participate. The party-political system, they insist, has not benefited them; so they want to govern themselves.

And they’re not alone. Because some communities have already broken free from this system, and now govern themselves.

Saying ‘no’ to political parties

In numerous Indigenous communities in the Mexican state of Michoacán, the INE electoral authority didn’t install ballot boxes. In some cases, it had already reached agreements with communal authorities. Because ahead of the election, the Consejo Supremo Indígena de Michoacán (Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacán) had led a protest outside INE offices to demand respect for Indigenous self-rule and non-participation in party-political elections.

In other places, however, local people actively blocked and protested the INE’s entry. One such place was Arantepacua. Here, abuse of authority led to protests in 2017, which police brutally repressed. This massacre only increased the community’s demands for self-rule.

Michoacán is one of the Mexican states that has suffered most at the hands of powerful drug cartels. And in a warzone where government authorities have been of little help, many local people have organised to defend themselves. Under the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), local self-defence groups fought major battles with drug cartels. Such battles continue today.

The right to self-rule

Mexico’s constitution guarantees the right to self-determination for Indigenous communities. Via citizens’ councils, they can get direct public funding to use for defence, health, infrastructure, and so on. In practice, this has almost never happened; but the Zapatista uprising in 1994, the Indigenous-led Cultural Survival campaign group says, “provided an important political opening for the negotiation of indigenous autonomy in Mexico at the national level”.

In Michoacán, the town of Cherán inspired others when it constitutionally insisted on self-rule in 2012. This has ushered in a period of relative peace after years of violence. As Reuters insists, “most locals agree the process has been worthwhile”.

Environmental protection is also of great importance in Cherán. The town has a large “rainwater capture system”, for example. And it has “replanted more than one million trees since achieving autonomy”.

Now, Reuters says, around 50 communities in Michoacán want to govern themselves:

Locals say that after years of government corruption and soaring crime, they are better off managing public resources themselves.

Michoacán’s IEM electoral authority says there are now 20 communities in the state with self-rule, or which are in the process of achieving self-rule.

Main article image via VICE News