Indigenous Resistance Models in Mexico

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Jen Wilton, January 2013:

"In Mexico over the past year, many movements from the grassroots have shown that a new way is possible. Often coming from small indigenous communities, these fierce critics of the current system remind us of the gaping void that continues to exist between the wealthy and the poor. Some are fighting for recognition and the right to self-determination, while others are battling for their very existence.

One interesting example is the small town of Cherán in the western state of Michoacán, comprised of some 18,000 residents. Following an extensive blockade of the town, the people of Cherán formally declared their independence from the Mexican state in 2011, based on the legally recognized system of usos y costumbres (uses and customs). This allows indigenous communities the autonomy to take on roles previously held by government officials and to make decisions collectively in accordance with traditional practices.

In the build up to the federal elections in July of last year, the community of Cherán barred all political candidates from entering their autonomous town. They threatened to abstain from voting altogether, as many in the town considered the system of electoral politics illegitimate. The residents of Cherán have removed themselves from the national political system and instead they decide their own fate locally.

Later in the year, as the Mayan calendar came to an end, the almost forgotten Zapatistas emerged from the shadows to recapture the world’s imagination. On December 21, tens of thousands of Zapatistas in the southern state of Chiapas staged a silent march through the streets of the very same towns they first occupied back in 1994. The Zapatistas marched with dignity and composure, not to reaffirm their declaration of war against the government, but rather to remind the world of their existence and to point to a different way of life.

In a communiqué from the Zapatistas we learn that their communities have flourished without support from the state and that they have managed to sustain their way of life in harmony with nature and their cultural heritage. As Zapatista leader Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos wrote: “We have achieved all of this without the government, the political class and the media that accompanies them.” The Zapatistas did not wait for permission from above, nor did they continue to struggle against a system so firmly stacked against them. They simply took decisions out of the hands of their oppressors and implemented a form of self-governance based on consensus and inclusion." (