13-year-old José Luis Alberto Tehuatlie was hit by a rubber bullet in the head and died after 10 days in coma.
A dead 13-year-old boy, another who lost three fingers, a third with a broken jaw and teeth knocked out, a driver who lost an eye, and 37 others injured by beatings and tear gas were the price San Bernaerdino Chalchichuapan in the central Mexican state of Puebla, a Nahua indigenous town of 3,900 people, paid for blocking a road to demand the repeal of a state law that transferred responsibility over civil registries from local community authorities to the municipalities. On Jul. 9, when local residents blocked the Puebla-Atlixco highway some 150 km from Mexico City, the state police first used the powers given to them by the Law to Protect Human Rights and Regulate the Legitimate Use of Force by the police, which the state legislature passed in May.
The “Ley Bala” or Bullet Law, as it was dubbed by journalists, allows Puebla state police to use firearms to break up “violent” protests and during emergencies and natural disasters. Global rights groups like Article 19 and Amnesty International have spoken out strongly against these laws aimed at regulating demonstrations, pointing to a worrisome tendency towards the criminalisation of social protests in Mexico since 2012.
The roadblock was mounted to protest another state law approved in May, which took away from the local authorities the function of civil registry judges or clerks and put it in the hands of the municipal governments. As a result, since May, in at least 190 villages and towns in the state, no one has been born, no one has died, and no one has been married – at least officially, because there are no records.
Javier Montes told IPS that he became “presidente auxiliar”- a post just under mayor – of San Bernardino Chalchihuapan in May, but added that “I still haven’t signed a thing. The archives are in our care, but we don’t have stamps or the necessary papers. And in the municipal presidency [mayor’s office] they don’t know what to do, so in the meantime nothing is being registered.”
“We sent letters to all the authorities,” said Montes, “They never responded. When the ink and paper ran out, and our fingers were worn out from so much typing, we went out to protest and this is what happened.”
In Mexico’s indigenous municipalities there is a “presidente” or mayor, and “presidentes auxiliares”, who are the highest level authorities in the communities, many of which are remote and located far from the seat of the municipal government. One is municipal, dedicated to the administration of the urban area, overseeing services like education, sewage and potable water. The other is the president or commissioner of communal resources, who administrates agrarian issues, such as communal land, since private property does not exist.The presidentes auxiliares name the police chief and run the town. And up to May they were also the civil registry judges or clerks. They are directly elected by local voters without participation by the political parties, and they tend to be highly respected local leaders who are close to the people.
Within the Socialist Party case we acknowledge that the working class will determine their own means and methods of self-emancipation and that there will be a variety of ways of organising the actual implementation of socialist administration. Although it is not always emphasised enough, we accept that there will be a large degree of diversity in the manner this is done and that we only lay down guidelines that apply to political and social and cultural conditions that we face here. Other places and other communities will have there own approaches, depending on local customs and traditions. Often, we neglect to emphasise this flexibility of principles. After all, we are not anthropologists with detailed understanding of every nuance of social relationships in the world. As the socialist message grows and spreads and begins to incorporate more peoples, it will change and adapt its form to meet and fit specific conditions while still retaining its core tenets. I think many often overlook this and sometimes try to impose a Euro-North American-centric cultural view of politics and society. Marx qualified much of his work by saying it only applied to a particular region at a particular time and was not universal. As a World Socialist Movement we too must take notice of the world's diversity.
Indigenous towns in Oaxaca have a long history and tradition of defending their rights; they have learned how to work together to have a relationship with the state and the rest of society while maintaining their ethnic identity. This has been reflected in the constitutions and laws that have guided the political life of this federative entity since before the creation of the Mexican State. "We have our forms of organizing ourselves that are deeply rooted, and what the law says on paper is one thing, but here everything has to go through the assembly, and we will continue living this way because it has worked well for us," says Saúl Aquino, commissioner of communal resources in the Zapotec community of Capulálpam de Méndez.
The land in these towns is communal; it belongs to everyone. There is no private property, not even small plots are sold. The transference of land is done through a transfer of land rights. A father can transfer his land to his children, for example. Everything must go through the assembly. No one can sell the land and no one can buy it.
"If someone here works in the fields that individual is given a parcel of land. But that person must continually work the piece of land. If after three years nothing has been produced on the land, it is transferred to someone else who is interested in farming it. The commissioner is in charge of this," explained the president of communal resources of Capulalpam.
"Here the punishments range from jail time - for eight hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, up to three days - fines or forced labor, and are for the benefit of the community. The mediator is the person directly responsible for justice in cases of physical violence, theft and crimes. The mayor is responsible for domestic lawsuits. He is the family mediator. He is also the person in charge of following up with problems that are outside the scope of the mediator. If a situation is very grave, it would require transferring the case to the Public Ministry. But the majority of cases are resolved here.”
Mexico’s National Congress approved a political-electoral reform that will organize federal and local elections for the year 2015. Such a reform represents a step backward for indigenous towns in Mexico because it does not consider the way in which they elect authorities through their own system of "uses and customs" legitimate.
"By not guaranteeing the right to autonomy and political representation in these towns, the diversity of political organization that exists in this country is being denied," says Aldo Gonzales Rojas, of indigenous Zapotec descent and a director for the Secretary of Indigenous Affairs in the state of Oaxaca, where he ensures that indigenous laws are being instituted and applied correctly. "A legal gap has been created given that this other system exists, but is not recognized. Indigenous communities should have juridical certainty," he continues.
The electoral adviser for the State Institute for Electoral Affairs and Citizen Participation of Oaxaca, Victor Leonel Juan Martínez, also says that the reform throws into question the autonomy of indigenous towns. "Far from looking to meet with indigenous groups, they look to undermine their collective spirit; instead of establishing agreements, they see them as political clientele; far from constructing a national multicultural project, they seek out factious interests and use the indigenous flag as an instrument for their own ends."
"Earth is considered to be our mother and we cannot do violence to her because she gives us life. We respect seeds because our grandparents taught us that they cry if they are not cared for; the grandparents say that the Mother Earth gives us food and when we die she receives and hugs us," said Silvestre Ocaña López, of the indigenous group Tlahuitoltepec Mixes in Oaxaca, who does not hesitate to mark the difference between the way of thinking in her town and Western thinking. "Within the Western worldview, the earth is a product," Ocaña López said. "For us in indigenous towns, we see it as our mother. She does not belong to us; we belong to her."
"We must understand what we are, not the 'I' or the 'you,' but the 'we,' and we should hold onto these principles in order to stop the interference of the vulgar and shameless principles of individualism. We shouldn't enter into competition except to reproduce that which will be shared," said Jaime Martínez Luna, an indigenous Zapotec anthropologist. "We are against development because it is linear and requires growth; we consider ourselves to be circular, in a spiral, and it's because of this that men and women are not the center of the natural world. We are not owners of nature; we are owned by nature."