CHIAPAS: Peace and Indigenous Rights

March 17, 2001
CHIAPAS: Peace and Indigenous Rights

by Lynn Stoltzfus

[Note: This is the second of two releases about the Chiapas team's contact
with the Zapatista March, which arrived in Mexico City on Sunday, March 11.]

On March 2, 3, and 4, CPTers Scott Kerr and Lynn Stoltzfus attended the 3rd
National Indigenous Congress as invited guests of Las Abejas. The main topic
of discussion in this congress, which brought together representatives of
40 of the 56 indigenous groups in Mexico, was the importance of the San
Andres Accords.

These accords were signed by the government and the Zapatista National
Liberation Army (EZLN) five years ago. Because these accords, on the Rights
and Culture of Indigenous People, were never written into law, the peace
process has been on hold for five years. However with the change in
government that took place last year, there is hope that the peace process
can be restarted. One of the signs of good faith that the Zapatistas are
asking for is the approval by congress of the San Andres Accords.

A high level delegation of EZLN commanders participated in the Indigenous
Congress as part of a two week tour of Mexico to bring attention to and push
the Mexican Congress to approve of the San Andres Accords.

For Indigenous people in Mexico (and in many parts of the world), there is a
great importance placed on community and the traditions of their ancestors.
Many of the customs that indigenous people have
followed for hundreds of years are in danger of being lost because of the
imposition of different forms of governance and communal life. By
recognizing the distinct aspects of indigenous culture and how that plays
out in communal life, indigenous people will have the legal protections
necessary to continue living as they choose.

In the economic sphere, indigenous people have traditionally had communal
ways of owning and managing land and natural resources. In Mexico, the
government has dismantled communal landholding structures as a part of
neoliberal economic reforms. Indigenous peoples have a cultural tradition of
respect for the natural world and are working to preserve, protect and
manage natural resources for the benefit of their communities. Without ways
of protecting their communities and resources from the economic pressures
of the market, the traditional indigenous ways of relating to the land will
not be able to continue.

For the Zapatistas, the Abejas and the other indigenous people represented
at the National Indigenous Congress, peace is something that cannot come
without maintaining their cultural and economic ways of life. In many ways,
the dominant economic and cultural systems have been at war against the
indigenous culture for 500 years, so any peace that does not deal with this
violence will not be a true and lasting peace.