The indigenous struggle of today can be the last: Carlos González

Carlos González with Marichuy. Photo: Daliri Oropeza

Extinction of the indigenous peoples would also be the end of Mexico as a nation, warns the Nahua lawyer Carlos González, a member of the CIG-CNI. The struggle that the “Fourth Transformation” imposes on them is definitive, he maintains. They will not accept referendums (consultas) for legitimizing the delivery of territories, even if they are carried out under Convention 169 of the ILO. Saying that the peoples are “conservative,” is the product of a nineteenth-century vision

Abasolo, Guanajuato, Mexico

The indigenous peoples resist a war against them; one more in 5 centuries, or the same since then. But what is clear to the Nahua councilor Carlos González is that this time it is final. The nations, tribes and original peoples will fight to continue existing. For many of them, if they don’t win, there will be no tomorrow. Their culture and their history will be buried forever.

Carlos González sports a thick, bulky mustache and short hair. He explains that the disappearance of the indigenous peoples would also imply the end of Mexico as a nation: the cultural, social and even, constitutional foundations of the country are the original peoples.

And he goes further. The struggle of the indigenous peoples is also the struggle for what they call Mother Earth –of which they consider themselves a part– and which the hegemonic culture calls “nature” or the “environment.” If the indigenous people of the world fall, the planet will collapse in the short term.

A lawyer specializing in agrarian law, Carlos González speaks convincingly, clearly and argumentatively. A man of books and documents, he brings to mind data, concepts and historical periods. He never stopped being indigenous. He is also a man of milpa and woods, in other words, of hoe, spade and machete. Today, together with María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, Marichuy, spokeswoman of the Indigenous Government Council (Concejo Indígena de Gobierno, CIG), and other council members, he tours the indigenous Mexican geography: from the coast, to the mountains; from the mountains to the valley; from the desert to the jungle; from the countryside to the city. He listens, proposes, dialogues… organizes.

He remembers the details of each conflict out of the hundreds that have developed in the indigenous peoples in Mexico: the communities involved, the culture, the type of dispossession, the megaproject, the capitalist company indicted, the characteristics of the legal fight –if there is one– and the conditions of the political struggle.

—Of all the geography of conflicts in Mexico, which ones require the most the most urgent attention –the journalist asked.

—At this time it is fundamental that Mexican society is attentive to two questions that are of utmost importance. One, the survival of the indigenous peoples in the face of projects that the new government seeks to impel; such as, the Trans-Isthmus Corridor [from the coast of Oaxaca to the coast of Veracruz]; the Maya Train [through the five states of the Yucatan Peninsula: Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Chiapas]; the Special Economic Zones [Guerrero and Michoacán are added to the states previously mentioned], which they say are no longer going to continue, but ARE going to continue under a different format; the Morelos Integral Project [that affects Morelos, Tlaxcala and Puebla], and a multitude of projects in matters of mining for exploitation of hydrocarbons, gas, construction of highway and real estate infrastructure. And, on the other hand, the second theme is the impact that these projects are going to have on nature, on the environment. They are two points, two themes that must be on la agenda, on Mexican society’s priority list.

—The president of the Republic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has decided that all those projects will be done. There is no place for negotiation or dialogue. And he wields his 30 million votes. The reporter asks: What capacity for response do the indigenous peoples have? He thinks about the answer. He doesn’t brag or propagandize. He analyzes. More than answering the reporter, he responds to himself.

—In quantitative terms, of numbers, it may be that the resistance is not significant [compared to the 30 million supposed followers of López Obrador], but in terms of who resist, of how they have resisted and how they are going to continue resisting, I think that this resistance is to be taken into account. The indigenous peoples have resisted and have survived for centuries.

He recognizes that although the National Indigenous Congress grew during the last 2 most recent years, Lopezobradorismo [1] did generate division among various tribes, peoples and nations and, even, in the bowels of some communities. Because of that, resistance has started from within the barrios, ejidos, Encargaturas and tenancies. [2]

“Certainly in actuality many of the members of these peoples, for money, not for anything else, we must tell it like it is, for a ‘progress,’ in quotation marks, misunderstood, have accepted the projects [of Lopezobradorismo]. But in the towns, in the communities, nuclei exist, people exist, organizational structures exist and referents for resistance exist.”

But what do the indigenous communities resist? What is their struggle?

It is resisting the occupation, the dispossession of indigenous territories, the destruction of the cultures, of the languages, of the forms of governing [that comes] with these big projects, as well as the destruction of nature. I want to make that very clear, because there are those who accuse us of being “conservatives,” and that we oppose the current government. No. It’s not a question of us going back to the old nineteenth-century dichotomy of conservatives and liberals. It’s a different question. It’s a question that has to do with subsistence, the existence and future survival of the original peoples; and, therefore, of the Mexican nation, which has its sustenance and its foundation in these peoples. And I repeat that it is fundamental to the Earth. The Earth is being destroyed in an unmerciful way by all these policies of supposed progress, of supposed development. And we are eroding and we are destroying the conditions for human life in the country and on the entire planet. So, the primordial questions are the ones that we are outlining. They are not questions that have to do with the politics of worn-out nineteenth-century ideologies or with the quarrels and squabbles of the current political class and its parties. This situation is something that transcends everything, which goes way beyond and that has to do with the survival of the original peoples that have lived millennia, with the very survival of the Mexican nation and of life itself.

—Why are the indigenous peoples in a situation today that threatens their survival, if they have previously resisted? They survived the Conquest, for example –he is asked.

—Because it has been gradual. We talked about how, at least since the sixteenth century; since the arrival of the Europeans in what now is Mexico there has been a war of invasion, of occupation and of conquest. We say that that war has not stopped, that that war is permanent. And [those who make this war] have been decisively destroying the indigenous peoples. In the 19th century, there were about 200 native languages spoken in what now is Mexico; currently there are less than 70. In the 19th century it was said that 80 percent of the country’s population spoke a language other than Spanish and it was a native language. Currently, this population doesn’t even reach 10 percent, surely. There has been a systematic and perfectly planned policy to destroy and exterminate the indigenous peoples. And this policy has progressed. And despite that, the peoples have survived; but this war that has been carried out has been highly destructive.

In effect, the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (Inali, its initials in Spanish) quantifies 11 linguistic families with 68 languages (and an un undetermined number of variations of those languages). And according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), those languages are spoken by at least 7,400,000 people.

—How is the resistance going to be: in the streets, in the courts? What kind of resistance will it be?

—The resistance is multiple. Resistance occurs primarily in the communities and in the regions, based on the forms of struggle, resistance, of organization that each community has. On the other hand, there is national political articulation, through the National Indigenous Congress, the Indigenous Government Council and other multiple indigenous and non-indigenous expressions that exist in the country.

He clarifies that: “the National Indigenous Congress it not the only expression of resistance. There are multiple expressions at the national level. And these forms of political struggle that are based on mobilization, on community organization, in many parts are also based on legal, judicial resources. There are expressions of the indigenous movement that no longer turn to the legal resources and that are totally alien to the Mexican State, I particularly want to refer to the autonomous Zapatista communities. But, there are many other autonomies and forms of indigenous organization that do appeal to legal resources, to legitimacy inside of the national State. And all those forms of resistance add up, they add up. We don’t think of a single form of resistance or an exclusive vision.”

—From a legal point of view, are there still possibilities for defense of the indigenous communities in the lower courts and tribunals?

—Yes it can happen as long as collective organization exists, community organization. Why? Primarily, because the Constitution and the secondary laws have suffered terrible transformations that tend in the first place primer to privatization of land, of natural resources, of the communities as well as of the nation; and in second place, because we have judicial bodies, with a federal Judicial Power and judicial powers in the states, deeply corrupted. It is recognized at the international level that, in that which has to do with the administration of justice, Mexico is one of the most corrupt countries and where the judges and the courts are contumacious with big business interests. Then, both the constitutional and legal structure and wel the deep and endemic corruption of the Judicial Power, reduce the possibility of those legal resources.

“But we believe, and I say it because I am a lawyer and I have many years defending indigenous communities, when collective organization exists, when community resistance exists, legal resources can be complementary to the struggle of the communities. In these moments it becomes a bit more difficult because of the structural reforms, which they apparently do not intend to reverse, in the matter of hydrocarbons, in the matter of electric energy, the concession regimens in the matter of mining, of water and of national goods, which tend towards privatizing, to placing in the hands of those who have the economic power both the resources of the communities and the nation.

—Since the Other Campaign, an initiative of the Zapatista National Liberation Army and the National Indigenous Congress launched in 2006 to organize an anticapitalist resistance, it was pointed out that Mexico was heading towards chaos and its disintegration. Are we really in that situation?

—We are. The chaos has been experienced since several years ago now. It is not novel. It is not something current. That has to be said. As Andrés Manuel López Obrador himself points out, everything that’s happening is not something that he has caused, generated. It was caused for years by virtue of all these policies and all these projects that they have been constructing from above, from the power. That’s why it worries us that he will continue this logic; that in this new government what continues to prevail is the decision to impose projects and policies on the peoples.

Carlos González criticizes the supposed consultations with which López Obrador intends to impose the projects already agreed upon with big capital. But he not only criticizes that kind of consultation, but even those that could be carried out under the guidelines of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which guarantees the communities a free, informed and prior consultation. What it’s about, he explains, is a new relationship of the Mexican State with the indigenous peoples so that they can decide what to do with their territories and their communities.

“We say that the right to consultation is a hoot, it’s a big lie. They would not have to consult the indigenous peoples about projects that they want to impose on them. What would have to be done is to construct a new relationship where the peoples decide what their development priorities are and what projects should be developed in their territories. Coming to the peoples with the pretension of imposing projects on them from above or from outside, legitimizing them with a consultation, continues being the same: in essence the same relationship continues to exist.

“That’s why in the National Indigenous Congress we have been discussing what is known as the right to consultation for months. And we say that even así the indigenous consultation is carried out in accordance with the stipulations that the international conventions frame, in particular Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, they continue being impositions, they continue forming part of a national and international colonial legal structure.

—We have decisions that the federal government already made for making various megaprojects. And on the other hand we have the decision of various communities to not permit what they consider a dispossession, usurpation and a war. In this clash of trains, do you unfortunately expect a blood bath? Do you have to prepare for something?

—No. We have said it systematically. We have not opted for the way of war. The way of war would definitely mean a blood bath. There IS a war from above. But the original peoples, and they have accredited it in multiple ways; want to avoid the path of violence, the way of war. I think the original peoples are going to insist on that peaceful, organized civilian resistance.

—But is there already violence from above towards below?

—That is permanent. The violence from above towards below has been permanent. It has nothing to do with a government that calls itself of the left, with one that calls itself of the right, or with a first, second, third or fourth transformation. All the transformations that we have had in this country have implied violence towards the original peoples and that has not stopped as of this day.

—But will there be a sharpening of violence?

—In the measure in which the dispossession is exacerbated, in which there is greater pressure on indigenous territories, to the extent that the capitalist economy depends more and more on wars, on the criminal cartels, on the drug cartels, on arms trafficking, because evidently the violence breaks out not only against the original peoples, but also against the whole of humanity and in all the spaces of this planet.

— He is asked: What is the contribution of the indigenous struggle to the anticapitalist struggle?

Carlos González is not condescending. He makes a self-criticism of the communities themselves and tries to offer an honest analysis. He distances himself from propaganda and self-praise.

“The indigenous peoples are immersed in the capitalist economy, in capitalism. We must not idealize them. They are immersed in this whole sea of contradictions typical of capitalism. Nevertheless, on the horizon, in the historical perspective and in the collective dream of the indigenous peoples, community organization, collective organization of the communities and their respectful relationship to Mother Earth, to nature, still have substantial weight. I believe that those two elements are fundamental and play against capitalism.”

[1] Lopezobradorismo – the politics of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s current president.

[2] Encargaturas and tenancies – official jurisdictions of local government in Mexico.


Originally Published in Spanish by Contralinea

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



One Comment on “The indigenous struggle of today can be the last: Carlos González

  1. This an urgent call is the wisdom and practices of our ancestors that we will not have any longer as part of the essence of our being in real partnership with nature, with the Pachamama we are loosing our our very soul, the little that is left of it, given that we are and live in direct opposition to our reason for being –

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