CNI: the indigenous rebellion reaches 24 states

Zapatistas, promoters of the National Indigenous Congress since 1996.

 By: Zósimo Camacho

The anticapitalist indigenous struggle extends throughout national territory. The left opposition to the “fourth transformation” adds hundreds of communities of 179 municipalities in 24 states. The CNI reiterates that its struggle is peaceful, although its territories are now in dispute and under fire from paramilitaries

There are 89 nations, tribes and indigenous peoples –with hundreds of communities– ascribed to the Indigenous Government Council (Consejo Indígena de Gobierno, CIG) and the National Indigenous Congress (Congreso Nacional Indígena, CNI).

The CNI’s own document entitled “Regions of the Indigenous Government Council. Preliminary distribution,” gives an account of the growth of the anticapitalist indigenous organization at the dawn of the new six-year presidential term. Today it has a presence in 179 municipalities of 24 states of the Mexican Republic. It is the most numerous movement of Indian peoples since the Revolution.

That it has grown in recent months and years is natural, according to Gilberto López y Rivas, doctor of anthropology from the University of Utah master in anthropology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, its initials in Spanish) and the National School of Anthropology and History.

He explains that the processes of dispossession against the indigenous peoples have sharpened and the communities have had to strengthen their resistances by supporting each other. He argues that the struggle of the peoples is profoundly anticapitalist, because it is precisely capitalism that is dispossessing them of their mountains, their waters and their minerals. For them, their opposition to the system is a matter of survival, he says.

Cristian Chávez González, a member of the CNI’s Coordination Commission, details the reasons for the organization’s growth in recent months. He explains that in previous years the Congress had suspended its meetings because for the first time the communities were barely understanding that they were facing: an extreme violence executed by state armed groups (police corporations of the three levels of government and the Armed Forces) and non-State armed groups, among them, the drug trafficking groups.

“They changed the paradigms of the struggle, of the perpetrators of the human rights violations, the searches, the dispossessions, the repressions. At the interior of the peoples that make up the CNI, and now the CIG, a reorganization was occurring; they were re-articulating themselves given a new situation for which no one, either collectively or individually, was prepared.”

Now that they have understood what is occurring, the peoples, tribes and nations again meet with each other periodically to continue constructing their national organization and to accelerate the articulation of responses and resistance.

The incorporations of the communities into the CNI and the CIG are not only declarations of ascription. The peoples, tribes and indigenous nations that join the CNI and the CIG deepen their resistances, strengthen their own governments and construct, according to the context of each community, autonomic structures. Confrontation with the Mexican State is not uniform. According to the means they have, there are communities that maintain cooperation with the formal of the three levels of government. Others have broken any kind of contact and maintain a total resistance.

“Being in the CNI is for us the way to achieve our dreams and vindicating our rights to have our own way of governing and deciding on what we want to do. Many of the communities already had their own organizations before, but the CNI is our big house,” says the Me’phaa councilor (concejal) of the CIG, Amador Cortés Robledo, who is also a member of the CIPO-EZ (Concejo Indígena y Popular Emiliano Zapata), whose communities in the low Mountains of Guerrero are under siege from the narco-paramilitary groups Los Ardillos and Los Rojos. (Contralínea 644, 3 de junio de 2019.)

Assemblies and organization among Purépechas in Michoacán.

The states with the highest number of communities that are members of the CNI are Oaxaca, with towns in 46 municipalities; Chiapas, 23; Guerrero, 16; Veracruz, 15 and Puebla, 11 municipalities. They are followed by Yucatán, nine; Sonora, eight, Chihuahua and the State of Mexico, with communities of seven municipalities each; Jalisco, five, and Baja California and Mexico City with four each. Campeche, San Luis Potosí and Tabasco, with three per state; Morelos and Sinaloa, two, and Colima, Durango, Guanajuato, Hidalgo and Quintana Roo, with communities in one municipality for each state complete the list.

For a complete list of the 89 nations, tribes and peoples to which these hundreds of communities in 179 municipalities belong see:

The strength of the indigenous organization, according to María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, councilor of the Nahua peoples of Jalisco and spokeswoman of the CIG, is that isolated individuals cannot join. “People cannot join alone; only complete communities. They decide to join the CNI after talking about it to make a decision.”

Regarding what the motives are that impel the communities to join the CNI, the traditional doctor emphasizes in particular the dispossession and destruction of territory. “The communities are the guardians of the territories, which are sacred, they have no value in pesos. That’s why we join together, like the brothers that we are, to resist and oppose the death projects that only benefit the one that has money, capital.”

The work of María de Jesús is precisely to carry the message and make the organization grow. “The objective right now is to reach all the communities, especially all those most distant that have never been in the National Indigenous Congress. We want to listen to them and outline for them what the CNI is; telling them that we seek to connect with all the other communities in order to support each other and together we become strong for stopping all this dispossession and everything that is coming at our peoples.”

The CNI was constituted on October 12, 1996 with the peoples “that rose up. We walk in struggle. We are determined for everything, up to death. But we don’t bring war drums but rather flags of peace. We want to get together as brothers with all the men and women that by recognizing us, recognize their own roots,” as the declaration of that date says.

The first congress was held in Mexico City as a proposal of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) to all the country’s original peoples to participate in the Special National Forum on Indigenous Rights and Culture. Comandanta Ramona attended representing the Zapatista rebels. At the end of her speech she pronounced the phrase: “Never more a Mexico without us,” which was adopted as the CNI’s slogan.

 The organization emerged after the dialogues between the EZLN and the federal government that resulted in the San Andrés Accords, names that for having been signed in San Andrés Sakamch’en de los Pobres or San Andrés Larráinzar. The Mexican State did not fulfill those agreements and, afterwards, the EZLN would point out that it would implement them de facto in their support base communities. Indigenous peoples in other regions of the country have also adopted them.

Community round in Cherán, Michoacán

The peoples that form the CNI assume that their maximum authority is the general assembly, where all people have a voice and a vote; and –they assure– they are governed by seven principles: 1) serve and don’t serve yourself; 2) construct and don’t destroy; 3) represent and don’t supplant; 4) convince and don’t conquer; 5) obey and don’t command; 6) go down and not up, and 7) propose and not impose.

The Second National Indigenous Congress was held in 1998, also in Mexico City. Among the decisions the one that stood out was to impel, together with the EZLN, the National Consultation for the Recognition of the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples “and the end of the war of extermination.” The objective was to promote the approval, on the part of the federal Legislative Power, of the San Andrés Accords.

The third National Indigenous Congress took place in Nurío, Michoacán, in 2001. It was the last one in which the EZLN, as well as the Indian peoples from other regions of the country bet on dialogue with the three levels of government and the three powers so that they would fulfill the San Andrés Accords and recognize indigenous rights and culture.

The fourth National Indigenous Congress was held in San Pedro Atlapulco, State of Mexico, in 2006. The principal result was the CNI’s adhesion to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, which ratifies the movement as anticapitalist and on which is pointed out that the peoples would exercise autonomy de facto.

Finally, the fifth National Indigenous Congress was held in October 2016 in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. This meeting resulted in the creation of the Indigenous Government Council for Mexico (Concejo Indígena de Gobierno para México, CIG), of which María de Jesús Patricio Martínez is the spokeswoman and the one who enrolled as a pre-candidate to the Presidency of Mexico in the name of the CNI and the EZLN.

In fact, it was a re-launching of the organization with two results: the growth of the organization and a broadside against the formal and behind-the-scenes powers like never before in their history. Several of their communities are confronting organized crime.

Carlos González, a Nahua councilor from Jalisco, points out that what the CNI communities resist today is “occupation, dispossession of territories and destruction of their cultures, languages and forms of government.” He points out that it’s a war that the peoples are experiencing; the results are forced displacements, dispossession of natural resources, expropriations and pollution of their territories, but also deaths, disappearances and injuries.

Just since the current government began, 12 indigenous leaders, adherents to this organization, have been murdered, two more since publication of “The ‘war’ against the National Indigenous Congress.”

 “The Earth is being destroyed mercilessly. The survival of the indigenous peoples is tied to the conditions for human life in the country and in the entire world.”

The lawyer specializing agrarian law explains that the CNI is the space that the indigenous peoples have constructed to articulate at the national level forms of political struggle based on mobilization, community organization and, even, the legal-judicial defense of territories.

For Carlos González, the current struggle of the indigenous peoples goes beyond “lopezobradorismo” (the López Obrador government). It is not a struggle centered on his administration, because the conditions of dispossession and exploitation come from some time ago. You struggle against a system more than against a government. That is, “we have it more difficult.”

The activist Efrén Cortés Chávez agrees: “It’s not a problem against Andrés Manuel, but against a system [neoliberal] that was implanted in Mexico 40 some years ago and in the world some 60 years ago. And that’s what the Zapatista Army has planned when it says that the overseer has changed but the estate owner (finqueros) is the same. If the problem were only López Obrador, it would be easier. We must be clear in that Andrés Manuel is going to be [in office] 6 years, but the current system of production, of consumption and of exploitation has been going on for several decades.”

A social struggler, decisive politician and a survivor of the El Charco Massacre in Guerrero, Cortés Chávez considers the growth of the CNI “very important” and the initiative of the indigenous peoples to create the CIG “very valid.” “All these initiatives are a response; they are part of the struggle for survival, because capitalism destroys everything: it destroys nature and it destroys the peoples.”

For his part, the anthropologist Gilberto López y Rivas clarifies that the current resistance of the indigenous peoples is not to a government of the left. “We are making a resistance against a neoliberal capitalist government, which utilizes a rhetoric of supposed ‘fourth transformation’ that is nothing more than a simulation.”

On the other hand, according to the anthropologist, “the struggle that the CNI and the EZLN are waging is a legal struggle, legitimate and that represents a project to protect Mother Earth, a project of life, that protects territories, that struggles against these simulations of the false left, this new government that impose projects dispossession.”

He warns that, once again and as in each six-year term, the Zapatistas and the peoples of the CNI, have “everything against them:” the mass information media, the economic-business power groups, the state and municipal governments and the federal government “with the management of welfare programs” and a new style that confuses, because it transforms various elements of the exercise of power but that turn out to be superficial “while the substance remains intact.”

Carlos González warns that the struggles are sharpening. He forewarns against the supposed consultations that the federal government carries out to legitimize previously made decisions.

“The ‘right to consultation’ is a hoot, a big lie. The indigenous peoples should not be consulted about projects they want to impose on them. What ought to be done is to construct a new relationship between the Mexican State and the peoples where they have the freedom to decide what their development priorities are and what projects should be carried out in their territories.”

Therefore, he warns that the communities will reject all types of consultations: from those that Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government has carried out, without any kind of rigor or methodology, to those that could comply with the standards set forth in Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO). They will not consider legitimate any consultation that proposes dispossessing them of their territories and that threatens their cultures and identities.

For his part, the researcher attached to the Morelos Center of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH, its initials in Spanish), Gilberto López y Rivas classified de “crucial” the indigenous struggle as “crucial” to the Revolution and the international left.

“They represent the struggle of all humanity that wants to prevail over the neoliberal craziness. The struggle of the indigenous peoples is against a capitalism of death and destruction; a capitalism that ends human civilization, like it is ending the millions of species of the animal and plant kingdoms. The indigenous peoples are the conscience of the world.”


Originally Published in Spanish by Contralinea

August 2, 2019

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: