“San Andrés strengthened the processes of autonomy, with or without recognition from the State”

National Indigenous Congress (Congreso Nacional Indígena, CNI) members rally in a 2016 mobilization in solidarity with teachers’Congreso struggle.

By Daliri Oropeza

Twenty-five years have passed since the San Andrés Accords were signed. The agrarian lawyer Carlos González, founding member of the National Indigenous Congress, believes that the reality of Indigenous peoples changed following the signing of the document, regardless of the failure of the Mexican government to comply with them.

On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army  (EZLN) declared war on the Mexican State. In the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, they formulated 11 basic demands for Indigenous peoples: work, land, shelter, food, health, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. These demands inspired other Indigenous communities who carefully observed what the EZLN was doing in Chiapas. After the first peace dialogue with the government, they initiated a long-range and unprecedented process of reconstitution. They convened Indigenous peoples, civil society, advisers and guests, addressing them by name. The Protocol of the dialogues that the Zapatista guerrillas entered into with the government included the phrase “peace with justice and dignity.”

According to the agreed upon Protocol, the dialogues would entail  four working groups, three topics, and several stages. The first stage was to establish the basis for negotiation, by identifying agreements and disagreements. The second, to formulate commitments and agreements. The third, to ratify and sign, after a period of consultation declarations, agreements and commitments.

The EZLN’s guests and the government made proposals and exchanged documents for discussion. The topics were: Indigenous Rights and Culture-Roundtable 1 (which took place);  Democracy and Justice -Roundtable 2 (which stalled after the second stage because the government offered nothing, and the dialogue was eventually suspended with the arrest of Comandante Germán): Welfare and Development, Roundtable 3 and Women’s Rights- Roundtable 4, neither of which took place. The three themes were: conciliation between various sectors of Chiapas society; political and social participation of the EZLN; and comprehensive détente, including measures to prevent the resumption of hostilities.

“Throughout the negotiations, the EZLN has been gathering diverse statements and getting consensus in order to get the government to resolve the problematic situation and the undignified misery that the Indigenous peoples of the country endure. As for their autonomy, which has not been fully accepted by the Federal government, the EZLN conceives it in the context of a much broader and more diverse national struggle,” the EZLN announced the day before the signing, in a document entitled Follow-up, where they stressed that they would negotiate all the demands of the attendees, not only those that gave birth to the EZLN.

Carlos González participated in these dialogues held on the San Andrés Sacamchén ball courts, in the middle of the wooded mountain range of the Altos de Chiapas. He maintains that the eleven demands of the EZLN reflected the profound inequality suffered by the original  peoples of Mexico to this day. And the people saw themselves in them. The Indigenous struggle changed as a result of both the uprising and the dialogue process that led to the San Andrés Accords on February 16, 1996.

González is a founding member of the network of Indigenous peoples that arose from these agreements: the National Indigenous Congress (CNI, Congreso Nacional Indígena) . Twenty-five years after this unprecedented event in Mexico, the agrarian lawyer gives his diagnosis of the Indigenous movement and puts into perspective why for the country there is a before and an after San Andrés Accords.

The Indigenous watershed in the movements

What was the Indigenous movement like before the San Andrés Accords? What is it like now?

—The Indigenous peoples were not part of the armed and unarmed movements of the left. The Zapatistas were the first to transform themselves by abandoning the traditional Marxist discourse and placing the Indigenous peoples as an important subject of struggle. The Indigenous had no rights.

Before the Zapatista uprising and the signing of the San Andrés Accord, the Indigenous movement had been unifying and gaining strength, at least since 1992, the year of  the 500th anniversary of the European invasion of the continent they called America, and the beginning of the subsequent conquest of our peoples.

The government of Spain and various European and American governments tried to celebrate the 500-year anniversary. The Indigenous movement that existed, limited as it was, began to organize around the demand that there be no celebration, no commemoration, rather that the date be acknowledged for what it was: A date of mourning, the beginning of the greatest genocide in the history of humanity, one that caused the death of at least 60 million people whose villages were plundered and at least 90 million human beings who were brought from Africa to America as slaves. The greatest genocide in the history of humanity.

As a result,  various struggles and Indigenous movements in Mexico on the continent began to unify.

The San Andrés Accords were a series of conversations attempting to propose State reforms that could lead to constitutional reforms that would begin to recognize the basic rights,  the fundamental rights, of the Indigenous peoples in Mexico. This provoked the emergence of an American Indian movement and an Indigenous movement in Mexico that achieved a certain unity. However, in 1994 these movements, these processes were still invisible, they did not reach the entire national territory, nor did they have a sufficient presence or political force at the national level, much less at the international level.

The Zapatista uprising, first of all, gives visibility to Indigenous peoples. Secondly, it puts the political agendas and the demands of the original peoples up front and center.

Third, Zapatismo brings together the original peoples and leads to the formation of Indigenous movements that are more coherent and  profound and broadens the scope of their objectives, as we saw in the dialogues.

The communities emerged with more political power that eventually, under the auspices of Zapatismo, and following the signing of the San Andrés accords on October 12, 1996, results in   the founding of the National Indigenous Congress, which includes representatives of the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee General Command (CCRIG) of the Zapatista National Liberation Army.

From betrayal to autonomy

—What is your diagnosis at this moment of the Indigenous Movement?

—Twenty five  years after signing the San Andrés agreements, the first thing that should be pointed out is: The government betrayed them.

In 2001, the CNI, together with the EZLN,  organized the March of the Color of the Earth to pressure the Mexican State to include the San Andrés Accords in the Federal Constitution. On April 28, 2001, the Chamber of Deputies enacted legislation that pretended to include them. It was not so. The basic rights of autonomy, the recognition of the communities as entities with collective rights, the ability of these communities to associate with each other, the rights of municipalities where the majority are Indigenous, the recognition of territorial rights were not included in the constitutional reform, which totally deformed the San Andrés Accords. It rendered them nugatory [null and void; meaningless], illusory.

From that moment to this day, the situation of Indigenous peoples in relation to the State has consisted of a constant erosion of their rights and a permanent violation of them; multiple processes of dispossession of their territories and natural resources in favor of great national and transnational capitals.

Throughout these years, the Indigenous movement has suffered a major onslaught, a relentless battering, full of violence. However, the San Andrés agreements strengthened processes of autonomy, with or without the recognition of the State, and regardless of the degree of recognition in the Constitution. Particularly important and unique are the Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities, the Good Government Juntas and the Caracoles that exist totally outside the law and control of the Mexican State, and that survive without any kind of public budget.

What has the CNI meant for the Indigenous movement as having derived from the San Andrés dialogues?

—The National Indigenous Congress perseveres in spite of this very adverse situation. It has survived throughout all these years and in a few months it will be celebrating its 25th anniversary as a space of organization, of unity, with its own highs and lows. But it continues with its struggle and its historic proposals, which have been reinforced since 2017, when the Indigenous Governing Council [Consejo Indígena de Gobierno, CIG] was formed and launched its spokesperson Marichuy as a candidate for President of the Republic.

The CNI, from my point of view, is not the only space, nor is it the only process, but it is the most representative and the most important at the national level, the one that  represents the historic and strategic interests of the Indigenous movement.

There are many other movements that are good and that also derive from San Andrés, but they are fighting conjunctural issues, questions of mediate and immediate demands.

The CNI considers the long-term historical objectives of Indigenous peoples; and that we have to put them at the center. The Indigenous people who are oppressed by the Mexican State and by the capitalist system must liberate themselves. And that is the deep and radical proposal of the National Indigenous Congress.

That is what gives it a representativity beyond that which can be derived from representative democracy or sheer numbers, that’s one side. But also, this network gives visibility, gives light, to the different Indigenous movements, whether they are with the CNI or not. Why? Because it gives presence and continuity to the struggles in the communities of this country which helps them get coverage and support. Even for some movements that have a vision that is opposed to the National Indigenous Congress, that are prone to making alliances or agreements with the Mexican government or with parts of the Mexican State. We have had important colleagues who are currently in key positions within the Mexican State, pushing their Indigenist policies, right?

How do you see the immediate future of the country in terms of Indigenous peoples?

—The future is catastrophic for the world and for the country, for Indigenous people and for non-Indigenous people. Capitalism is leading us to a kind of massive destruction of human living conditions on the planet that is being expressed in a profound health, ecological, cultural and economic crisis. Right now capitalism threatens humanity as a whole—Mexico of course, to say nothing of the original peoples. However, I believe that the original peoples, in their forms of life, in their deep relationship with the earth, are able to propose a different way of living and inventing the world, and that they have tried to do so.

Current Issues

What is your diagnosis of the movement twenty five years after the San Andrés Accords?

—The issues have changed. At that time, the issue was for the Constitution to incorporate the fundamental rights that were established in the San Andrés Accords.

At this point,  including these agreements in the Constitution would be basically unrealistic, because there is a whole legal constitutional framework that has been reformed over thirty years to favor the neoliberal capitalist dispossession of lands, territories, natural resources and culture of the country’s Indigenous and peasant communities.

The mere incorporation of the San Andrés Accords are no longer relevant. There is a set of processes, of laws governing energy and other profound reforms to the Constitution, such as Article 27, that are totally contrary to the spirit of the San Andrés Accords and that render it, I use a legal word again: nugatory [null and void; meaningless] that is, illusory,  that are mere illusion.

The great issue that is now pending, it sounds small, is the destruction of capitalism. And it’s urgent. It is something so difficult, so complicated and so great, and it’s urgent. That is the priority that we have as humanity, because we are really ending our living conditions as societies, as cultures, as human civilizations.

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Published in Spanish by Pie de Página and translated by the Chiapas Support Committee. Read the original here: https://piedepagina.mx/san-andres-fortalecio-los-procesos-de-autonomia-con-o-sin-reconocimiento-del-estado/

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