By: Hermann Bellinghausen
Outside of some academic debates, a taboo subject in Mexico, and in general the continent, is internal colonialism. Accepting that it exists, the majority societies fear, can undermine the Nation, that sometimes ameboid state that makes us a single country, with defined borders, sovereignty, language and flag. The American nation-states, from Canada to Argentina, inherit the same profound colonization of the European empires, including the Africanization of many regions as a result of slavery imported by the colonizers.
Since the 19th century, the countries of this hemisphere have inherited a progressive dispossession that, with arguments no longer “colonial” but rather “national,” has never been interrupted. It acquires different appearances, and changes with historical conjunctures. In some places it’s a stark and defiant “fait accompli:” the native peoples survive only because they want to, because they don’t deserve territorial or linguistic rights, let alone political rights, unless they are crumbs (particularly in the United States and Brazil).
This situation, which we began to understand from the hand of Franz Fanon barely half a century ago, took a dramatic turn with the non-metaphorical awakening of the native peoples from 1970 forward, accompanied by an unusual demographic upswing. This historical cycle crosses the nations transversally even today, Mexico in first place but also others with a significant native population. It is expressed in demands for autonomy and campesino, government, territorial, linguistic and even ceremonial self-determination.
Indigenous communality clashes with National States, be they progressive or reactionary, neoliberal, dictatorial or revolutionary. Neither the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, nor the Bolivia of Evo Morales, nor Ecuador with Lucio Gutiérrez and the “rogue” governments stopped colonization on top of these peoples, some very extensive in America (Mayas, Nahuas, Aymaras, Wayuu, Quechuas, Mapuche).
The historical inertia of bottomless invasion and dispossession is such that so far in the 21st century it doesn’t stop or dare to say its name, although international styes and governments are intoxicated with inclusive speeches. Majority societies, even the democratic or progressive ones, take as settled their right to invade in adherence to their laws and for the good of the country.
We witnessed a case of hereditary blindness (with its stretches of light, such as post-revolutionary agrarian distribution or certain aspects of indigenismo and liberation). From Emperor Iturbide to Benito Juárez and his successors until culminating in Porfirio Díaz, the invasion, the dispossession (the extermination if necessary) of indigenous peoples was as natural as invisible. After the PRI-century and what followed, it would take less brutal routes.
The cynical investments of Fox, Calderón and Peña Nieto maintained rhetoric and intentions different from the authoritarian paternalism of López Obrador, but in this case not very different, without sparing consultations, electoral winks, economic lures; nor the force of law. Additionally, there is also an abundance of violence that, as we know, has many arms and denominations: not only legal violence and its repressive powers, there are also paramilitaries that never “exist” for the State (from Acteal in 1997 to Aldama in 2022), criminal gangs, frequent allies of political power, white guards legalized as “security companies” that investors hire to protect the concessions granted by the State.
Mining, water or oil extraction and other “national necessities” have carte blanche with AMLO, as they had in that recent past that he rejects. They want to convince us that the apocalyptic blades of the Spanish and French on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the establishment of an industrial, real estate and railroad corridor that divides the Isthmus doesn’t represent the same thing. Both this big project and the so-called “Maya” Train (tren “maya”) and its Jiménez Pons-type agents, with all their tourist ballyhoo, embody the most recent version of the endless internal colonialism.
The gold may be Canadian, the silver for Slim, Larrea and the late Bailleres, but yes, oil and lithium are for the nation. From the perspective of the native peoples that doesn’t change anything. When, under the theoretical guidance of Arturo Warman, their demands for autonomy were branded a “threat” to national integrity, the government preferred to betray the San Andrés Accords. Today, drug trafficking and the great migration of the poor damage that national integrity more than legalizing indigenous self-determination would have.
This inertia acquires grave environmental, cultural, food, health and co-existence implications. Internal colonialism, always denied, inadvertently opens the doors to a telluric and social disintegration: at this stage of globalization and climate change, it even threatens the integrities it claims to defend.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Monday, February 21, 2022: https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/02/21/opinion/a08a1cul
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee