Last October, the National Indigenous Council (NIC) and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its initials in Spanish) shook up the national political scene by announcing that they would participate in the 2018 presidential election. With their eyes set on this campaign, but also – and more importantly – on affirming the unity of indigenous peoples in the work of rebuilding the country, they have named the spokeswoman who will also run as an independent candidate.
María de Jesús Patricio Martínez— known to all as Marichuy— had had dreams announcing that the time for the peoples had arrived. Months earlier, this Nahua1 woman began dreaming that a delegation of Zapatistas and members of the Wixárika people came to Tuxpan (located in southern Jalisco) at festival time. There they met with her and other Nahuas from the region. Sitting in a circle, they discussed issues of common interest while outside the streets pulsed with revelry. Back then, Marichuy did not know she would be elected as the spokeswoman of the Indigenous Government Council – an agency of the National Indigenous Congress (NIC) that enjoys the support of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation Army (EZLN, in its initials in Spanish) -, or that she would register as an independent candidate for the 2018 Mexican presidential election. Those dreams of the Zapatistas were a revelation, a kind of premonition, which Marichuy recalled as she accepted her role as spokeswoman for the indigenous peoples: she interpreted them as a sign that the time had come to mobilize a national organization.
Indigenous peoples consider dreams to be sacred and revelatory. In Marichuy’s case, they can also be seen as announcements: in the early morning of December 6, 2011, she dreamt of people eating raw meat. When she woke up, she concluded that blood would likely be shed that day; she worried about the families of the sister community of Santa María Ostula, on the coast of Michoacán. On that day, Trinidad de la Cruz Martínez Crisóforo, a community memberand moral leader in the fight for land in Ostula, as well as a close friend of Marichuy’s family, was returning to his town after having escaped an assassination attempt, with the intention of taking part in an assembly to discuss agrarian issues and the threats made against him. On the way to Ostula he was kidnapped and murdered by five hit men. The terror this caused in these communities was so great that it paralyzed the National Indigenous Congress for months.
Nearly 6 years after that dream, looking ahead to the times that are coming, Marichuy’s heart tells her to go forward, that she is not going to win the Mexican Presidency, which is not the main goal, but that the peoples will succeed in organizing “and that we will stand side by side with civil society to plan what to do with this land called Mexico, to confront war together.”
Oath taken from the members of the Indigenous Government Council and its spokeswoman, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez (center), during the Constitutive Assembly of may 28, celebrated this year in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Photo: Reuters
Marichuy has gained recognition for her knowledge of traditional medicine. From this perspective, her diagnosis is that Mexico is sick with the virus of capitalism, a virus that takes the life of people, of the earth, of water, of animals, and of peoples. It is, she states, a contagious disease that can only be eradicated if in every corner of the country “we organize to cure ourselves of this monster.”
The Constitutive Assembly of the Indigenous Government Council took place last May 27th and 28th at the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Indigenous Center for Comprehensive Education A.C.- University of the Earth (Cideci-UniTierra), in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. After a series of deliberations, Marichuy was announced as the Council’s spokeswoman. She and the rest of the members took an oath, after which she announced that the struggle was to defend life, which includes “the earth, the territory, water, trees, everything, because they are using everything up. If we want the peoples to continue existing, if we want there to be life for everyone, if we want to preserve this land that our ancestors have passed down to us, we must take this step and invite every sector to participate: organized civil society, non-organized civil society, we must all join forces and destroy this system that is destroying us.”
This represents the collective voice of the peoples that make up the NIC, which offers both longstanding members and newcomers the same thing: a home to come to whenever they want. One of the voices heard in the Congress is that of the Wixaritari, who for years have received in dreams the order to rescue the earth from the destruction being inflicted on it,2 “because it is our mother who feeds us and gives us water to drink, and it is not right to mistreat our mother or to kill her with mining projects, oil extraction, livestock operations or dams, or by poisoning her.”
Marichuy interprets Mexico’s extreme heat as a cry from the earth to “come back” to her, care for her, to take a step back and think about “what we have to do together […] the peoples don’t have the magic potion, but all of us together are going to look for it, each person from wherever he or she is.”
In a world ruled by an idea of “progress” that looks at the earth as a commodity, preserving nature and life entails taking a spiritual path. The registration of an indigenous woman– the spokeswoman for the Indigenous Council– as an independent candidate is no more than a strategy that seeks to “ruin the party for those on the top” (the elections), a party that, Marichuy contends, “is based on our death. We want to have our own party based on dignity, organization and the construction of a new country and a new world.”3 A campaign tour through the country’s distressed communities will seek to collectively heal a country that is sick unto death, and to dream about how to bring life back to our earth.
Taking the offensive
In 1999, the Zapatistas issued a warning about World War IV: neo-liberalism, i.e., free-market capitalism, which was already threatening to destroy anything that stood in the market’s way. Seventeen years later, in October 2016, the 5th National Indigenous Congress, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary, opened with a declaration that the time of the peoples had come, that it was time to take the offensive in a peaceful manner.
The indigenous peoples talk about the intensification of capitalism’s war. In the communiqué titled “The time has come,” they state: “We have reached a perilous time of violence, of fear, of grief and rage […] we see women being murdered just for being women, children for being children, peoples for being peoples. The political class is intent on transforming the State into a corporation that sells land that belongs to the original peoples, farmers and urban communities; it sells people as if they were merchandise, killing them and burying them as raw material for the drug cartels; it sells them to capitalist corporations to be exploited until they get sick or die; it sells them in parts on the illegal organ trafficking market.” The communiqué adds that on top of this is the grief that the families of missing persons endure, as they are forced to look for their loved ones on their own, whether they expect to find them alive or buried in mass graves. And even with all of this “repugnance,” the communiqué goes on, “the political class still urges us to vote, to believe in the power of those on the top, to let them keep on deciding our fate and imposing it on us.”
Image of one of the dialogues held within the framework of the San Andrés accords in 1996. Sitting at the table are commanders Marcos and Ramona, of the EZLN; Manuel Camacho Solís, Peace commissioner appointed by Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1994; and Samuel Ruiz, then bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.
Carlos González, a member of the NIC coordination, explains that the peoples’ struggle takes two shapes: on the one hand, they fight against physical invasion, the ongoing plundering of their land and territory, against murders and abductions, the massive migrations, the violent displacement of entire communities. On the other hand, there is cultural extermination, reflected in the loss of the original languages: in Baja California there are no Cochimí speakers left; the Kiliwa tongue is spoken by fewer than 50 people; the Kumiai are down to under a thousand native speakers, and most of them have left their original lands; new generations of Rarámuri have abandoned their native tongue.
Moreover, dispossessions are on the rise all over the country; the list grows longer every time the peoples have gathered. Carlos knows the lands of the Cucapá people by heart, although they have been turned into trash dumps. Rarámuri land has become occupied territory, “where drug trafficking is ruthless, spearheaded by the military to dispossess communities.” On the coast of Michoacán, the Mexican Navy was deployed in 2010, after the drug cartels La Familia Michoacana and then the Templarios occupied the area and sowed terror with 36 murders and six disappearances, followed by the theft of prized timber and minerals. In the Wixárika mountains, a situation similar to Ostula has developed, as drug cartels occupy these mountains in the north of Jalisco, a strategic area for the production of opium gum and the transportation of drugs to northern Mexico.4 The struggle mentioned by the NIC also plays out along the Gulf coast, where many territories have been licensed for energy projects, “from Tabasco to the mountains of San Luis Potosí. In Popoluca lands, in southern Veracruz, the government has granted concessions for fracking, and it is only the beginning of Enrique Peña Nieto’s energy reform”; in Zoque territory there have been bids for oil and gas extraction; the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is under pressure from wind power and mining projects. “All over, land and water are being sold off for projects that are highly destructive to the environment, to the communities and their people,” says Carlos, and he points out that this war is being waged against cities as well, against towns, against the entire population without exception.5
The NIC places its hopes on finding forms of resistance and defiance that will enable the peoples to survive the war of the moneyed interests against humanity and Mother Earth, “in order to be reborn with every seed we plant, with every dream and hope that materializes in significant regions with autonomous forms of public security, communication, government, and protection and defense of the peoples’ territory.” For this reason, the Indigenous Government Council’s aim is for small or large local governing bodies to be instituted in every corner of the country, replicating the self-governing practices practiced in Cherán and Santa María Ostula, where community security processes have put a stop to the plundering of their lands and the murder and disappearance of their people.
The call goes out to every Mexican, in every corner of the country, who wants to stop the slaughter and dares to imagine a new world.
The flame in the Central-Pacific Region
“If anyone from the NIC can be the spokesperson for the Indigenous Government Council, it’s Marichuy.” This phrase is repeated by both indigenous and mestizos, from the Mexican west to the mountains of southeastern Chiapas. The reasons are clear: this Nahua woman is the founder of the NIC, she kept the meetings going for years in the Central-Pacific region (also called the Central-Western region)6, and she has the unconditional support of the EZLN.
Council members from different peoples came to the assembly with strong possibilities of being named spokesperson, but when the NIC coordination and the EZLN itself nominated María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, all of the 848 delegates of the indigenous peoples who were present ratified the proposal. When her name was announced, the Zapatista commanders explained their confidence in her: “Comrade Marichuy does not have a price, does not quit, and does not surrender.”
Tuxpan is known as the Town of Never-Ending Festivity, and the family of María de Jesús Patricio Martínez plays an important role in the festivities that take place on January 20, 27 and February 2 in honor of Saint Sebastian, so that he will protect the people from the plague. They are the sponsors of Saint Sebastian “The Abajeño,” and their position is passed on from one generation to the next, with responsibility for organizing “chayacate” and “sonajero” dancers. In this region of southern Jalisco (an hour and a half drive from Guadalajara), the Nahuas lost their collective land and their language. They have preserved their dances as a form of cultural resistance, which is why they continue to observe festivities such as Corpus Christi, which coincides with the beginning of the growing season. In September and October, before the arrival of the souls of the dead, they perform their rose offerings, or enrosos, and pray to all the protector images of Tuxpan to protect their crops. January 7 is the feast of the Holy Child, when they organize dances with Paixtles and Moors, as well as pastorelas (shepherds’ plays), to thank the earth for what it has given them.
After the public appearance of the EZLN in 1994, Tuxpan received an invitation to participate in the National Indigenous Forum, which was held in January 1996 in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Marichuy was elected to attend in representation of her people, and the experience changed her way of thinking. “We thought we were the only ones [the Nahuas of Tuxpan] until I saw that there were indigenous peoples from all over the Republic. I listened to them and thought: ‘This is similar to what is happening to us.’ I felt that it was my space, a space to talk with people who had similar problems, and all of us were thirsty for justice […] I felt it was important to continue participating: I had finally found what I had long been looking for. From then on I thought that only when the peoples are united can they make a change.” And if anything came of the armed uprising of the EZLN, it was visibility for the indigenous peoples of Jalisco, a state where their existence was all but denied before then.
After the National Indigenous Forum, the National Indigenous Congress was founded in October of 1996 as the home of the peoples. Among its founders were María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, and Don Juan Chávez, of the Purépecha people of Nurío, who passed away in 2012.
The spokeswoman of the Indigenous Council
Marichuy was born on December 23, 1963. She graduated from high school and dedicated her life thereafter to the practice and preservation of traditional and herbal medicine. She has directed the Calli Tecolhuacateca Tochan Health Center for 20 years, and from her location in southern Jalisco she has been one of the most active members of the NIC in the Central-Pacific region, even when the EZLN stopped participating and other regions stopped meeting regularly. During the national tour of The Other Campaign in 2006, the EZLN general command acknowledged that the NIC kept going only because of the Central-Pacific region. In addition, they always made a point of highlighting Marichuy’s key role and continuous participation.
The reason she never gave up was because she had hope that the peoples would take the next step. “I always dreamed we would come up with something new together. As for myself, I didn’t know where to start; the only thing I knew was that we needed to do something. Not with violence, because we would only get ourselves killed, but we had to be strategic.” When asked directly whether she believes that the time has come, she answers: “Yes.”
Those who know Patricio Martínez’s role in the NIC highlight her integrity in defending her ethical and political positions, such as standing firm against co-optation or accepting government positions. During his administration, President Vicente Fox called for the creation of a national indigenous council to advise the presidency on addressing the issues of the original peoples. When the proposal was discussed within the NIC, most of the delegates were in favor of nominating a Wixárika as an employee of such an agency. Marichuy immediately stood up and challenged these positions and argued that under no circumstances should they enter into government service. However, she could not stop some of the members from abandoning the NIC to take public jobs.
On March 29, 2001, she spoke before the Congress of the Union in the name of the indigenous women of Mexico, for the purpose of showing how the comprehensive reconstitution of the country’s indigenous peoples is a process that calls on both men and women “in a common struggle for our liberation.” On that occasion, she was the only non-Zapatista woman to speak, and arguably no other woman has had such an active role in the NIC since its creation.
An Indigenous Government Council for Mexico
After the San Andrés Accords were violated by the Mexican State when it passed an indigenous counter-reformation, the national movement disbanded. Carlos González, who also works as an agrarian lawyer for different communities in Jalisco and Michoacán, remembers that “many communities were disappointed, while some felt that the new law that was passed was good enough, and many comrades accepted public jobs. There was a retreat in the struggle.”
With the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle, the EZLN, which in 2006 had called for the creation of an anti-capitalist and leftist political force, announced the 4th National Indigenous Congress, an event that would take place in May in San Pedro Atlapulco, in the State of Mexico. But just when it was scheduled to open, the notorious Atenco repression occurred.
The NIC had begun operating again in 2001, motivated by a clear idea that ran through all of its meetings: the need to put autonomy into practice. The appeal made by the EZLN through The Other Campaign reactivated the Central-Pacific region, especially the peoples of Jalisco and Michoacán. This period is fresh in Carlos González’s mind: “With the Zapatista delegation we made a concerted effort to grow in the northwestern region, which had not participated before. We didn’t make much progress in Sinaloa, but the contacts are still alive and now they are helping to give national support to the NIC. The Central-Pacific region kept advancing, trying to keep the flame of the Congress alive, until the brutal repression against Santa María Ostula in 2010 disheartened those of us who supported that region, and we felt we had neither the conditions nor the morale to continue organizing. By mid-2011, I think it was over.”
In September 2006 over 25 thousand people marched through Mexico City’s main avenues in support of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in spanish), demanding the fulfillment of the San Andrés accords.
That year, an Ostula community member was killed or disappeared every two weeks, on average. The murder of Don Trinidad de la Cruz was probably the key factor in the decision to pull back, and the whole area sank into terror and silence. Survival became the priority. In December of 2012, approximately six thousand natives from Chiapas mobilized, marching in silence on occasion of the new Mayan era, and they convened the Tata Juan Chávez Alonso Chair, where efforts were made to reactivate the NIC.
In October 2016, during the 5th National Indigenous Congress, the EZLN general command warned that the NIC was about to disappear, and proposed the initiative of naming an indigenous spokeswoman and an Indigenous Government Council. At that meeting, there was no end to the different proposals made, but the delegates eventually came to realize that they needed time to digest the EZLN initiatives and fully understand them. A series of consultations ensued: the indigenous peoples were asked whether they signed on to the proposal or not. The answer was yes, and the delegates were given the task of getting the assemblies of each people to designate the council members who would make up the Indigenous Government Council.
In this way, nearly one thousand indigenous delegates attended the Constitutive Assembly of the Indigenous Government Council (IGC), which was held on May 27th and 28th. Over 400 came from Chiapas, many of them ex-Zapatistas or people who had kept their distance from the processes of autonomy. Attendees also included representatives of peoples that had never been a part of the NIC before, but who wanted to participate after learning about the initiative. For this reason, and due to the risk of having attendees who were just looking for positions of power, the councilors were warned that they would be under surveillance: anyone who did not fulfill their mandate would be expelled from the structure. The IGC was constituted with 71 councilors, a number that can increase as women and men are named by their community’s assemblies.
Filo, a Mixteco professor in Puebla, and now a councilor of the IGC, unmistakable because he always ties an embroidered bandana around his face, insists that this initiative is as relevant as the 1994 uprising. To the media, he explained that “despite all of our contradictions, this movement moves forward, because we owe ourselves to the peoples. We do want to appear on the electoral ballots in 2018, but our primary struggle will be to organize, to keep existing.” For him, the day the IGC spokeswoman was announced was the “greatest day in our history. It took us 20 years to get to know each other. For five centuries we have been resisting, and today we are carrying out the greatest indigenous uprising in history, and it is non-violent. At the grass-roots level, we saw that we have what it takes, and who it takes, to raise up a new country. We can see the light on the horizon.”
Notwithstanding the voices for and against this initiative of the NIC and the EZLN, its protagonists agree that the objective is to do battle against the capitalist system that is undermining the world. When the voices of the indigenous peoples unite in the cry of “Never more a Mexico without us,” they convey the conviction that we have reached a breaking point. Marichuy knows this, and she also knows that the struggle is bigger than a one-time electoral competition. “We participate to protect life, to destroy this system. Our proposal is that we can govern ourselves differently, according to the principle of governing by obeying, of serving the people and not ourselves, and of taking care of nature. It is a proposal for the entire world.” m.
1. According to the National Commission for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples, the term “Nahua” refers to a linguistic community made up of various groups who speak the Mexican language, heirs of the great cultures of the Central Plateau that came to rule the Valley of Mexico and the whole Mesoamerican region in pre-Hispanic times. Currently, the Nahua peoples are distributed throughout the national territory from Durango to southern Tabasco. They are farming communities with a profound respect for nature.”
2. This idea emerged from the Wirikuta ceremonies of 2011, at the Cerro del Quemado. And when the lands of San Sebastián Teponahuaxtlán were recovered on September 22, 2016, the marakame Juan Hernández said that Mother Earth tells him in dreams that because of overgrazing by livestock, “the land is hurt, we have to care for it and venerate it. There must be ceremonies in this area.”
3. “The time has come,” statement by the NIC and the EZLN. May 28, 2017.
4. This past May 22, the ex-commissioner of Communal Assets, Miguel Vázquez, and his brother Agustín, were murdered. Miguel led the struggle for the recovery of disputed lands along the border of Jalisco and Nayarit in September 2016.
5. In the “Second Declaration of the Joint NIC-EZLN. On the Dispossession of Our Peoples” they describe these processes against indigenous peoples in detail.
6. At a time when there were no meetings in other parts of the country.