By Eliana Gilet
Self-ascription and love of the land outweigh the language. The symbols and the party provide the thread that allows us to reach the origin. What makes a people indigenous? Was the question posed to the multifaceted artist Mardonio Carballo, from which this interview resulted.
What is the central element that distinguishes an indigenous people?
There are several things. One is self-ascription. In this country, this discussion is settled: a people that self-ascribes as an indigenous people, is automatically so. The second would be to always be present in the discussion of the Zapatista postulates, of Emilio Zapata. The third is love for the land and its territory. Its defense is closely linked to this love that indigenous peoples and peasants have for the land.
The cultivation of corn should not be forgotten, that it is the food base of this country and that it has to do with the domestication of the grain from Central America. That gives base to a town and López Bárcenas will say so, but it also gives it legal support.
Another more brutal thing is the skin color and the anger they cause. Let's go to Atenco. The macheteros of Atenco, who uses it? Why do they use them? That symbol that they have used throughout their fight against the airport, those who use it for subsistence, work, even use it as a symbol in a struggle for rights in their land
Why haven't you named the language?
The issue with Atenco is that they don't speak the language, but in this case self-ascription is enough for us. Atenco means "on the water's edge" or "on the river bank", from the toponymy we are knowing to which language and people it belongs. But neither can the loss of the language be censored because in a country like ours it has been promoted by the State; from racism and classism. Learn to read also the reasons why there is a community or a group of them that have lost their language.
With regard to the forms of organization of the communities, are there particular elements in that?
The issue of the assembly and the community have to do with the identity of the indigenous peoples. It should not be forgotten that not all peasant peoples are indigenous, but all indigenous peoples are peasants. This gives other forms of organization, which are also repeated throughout the country. That you do not speak the language does not mean something blunt, you can have organizational forms that reveal your roots.
The party is another element. What are they, where are the Catholic images placed, to which they belonged when before this country was called as it is called in the Spanish intervention in Mexico; they are elements that also make up culture. In order not to fall into the sad romance of an oppressed people, you have to go to the party to be able to name it and pull the thread to find out where it comes from.
Is there a particular form of interpersonal relationship of indigenous peoples?
Of course. If we talk about a large, forgotten, oppressed, not included population, to which handouts are distributed as public policies, it is clear that one of the ways to survive is the collective issue. The community also comes from a matter of survival in the face of the economic, neoliberal onslaught, of the formation of a country without consulting those who were here before, it becomes the need to take each other by the arms and seek the fight together. In the case of Atenco, that example fits. In a country where things seem to happen over and over again, why could they?
Why could they?
Someone whose tongue has already been taken away, from whom they want to take the sustenance of his life, which is corn, from whom they want to take away his pantheons, that is, his memory where his bones are buried, his dead, makes the outrage and leads you to organize.
Is it paradoxical to you that the appeal to "being indigenous" is one of the fundamental tools for defending the territory?
It has to do with displacement, because it is not only in Mexico, but in the world. A single idea of life, economy and ideology is being weighed to the detriment of those who are not like the others. Atenco: they went for them when a new airport was needed. Displacement has to do with natural resources, land, air. Until they need what the indigenous peoples conserve with determination, they go for us. That is the situation that repeats itself throughout history, the Mexican territory and the world. This has to do with the fact that those who care for the land, water and forests have become essential for life and for business.
And also being in the territory ...
It is the issue of water with the Yaquis, wood in Cherán, of Ostula with the land, everything is linked to the binomial indigenous peoples - conservation of natural resources because there is another logic of relating to nature, with the other, which makes that preservation is a covetable affair. From that, campaigns are unleashed against, or money between people to create a division between people to generate division.
You have previously said that Mexico is a super diverse place but that it has always turned its back on that diversity. Has resistance been the way in which the peoples have taken the front page after being ignored?
This hoax that is Mexico was created behind their backs, the members of the towns have always been cannon fodder. The metaphor is that you start living on the slopes of the Cerro, they want what is there, you go up a little bit and another and when you reach the top, there is emptiness. Then you have to decide if you jump into the void, which would be suicide or you start going down. To fight for what is yours. Not in vain do we have in Zapatismo and Sup Marcos the symbol of Anti neoliberalism; And I don't speak romantically locally, but globally. The vindication of certain precepts before life and others, which most of the people had forgotten.
Did the resistance advance 20 years?
I do not know if he anticipated them or put them in the public arena. If we talk about a chronology of resistance, this is a pinnacle, but it was because it was impossible anymore. The "enough is enough", "never again a Mexico without us", "for a world in which all worlds fit" ended up bringing together the thoughts of many people. After the Zapatistas we have much more indigenous people in Mexico. And to many others he showed the route.
Is art an area that allows identifying the indigenous?
There are three levels: the first task of the artist is to do his job well, the second is to speak out for the most vulnerable and the third is activism. The artist has to take responsibility for the society that consumes him, that makes him an artist. The artist is not the one who locks himself in his room to write and doesn't care about anything else. He must be responsible for the citizenship of the society that elevates him.
Is there an indigenous art?
There are indigenous artists, those recognized at the public level and those recognized from the community who have other types of assignments: storytellers, musicians, those who accompany the dance, the rite, the requests for rain. There are indigenous people, not many, involved in the mainstream: Francisco Toledo, Demian Flores, Lyla Downs, and several others who have assumed an identity from which they generate awareness of indigenous peoples.
That there is no legal fight that is not political is the first thing that this lawyer, one of the main Mexican indigenous intellectuals, wants to make clear. And as in any fight, a strategy is required: who is the subject that carries it out, who is fighting against and what strategy is he going to use, are elements prior to the law. How the struggles for the territory are changing the legal sphere is also discussed in this interview.
What role does the law play in defending the territory?
I see the law as an instrument as there can be many, not the only one. I don't see it as the institutionality that they teach us in school. I do not center it on the stark law, nor on the institutions in charge of operating it: it must be seen that this is a struggle of peoples against groups that want to dispossess them. As in any fight, you have to see who moves that instrument. It makes no sense for a disorganized people to go to court because they may win the trial but cannot execute it. The El Zapotillo dam (in Jalisco) is a typical case of how they have won about ten trials but the dam continues.
What fault in that case?
That there is no political subject that moves this legal instrument.
What does that who need? How is it?
Legal struggles in courts need a political strategy. There are no trials that are not political. I do not focus the importance or the strategy on what evidence I am going to offer, but on how I am going to carry out the impeachment: then the evidence becomes accessory. This is the case when Nacho del Valle - Atenco leader - was arrested and detained. If you read the sentence, it is political. He does not have any legal argument in it that says why he was arrested and why he was released, and it was made by the Supreme Court, the highest legal body. The strategy is political although the form is legal.
Do you think it has been the threats that have made the peoples turn to indigenous recognition as a strategy? Why?
There is a lack of understanding of how indigenous is seen from the outside and how it is seen from within a community. I am Mixtec, but I am from an indigenous town seen from the outside. If I go to the Mixteca and ask people if they are indigenous, they will say no, that they are Mixtecos. The indigenous is constructed in relation to the other. Internally, the indigenous does not exist as something material, but as a concept that encompasses many cultural differences. They do not consider themselves indigenous because they are not in front of the other. When this comes to bother them, they are assumed, because the legal elements are built from the other and by the other. When did Atenco begin to claim the indigenous? After the airport thing. Why? Because they see that those are the instruments.
There are towns that move the law in a traditional way, for example: Tila. As their judgment comes from decades ago, they did not use the indigenous argument, but the agrarian, the communal one. They won. And now the Court is discussing whether the Tila agrarian community has the right to be restored or to be compensated. It does matter how you argue. It is not enough to have a machete and know how to use it, you have to sharpen it too, my father would say.
So, the first step is the subject, the who; then recognize who you are fighting against, and then?
Lawyers need to have a lot of inventiveness in how to do it, what interpretations can we give to the law in a way that corners the judge, so that he has no choice but to say: now where do I go? Finally, the strategy has to be posed like this: is one fighting against the one in front, the construction or mining company, or is one fighting against the State that supported that work? The difference is great.
What makes that difference?
If you hit the one in front of you, you may defeat him but the State will look for another and have him finish the project. Atenco: in the first stage of the struggle, they won the idea of building the airport but it did not end there. Historically, the case that illustrates this is that of the July 26 Movement. When they discovered the Assault on the Moncada Barracks in Cuba and were arrested, it was clear that they were guerrillas. A traditional defense would have focused on removing the political and mitigating the penalty that they had to face. What did Fidel Castro do? Take responsibility and give your political reasons. What did that do? It created a political problem for the State, which had no alternative but to get it out of there. That is strategy. Either you hit the one in front of you or you hit the state. If you beat it, it can't go back.
What legal strategies have surprised you by the novelty?
By 2005, the relationship of the Community Police with the government became very difficult. They asked us to help them make an argument that they were legal, but at that time there was no indigenous law in Guerrero. We had to force the general provisions of the Constitution, Article 2, where it says that as part of autonomy they have the right to be governed by their own rules and institutions. So, the CRAC is an institution even though there is no specific provision, as there is now. It was a novel interpretation.
It is simple, first the subject, then the enemy, in a third step the strategy and then how you are going to implement it. Right there just enters. If you have the subject, you see what capacity it has, according to its characteristics, its size, its level of organization, its history, its resistance trajectory, its symbols, its supports. From the capacity that each town has, the strategy will emerge and based on its characteristics, it will measure the response obtained.
Just as “being indigenous” is a construction, is an indigenous form of law being constructed?
I think so. There was a minister in the Court, Juventino Castro and Castro, who was asked why the court did not deal with indigenous issues, around 1995 or 1996. He said something that was legally correct, but not politically correct: that it did not deal with those cases because the natives did not present them. In the last ten years, indigenous people have gone to court a lot: to agrarian, civil, federal, protection. It has to do with the fact that there are professionals who are interested in their rights and have made an interesting promotion. In what sense has this idea of indigenous rights been created? In the novel interpretation of instruments. When I started talking about indigenous rights, in 1995, the courts were surprised that I invoked international treaties even if it was legally correct. Over time the courts and lawyers have found it necessary to prepare.
The main changes in the law before the presentation of indigenous cases has been seen in the following:
- in the legitimacy of the peoples to claim their rights for themselves, through their own authorities, which ten years ago was inconceivable. How is the traditional governor of the Rarámuris going to come here? Now that is clear.
- on the specific types of rights they claim: they are no longer claiming individual rights or as agrarian communities, but claiming specific rights as indigenous communities. The right to be autonomous, to have territory, their own government, their own development and all that can be understood as the collective rights of peoples.
Photo: Heriberto Rodríguez
Let's get uninformed