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To the People of Mexico:

To the Peoples and Governments of the World:

Brothers and Sisters:

This is the judgement of the EZLN on the document presented by the Federal Executive:

An unacceptable document.

General Considerations

The so-called Proposal of the Government for Constitutional Reforms Regarding the Rights of Indigenous Peoples implies a grave negation of the spirit and the letter of the San Andres Accords. It contains anticonstitutional elements, and lets loose the phantoms that it tried to conjure up: the "balkanization" of the country, the creation of reservations and the isolation of the indigenous peoples. It entails a grave risk for national unity. It is based on a racist, ethnocentric, and discriminatory conception. Every right of the indigenous peoples which it says it recognizes, remains immediately limited and subordinated to secondary laws in the constitutional text itself, with grave legal consequences, but with a clear political result: to reduce the indigenous peoples to secondary citizens. The result is equivalent to the Agrarian Law of January 6th, 1915. Just as Carranza committed treason against the spirit of the laws of Zapata, the government, with its proposal, tries to deliver rights which it expressly denies. The obsession with setting limits on rights produced a very confusing text, subject to contradictory and sometimes absurd interpretations which weaken the constitutional reform in legal, political, and symbolic terms, actually reducing the autonomies which are already being exercised by the indigenous peoples. Also, the absolute discretion of the authorities is reiterated constantly, anulling the principle of participation of the indigenous peoples agreed upon in San Andres and picked up again in the proposal of the Cocopa.

Particular Considerations

In Article 4, three central aspects of autonomy are nullified: 1) the ability of the indigenous peoples to govern themselves; 2) their capacity for applying their own internal normative systems; and 3) the collective access to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources on their lands and territories.

Fraction I. It lacks legal congruency. It signals that the indigenous peoples will exercise their autonomy so as "to apply their norms, practices, and customs in the regulation and solution of their internal conflicts...", and then immediately establishes that "local laws will anticipate recognition of those instances and procedures utilized for this, and will establish the norms such that their judgements and resolutions may be homologated by the jurisdictional authorities." The first part recognizes a right and the second part nullifies it, and also subordinates the constitutional text to secondary laws, which violates the most elemental legal principle of hierarchization of laws granting absolute supremacy to the Constitution. By changing the word "ratification", used by the Cocopa, to "homologation"*, the meaning is completely altered. Internal normative systems and Mexican procedural law cannot be homologized. The Cocopa, in accordance with the accords of San Andres, recognized "the internal normative systems" of the indigenous peoples. By substituting that valid expression for one of "norms, practices, and customs", the government proposal ignores them and creates confusion. It takes a step backward, moreover, with respect to the current wording of Article 4, which recognizes "the juridical practices and customs in their agrarian proceedings", which is something that should be extended to other arenas as well.

Fraction II. With eagerness to protect the monopoly of political parties, the proposal completely denies the self-governance of the indigenous peoples, placing them below that which is already stipulated in the legislation of the state of Oaxaca. But it "generously" concedes the right of indigenous people to "elect their municipal authorities". Perhaps the advantage of this formulation is that it recognizes for the first time that the indigenous peoples have never enjoyed a right which is formally enjoyed by all Mexicans.

Fraction IV. The government's proposal eliminates the recognition of the indigenous peoples' territory, following the definition of the International Labor Organization, which was explicit and fundamental in San Andres; as well as the access to lands and territories "in a collective fashion", both of these being elements affirmed by the Cocopa. To formulate the access to lands in terms of "the forms, modalities, and limitations established for property by this Constitution and its laws", displays a great ignorance about the relationship indigenous peoples have with their territory, which is not reduced to a form of property. This paragraph thus situates itself at the tail end of the Salinista agrarian counter-reform.

Fraction VI. As the government considers that the rights of the indigenous peoples always violate the rights of others, it had to anticipate even the protection of foreign states in its program for the protection of indigenous migrants. This subordinates the Mexican Constitution to "the norms of international laws" in contradiction with Article 133, which calls for their observance only when Mexico has subscribed to respective international treaties.

Fraction IX of Article 115. The proposal of the Cocopa recognizes community as an entity of public right, as had been agreed upon in San Andres. The government proposal, on the other hand, considers it a matter "of public interest". Far from recognizing the legal character of the communities, on a standing associated with autonomy and with the State structure, it exposes them to forms of governmental regulation just as those employed with the industry of bread and tortillas, also considered "of public interest". With the spirit of limiting the association of municipalities and indigenous communities, the government proposal eliminates the precision with which one or more indigenous groups can associate themselves. With this, the multi-ethnic dimension of autonomy is restricted. This opens the possibility of creating reservations in which "ethnicism" or pureness of blood will be privileged, instead of opening the doors for the development of a culture of tolerance and respect for diversity. This monoethnic position would only provoke conflicts between diverse indigenous peoples that share a territory. When the proposal of the government limits the association of municipalities so that "the political-administrative division in each federative entity is always respected", it demonstrates the ignorance of its writers, who pass right over the fact that the establishment of indigenous communities, and their incorporation as such, occurred before the definition of current state boundaries. With this, the isolation of the communities is favored because now the authorities will be able to arbitrarily determine which community or municipal associations are "illegal". Additionally, the proposal of the Cocopa, consistent with the San Andres Accords and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, considered the self-description of an indigenous group to be a decisive criterion for the exercise of their autonomy. The government proposal substitutes this with a vague standard of quantitative predominance, in such a way that the fundamental definition of indigenous communities remains in the hands of a discretional faculty, and in the application of arguable technical indicators. This formulation gravely affects the recognition of the indigenous peoples and their autonomous processes of reconstitution.

Fraction X. Upon regulating the right of self-governance of the indigenous peoples, it is proposed that they will be able to elect their "authorities or internal representatives" in accordance with their traditional political practices. The category "internal" implies the introduction of a fourth level to the governance structure in Mexico. Thus, that which was fought so hard by the government representatives in San Andres has now squeezed through the back door, opened by their own specialists. In the final analysis, in this confusion, it is not left clear if the municipal presidents are internal or external authorities. The Cocopa had forseen that in every municipality, mechanisms for citizen participation would be established. The government's proposal assigns this faculty to local laws, which subordinates participation to uniform regulations, violating the autonomy and the cultural specificity of each community. The redistricting of municipalities layed out by the Cocopa, based on a recognition of the indigenous peoples, is substituted by a confusing proposal which opens the possibility of fragmentation at an absurd level. By its imprecision and vagueness, the writing creates the possibility that any indigenous group or community could convert themselves into a municipality; so the Nahua people, who extend into six federal entities, could become a municipality just as easily as a small ranch population could. The confusion is aggravated by the arbitrary use of capital and lower-case letters, which leads one to believe, for example, that the Mixtecos of New York or Los Angeles could convert themselves into a municipality.

Conclusion

The proposal of the Cocopa was the fruit of a prolonged and collective effort, based on a solid knowledge of the reality about which was being legislated, and written with the necessary technical capacity for the translation of accords into constitutional norms. By contrast, the government's proposal, based on consultation with supposed experts, reveals a clear ignorance about the indigenous peoples, about legal technique, and about the Constitution and Mexican laws. President Zedillo remitted the Cocopa's proposal to a panel of experts for consultation, so that it would not work against national unity, or challenge juridical precedence. He achieved exactly the opposite. The proposal clearly opens the danger for a division among Mexicans, and contains legal errors so grave, that it becomes impossible, incongruous, or aberrant to apply the new norms. Apparently, Mr. Zedillo thinks that cultural plurality, already recognized by the Constitution, is an attack on national unity; or perhaps he is attempting to convert the recognition of difference into uniform homology. For its form, as well as for its content, we completely reject this proposal. Not only does it fail to fulfill the San Andres Accords, but it also reduces legitimate rights and contemporary practices of the indigenous peoples, attacks national unity, violates sovereignty and the Constitution, and converts a social achievement, that of finally recognizing the indigenous peoples of Mexico and creating solid bases for the harmonic co-existence of all Mexicans, into a moral, historical, and legal aberration.

Democracy! Liberty! Justice!

>From the mountains of the Mexican southeast.

Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee - General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation

Mexico, January of 1997

[* Note: In Spanish legal terminology, "homologation" is the act of ratifying a proposal or law in such a fashion as to ensure that it corresponds to previously fixed norms.]

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