Indigenous Communities Boycott Elections

September 30, 2011

Two indigenous communities in the violence-torn Mexican state of Michoacan will not participate in the state elections set for November 13. Spokespersons for the Nahua community of Osutla and the Purepecha community of Cheran reiterated this week their intentions of boycotting the vote.

In a communiqué, representatives of Osutla declared they will not permit the installation of polling stations and instead choose their leaders based on traditional indigenous customs. Situated in a coastal zone dominated by organized crime, Ostula is embroiled in a land ownership conflict that’s resulted in the deaths or disappearances of at least 16 community members this year alone, according to Professor Maria del Carmen Ventura Patino, a researcher with the Colegio de Michoacan.

Landlocked Cheran is immersed in a similar conflict with organized crime groups, though the immediate point of contention is the illegal logging that’s left the community’s forests devastated, according to town leaders.

Since last April, the 18,000-member community has been in a state of resistance. In a popular uprising, townspeople sacked a mayor from the PRI political party, dismissed the police force, barricaded the entrances and exits to the community and imposed a midnight curfew for security purposes.

“Cheran’s defense of its forests not only represents respect for the environment and natural resources, but also the defense of collective life and its reproduction as a community, its right to life and to its culture,” Professor Ventura recently wrote. “The communal decision to organize, putting up barricades, posting guards and patrols, in which all participate-men, women and children-makes us aware of a collective cohesion…”

Cheran’s resistance leaders have prohibited the consumption of alcohol and drugs, as well as the operation of political parties. Leaders of both Cheran and Ostula say the consumption of drugs and liquor combined with the activities of political parties have fomented individualism, family division, organized crime and chaos.

Though living under siege-like conditions, Cheran’s resisters have received support and solidarity from poet Javier Sicilia’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, Mexican non-governmental organizations and sympathizers in Spain, Chile and other nations.

On November 13, voters in Michoacan will be asked to cast ballots for state and municipal officer-holders. The three contenders for the governor’s seat include Fausto Vallejo (PRI), Silvano Aureoles Conejo (PRD) and Maria Calderon Hinojosa (PAN). Maria “Cocoa” Calderon is the sister of Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Besides being the home state of the Calderons, Michoacan is very significant in Mexico’s current political chess game since it is one of the strategic places where violence between criminal bands began gyrating into war during the middle part of the last decade and became the launching pad where President Calderon commenced his so-called drug war back in December 2006.

Historically, Michoacan has also been one of the top sending states of migrants to the US. In 2007, Michoacan became the first Mexican entity to allow migrants the opportunity to vote in a state election by mail.

Like other recent Mexican state elections, the November 13 contest in Michoacan is widely viewed as a barometer for next year’s presidential and congressional elections. Leaders of Cheran, meanwhile, are urging other, nearby Purepecha communities to boycott the state elections.

Criminal violence continues staining the soil of the impoverished state on a daily basis. This week, leaders of the PRI and PVEM parties disclosed that their candidates in at least four municipalities were forced to cancel bids for office because of threats including, in one case, a kidnapping.

Reports from the federal Public Safety Secretariat (SSP) recently warned that one-third of Michoacan’s municipalities could fall into the clutches of organized crime after the votes were tallied up from the November 13 balloting. The federal authorities asserted that the state capital of Morelia and the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas, an important hub of the China trade, were high on a list of 36 at-risk municipalities.

Posting on the Mexico City newsweekly Proceso’s website, a writer identified as Sofia expressed incredulity at the SSP reports. “I don’t think (organized crime control) is a risk,” Sofia wrote. “It’s a reality.”

Additional sources: Proceso/Apro, September 28, 2011. La Jornada, September 28, 2011. Article by Ernesto Martinez Elorriga. La Jornada (Michoacan edition), June 27 and August 6, 2011. Articles by Viridiana Lopez and Maria del Carmen Ventura Patino. 

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S. -Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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