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Chiapas, Mexico professor speaks at Beloit on exploitation of indigenous people

On Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 12:20 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium, Professor Mariana Hernández spoke about the counter-insurgency in southern Mexico. The event was brought to Beloit by the Autonomous University of Social Movements (AUSM), and organized by Favi Ramirez‘20. Professor Hernández is currently the head professor for the AUSM in Chiapas, Mexico. She teaches bilingual language and cultural courses at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitan and National Pedagogy University in Mexico City. 

Hernández spoke about the long history in Mexico of the suppression and exploitation of indigenous people, much like that of the United States. These indigenous groups make up around fifteen percent of Mexico’s population, and many live in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the most impoverished, and least funded Mexican States. Continued colonization and persecution by the government led to the Zapatista uprising in 1994. The uprising lasted twelve days, and led to hundreds of deaths. Although there was a general ceasefire, and a promise of more autonomy for the indigenous people of the area, the government expanded into many of the areas previously controlled by the Zapatistas. They have also stationed a much stronger military force in the area, and have continued to build bases and other military infrastructure around the most populated places. 

Hernández spoke about how five indigenous regional centers formed in southern Mexico, mainly in Chiapas. Since the uprising, these five groups have grown considerably in size, and are making collective efforts to be self-sustaining. It’s become clear to the people that the government simply won’t provide the most basic services. So, these groups have worked together to build their own economy and their own institutions, to face the demands of health, education and other necessary infrastructure. 

The government has a problem with this; after the Zapatista uprising, they cracked down on any anti-capitalist programs, and they see these groups as a threat to capitalism and the area. According to Hernández, the main interests of the Mexican state are to collect more taxes, and to acquire as much of the indigenous land as possible. In the words of a spokesperson for the indigenous people, “It’s not easy to stand up to the political parties, the bad governments, and the current trickster-in-chief. It is not easy to confront, for 25 years now, the thousands of soldiers and protectors of capitalism who surround us […] We will defend what we have built here, what we are able to show to the people of Mexico and the world as something we, women and men, built ourselves. We are not going to let anyone come destroy it.”

Hernández then discussed one of the largest threats to the area. This threat is the creation of a corridor from Puerto Progreso to Campeche, two highly trafficked port cities, sandwiching Chiapas. This corridor will create a trade route connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean across land, and will allow easier access from central Mexico to the coast. This corridor will also cut through one of the oldest untouched rainforests in Central and South America, as well as huge portions of indigenous lands. The government is spinning this project as a way to fix the economic disparity of the area, a way to provide indigenous farmers the ability to sell crops to a larger market, and the opportunity to create the Mexican equivalent of the Panama Canal. In Hernández’s words, this project is designed for a very different purpose. “This project will not benefit our peoples or our country, nor will it transport our local products. On the contrary, it will mean handing over our territories and our lives to international capitalism,” Hernández said. She also stated the state wants to develop the area for money, to create more sweatshops, and to prevent refugees from getting to the United States. Building a corridor in this area will create a maneuverable strip which the government can easily patrol, making it much more difficult for refugees to move through. The government knows it will find resistance to these changes, so it’s developing the military presence already stationed there, as well as forming a specific military task force to crush any Zapatista resistance to the corridor. 

A primary reason that this project has been allowed to progress for the last twenty years is an effective marketing campaign. The people running this project are appearing progressive and leftist, while doing terrible things to the local people and the environment. The president, who’s personally attached to the project, participates in local indgenous ceremonies for the earth and the people’s prosperity, all while engaging in systematic oppression and environmental destruction. At this point, awareness and global scrutiny are the best hope of stopping this destructive development.

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