Effects of the Indigenous Movements to the Politics of Modern Latin America Essay


The twentieth and the twenty-first centuries have been characterized by the emergence of indigenous movements in Latin America. Analysts and scholars have been engaging in thorough research to establish the real identity of these groups due to their demands.

These groups refuse to be included in the existing political and economic discourses, something that have given the administrations of Latin America a rough time.

Research shows that indigenous groups represent an approximated forty-five thousand people whose main objective is to institute legal and constitutional amendments that would allow their recognition in society.

These groups claim that they should be allowed to come up with their own administrative units that would govern their territories since they feel that they are misrepresented in the current governments. In other words, they push the government to grant them their rights that have been denied for years.

Just like any other freedom fighting group or a group seeking justice, indigenous groups have to go confront economic and political processes, which are the main causes of their disadvantaged position (Kearney 89).

Political and economic policies that the governments of Latin America put in place deny the indigenous people the right to own land, as well as their sovereignty. Globalization and the developments in the international system pose great challenges to the indigenous people of Latin America.

For instance, the emergence of multinational, which threaten to take away their land, is an issue of concern that forces them to form formidable social movements. These multinationals are in need of extra land for exploration of oil, gas, practice of agriculture, and acquisition of other national resources (Harvey 115).

This paper talks about the effects of the indigenous movements to the politics of modern Latin America. The paper discusses these effects through examining the ongoing activities of indigenous movements in Mexico.

To examine some of these effects effectively, the paper will first talk about the history of indigenous movements, the major grievances of the groups, some the basic features, and the measures that these indigenous groups have put in place to mitigate the problems affecting them.

History of Indigenous Movements

Studies show that the indigenous groups started demanding for the rights in 1960s owing to the global national liberation processes that started in the United States and spread to other parts of the world.

In the African continent and the Asian region, indigenous groups started demanding for their independence in matters related to self-governance. The indigenous groups noted that their freedom had to be granted since they had the capacity to manage their affairs, including the problems affecting them.

In Africa, the indigenous movements were in the form of revolutions whereby some few individuals led the movements with the use of arms.

In early 1970s, the indigenous people in Latin America demanded for representation in government since subsequent regimes implemented policies that were detrimental to the lives of many locals (Rus and Collier 89).

The indigenous groups resorted to the formation of social movements to put pressure to the oligarchs to concede power. The main problem affecting the indigenous people was forceful evacuation from their homes since multinational corporations were in need of their natural resources.

The first social movement was under the banner of worker-compesino alliance. Under such alliances, the locals demanded for cultural recognition since the government never cared for these displaced groups.

In 1980s, the demands of the indigenous people were more specific as compared to those of a number of social movements. Their main concern was the right to self-government and administration of justice.

Moreover, they wanted the government to respect their territory and allow them to exercise their democratic rights of electing their own leaders. Through this, the indigenous groups noted that they would manage their own affairs if given the chance to exercise self-rule.

This would as well allow them to own property and even engage in business. After 1980, the demands of the indigenous movements were very different from those of other social movements, which were fighting for inclusion in government.

As social movements were fighting for involvement in governmental matters, the indigenous groups were demanding for nation-states meaning that they wanted to secede from the main land. They were questioning the structure of power in the state since no indigenous group was represented in government.

Since the main government always sidelined them, they were not after forming a government of national unity, but instead they demanded to be given the power to form their own governments, which would be autonomous.

The groups were against the idea that they are the minority group, but instead argued that they were the real people of Mexico and they should have their own government.

In this regard, they should not have the same government as that of other groups because their culture and history is very different from those of other groups existing in Mexico (Santín 65).

By demanding self-government, the indigenous groups in Mexico were of the idea that they have the right to determine their own destiny meaning that they should not be given delegated authority.

Through the formation of their government, the indigenous people of Mexico would achieve their interests without necessarily bothering the national government.

In 1989, the international labor organization designed some of the policies that encouraged the indigenous people to demand for their right. Convention 169 demanded that the indigenous and tribal people were to be involved in the management of state affairs regarding employment.

The international law on labor recognizes the existence of the minorities and the indigenous people. Moreover, it also distinguishes the territories, the legal systems, and the administrative units set by the indigenous people. This law gave the indigenous people an advantage as regards to the demand for self-governance.

The locals should identify the most viable economic strategies and apply them to improve their standards of living. The law states that the central government or any other external power should not force the locals to engage in economic processes that do not support their culture.

Apart from the international law that recognizes the rights of the indigenous people, the regional laws also respect the views of the locals. The locals should not be dragged into supporting economic or political policies that do not match their socio-cultural life (Stavenhagen 81).

Major Grievances

In Mexico, a number of groups including the Chiapas and Mayans have risen up to fight for their rights claiming that the government is doing little to protect their interests. In early 1990s, armed gangs confronted the government for supporting neo-liberalism.

In other parts of Latin America, such as Columbia, other indigenous groups led by U’wa people were willing to lose their lives in case the government allowed the oil companies to enter their territories without their permission.

In 2000, the indigenous groups in Bolivia lobbied the legislature to terminate the term of the sitting president since he was suspected of supporting multinational organizations, which were accused of rendering the locals landless.

This means that the grievances of the indigenous people in Latin America are concerned with resource allocation. In particular, the locals are more concerned with the activities of the multinational corporations who use the government to deprive them of their rights.

Multinational corporations are given access to exploit the forests and the local land in search of natural resources such as oil and timber. This forces the indigenous communities to seek alternative land since their ancestral land is taken away.

In 2002, the Inter-American Development Bank instituted some policies that would isolate the indigenous people economically. Plan Puebla Panamá was a free trade policy that would allow the free movement of people and goods.

This would definitely give other traders undue advantage, which would mean that the indigenous people would not have adequate opportunities in the economy (Gutmann 34).

Since the indigenous people could not allow this to happen, they organized various demonstrations to force their respective governments to withdraw their memberships in the union.

Some analysts would argue that the opposition to the FTAA came from students and professionals, but the reality is that indigenous groups were more opposed to the formation.

The argument of the indigenous people was that the trade arrangement among various regional governments would not benefit since they did not have equal opportunities in terms of academics and capital resources.

Those to benefit in the labor market under the new arrangement would be those from developed countries such as Canada and the United States. The indigenous people are mostly marginalized, impecunious, and uninformed implying that they cannot match the skills that people from North America possess.

In 2002, the CIA suggested that the influence of the indigenous groups was posing a new challenge to the stability of the region. In fact, the report noted that the activities of the indigenous groups were meant to increase owing to the global networks reinforced by international human rights groups, as well as ecologists.

One wonders why the indigenous groups are against the new trend in the international system, which is related to regionalism.

There is a popular belief that increased foreign investment encourages economic development in the country. However, foreign investments rely on exploitation of natural resources, which is highly contested by the indigenous communities (Nash 76).

Due to foreign investments, pollution in Mexico is inevitable while forests are being depleted. Indigenous communities are the only ones sitting on natural resources, which is the main target of foreign companies.

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the IDB have always encouraged privatization of some of the communal resources owned by indigenous communities.

The Breton Hood organizations come up with some of the policies that affect the normal lives of the locals since they encourage private ownership of property. In this regard, the rights, sovereignty, and the territoriality of the indigenous people are under threats.

The locals depend on their natural resources for survival since the main economic activity is agriculture. They cannot afford to lose agricultural land to international private investors whose major aim is to expatriate resources to their home countries.

The indigenous groups have come up with some of the strongest human groups to defend what rightfully belong to them. In fact, some groups have gone a notch higher to suggest some of the economic options that would put off foreigners from admiring their natural resources.

In this regard, the sovereignty of the national government is always under threat, forcing them to adopt policies aimed at incorporating the indigenous groups into governmental decision-making processes (Leyva 78).

Features of the Indigenous Movements

Even though some scholars believe that the word indigenous is misleading, it has always been used to refer to those categories that feel their culture is not respected in any political system.

Others view it as an ethnic group with distinct culture. Indigenous movements are characterized by two major themes, including political consciousness and political actions aimed at liberation.

The indigenous groups have developed unique identify mainly because of subordination and subjugation as witnessed in the political systems. Therefore, they aspire to force the government to listen to their grievances through application of force.

Another feature that distinguishes indigenous groups is the application of Marxist ideas in interpreting their situation. Marx noted that the interest of the rich in society is to acquire governmental power and subjugate the poor.

Indigenous movements concur with the ideas of Marx since the central government has never provided equal opportunities that would uplift the standards of the locals. Therefore, they aim at restructuring the existing social structure to reflect the interests of all, including the minority (Lynn 80).

According to indigenous groups, globalization serves to extend the interests of the ruling class because it does not provide chances for the poor. Multinational organizations engage in massive production without considering the plight of the poor.

Based on Marx’s class analysis, the indigenous people will one day form a movement that would overthrow the existing status quo and institute a social structure that caters for the interests of all people. The capitalists are represented in central government meaning that the indigenous people cannot rely on the state for solutions.

In other words, they believe that the state is a property of the ruling class because state machineries are always used to intimidate the indigenous groups. For instance, the locals are often harassed when they attempt to demonstrate against the idea of exploiting the natural resources.

The elected leaders in government do not represent the interests of the people, but instead they represent the wishes of foreigners and multinational corporations.

Based on this idea, the indigenous can determine their own destiny by uniting against the common enemy, which include the central government (Van der Haar 112). This idea encourages the indigenous groups to engage the government in constant conflicts.

Studies show that indigenous groups have regained their power as far as the management of state affairs is concerned. They are now considered the major state actors before they force the government to change its domestic and foreign policy.

Indigenous groups are against globalization, even though the government of Mexico supports it. Indigenous groups are always the leading opponents of status quo whereby they demand for an economically just society. Indigenous movements are known for demanding a number of changes.

One of the demands is that the international law should be adjusted to reflect the wishes of the poor. All laws related to global trade should be reviewed because they do not benefit the poor in the global society.

In this regard, they support convention 169, which states that the poor locals have the right of determining how their resources would be used. Domestically, they demand that the state should design policies aiming at liberating the indigenous people from the ongoing problems brought about by globalization (Martínez 21).

Multinational corporations are polluting the environment yet the government is doing nothing to stop them.

A law should be designed, which prohibits foreigners from exploiting the local people.

The third demand is that the indigenous people should be granted their rights regarding sovereignty and territoriality meaning that they should be allowed to form their own governments that would oversee the exploration and distribution of natural resources.

The fifth demand of all indigenous groups is that the central government should withdraw the military from the zones they occupy and ensure that peace prevails. This would allow the locals to engage in commerce and other economic activities (Lynn 826).

The presence of the military in their zones is an economic impediment to the realization of their goals. Since the central government has always advocated for policies aiming at displacing the locals, a law should be designed, which would illegalize displacement of people.

Moreover, the central government should stop threatening the indigenous people with military attacks and fumigation.

Finally, the government of Mexico should respect the UN declarations giving the indigenous people the right to coexist. These are the major concerns of the indigenous people, which have always brewed controversies over years (Vlachova 98).

Strategies Employed by Indigenous Movements

Indigenous movements have ensured that the locals are sensitized to form strong local councils, which oversees the exploration processes. These councils force the government to consult the locals before implementing some of the policies.

In Mexico, there are various groups including the Council of Nahua Peoples of the Alto Balsas, the Council of Tlapaneco Peoples of the Guerrero Mountains, the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus (UCIRI), the Chinanteco Indigenous Council, and the Traditional Council of Indigenous Peoples of the state of Sonora.

All these groups aim at safeguarding the interests of the locals in Mexico at the council level. At the provincial level, indigenous movements have ensured that the interests of the locals are also well catered for.

Indigenous groups are able to influence the national politics through provincial councils because they are more diversified (Lee 30).

Through the provincial councils, a number of national councils have been formed, which are mostly the result of the mergers between provincial councils. In Mexico, National Indigenous Plural Assembly for Autonomy (ANIPA) is one of the national bodies in charge of overseeing the interests of the indigenous communities.

It has achieved a lot, even though it experiences a number of challenges. Other groups fighting for the rights of the indigenous in Mexico include the human rights groups, which operate globally and regionally.

Studies show that feminist organizations have also contributed a lot in ensuring that the indigenous people achieve their objectives (Puechguirbal 15). However, feminist groups are not yet well developed. The formation of the production associations is viewed as landmark in the fight for independence.

The associations are determined to ensure that the indigenous people improve their economic standards in order to catch up with the rest of the world.

Works Cited

Gutmann, Matthew. The Romance of Democracy: Compliant Defiance in Contemporary Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Print.

Harvey, Neil. The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. London: Duke University Press, 1998. Print.

Kearney, Michael. Regional Impacts of U.S.-Mexican Relations. La Jolla: University of California. Print.

Lee, Van., “Understanding Ethnic Politics: The Role of External Variables in Brazil and Colombia,” Airpower Journal, 3.1 (1998): 30-89. Print.

Leyva, Solano, and Ascencio, Franco. Lacandonia al filo del agua. Mexico City: Fondo de la Cultura Económica, 1996. Print.

Lynn, Stephen. “Redefined Nationalism in Building a Movement for Indigenous Autonomy in Mexico.” Journal of Latin American Anthropology, 3.1 (1997): 72–101. Print.

Lynn, Stephen. “The Construction of Indigenous Suspects: Militarization and the Gendered and Ethnic Dynamics of Human Rights Abuse in Southern Mexico.” American Ethnologist, 26.4 (2000): 822–842. Print.

Martínez, Carmen. “The Making of Vulnerabilities: Indigenous Day Labourers in Mexico’s Neoliberal Agriculture.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 11 (2004): 215-239. Print.

Nash, June. Mayan Visions: The Quest for Autonomy in an Age of Globalization. London: Routledge, 2001.

Puechguirbal, Nancy. Women and War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28.4 (2003):1273-1290. Print.

Rus, Jan, and Collier, george. Mayan Lives, Mayan Utopias: The Indigenous Peoples of Chiapas and the Zapatista Rebellion. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003. Print.

Santín, Leticia. Citizenship, Political Culture and State Transformation in Latin America. Amsterdam: Dutch University Press and El Colegio de Michoacán, 2005. Print.

Stavenhagen, Rodolfol. Indigenous Rights and Human Rights in Latin America. New York: Colegio de México, 1985. Print.

Van der Haar, Gemma. Land Reform and the Constitution of Community in the Tojolabal Highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers, 2004. Print.

Vlachova, Biason. Women in an Insecure World: Violence against Women—Facts, Figures and Analysis. Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 21 (2005): 109-119.

Effects of the Indigenous Movements to the Politics of Modern Latin America

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