Community Self-Organization Against External Imposition (San Carlos Yautepec, Oaxaca)

(Editor’s Note: This short article describes the tension between the autonomous forms of self-organization of Indigenous communities in Oaxaca, and the interests and procedures of the state and its political parties. It details the specific case of the municipality of San Carlos Yautepec, where the state has verified authorities in the community that do not coincide with those freely chosen by the community assembly. This is just one of many examples in Oaxaca and the country, where the state seeks to interfere with municipal and communal self-organization, to fulfill interests foreign to those sought by the communities and municipalities themselves).

The Naming of Authorities by the Indigenous Normative System of San Carlos Yautepec, Oaxaca: Self-Organized Resistance Against External Imposition

By: Parastoo Anita Mesri Hashemi-Dilmaghani

Amongst the various collective rights of Indigenous peoples, the right to free determination and autonomy is foundational—a pillar of the forms of political-social organization that exist in the diverse communities of Oaxaca. Free determination and autonomy imply, among other things, the right to name community authorities (municipal, civil, administrative, religious, communal, etc.) that make up the system of public positions, applying their own norms and procedures, in a general assembly.

In that context, the subject of Indigenous normative systems, a term coined to differentiate between communities governed by an assembly, and those that use the system of political parties to name their authorities, implies the real recognition of a community’s own forms of organizing collective life. This recognition is based on the respect of the right to difference, which is basis of the collective rights of the Indigenous peoples of this country.

As part of the attack against the Indigenous normative systems and communality in Oaxaca—an attack that seems systemic, that is to say, directed by the state and its institutions and other external actors colluding with them—three arguments have emerged. The three arguments have, in the worst-case scenario, a foundation a racist vision of Indigenous communities and their forms of organization, or at best, total ignorance. In addition, they have brought as a consequence the ethnocide and a wave of homogenization in the state that implies a lack of knowledge of legal pluralism.

The first argument is that the Indigenous normative systems, that is to say, the sets of norms and rules that serve as the legal system of the communities, discriminate against women. This argument is totally ignorant of the fact that in the communities governed by Indigenous normative systems, all people are active, and nobody has the luxury of “not participating”, as that which happens in the external world. All must participate in the positions, in the fields, in the arts or in the office, in the communal work projects, in the festivals and collective rituals. Communality is absorbing to the extent that when fulfilling a public position, the help of the entire family is needed, both blood and extended, to be able to fulfill the public commitment.

This reality causes the public positions to be fulfilled by the family unit, for which it doesn’t matter if the name is of the wife or the husband, the daughter or son. To comply, is to name all of those that pertain to the family unit. By doing it well, the person, their family and extensive family are well. More important still, they are considered “active citizens”. That is to say, they fulfill their obligations and therefore have rights.

In addition, it is common for someone from outside the community to ignore all types of public positions that exist inside the community. They usually think that the authorities of the municipality are the only important ones, because they are the only one that also exist in the system of political parties. Thus, they are often the only ones recognized by those not familiar with community organization.

Apart from the apparent “discrimination” against women, the second common theme of the detractors of communality and the community juridical systems is that of the “rights” of the residents in the surrounding municipalities. In this area, with all clarity and firmness, the Supreme Court of the Nation has dictated in diverse resolutions related to the community of San Sebastián Tutla that residents from outside of the El Rosario subdivision, although being the majority, do not have such rights unless it is within the normative system and system of public positions of the community. If they want to participate, they must start by fulfilling positions of security and demonstrate their respect and disposition to serve the community.

The third issue commonly mobilized against the Indigenous normative systems is the supposed discrimination on part of the communities known as “municipal seats” against those known as “agencies”. The above, like the other two, is a simple attack on the community principles and values disguised as arguments of the official system of rights and political parties.

The most important principle in a large municipality like San Carlos Yautepec, which is located between the Istmo and Sierra Sur regions and made up of Zapoteco, Chontal and Ayuujk communities, is respect between the communities. Each community has their territory (therefore, there are 23 agrarian communities with their respective commissions of communal goods), their assembly as maximum authority, their system of public positions, their collective work projects, their collective festivals and rituals. These are the elements of communality. Therefore, communality is lived in each community according to their language, geography (there are communities lower in the mountains with a hotter climate like San Carlos Yautepec, and communities clearly rural), their culture, their cosmovision and their priorities.

An “election” process using a form foreign to the practices of the community, like that which was imposed at the end of the year by Institute for Elections and Citizen Participation of Oaxaca (IEEPCO), without consulting the community through the general community assembly in a previous, free and informed manner, implied for the community of San Carlos Yautepec, municipal and district seat, a radical change to its community norms and forms of governing itself. It resembled completely the system of political parties, against the collective rights of the community. The foregoing, based in the supposed participation of the agencies.

If San Carlos Yautepec were governed by the system of political parties, it would almost certainly try to fulfill the provisions of the Organic Municipal Law, which dictates that the municipal seats convoke the naming of the authorities of the agencies, who are the “auxiliary authorities”. However, in the history of the municipality, San Carlos Yautepec never has done that because of the respect between communities which demands the mutual respect between all—respect between their assemblies, territories, natural resources, public positions and authorities.

In addition, San Carlos Yautepec distributes the resources that it receives between all of the communities of the municipality. All of the agreements regarding this and other subjects of mutual importance must be the result of respectful dialogue between assemblies and authorities of the communities, without the intervention of external forces, the government, and much less, political parties.

Currently, there exists a mayor appointed by the community in the general community assembly. There also exists a group of people “recognized” by IEEPCO as municipal authorities who were elected by the process mentioned above, organized without the consultation of San Carlos Yautepec through their assembly. These authorities work from an unknown location, apparently in the City of Oaxaca, where they receive money that pertains to all of the communities of the municipality.

The Electoral Tribunal of Oaxaca confirmed the validation of these authorities on part of the IEEPCO, as did the Regional Court of Xalapa of the TEPJF. At this moment, the case is in the hands of the highest electoral authority in the country, the Supreme Court of the TEPJF. This is the case known as Recourse of Reconsideration (REC) 388/2018 (SUP-REC-388/2018. In this matter, the community of San Carlos Yautepec asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the decision of IEEPCO that approved this anti-constitutional and anti-conventional (that is to say against international conventions) process of elections. Furthermore, the community asked that the mayor named by the general community assembly beneath the norms and procedures that always have been used by the community be verified as the valid community authority. The matter is in the hands of the judge from Baja California, Mónica Aralí Soto Fregoso.

The president of the Commission of Public Goods of San Carlos Yautepec and the sole constitutional mayor submitted a report to the judges of the Supreme Court, in which they detailed relevant information that should be taken into consideration to resolve the matter. That is, according to the guidelines of the Action Guide for judges in material of Indigenous Electoral Rights, a publication of the same Supreme Court. In addition, the Centro Profesional Indígena de Asesoría, Defense y Traducción (CEPIADET), A.C. presented an amicus curia, or writing from a friend of the court, likewise describing information of vital important to dictate a resolution in respect to the collective rights of the community of San Carlos Yautepec, and their form of organization and community norms.

A matter like that which is happening in San Carlos Yautepec is of vital importance because it permits us to analyze the behaviors of the judges and whether they make decisions based in the real respect for cultural diversity and legal pluralism or not. It is also a glance into the access to justice that exists in Mexico for the communities that defend their collective rights in spite of so much adversity and racism against communality, and so much desire to homogenize everyone to the system of political parties.

The actions of IEEPCO have traditionally been based in the agenda of homogenization. When there is a process of “extraordinary election”, because someone challenged the process of naming authorities in the assembly, IEEPCO makes decisions behind closed doors completely violating the autonomy of the communities. This cannot continue, in particular, if we want to break once and for all with internal colonialism and discrimination toward one’s own community.

The eyes of all of the Oaxacan communities are fixed on the Supreme Court of TEPJF and the judges that integrate it. A favorable result is sought for the community of San Carlos Yautepec that serves as precedent for all of the Oaxaca communities.