Indigenous peoples' struggle for human rights and autonomy in Chiapas, Mexico


By Allison Hight
U-M Law

"I like to start these presentations by saying that we all want social change, but how we achieve that social change is what matters," began Alejandro Monzón of the Mexico Solidarity Network at a recent lunch talk at Michigan Law.

He went on to explain that his organization works for this change through four goals: solidarity rather than service; compañerismo, not charity; long-haul organizing over single-issue campaigning; and popular education.

Recently, the Fray Bartolomé Human Rights Center (FrayBa) of San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, partnered with Chicago's Mexico Solidarity Network to put together the presentation, "Walking with Subjects of History: Accompanying Indigenous Peoples' Struggle for Autonomy and Human Rights in Chiapas, Mexico."

Together, lead attorney and human rights defender Irma Ilsy Vásquez and study abroad program coordinator and professor Monzón spoke to Michigan students about how their two respective grassroots organizations are promoting human rights in the face of government opposition.

"The mission is to walk alongside and in service of those who are poor, excluded, and organizing-those who are organizing to change their political and economic realities," explained Vásquez.

"We accompany those who come in individuals or collectives who are asking us to walk alongside them."

FrayBa organizes its work into three main axes: rights to land and territory, rights to justice against all forms of repression, and construction of peace in the context of armed conflict. It also prioritizes seven themes where the majority of injustices take place, including torture, forced displacement, and arbitrary deprivation of life and freedom.

As an example of their work, Vásquez told the story of Margarita Martinez, a woman who in 2009 "denounced government authorities in Chiapas for human rights violations and abuses." As a result, she received a barrage of death threats and was forced to move three times in one year to protect her life. Martinez also sought support from international organizations, including FrayBa.

Vásquez explained that FrayBa was able to support Martinez through legal means, as well as by engaging in political action to raise public awareness and by facilitating dialogues with the state and federal government.

Vásquez also gave the audience a broader overview of the human rights violations in Mexico, especially in Chiapas, where 76.2 percent of the population lives in poverty, 80 percent is illiterate, and 48.5 percent does not have enough for basic necessities.

She explained that the war against narcotics, government military operations, and development projects contribute to these statistics by causing rampant internal forced displacement at high rates.

In concluding, Vásquez stated: "When we talk about alternatives to justice, we don't believe that it's going to come from above, from the justice system. There is an alternative where we create our own judicial system that is capable of denouncing human rights violations. There is something that the original peoples have: dignity, memory, truth, and justice. I can't really explain more about this concept of justice because it's not concluded yet. But what I can say is that we have hope that another world is possible and that justice is going to be a part of that alternative world."

The National Lawyers Guild chapter at Michigan Law sponsored the event and brought the speakers to campus. The presentation was given to a packed audience in South Hall.

Published: Mon, May 02, 2016