President Vicente Fox Calls for Reopening Debate on Diluted Indigenous-Rights Legislation

Article excerpt

After remaining noncommittal for several months, President Vicente Fox has pledged to push Congress to reopen debate on the diluted indigenous-rights legislation that was approved in May. The original initiative, which Fox sent to Congress in December 2000, granted indigenous communities broad rights of self-determination and control over natural resources (see SourceMex, 2000-12-13).

The initiative was diluted in Congress by Fox's Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) and the long-governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), by adding requirements that indigenous communities affected by the new law act in accordance with the Mexican Constitution and state laws (see SourceMex, 2001-05-02).

The bill approved by Congress became law after a majority of state legislatures ratified it in accordance with the Mexican Constitution (see SourceMex, 2001-07-18).

The Chiapas congressional commission (Comision de Concordia y Pacificacion, COCOPA), along with the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) and some dissenting members of the PRI, immediately appealed to Fox to reopen debate. The appeal initially fell on deaf ears, as Fox opted to defend the constitutional right of the legislative branch to pass legislation rather than to pursue efforts to restore some rights that were taken out during the debate in Congress.

Some indigenous-rights advocates accused Fox of quietly accepting changes made by legislators by not lobbying hard for the original version. "It wasn't enough to just have turned in the initiative," said Marina Patricia Jimenez, of the Chiapas-based Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolome de las Casas. "Fox should have been pushing Congress, not the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN)."

Fox has also felt some pressure to make changes from Xochitl Galvez, director of the federal office on indigenous affairs (Oficina para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indigenas). Galvez was appointed by the president.

The president finally changed his stance during a tour of Europe in mid-October, saying he would seek modifications to the legislation in 2002 to restore some rights for indigenous communities in the original bill that were later diluted.

"Some sectors and communities believe that the law fell short," Fox said in Hamburg, Germany. "There is still room for improvement, and this is the democratic exercise that we are willing to promote."

President's announcement draws fire from PRI & PAN

Fox's statements drew strong criticism from members of his party and from the PRI.

"The PAN does not agree with President Vicente Fox with respect to reforming the indigenous law next year, especially since the law has not been fully implemented," said PAN president Luis Felipe Bravo Mena.

The PAN official noted that state governments must be given time to allocate the necessary appropriations in their districts. "The allocation of resources for indigenous communities will not take effect until next year," said Bravo Mena.

PRI leaders took a similar stance, saying there is no valid reason to review the indigenous-rights legislation because the measure was approved in accordance with the procedures prescribed by the Constitution.

"Fox knows perfectly well that there is no possibility of reopening the discussion on the reforms on indigenous rights," said PRI Sen. Manuel Bartlett Diaz, who accused the president of making the statements in Europe primarily for public- relations purposes.

PRI Secretary-General Rodolfo Echeverria Ruiz levied similar criticisms at the president. …