Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Presidential Candidates Pursue Indian Vote

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Presidential Candidates Pursue Indian Vote

Article excerpt

[The author is a freelance journalist who has written on Mexican political and economic affairs for many years]

As the tightest presidential election in Mexican history hits the homestretch, the front runners are beating the bushes for every vote they can get. This means Mexico's 10 million to 20 million Indians--a constituency ordinarily ignored when it comes to matters of national importance--have suddenly become the center of attention for candidates Francisco Labastida of the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and Vicente Fox Quesada of the center- right opposition Partido Accion Nacional (PAN).

On June 13, Labastida rented 1,000 buses to transport 30,000 residents of indigenous communities to the Otomi Ceremonial Center in a mountainous resort in Mexico state.

Labastida, known as "Hermano Mayor" or "Big Brother" among the Otomis or Nnanhu People, pledged to the audience gathered at the Otomi center that he would continue to provide assistance to indigenous communities via the government's Progresa program. But the PRI candidate carefully avoided the word "autonomy," a concept advocated by the more radical Indian factions, led by the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN) in Chiapas.

Labastida did not have to offer his audience more than a continuation of government handouts. The ruling party, through pork-barrel subsidy programs like Progresa, dominates the indigenous vote and captured 57% of all majority Indian municipalities in the 1994 presidential race.

On the same day that Labastida was asking the Otomis and thousands of other indigenous communities to vote again for the PRI, Fox invited representatives of Mexico's 56 distinct Indian peoples to a forum at the luxurious Fiesta Americana hotel in Mexico City. Only 14 representatives showed up.

Skepticism about Fox's motives is justified. In his speeches on indigenous issues, the PAN candidate has sounded paternalistic and even racist. In one speech, Fox promised that his administration would create an office of Indian affairs, which would be "right next to mine" in the Mexican presidential palace of Los Pinos. In that same speech, Fox said he was committed to providing "what every Indian desires," which is a television set, a Volkswagen Beetle, and a store front.

Fox, Cardenas support San Andres accords

Still, Fox has attempted to draw distinctions with the PRI regarding the conflict in Chiapas. He promises to respect the accords on indigenous rights negotiated by the government's former Chiapas peace negotiator Manuel Camacho Solis and EZLN representatives at San Andres Larrainzar in 1996 (see SourceMex, 1996-03-21). President Ernesto Zedillo has refused to recognize the agreement, which would guarantee limited autonomy for all of Mexico's indigenous communities.

Fox also promises to send to Congress for approval the same version of the San Andres accords that was drawn up by the special Chiapas legislative commission (Comision de Concordia y Pacificacion, COCOPA).

While Fox's support for the San Andres accords is welcomed by some supporters of the EZLN, others are openly skeptical, especially with the PAN candidate's unrealistic promise to settle the conflict "within 15 minutes."

"Fox is an opportunist," said Magda Gomez, an EZLN supporter and former legal director of the government's Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI). "Until now, there has been no place in his marketing schemes for the Indians."

Many EZLN supporters view the positions of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, presidential candidate for the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD), as more in line with the needs of indigenous peoples in Mexico. Cardenas has long supported the San Andres accords.

Cardenas is the only one of the three leading candidates to meet with the EZLN. Of the other presidential candidates, only Camacho, representing the small Partido del Centro Democratico (PCD), has had face-to-face discussions with EZLN leaders in his previous role as the government's chief Chiapas peace negotiator. …

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