Dialogue with indigenous representatives in Chiapas

A question and answer session was organized on the morning of 3 November between the participants in the conference and representatives of the 15 recognized indigenous peoples in Chiapas, many of them being mayors of indigenous municipalities. The meeting took place in the presence of the Governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines Guerrero, the Secretary General of the IPU, Anders B. Johnsson, and Senator Andrés Galván Rivas (Mexico). Dialogue was facilitated by Dr. Blanca Ruth Esponda Espinoza for the indigenous peoples and by Mrs. Otilia Lux de Coti for the Conference participants.

The questions concerned mainly the following subjects:

  • The implementation of ILO Convention 169 in Chiapas
  • Educational issues, in particular whether or not there was bilingual and multicultural education, whether financial assistance (scholarships) was provided to indigenous children and whether such assistance was extended for the entire school curriculum; whether there was an obligation for indigenous professionals having had the benefit of a scholarship to serve their communities for some time;
  • The way the representation of indigenous peoples was organised; their relationship with the provincial governmental authorities
  • The ownership of natural resources and land restitution
  • The utilisation of genetically engineered seeds
  • The impact of climate change
  • The role of indigenous women
  • The fight against poverty and for the creation of jobs and productivity
  • The organisation of the health system: what was done to promote indigenous doctors and nurses, to establish intercultural hospitals, to valorise indigenous plants and medicine
  • The way the security within indigenous territories and for indigenous peoples was organised

The following answers were provided:

All speakers stressed that the present Government of Chiapas was an ally and was doing much to ensure in particular basic services. The Government received information from the most remote corners of Chiapas and was therefore aware of the problems. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had been enshrined in the Constitution of the State of Chiapas and many programmes put in place to achieve them. One of the speakers gave a detailed overview of those programmes. A third of the budget was directed to the 28 poorest municipalities. Indigenous peoples made up the majority of the population in 27 of these municipalities. Speakers also mentioned the valuable contribution of the United Nations, in particular the UNDP. The general feeling was that indigenous peoples were listened to, not protected.

as regards the implementation of ILO Convention 169: all indigenous speakers stressed that decisions concerning IP were taken on the basis of dialogue with the governing authorities. Indigenous peoples were always consulted before decision-taking. Municipalities were spending much time in meetings and working sessions – recently a three day working session of municipalities had taken place.

One of the speakers mentioned a university research project concerning ways and means to protect and maintain multiculturalism in Chiapas. The project provided for the consultation of young people of the various regions, of adults and children.  Solutions were elaborated by the indigenous peoples themselves, the government provided the methodology.

as regards the utilisation of transgenic seeds: there were no transgenic plants in Chiapas. The main food was maize criolla and the government had initiated programs to study it and to strengthen scientific knowledge in this regard.

as regards land issues: 95% of the land was in indigenous hands. As in all other domains, dialogue was the preferred way of decision making with the result that all parties were satisfied and great advances in development were made, although there was still much to do.

as regards education: school was compulsory from 6 to 12 years and the first and second grades were free of charge. Teachers had to undergo multicultural education and there was an effort to ensure that teachers were speaking the language of the indigenous peoples they were teaching (which at present was not always the case). There was also a school to train indigenous teachers but it was insufficient given the demand. As regards scholarships, they were granted throughout the educational cycle, including for studies abroad.

as regards political parties and participation of indigenous peoples and women in government: there was no identity-based political party in Chiapas. Indigenous people who wanted to stand in election had to do so on the list of mainstream political parties.  Electoral lists had to provide for 50% of women candidates. As regards the selection of indigenous candidates, men and women of a municipality nominated their candidates who then presented their programme (proposals) and, on this basis, were elected by the entire population of the municipality (Asamblea general). Decisions were taken collectively and not individually. It  was stressed that the IP attending the meeting belonged to all existing political parties.

-as regards the health system: the increased budgetary means for indigenous peoples had led to improvements in the health system, in terms of more hospitals (17 new hospitals, 138 new health centers and 420 more hospital beds), clean water provision and maternal health. Speakers stressed that the Government promoted traditional midwives (20 additional midwives were now active) which had already led to a decrease of maternal mortality. One intercultural hospital existed. Also, in many houses, the mud floors had been replaced.

as regards the fight against poverty: speakers stressed that the government was putting in place programmes to create jobs, including through the use of Chiapas’ natural resources.  The federal deputy for Oaxaca who participated in the meeting mentioned in this respect the example of the exploitation of wood in Oaxaca which had led to the establishment of 10 stores at the national level.

In his speech at the end of the meeting, Governor Juan Sabines Guerrero affirmed that he was at the service not of a political party, but of the people. He mentioned that the situation of the indigenous peoples had come to the fore through the Zapatist revolution of 1994, which had led to the San Andres Agreement. The objective of his Government was to implement the provisions of that Agreement. The strategy to accomplish this was through the MDGs. He then mentioned the various initiatives that his Government had already taken to this end and the programmes that were under way.

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