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MEXICO: Pitfalls of San Andres Accords

George Gtayson, the specialist on contemporary Mexico who will speak at the WAIS conference, writes:

"I have just returned from Mexico, where I found people animatedly debating the merits of Fox's approach versus Marcos's strategy--without recognizing the pitfalls inherent in the San Andres Accords." George's observations coincide with my comments Especially am I concerned by the use of the word "Indian". All the many "Indians" interviewed on TV speak very good Spanish, and have certainly been accultured and become ordinary Mexicans. Some are probably mesrizo. George has written the following report:

Unanticipated Consequences of San Andrés Accords

Despite President Vicente Fox's good-faith peace overtures, Marcos continues to flail his "bourgeois" regime. Yet Mexican officials remain upbeat about reaching an accord with the EZLN. There are, however, aspects of the San Andrés pact which, if not fundamentally revised, could boomerang on Mexico's nascent administration:* While sounding benign, "local autonomy" can enable the strong to suppress the weak in a state riven with myriad feuds: the EZLN versus its foes, Protestants versus Catholics, progressives versus conservative Catholics, landowners versus the landless, Mexicans versus Guatemalans, and Fox enthusiasts versus militants in the recently vanquished Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Self-determination can create a "state within a state," as municipalities demand control of minerals, timber, and water resources located within their boundaries. Even if handled responsibly in Chiapas, autonomy there would excite cries for similar treatment in the nine other states where Indians constitute 14 percent or more of the population--a process that skeptics insist would "Balkanize" the country. Adoption of Indigenous practices--called "uses and customs"--could find elders dictating how villagers vote, as well as continued male dominance over females at a time when Mexico is making unprecedented democratic advances.

With respect to the last point, Xóchitl Gálvez, who pulled herself up from abject poverty to become a high-tech star, decried the San Andrés compact before Fox named her to head a new Indian affairs office. The fair-skinned daughter of a Otomí father and mestizo mother, Gálvez, 37, decried the racist assumptions imbedded in the accords. "How much Indian blood must flow through your veins in order to belong to one Mexico or the other?" she asked tartly. "Or if you are 100% Indian you must respect the proposed law and, if not, you don't have to?"

Apart from the polarizing effects of the San Andrés provisions, Marcos's current visit to the capital affords an irresistible occasion for firebrands in universities, squatter groups, and labor organizations to hurl their grievances at the government. The city's populist mayor, leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), has already turned sit-ins from an art form into an exact science. And the SME Electrical Workers are using the Zapatistas's appearance to thwart a critically needed energy reform.

Foreign NGOs, local churchmen, and PRD rabble-rousers have applauded Fox's lofting Chiapas to the top of his agenda. Meanwhile, average Mexicans cite jobs, higher salaries, improved health care, quality schools, and safe streets as higher priorities."

Ronald Hilton - 3/10/01