Colonialism Without End

Indigenous protesters at Cop 26 in Glasgow November 2022.

by Hermann Bellinghausen

Outside of a few academic debates, one taboo theme in Mexico, and the continent in general, is that of internal colonialism. Accepting that it exists, the majority societies fear, could undermine the Nation, that sometimes amoeboid entity that makes us one country, with defined borders, sovereignty, language and a flag. The American nation states, from Canada to Argentina, inherit the same deep colonization of the European empires, including the population of many regions by African descendants as a product of the slave trade by the colonizers. 

Since the 19th century, the countries of the hemisphere began a progressive dispossession that, under national rather than colonial arguments, has never been interrupted. It takes on distinct guises, changing with historical junctures. In some places, it is a stark and defiant fait accompli: the indigenous peoples survive only because they want to, because they don’t deserve territorial or linguistic rights, let alone political ones, except for crumbs (particularly in the United States and Brazil).

This situation, which we began to understand just half a century ago thanks to Franz Fanon, took a dramatic turn with the not-figurative awakening of the indigenous peoples from 1970 on, accompanied by an unusual demographic upturn. This historic cycle runs across nations, with Mexico in first place, but also others with a significant indigenous population. It is expressed in demands for autonomy and governmental, territorial, linguistic and even ceremonial campesino self-determination.

Indigenous communalism clashes with Nation States, be they progressive or reactionary, neoliberal, dictatorial or revolutionary. Neither in the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, nor Bolivia of Evo Morales, nor Ecuador with Lucio Gutiérrez and the outlaw governments stopped the colonization over these peoples, some very extensive in America (Mayas, Nahuas, Aymaras, Wayuu, Quechuas, and Mapuche).

The historical inertia of ceaseless invasion and dispossession is such that so far in the 21st century, it is not slowing nor does its name dare to be spoken, even though international fashions and governments are inebriated with inclusive discourses. Majority societies, including the democratic and progressive ones take for granted their right of invasion, in accordance with their laws and for the good of the homeland. We are witnessing a case of hereditary blindness (with its points of light, such as post-revolutionary agrarian reform or certain aspects of indigenism and liberation theology). From Emperor Iturbide1 to Benito Juárez2 and successors culminating in Porfirio Díaz, the invasion, dispossession (and extermination, as the case may be) of indigenous peoples was so natural as to be almost invisible. Throughout the PRI century and what followed, it would take less brutal routes. 

The cynical investments of Fox, Calderón and Peña Nieto sustained rhetorics and intentions distinct  from the authoritarian paternalism of López Obrador, but in this case they don’t turn out to be very different, neither sparing consultations, electoral winks, or economic enticements; nor the force of law. In addition, violence abounds which, as one knows, has many arms and names: not only the legal violence and its repressive powers, but also the paramilitaries that never exist for the State (from Acteal in 1997 to Aldama in 2022), criminal gangs frequently allied with political power, white guards normalized as security companies that the investors hire to protect the concessions granted by the State. 

Mining, water and oil extraction and other national necessities have carte blanche with AMLO, as they did in the recent past, which is being denied. They want to convince us that the apocalyptic blades of the Spanish and French in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the establishment of an industrial, real estate, and railroad corridor that splits it, are not the same. Both this great project and the so-called Mayan train and its Jiménez Pons3-type messengers with all of its tourist hype embody the most recent version of the never-ending internal colonialism.

The gold can be Canadian, the silver belong to Slim4, Larrea and the dead Bailleres, but oil and lithium belong to the nation. From the perspective of the indigenous people, it doesn’t change a thing. When, under the theoretical guidance of Arturo Warman, their demands for autonomy were branded threats to national integrity, the government preferred to betray the Accords of San Andrés. Today, the narco and the great migration of the poor do more damage to this national integrity than if indigenous self-determination had been legalized.

This inertia has serious environmental, cultural, food, health and coexistence implications. Internal colonialism, always denied, unwittingly opens the doors to an earthly and social disintegration: at this stage of globalization and climate change, it even threatens the integrity it claims to defend.

This article was published in La Jornada on February 21st, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/02/21/opinion/a08a1cul English interpretation by Chiapas Support Committee Oakland and Schools for Chiapas.

Footnotes

  1.  Augustín de Iturbide was a Mexican Army General and politician, who during the Mexican Revolution, took control of Mexico City on September 27th, 1821, in a decisive victory. After securing independence from Spain, he was named Emperor of Mexico, a post which he occupied only briefly before his subsequent exile, and later execution in 1824.
  2. Benito Juarez was the 26th president of Mexico and the 1st of indigenous descent. The controversies during his presidency were numerous, but Juarez was a fervent Mexican nationalist, even as he looked to the U.S. as a model for development.
  3. Architect Rogelio Jiménez Pons, became general Director of Fonatur, Mexico’s national trust for the promotion of tourism, until early in 2022. Many of the false consultations with indigenous communities on the so-called Mayan Train took place during his term, and the project has been met with continuous resistance. He was removed from his position by AMLO, who claimed that he didn’t apply himself to the project of “transformation.”
  4. Carlos Slim is a Mexican business magnate whose corporate conglomerate spans numerous industries across the Mexican economy, of which includes education, health care, industrial manufacturing, transportation, real estate, media, energy, hospitality, entertainment, high-technology, retail, sports and financial services.