The Destruction of the Earth is Reaching Its Limits: Interview with Carlos Gonzalez

Dante Anaya Saucedo interviews Carlos González García, member of the National Indigenous Council.

In 1996, the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) was formed with the aim of being the home of all indigenous peoples: a space for reflection and solidarity to strengthen themselves, with their own forms of organization, representation and decision-making. In this interview, Carlos González García – member of the CNI – makes an assessment of the first three years of the current government, presents his perspective on the increase in violence, militarization, megaprojects and their implications for the communities, and talks about what is on the horizon for the CNI (National Indigenous Council).

Dante Anaya Saucedo (DAS): February 20 marked three years since the murder of Samir Flores Soberanes in Amilcingo, Morelos. If the six-year term of Felipe Calderón began with the “declaration of war” on organized crime, perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say that, for the peoples and communities defending their territory against megaprojects, this six-year term began with this brutal act. What have these three years been like for the peoples, communities and neighborhoods that make up the CNI?

Carlos González García (CGG): These three years have been, on the one hand, a continuity in the neoliberal policies of dispossession, violence, militarization and paramilitarization experienced in the previous six years by native peoples and communities. On the other hand, there has been an intensification of claims, pressure and force used by large companies to try to appropriate the territories. And this can be observed and is visible with the forced implementation – in a brutal manner – of the Morelos Integral Project (PIM), which has included, among other things, the painful death of comrade Samir Flores, the implementation of other large megaprojects such as the Mayan Train or the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In recent weeks we have seen increased pressure from and the presence of the military, especially the Mexican Navy, and the intention of the federal government to occupy and parcel up communal lands of various agrarian nuclei to build urban corridors, there are ten of these in the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, already.

The funeral procession of campesino activist, educator and community radio broadcaster, Samir Flores.

Behind these large mega-projects are the economic interests of companies with first and last names and the geopolitical interests of the United States. These are not emblematic projects of the Fourth Transformation; this is totally false and inaccurate. They are megaprojects that they have been trying to impose on us for more than 20 years and that now are being implemented more easily, for various reasons, and are taking place within the framework of the greatest militarization the country has ever experienced. Neither Calderón nor Peña Nieto had ever experienced such a strong militarization process, the Army and the Navy were given significant functions in economic life and public security, with the creation of the National Guard (GN) -which is finally the Army with a different uniform- and with the integration of the military in economic processes. Under neither Calderón nor Peña Nieto had there been such a strong militarization process. During last three years, the Army and the Navy were given significant functions in economic life and public security, with the creation of the National Guard (GN) -which is finally the Army with a different uniform- and with the integration of the military in the economic processes.

We are no longer talking about militarization, but also about militarism. Sedena (The Mexican Secretariat of National Defense) manages what is going to be the Felipe Angeles airport and it holds sections of the railroad at its disposal. The Mexican Navy was given ports and customs. We see that the military leadership has been imposed; we suppose -I believe all of us-, from the original pacts that took place so that Andres Manuel could reach the Presidency. As with the large mega-projects. The PIM is very eloquent. The desperate and forced way in which the President tried to implement it at the beginning of 2019 and that somehow -it must be said, without accusation or any less- was what had an impact, what generated conditions for the murder of comrade Samir Flores.

We see that there is a distribution of resources, that did not exist before, related to certain projects that are problematic. For example, Sembrando Vida has generated strong divisions in the communities, and it has also provoked the occupation of land. Curiously, or paradoxically, land is occupied for the planting of fruit trees or other woods or timber trees -as the businessmen call them-; where a community sees forest, others see wood. It is true that there is a different distribution of resources, but the essential aspects remain untouched and have grown: dispossession, imposition, militarization and now these processes of militarism -which have always existed, but had not been magnified to such an extent.

“It is true that there is a different distribution of resources, but the essential remains untouched and expanded: dispossession, imposition, militarization and now these processes of militarism.”

DAS: Those who have followed the denunciations and the communiqués published in your media can see a continuity and an increase in the intensity of the violence in towns and communities. And there also seems to be a multiplication of its modalities: in addition to the Armed Forces, there are denunciations against paramilitary groups, narco-paramilitaries, white guards, etc. Could you give us an overview of this situation?

CGG: We see the worsening of violence in different aspects of the life of the country and of the communities. The first, recurrent and long-standing, is the growth of the drug trafficking cartels; their greater presence and also their greater virulence; this is the case of Guerrero. This case is very serious: the fight between drug trafficking cartels and cartels against the communities, particularly in the Montaña Alta and Montaña Baja of Guerrero, where the different fragments of the Pacific cartel, the Beltrán Leyva side: the Guerreros Unidos, the Rojos, the Ardillos – are in a tremendous dispute over the territories, but also to establish their control and hegemony over the communities: They want to impose poppy cultivation, opium gum production, and arms trafficking.

Many communities are subdued, but others are resisting; that is where there are serious problems, as the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero-Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ) has been denouncing, with several deaths and disappearances. All this with the presence – curiously, in spite of the militarization-, with the indifference and with the omissive presence of the Army or the GN. This is a sample button.

We can extrapolate this to Sonora, we can see it in Michoacán or Jalisco. Or, more recently, in a place where it did not previously occur: Chiapas. For example, since Rutilio Escandón assumed the governorship of the state. On the one hand, then, we have all this movement of cartels and the violence they bring with them. And on the other hand, we see militarism and paramilitarism; on the rise in regions such as Chiapas, around the Zapatista communities or around exemplary and important autonomous processes such as that of the ejido Tila. Paramilitary groups that operate kidnappings and assassinations recompose themselves, as has occurred with the Zapatista compañeros and compañeras in the autonomous municipality of Moisés Gandhi. Or as has happened in a serious way in Tila, where there was recently an assassination perpetrated by one of the founders of the Grupo Paz y Justicia (a paramilitary group that has been around for years). This is escalating in a dangerous way; we see it in Oxchuc, in Aldama, in different regions of the state of Chiapas.

Likewise, we see how violence grows wherever certain companies have interests. And I would like to refer specifically to mining. Where there are strong mining interests and there is resistance from the communities, there is the formation of clash groups, there is the presence of State corporations and there is violence. This is the case, for example, of the Sierra Negra in Puebla, where behind the Coyomeapan hydroelectric project are the mining interests of the German Larrea Group, of the Mexico Group.

And not only where there are mining interests. There is the case of the PIM, where we have the murder of Samir, but also recently the murder of Francisco Vázquez, president of the Vigilance Council of ASURCO, which is the association that brings together the owners of the water rights of the Cuautla River – ejidos, communities and individuals-, the association with which the provision of water for the Huexa thermoelectric plant has been negotiated. In Oaxaca, in the Valles Centrales region, there is a mining project in the community of Cuatro Venados, which caused the violent eviction of community members from the town of Rebolledo more than two years ago.

Zapotec communities protest against mining in their territories. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

These belligerent groups are also present in the Ocotlán Valley, in the southern zone of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, where the Canadian mining company Cuzcatlán has been mining gold and silver for many years, and where in December the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources -contradicting the Ministry’s apparently protective discourse towards the indigenous communities- granted an expansion. An environmental impact authorization was granted to expand the operations and the radius of action of this mining company in a highly urbanized region, with a fairly high population density where the sodium cyanide leaching method -the most polluting- is certainly not used, but the dimensions of what has been extracted are causing the accumulation of highly polluting mining waste, such as fluorine.

Therefore, we observed that there are murders and violence around mining, infrastructure and energy projects linked to powerful economic interests – especially but not exclusively mining. The same happens in relation to forests and their management: legal and illegal logging of forests is also taking place in various parts of the country. Even in the center of the country: from the Magdalena Contreras delegation to Milpa Alta, groups of armed loggers are operating to loot and remove pine trees already turned into pieces of wood and in some cases even into boards. All this in an illegal form: in Mexico City commercial forestry is not allowed, it can only be done by mountain clean up, sanitation, meteorological phenomena or plagues. And what is happening here is permanent and ruthless logging.

DAS: Specifically with regard to megaprojects, the CNI-CIG has also denounced legal or paralegal forms that seek to guarantee the execution of extractive megaprojects: the continuity of neoliberal agrarian policies, agrarian corruption, and the elaboration of indigenous consultations.

CGG: Indeed, as I have pointed out repeatedly, the neoliberal agrarian policies aimed at fragmenting and destroying communal property in order to make it available to the land market are untouched. What was the Program for the Certification of Ejido Rights and Land Titling (PROCEDE), which was the pinnacle and the concretion of these mechanisms to induce the privatization of ejido and community lands, remains untouched. Now it is called the Program for the Regularization and Registration of Agrarian Legal Acts (RRAJA).

The President speaks of the end of neoliberal policies. However, the touchstones of liberalism have not been touched. On one hand, the 1992 reform of Article 27 of the Constitution in agrarian and water matters has not been touched, not even one comma has been changed: it continues to be applied and replicated. The free trade policies established with NAFTA in 1994 were reinforced with the new treaty, the T-MEC, where these asymmetrical and unequal relations between the United States and Canada and Mexico continue to exist, but with a new twist. Now certain issues are imposed in favor of large companies in relation to traditional knowledge, in relation to patents on biological varieties. The relationship of subordination of our country towards the United States and Canada is deepening.

And thirdly, what has been called neoliberalism according to the doctrine of economic theories, continues: budgetary austerity, restrictive fiscal policies, autonomy of the Bank of Mexico, liberalization of trade and trade barriers. These issues not only remain untouched, but have been further deepened to the maximum. Budgetary austerity has tied up the federal public administration in many substantive activities. What we are told permanently and on a daily basis is that there is a retribution of wealth through social programs; this is not true. Wealth remains basically undisturbed, there is no redistribution of wealth. There is a redistribution of public spending, which is very different; it is quite distinct.

In relation to the megaprojects, there is the continuity of agrarian policies, which is really the fraud in agrarian policies. We were informed that a few days ago, in Puente Madera, a community annexed to San Blas, Oaxaca, a substitute of the Commissariat of Communal Property, whose functions ended more than a year ago, accompanied by personnel from the Agrarian Attorney’s Office, is handing out certificates of possession of the lands of common use where one of the urban, industrial and service corridors in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is to be installed.

Gathering of communities in Puente Madera, Oaxaca during the Caravan El Sur Resiste April 2023..

I have seen how in the region of Chinantla, Oaxaca, in Jalisco, in Morelos, they are pushing and reproposing to the ejidos and communities that decided not to certify their lands according to the liberal model, that they now do so. It is a chain that comes from the director in chief, all the way down to the structures below.

On the other hand, we see, in a grave manner, that the federal government, especially through the National Institute for Indigenous Peoples (INPI), is imposing consultations according to its own needs. This happened with the PIM referndum, where the President, with a group of his supporters, asked if they agreed or not on the proposals; the majority raised their hands; this was something he did repeatedly in the Isthmus and in the Yucatan Peninsula. These grotesque consultations and the supposed indigenous referendums organized by the INPI do not comply with the minimal parameters established by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation for an indigenous referendum, neither with those indicated by international instruments, and more specifically, by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

They are applying the consultations, because they know that it is a requirement indicated by international legal regulations and that, according to the first article of the Constitution, they have an important hierarchical rank. In the national legal system they are only below the Constitution. Therefore, they look for ways to cheat it, to twist it in order to move forward, in order to “curdle” the large mega-projects. We could review them and break them down: we will realize that they are old projects anchored to interests, especially those of the United States. The National Development Plan does not hide it, does not simulate it, does not disguise it. It clearly states that one of the central purposes of the Inter-Oceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is to establish 10 urban industrial corridors as curtains to stop migration; this has been the permanent pressure from the USA. So we see that the PIM, the Interoceanic Corridor and the Mayan Train are a great project: they are connected, they have a coherence, they obey this imperial logic of reordering populations by stopping migration and generating new urban concentrations in these territories; reordering borders by establishing borders to migration from the south with the PIM through the project for the border. And finally, to rearrange territories and dispose of everything within them that can generate wealth through dispossession or exploitation. That is the anatomy of what is happening and of what this government, which calls itself leftist, is.

DAS: Perhaps the culmination of these legal strategies is the decree issued on November 22, 2021, on which the CNI has already taken a position. Could you explain what the consequences of this decree are for the peoples and communities that defend the land and territory?

CGG: We see that there is a series of policies applied by the federal government to impose the large mega-projects that are in their interest and in the interest of the U.S. government and the capitalist consortiums involved. However, they have not been able to impose them with the speed and in the time they would have liked. In the communities there is opposition, there has been a rejection. The communities have applied diverse strategies of mobilization, of presence in the media, of physical pressure in the territories, of legal pressure, through legal actions of protection, of contesting the consultations, of agrarian lawsuits, and so on.

“…the President of the Republic published in the Official Gazette of the Federation a two-component agreement. First, it establishes that the government’s strategic works and projects are matters of national security and public interest. This implies, on the one hand, that State corporations may intervene”.

In this regard, on November 22, 2022, the President of the Republic published in the Official Gazette of the Federation a two-component agreement. First, it establishes that the government’s strategic infrastructure and projects are matters of national security and public interest. This implies, on the one hand, that State corporations may intervene. Not only the NG, but also the Army and the Navy. They can intervene to guarantee their realization. On the other hand, it implies that a series of rights can be suspended to those who oppose it, under the pretext of national security. It implies that information can be concealed and communications can be intercepted. Likewise, the fact that it was declared of public interest implies that when the communities and peoples go before a federal court to file an appeal for protection to stop a project, they will argue that it is of public interest and will want to deny the suspension of the acts claimed; that is, the execution of works and the implementation of the projects.

The second component is that the President instructs the various branches of the federal public administration to grant provisional authorizations for the implementation of their projects, with a validity of up to one year. These provisional authorizations replace a whole set of requirements, licenses, authorizations and permits that are set forth in the laws regulating the Constitution and that, despite being neoliberal laws, contain a minimum of rights and procedures that provide certain certainty and legality to the administrative procedures. What happens with this provision is that this minimum of rights and this minimum of legal certainty are swept away. So, when a company or the Mexican State itself is obliged to obtain an environmental impact authorization, or a permit for a change in land use on forest land, or an indigenous consultation, it can be replaced by provisional permits that last for one year, which gives them enough time to move forward with projects very quickly.

This is very serious. The CNI, in its follow-up commission, has decided to support some legal processes to impugn this agreement. Currently, we have about 20 appeals in seven states of the country, from different peoples and communities that are challenging this agreement.

DAS: Up to now we have spoken of the times and strategies of the federal government, of organized crime, of the large extractive companies. But the CNI and the people that make it up also have their time and their way of acting. October 12, 2021 marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the CNI and a process of organization and reflection was called for – which will culminate in an assembly in October 2022 – to answer “what’s next?” Could you give us an answer to that question in advance?

CGG: You ask me to anticipate the answer at a time when it has not yet come. Indeed, October was the 25th anniversary of the CNI and we agreed to take an assessment of all these years, of the strengths, weaknesses and, in the present context, of what is next to ensure the growth of the struggle of the native peoples together with their allies, along the lines we have been working on: from below, to the left and anti-capitalist. We are trying to organize state, regional and community meetings. Soon there will surely be one in Oaxaca, and one in Jalisco for the entire western region as well. And surely each region will try to do what it can to respond to this. It is necessary to establish what is next, because the destruction of the land is reaching a limit: dispossession and exploitation are growing day by day; there is despair and violence. We are concerned about how to strengthen the CNI, how to strengthen the anti-capitalist struggle together with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and those who from the cities or from any trench are willing to join forces to strengthen an alternative. It would be very difficult for me to give you an answer: it is precisely what we are trying to build from below and among all of us.

“It is necessary to establish what is next, because the destruction of the land is reaching a limit: dispossession and exploitation grow day by day; the despair and violence.”

DAS: If we cannot now advance the answer of “what’s next?”, we can ask what has been and what is the CNI’s horizon of struggle in its 25 years of existence.

CGG: The horizon is to defend the earth. Our bet is on dismantling capitalism, because we understand that it is this system – in its gears, in its most intrinsic logic – that is generating the destruction of the conditions for human life on the planet. What we have experienced in recent years, on the one hand, great catastrophes and, on the other hand, pandemics over several years – now lived in a very acute form due to covid-19 -, plus the growing economic crises, make us face an immense crisis of humanity. A crisis in all aspects of human life. We believe that capitalism is the substantial cause of this crisis, that the logic of profit and accumulation definitely clashes with the possibilities of fully developing human life.

And if we add to this the fact that capitalism is based on patriarchal structures that have functioned for many centuries, we see a whole cocktail of violence: violence against Mother Earth, violence against women, violence against children, violence of the large corporations against the populations of this world -urban and rural-, violence in the cities, violence of the cartels, violence of the military of all countries, violence of war, violence as an important mechanism for the reproduction of capitalism – without a war there is no oxygen for capitalism.

So the horizon is to dismantle that. It is something small, isn’t it? But we must make an effort. We must walk with intelligence, with carefulness and touching the consciences of more and more people. It is only through full awareness of what we are living that we will be able to transform. The solution to this grave crisis we are experiencing is not an armed revolution. Perhaps an armed revolution would fit like a glove to keep growing the great militaristic interests in the world. It has to be something born from the conscience and the organization of the people. That is what the Zapatistas have been betting on in recent years. At least since they decided to sign the San Andres Accords and with the successive initiatives they have had: to organize and generate consciousness to oppose capitalism, building alternatives from the community, from the collectivity, from autonomous and self-managing spaces.

Original text: English translation by Schools for Chiapas

Want to receive our weekly blog digest in your inbox?

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top