The Un- Renounceable Autonomy

Cover of Edition 278 of Ojarasca. Photo by María Olarte.

By Ramón Vera Herrera

Faced with regulations and unrealistic provisions of various levels of government, the communities, peoples and individuals that refer to themselves as part of the Network in Defense of Corn, just days ago released an urgent call to respect the autonomy of the communities and peoples and to block the advances of extractivist policies that are passed off as “essential” activities. They insist that “the right of native peoples, communities and organizations to be and to remain in isolation and determine when to return to activities, including that of schools,” because it cannot only be the “assessment of people from outside of the communities or municipalities that determine when they should open.” They added, “It is our own confinement, decided on our terms, that has allowed many communities to be free of the pandemic.” 

The organization also insisted that the “extractivism (mining, fracking, the stockpiling and contamination of water), the right of passage and temporary occupation causing ecological devastation and widespread poisoning of our environment” must be stopped. They questioned the mass-production of pork, chicken and cattle, “hotspots of infection and proliferation of viruses that are the structures responsible for the creation of the pandemic that we are currently living on the planet.” 

But power doesn’t even take this into account. It insists on imposing everything. And its projects are not, not by a long shot what the communities are asking for. A few months ago, Heber Uc, parte of the Xa’aybej Collective, of Quintana Roo, pointed out the impertinence of the government consultation that neither asks what the communities want, or aspire to, nor what projects the people have, but rather inquires into the opinions of people about the government/corporate projects, always too late and without information, and with the insistence on the consultation as a legitimation and not as an authentic way of obtaining prior, free, informed consent or refusal. Abstractly, the consultation is an express way of undermining autonomy and free determination, supposedly enshrined in Article 2 of the Constitution.

Impositions proliferate. The insistence of government officials and several NGO’s alike that the “unconstitutionality of the Mining Law is for the lack of consultation, deviates from the crux of the issue, “which is the recognition of the territory of the indigenous peoples” and as such, of their autonomy, as affirmed by lawyer, Francisco López Bárcenas. “The consultation is a process that the state is obligated to, but at its core, ‘the substance’ is the territory, a right of the peoples, that is in the international treaties, and that Article 1 of the Constitution protects. But no one wants to get into that subject,” said the lawyer in a personal communication.  

Another imposition was the Law for the Promotion and Protection of Maize, passed while people feared the pandemic. With this law, one can glimpse the government urgency of supplanting representation of the people from the halls of power. The law declaratively claims to protect corn without touching a single hair on the possible prohibition of transgenics, but then, yes, imposes a “Council” that dictates policies, makes decisions, and establishes situations of various kinds and helps to put into effect what the law imposes: a kind of definition of native corn as a way to establish the cataloguing and the registration of Conabio as a foundational piece; seed banks that not all communities want because the people save their own seed; and areas where the law encourages and protects the cultivation of native corn, surrounded by countless areas where anything  can be planted. These areas will then give impetus to further marginalize peasant production and those that don’t have the food safety certificates that corporations claim to have.  

In fact, the law imposes on the people (undermining their autonomy) that the exercise of their rights is fragmented; it imposes a situation that stifles diversification of native corn by preventing the contiguity and continuity of exchanges of seed and the prevention of transgenic contamination. What is achieved is the much-desired dream of the corporation, starting with Monsanto: a law that regulates the coexistence of GMO’s with native seeds (as if this were possible), but keeps industry and the negotiators of the United States, Mexico, Canada Trade Agreement (the new NAFTA) happy, who have put so much effort into subjecting Mexico to more and more fearsome rules, to pacts where the margin for maneuvering is even greater for the corporations. Toward the ends of harmonization with the T-MEC, the corn law was very much in tune, by preventing regulations (what an oxymoron) on GMOs, and in opening up spaces where it is not important to protect native corn. For this reason, the companies applauded.

Despite the public outcry provoked by the governmental folly around the Mayan Train, the Trans-isthmic Corredor, and its “wildcard,” Sembrando Vida, these three projects are being deployed heedlessly. Ignoring the “multiple protections in which the federal judges have ordered the suspension of activities” of the Mayan Train and that “the National Center for Human Rights has ordered the suspension of non-essential activities of the project as a precautionary measure,” the president shows up in the Península and insists in moving the works forward. We know that it is the pet project of head of the presidential cabinet, Alfonso Romo, together with Sembrando Vida. And it doesn’t matter that countless communities, social organizations, and the Assembly of Mayan Defenders Muuch’ Xíinbal (which been the most forceful voice of the resistance to the train) insist on pointing out the noxious effects that the poorly-named Mayan Train will unleash across the Peninsula. And these harmful effects of the poorly-named Mayan Train are not only the “poles of development” that Jiménez Pons of Fonatur calls on us to celebrate. 

According to the document, Tren Maya, Sembrando Vida, and the Trans-Isthmic Corridor, published by the Center for Studies for the Change in the Mexican Countryside (Ceccam), the triad of projects in question is designed for the pillage and subordination of territory to a complex of uses that disrupt and oppose the community social relations of the indigenous communities: energy infrastructure, exploitation of hydrocarbons, industrial manufacturing parks, cultivation of transgenic crops, agro-industry, real estate and tourism developments, among many others. It is not only a plant to erect infrastructure destined for the transport and distribution of merchandise; it is about generating enormous profits for national and foreign businesses, by unleashing “processes linked to the production of goods, in areas where social and biological wealth have exceptional characteristics”, and where the dispossession from the land and disruption of their community culture, self-managed for subsistence, turns people into a vulnerable workforce after this brutal territorial reorganization, as Daniel Sandoval, the author of Ceccam’s study, rightly says. And so, Sowing Life goes directly against autonomy by dismantling, with individual money, the community possibilities of a traditional agriculture that is still viable.

In the general context of the pandemic, attacks on autonomy are not isolated acts. It is carrying out the war on the peasantry (and their relation with their mountain milpas sown with native seeds). It is hitting with the combined effect of mega projects, land grabs, territorial reordering, and constant and loud money at the individual level in order to break the community, the hard core of autonomy in a country like México. 

In the face of arrangements and dispositions alien to our lives and history, in the face of the diverse conditions of peoples, populations and communities in the countryside and the cities, and for those that continue to live in the seams and interstices between city and rural life, indisputable autonomy is urgent. 

This article was originally published in Spanish in the Ojarasca supplement of the Jornada, June 2020. https://ojarasca.jornada.com.mx/2020/06/13/la-irrenunciable-autonomia-278-7229.html This English interpretation has been re-published for the blog of Schools for Chiapas.