dorset chiapas solidarity

July 14, 2015

Cherán Social-Political Experiment Showing Results

Filed under: Autonomy — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:56 pm


Cherán Social-Political Experiment Showing Results


Cherán’s Council of Elders: “Our greatest commitment is to our people and our village.” Sign: “Welcome to Cherán K’eri: Here we govern ourselves by Uses and Customs”. Photo: Sanjuana Martínez

Sanjuana Martínez

La Jornada, 12th July 2015

Cherán, Michoacán – José Trinidad Ramírez Tapia, a member of the Senior Council of Government in this free and autonomous municipality, welcomes visitors: “Here you are completely safe. Your physical safety is guaranteed.” In view of the success they have obtained, he recommends the Cheranization of Mexico.

Against the crisis of political parties, independent candidates, the distrust of politicians, endemic corruption, economic crisis and the ongoing insecurity as a result of collusion between government officials and organized crime, the experience of “self-determination” of this people and their municipality have given magnificent results over the past three and a half years. So says Cherán’s Senior Council, made up of twelve members democratically elected by the community without political parties, campaigns and far from electoral fraud.

Walking the streets of this town located in the Purépecha highlands is to enter a new world of social restoration through a genuine democratic process. It is a world where there is no place for the armed forces, federal government institutions, political parties or organized crime.

Attending a meeting of the Senior Council is to witness a lesson in democracy. Council member José Trinidad Niniz Pahuamba says up-front: “Here, anyone who is not fulfilling the responsibility that the village gave to him will be removed from his post.”

Cherán was the only municipality in Michoacán where there were no elections, because the people rejected them: “We are part of the people and abide by the collective decision. It is the people who say, ‘no’, because that kind of ‘democracy’ does not bring us good things. It doesn’t work. That kind of ‘democracy’ isn’t for us. It is a lie, because the only ones elected are who the party or government says.”

Members of the governing body are seated at a table, and they explain their particular democratic method based on uses and customs. The pueblo [village] is divided into four neighbourhoods [barrios] where there are 189 fogatas [bonfires] or meeting points, for public security and get-togethers responsible for bringing the proposals to the comuneros [community members].

MV Note: Cherán is a municipality in Michoacán, but it is also a community; that is, its territorial land was granted to them by the Spanish king after the conquest. Community members, comuneros, own and work their land collectively. Article 2 of Mexico’s Constitution recognizes the right of indigenous communities to choose self-government under traditional uses and customs, which includes a system of justice. The assembly is the traditional decision-making mechanism; decisions themselves are communal and consensual.

Then there is an internal call for candidates to the Council, who must meet certain requirements: “be of age, know the Purépecha culture, have a good reputation, be supportive, participate in [community] tasks, assume positions of responsibility in traditional fiestas and never have participated in an act of corruption.”

Subsequently, an assembly of neighbourhoods is convened where the vote is in-person and direct. [To vote,] citizens stand, forming a line behind their preferred candidate. In this way, there are no voting booths and everyone sees the vote. Niniz Pahuamba says: “That’s the beauty of it. It is the most democratic part of our system. Here the shoemaker, the farmer, the musician, the lawyer, the teacher … everyone can occupy a position. The political elections are nothing more than having their friends, their buddies [vote for them], or they have money to buy votes. Not here. And it is the most economical. We don’t spend money. There are no campaigns. And yes, woe to anyone who goes around campaigning, because his resignation is demanded.”

The people just chose their next Elder Council of communal government without the intervention of the INE (National Electoral Institute). The twelve [newly elected] council members will govern from September 1, 2015, until 2018.

True Democracy

On April 11, 2011, the Purhépecha people said “Enough!” to the [bootleg] loggers and the corruption of local municipal and public security officials. That day the church bells rang calling for the first action of the people. First, they detained the presumed delinquents who were carrying stolen timber from their forests, then they disowned the municipal, state and federal authorities. Finally, they organized themselves into barricades to shield the place.

The majestic forests are dominated by the Tecolote, San Marcos, La Virgen and Pilón hills—a territory disputed and plundered for years by organized crime in collusion with authorities.

Now things have changed. A permit is needed to enter this town of 18,000 inhabitants. On arrival, the barricades announce that you are entering a free and autonomous territory. Walking along and wearing a satisfied smile, Niniz Pahuamba says: “We got up in arms on April 11 to safeguard the integrity of the comuneros and the very essence of the forests. On that day, the struggle began.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back was 18 Purépecha men killed and five disappeared; these are court cases where impunity reigns: “At the top of their lungs, family members asked for answers. But the government does not give us a response. We have knocked on doors, but the matter drags on. Everything was for the defence of our forests. Every comunero who rose to defend the forest was disappeared or killed. That was the intimidation they handed out to us.

“But now we have this peace. The neighbours respect our territory. We have had discussions with groups from neighbouring communities in order for them to respect us. They are not cutting down our forests.”

La Jornada: What are the problems that you face now?

“Employment. But we are going to create communal employment with the nursery. We have 1.6 million plants for reforestation.”

La Jornada: Why do you believe that Cherán has become an example of self-government?

“Now the Cheránization of Mexico is talked about, and I believe that it is appropriate, because that way the people govern themselves. For us we have a commitment to prove what we are doing with actions. Cherán-izing Mexico is a responsibility. The political parties arrived here. They began to remove our [traditional Purépecha] organization, and they divided us. Today we say to the people: resolve [issues, problems, conflicts] through dialogue and respect. What is needed is that the government not intervene, because they want to divide. Do it, all of you!

La Jornada: Why is it appropriate?

“The people have understood that if Mexico is Cheranized, it is for all the problems being experienced in the country: mainly, the insecurity, politics and corruption.”

La Jornada: Do you recommend this model of government?

“Definitely. According to our experience across these three years and some months, we have seen that it’s possible to work as a team, that it’s possible to consult the citizens, neighbourhoods and community members about the projects they want, and where we want to walk. Here we try to take down the corruption. We understand that we are not going to achieve it overnight, because we already bring a culture, but gradually this culture of corruption and grabbing what belongs to others is going to be eliminated. The corruption came to be implanted [in our traditional culture].”

La Jornada: Who?

“The political parties, the business people, the government itself.”

La Jornada: Is this the governance model for the future?

“Yes, it’s the future. This experiment has already yielded results. We have shown that it is successful. We don’t have 100 percent [success], but we see changes for the people. Everyone participates in this structure. Everyone is included, except those who look out for their own personal and group interests. They do not fit here … We are tired of organized crime, insecurity and violence. We are supported by the vigilance of our barricades, our community patrols that attend inside and outside Cherán, and especially our forest rangers who look after the entire territory.”

Conquered Peace

Last year, in an unprecedented decision, the full Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) ruled in favour of this Purépecha municipality for the election of its authorities. Council member Ramírez Tapia says: “Cherán is the example of injustice in Mexico, and we do not have any higher commitments than the one to our pueblo.”

MV Note: In Spanish, the word pueblo means both people and place. Like indigenous peoples everywhere, the Purépecha people identify strongly with their hereditary territorial lands.

Ramírez Tapia recalls that they turned to their history and culture to create this new governance structure: “We knew that even though our ancestors did not have academic degrees, they had organization. Every political party falls into the same vices. The vertical governments are going to decide from above without listening to the people, without taking into account if it benefits or hurts us. Here we are trying to do things by consensus. We feel that the key issue in a democracy is asking [the people] in order to make decisions.”

Translated by Jane Brundage



1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on Oso Sabio Reblogs.

    Comment by Oso Sabio — July 18, 2015 @ 4:04 pm

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