by Carolina Saldaña
In a bold action last October 12th, Day of Indigenous Resistance, the Otomí Community from Mezquititlán, Querétaro, now based in Mexico City, took over the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) to demand their rights to dignified housing, work, education and health, for starters. The INPI is the governmental entity whose alleged mission is to “prompt a new relationship between the Mexican government and indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples, based in recognition, respect and the effective exercise of their most basic rights as subjects of public law.” Nevertheless, two years after the beginning of the government of the self-described 4T of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Otomí Community accuses the Institute of a lack of recognition and respect.
In the Takeover, more than 100 community people, including around 30 children, burst into the Institute, while comrades hung banners and posters with images of Emiliano Zapata and the slain ecologist Samir Flores, and painted slogans on the walls of the ground level and first floor such as “528 years of plunder… NOTHING to celebrate”, before holding a press conference in which community women were the main speakers.
A month and a half later, the INPI Takeover continues, but only after the Otomís showed that they were fed up with alleged government efforts to dialogue with them. On November 24th, they blocked the street outside the building, where they burned hundreds of irrelevant files.
Although the Otomís charge that federal and local authorities have scorned them, they appreciate the support they have received in a series of public activities. As a matter of fact, the site of the Takeover has become a center of activism in the city, where events have been held featuring information, work and culture—even book presentations and a heartwarming visit from the displaced families who lost their homes in the September 2017 earthquake. The Otomí Community belongs to the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and the Indigenous Government Council (CIG), and has denounced recent attacks against the EZLN. Their events tend to begin with raised fists and shouts of “¡Otomí Otomí. We’ve fucked over the INPÍ!” Their spokespersons have said that they won’t leave the Institute until their demands are fully met.
From the beginning, the posture of the Otomí Community has been clear. In the October 12th press conference, spokesperson Maribela Mejá described their living conditions and demanded a roundtable dialogue with Claudia Sheinbaum (the Mexico City Mayor) and Adelfo Regino (INPI Director). She said:
Today we came out to take over the INPI. A year ago we held a march. For 528 years, the original peoples have not been taken into account. Every time we appear in public or hold meetings with the government, we’re told that there is a solution for us, the indigenous peoples. What is the solution? We´re still sleeping in the street, living in the street, withstanding the cold, the rain. We’re homeless. We don’t have housing. Now maybe many people look at us and ask: Why are those troublemakers taking over the INPI? But they don’t know how we live. We’re saying ¡We’ve had it up to here! ¡Enough is enough! Now we even have to face harassment from paramilitary groups. So we’ve decided to take over this building and we’re not going to leave until we have a roundtable dialogue with Claudia and Adelfo Regino because they’re the ones who must give us a response to the question of housing. We’ve made the decision to live here as long as necessary…We don’t like this space, but we want a space of our own and we demand light, water, and education, and respect for women, children and youth, for our adults. Let the heads of the bad government understand us and look at us from their Fourth Transformation, where as I see it, they only look at us in order to disappear us, kill us. That’s what’s happening. They’re killing many defenders. They’re eliminating people like Samir because they know they’re right. Well, here we are. Zapata lives on! The struggle continues!
At the press conference Isabel Valencia denounced the fact that even though the Otomís are struggling for housing and are caring for Mother Earth, the government is taking away their lands. She charged that the government invests money in deathly megaprojects, like the Tren Maya (Maya Train), but when the peoples want to be heard, the government humiliates them. In a meeting, they even take away their cell phones so they can’t record what’s being said. She said:
They’re looting our lands and telling lots of lies. We don’t want their megaprojects of death because they’re killing our Mother Earth. We’re struggling for our Mother Earth and struggling to live, to reap something good from our hills. They’d better stop destroying them because when they destroy those hills and trees, they’re killing us along with our Mother Earth.
Sarah Hernández also spoke. She´s an Otomí from the community of Santiago Mexquititlán in Querétaro, from which most of the Otomís in Mexico City have been displaced. She told about how she and Estela Hernández have been the targets of political persecution, repression and death threats. That’s why we don’t trust any institution, she said, speaking of the struggle and resistance that’s going on in Santiago Mexquititlán:
There’s a project for gentrifying Santiago Mexquititlán, turning it into a place for tourists, but it aims to destroy the community temple, which is the origin of our community in Santiago. The big businesses cut down trees, but if our people climb up the hill looking for wood, they are beaten. They don’t have water either, but they see trucks come down from the hills carrying pipes that are full. Rumor has it that they want to destroy the community cemetery and build luxury hotels on the land. Our hope is the autonomy of the peoples.
Filiberto Margarito then read a statement from the Otomí Community based in Mexico City. He began by saying “The INPI is a white elephant at the service of transnational corporations that dispossess the peoples of their territories.” He read:
The INPI Takeover had been decided in assembly. The people of the community are demanding an end to the harassment and attacks against Zapatista communities and denouncing the war of counterinsurgency and megaprojects of death, including the Morelos Integral Project, the Santa Lucía Airport, the Tren Maya (Maya Train) and the Interoceanic Corridor. The call is to take over a meeting space for all those in resistance. For 20 years the Otomís have claimed access to decent housing. They’ve lived in overcrowded, collapsed buildings and camps without basic services on abandoned land in Mexico City located at Zacatecas 74 and Guanajuato 200 in the Colonia Roma, Avenida Zaragoza 1434 in Pantitlán, and Roma 18, in Colonia Juárez. This last site was abandoned after the 1985 earthquake, but the 2017 earthquake left it uninhabitable and forced people to set up camp in the street. They were evicted from there last year with no compliance from city authorities in legalizing their situation. They demand the expropriation of the property at Guanajuato 200, Zacatecas 74 and Zaragoza 1434, and funding for 80 housing units for the Roma 18 community, a handicrafts plaza for the Otomí Community, health services, respect for women’s work and autonomy, and guaranteed education for the community at all levels.
When questioned about whether or not there has been any improvement under the 4T government, the spokespersons responded that the situation is worse than ever. Maricela Mejía said:
Peña was a thief and under him we saw the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students. We know this and we denounced it. But really, when López Obrador took over and said he was on the left, I said he is not my president. I didn’t vote for him. He didn’t get the presidential scepter with backing from my community, not from my people. When Morena took power, they didn’t even wait a year to repress us at Roma 18. That’s when we saw government imposition. We saw what this Fourth Transformation (4T) really is with their promise that the poor come first. Yes, the first to be beaten, the first to be plundered.
Backing from the National Indigenous Congress
On Saturday, October 17, members of the Indigenous Governing Council (CIG) of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) arrived at the offices of the INPI to support the demands of the takeover. CNI spokesperson María de Jesús Patricio, Marichuy, had this advice for the community:
We, the peoples are patient. We can wait, we’ve been doing it for years. But there comes a time when we run out of patience, and you’re a good example of this. I’ve heard you did everything you could to be seen, to be heard, and they didn’t pay any attention to you. That’s why I say that if you’re here, it’s for a righteous cause. Our ties of unity must be stronger than ever so they can’t do away with us. Keep your spirits up, comrades! And we’ll be on your side wherever we are because this struggle is for all of us.
Conditions for engaging in a dialogue
Despite several threats of eviction, this never took place. On November 3rd, 21 days after the INPI takeover, the Otomí Community established conditions for engaging in a dialogue with local and federal authorities, including the following:
-The dialogue will take place at the INPI.
– INPI Director Adelfo Regino, Interior Secretary Alfonso Suárez del Real, and Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum must always be present. In case these authorities do not appear, the dialogue will not take place until they do so.
-Local and federal authorities may not bring any criminal charges whatsoever against the participants in the takeover or the organizations that accompany them.
-The agreements reached at the dialogue table must be published.
-With regards to proposals, both sides have the right to analyze, consult and make decisions about them.
The struggle is for more than decent housing and involves respect for the rights of all indigenous peoples. The demands of the Otomí Community have gradually been expanded to include justice, culture, democracy, freedom, respect for their organizational forms, an end to attacks on the EZLN, the cancellation of megaprojects, and freedom for political prisoners.
Meetings with government authorities
In the first meeting with the government on November 10th, the Otomís detailed their grievances including racism, discrimination, police abuses, arbitrary arrests, as well as deception and apathy by government authorities during the 25 years that the community has resided in Mexico City.
Magdalena Gomez reported in La Jornada that community representatives “also expressed heavy criticism of the Director of the INPI for leaving behind his independent political history that began during the dialogues of San Andrés Larráinzar…He participated in the creation of the National Indigenous Congress, and on March 28, 2001, the EZLN even invited him to a discussion session at San Lázaro. They recorded his speech in favor of the rights of indigenous peoples.”
At the first meeting, INPI Director Adelfo Regino expressed his will to hold a dialogue and Secretary José Alfonso Suárez del Real, representing Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, expressed willingness to resolve the situation of property rights in the affected Juarez and Roma neighborhoods.
Adelfo Regino also apologized for “not having paid attention to community requests and for the alleged use of force, according to community denunciations.”
Although some observers noted that an apology falls far short of what is needed from the Director, the community proposed the establishment of a roundtable dialogue the following week in the offices of the INPI Takeover.
As of now, three meetings have been held, but the community feels disdain by government officials and a lack of solutions to their demands. According to Filiberto Margarito, “Adelfo changed sides. He used to be with us, but not anymore. Now in the meetings he doesn’t even look at us. He just looks down at the floor and mumbles.”
Maribela Mejía has insisted on the participation of Claudia Sheinbaum in the meetings. “If she doesn´t show up, we’ll have to take other steps,” she said.
Neither Adelfo Regino nor Claudia Sheinbaum appeared for the fourth meeting. The community then made the decision to evacuate the first floor of the INPI, burn hundreds of files and clear out space to continue living in the building.
Encounters and Conversations
In November, a series of public events has taken place in the INPI Takeover to go more deeply into the struggles of the Otomís and other indigenous peoples and to propose and coordinate solidarity
The Encounter of Resistance and Rebellion. On November 7, 2020, the Metropolitan Anticapitalist and Antipatriarchal Coordination organized this encounter to acknowledge the importance of the INPI Takeover in a context of plunder, racism and exploitation:
In our country…policies based on patronage and assistance are reproduced and serve as a parapet to justify questionable consultations and impose projects and megaprojects that only benefit big business. The Takeover of the INPI by the Otomí Community living in Mexico City says ENOUGH to the systematic violation of their most basic rights and is an example of dignity that has enabled the denunciation of living conditions faced by indigenous peoples in the cities and allowed other forms of resistance to let their voices ring out….
With the participation of dozens of community organizations and collectives with work in the city and the countryside, art, education, health, transportation and food production, among other things, the discussion took place according to the following guidelines:
- How to get organized and struggle against the capitalist system as original peoples and communities in the city and the countryside.
- How to organize and connect our struggles from below and on the left, with general, local, and particular demands to keep moving forward.
- How to develop a plan of action.
Conversation: What is the significance of the INPI Takeover in the 4T?
In the face of the refusal of the federal and local governments to accept the demands of the Otomí Community presented during the past month, a Conversation was held on November 14, 2020, among persons invited to share their points of view, evaluations and proposals regarding the meaning of the INPI Takeover in the 4T.
Carlos Gonzáles García, a member of the General Coordination of the CNI-CIG, identified three implications of the Takeover:
- The continuation of an “indigenist” policy by the Institute of assimilating the destruction of indigenous peoples into capitalist development.
- The energetic entrance, with rage, of the Otomí Community to demand attention to demands of housing and work.
- The grave context of plunder and extractavist practices related to the Tren Maya and other neoliberal megaprojects that represent the continuation of a Mexico subordinated to the United States and Canada.
Magdalena Gómez, a teacher at the UPN and writer for the La Jornada newspaper highlighted the current resistance in the INPI Takeover to the historic lack of respect for indigenous rights. She insisted that the habit of referring to indigenous people living in the city as “migrants” robs them of their identity as original peoples with rights. She also questioned the centrality of Adelfo Regino in the process of dialogue. What does he have to offer? she asked.
Gilberto López y Rivas, Anthropology professor and writer for La Jornada spoke of the ongoing neo-indigenism in the 4T even though it had failed many decades ago. According to this perspective, subjects are victims who receive handouts, while the INPI is a kind of Ministry of Internal Colonies. The INPI Takeover, he explained, unmasks authorities who don’t even acknowledge an autonomous action that emphasizes indigenous rights –authorities who lack true will to resolve a major social and historical crisis.
Marisela Mejía stated that when the Otomís arrived at the INPI, they asked themselves: How do people from above live? They were amazed to find a number of luxury items in the building, indications of an opulence they had never known. “We, on the other hand, didn´t even have water. In times of COVID, how were we going to wash our hands?” The spokesperson also accused several paramilitary agents of beating a brother, while “Adelfo did nothing to stop them.” She declared: “After all they’ve looted from us, what we’re asking is very little”.
Luis Hernández Navarro, writer and journalist of La Jornada, stressed that the 785,000 indigenous people in Mexico City are made invisible. It’s the country’s largest center of indigenous people and the city has an enormous debt to them for the treatment they’ve received in a racist, discriminatory society. In particular, he mentioned a lesson that should be drawn from the experience of the Urban Popular Movement (MUP), in which many indigenous people participated. Nevertheless, they were treated just like any other worker without being recognized as members of indigenous peoples with rights to defend. Their self-determination must always be respected, said the journalist.
Pedro Uc Be, writer and poet, member of the Assembly of Defenders of the MayaMúuch’ Xíibal Territory spoke of the struggle of the Mayan people on the Yucatán Peninsula. “We’re talking about our rights,” he emphasized “and not handouts or money for household expenses.” He explained that the Tren Maya will not only be used to promote big business, but also to transport the Army and, thus, bring violence to the area. We’re struggling against this and other megaprojects. “Adelfo is a traitor,” he said, stating that it’s impossible to count on him after he abandoned the struggle and started working for the government. He, along with many other opportunists have lucrative posts, and they don’t want to help us. They want to strangle us. They want to disappear us. “We’re keeping on. We offer our voice, our word, our struggle.”
María de Jesús Patricio, MariChuy, spokesperson for the CNI-CIG, compared the INPI Takeover with the Zapatista uprising of 1994. They had struggled for many years in different ways, just like the Otomí comrades. But with their dramatic action people all over the world turned to look at them. With the action of the Otomí Community, their struggle is now more visible and well heard. “It shakes things up,” she affirmed. We live in precarious conditions. The Takeover tells us that “we have to build something different,” uniting our struggles and working together in communities in the city and the countryside, always from the grassroots.
Filiberto Margarito, representing the indigenous Otomí Community living in Mexico City, insisted that “for a long time, authorities like Claudia haven´t seen us, haven’t respected us. We’re an indigenous community, not a ‘group of persons.’ I feel like Adelfo belittles us. He doesn’t even look at us. He bends down his head and looks at the ground when he’s talking. But we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be right here until they meet our demands.”
Commemoration of the 37th anniversary of the EZLN
On November 17, a little more than five weeks after the INPI Takeover, the Otomí Community commemorated the 37th anniversary of the EZLN uprising and said to the government, “No more impositions!”
The Otomí comrade Isabela Valencia said:
37 years after that resistance, that rebellion, the Otomí Community is here today at the INPI, where we tell you that we share that rage. We must always be resisting. We must also say to the government, “No more impositions!” For 37 years our brothers and sisters Zapatistas struggle for us in whatever they’re doing, struggle for the peoples, struggle for autonomy, struggle to be free. Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, in his election campaign, said: “I’m going to support the peoples and the day I don’t keep my promise, let the nation demand it.” Today the nation and the peoples are here to demand his resignation because he and his aren´t capable of listening to us. All we want is our autonomy as original peoples. Don’t take away our language. Don’t take away our water. Don’t take away our hills. Brothers and sisters Zapatistas, wherever you are, wherever you are listening to us, we remember that little light you gave us one day, when you told us, take it and turn it into rage, turn it into courage, defend your territory, defend your land, defend your water, defend your hills. Today we tell you that little light is more alive than ever, it is shining more brightly than ever.
Video: Regeneración Radio
Information and photos taken from Regeneración Radio, Desinformémonos, Noticias de Abajo ML, Radio Zapote, Café Zapata Vive, Avispa Midia, Radio Zapatista, Centro de Medios Libres, Grietas, Somos el Medio, Plumas Atómicas.