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Doc. 7 rev. 1
September 24, 1998
Original: Spanish






506. Mexico's indigenous population is estimated to number 10 million, or a little over 10per cent of its total population. Around 6.5 million of these people speak one of the 59 different autochthonous languages and retain their own cultural values, their own relationship with nature, their own system of justice and their own methods of organizing production. They also identify themselves as indigenous people.(145)

507. Most of Mexico's indigenous peoples are concentrated in twenty regions which have a majority indigenous population and reflect the diversity of these societies. In the north, the Mayo region (Sinaloa and Sonora) and the Tarahumara region (Chihuahua); in the centre of the country the Huicot region (Huicholes, Coras and Tepehuanos) in Nayarint, Durango and Jalisco; the Purepecha tableland region (Michoacán); the Mazahua-Otomí region in Querétaro and the state of Mexico; the Otomí region in Querétaro, Hidalgo and Guanajuato; the Huasteca region of Potosí, Hidalgua, and Veracruz; the region of Norte de la Sierra de Puebla; the Totonaca de Veracruz y Puebla region; the Nahuatl de Jalapa region; and the Nahuatl region on the coast of Michoacán. Another extensive region with a heavy Indian population is the Yucatan peninsula (Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Róo). In the south, there are three Nahuatl regions (in Cañada Oaxaqueña-Poblana, Veracruz and Puebla); the Nahuatl-Tiapaneca-Mixteca-Amuzgo de Guerrero region; the Chontal de Tabasco region; the Oaxaca region; and the Chiapas region (Norte de Chiapas, Selva Lacandona, and Altos de Chiapas).

508. A large percentage of Mexico's indigenous peoples maintain their own identity to a great extent and live in villages and districts regarded as "indigenous". Indeed, 28 per cent of the country's towns or villages have a significant indigenous population. A survey by the National Indigenous Institute of Mexico, which was based on the 1990 national census, showed that there are at least 13,179 localities that are predominantly indigenous (where 70 per cent or more of the population speak an indigenous language) and 4,359 towns with a less concentrated indigenous population (where from 30 per cent to 69 per cent of the population speak an indigenous language).

509. These predominantly indigenous localities (more than 17,000) account for 7 per cent of the country's population. When added to the 26,680 towns and villages with a scattered indigenous population, we see that there is a significant or predominant indigenous population in 28 per cent of the towns and villages in the country. Most of them (60.7 per cent) have a population of less than 500, and 13.8 per cent of them have between 500 and 2,500 inhabitants. The remainder of the indigenous people, approximately one-third to one-fourth of them, lives in larger cities.

510. Mexico's indigenous peoples are disadvantaged in comparison with the rest of the population in terms of access to State services. In many areas of the country they live in deplorable conditions of poverty without access to social and health services. Also, official studies show that, while indigenous municipalities represent one-third of all municipalities in the country, they account for 48 per cent of those that are "highly disadvantaged" and 82 per cent of those that may be described as "extremely disadvantaged".

511. In the field of education, while Mexico's population as whole record high rates of preschool and primary school attendance, the rate of attendance for indigenous children is lower. Fifty-nine per cent of indigenous children five years of age do not attend preschool and 28 per cent of those aged 6 to 14 years do not attend primary school. As a result, 43 per cent of indigenous people over 15 years of age have had no formal education, one-third of them have not completed primary school, and just over 10 per cent of them have received some secondary schooling. Whereas the rate of illiteracy for the adult population as a whole is 12.4 per cent, the rate for indigenous people is 46 per cent.

512. In the area of housing, only 32 per cent of the predominantly indigenous localities have running water and only 10 per cent have sewage systems. Eight out of every ten indigenous homes do not even have a sheet-metal roof and only dirt floors. It is important to note, however, that 94 per cent of the indigenous inhabitants of these localities own their own land and homes as compared with only 77 per cent of the rest of the population.

513. Indigenous women are the most disadvantaged, since they have the highest rates of illiteracy and the least education and suffer the most from malnutrition and health problems.

514. It is indigenous people who are suffering most acutely from Mexico's agricultural crisis and from the drop in the prices of agricultural products. To indicate the magnitude of this crisis, in Baja California, for example, as many as 35 per cent of the day laborers are children. In Hidalgo, approximately 5,000 indigenous children leave school every year because of the need to work.

515. Historically, indigenous people and their communities have had to settle primarily in semi-arid or wild areas, because their lands were penetrated and occupied. The low agricultural productivity of the land on which they were forced to settle and later the sub-dividing of land-holdings and the lack of investment in productive activities and infrastructure by the State worsened their economic situation and made the survival of their cultures and communities difficult. Despite all this, they have managed to remain well organized and culturally rich insofar as their knowledge of nature, collective work and survival strategies in the face of the various obstacles to their development are concerned.


516. The Mexican Constitution states in Article 4 that: "The Mexican nation is a mix of many cultures originally based on its indigenous peoples..." This recognition is expressed in various legal provisions that guarantee the acceptance of traditional indigenous institutions and their customs and practices. In certain circumstances, Mexican law authorizes elections to municipal posts to be conducted on the basis of the decision-making procedures traditionally used by local indigenous peoples and of the Indigenous Law known as "Indigenous Practices and Customs". Recognition of this law and of traditional indigenous institutions, many of which are still very active, has become more widespread in Mexico in recent years, although it is still incipient.

517. As indicated above, Mexico has 2,403 municipalities, and in 803 of them the indigenous population accounts for more than 30 per cent of the inhabitants, which has important implications for the cultural and electoral weight of the indigenous peoples in these communities, especially in terms of candidacies for municipal office and the exercise of municipal authority as well as the modalities of election.

518. A particularly noteworthy example is that of the state of Oaxaca, where out of 570 municipalities, 140 elect their municipal officials under the regular system and 430 conduct elections based on indigenous "practices and customs". According to information received by the Commission during its on-site visit, these electoral methods are consistent with political pluralism, the right to participate and freedom of expression. In both forms of election, the two largest national parties and the local lists received a variable but significant number of victories.(146)

519. In the state of Chiapas, on the contrary, various associations(147) have reported that the legislative elections held in July 1997 and which were generally acknowledged to have been fairly conducted in most of the states of the country, were not fairly conducted in a number of districts with a heavy indigenous population. This seems to be confirmed by the findings of the Federal Electoral Institute, which stated as follows:

In some districts of this region (Chiapas) there are circumstances that have an adverse effect on the electoral process, as it is set forth in and defined by the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States and the Federal Code of Electoral Procedures and Institutions.

In communities in the municipalities of Tila, Sabanilla and Salto de Agua in District 01, in the municipality of Bosque in District 02, and in the municipalities in Chenalho and Pantelhó in District 05, there is an atmosphere of insecurity caused by criminal elements and by political and economic factors. The real violence that prevails in those municipalities and the potential for further violence endanger the right of citizens to vote freely in various areas and polling booths in the region.

520. Indeed, numerous incidents were reported during the elections, including the setting on fire of 160 voting booths, actions that were attributed to local groups of opposing political affiliations. These incidents, together with mistrust of the electoral process itself and certain isolated cases of the presence of military roadblocks which prevented the free flow of traffic, caused about 65 per cent of the registered voters in that state to abstain. It is interesting to recall that in the 1995 elections for municipal presidents, the abstention rate was 72 per cent, which was attributed (148) to the alleged fraud in the gubernatorial elections of 1994.(149) On that occasion, the PRI candidate was officially declared the winner, but the State Democratic Assembly of the People of Chiapas refused to accept the declaration and named the PRD candidate as their Governor. As a result of these events and to protest the fact that a governor had been imposed on them, 38 municipalities declared themselves in rebellion and elected under their indigenous laws based on Indian "practices and customs" officials other than the ones who had the official elections. Faced with the institutional and popular protest, the PRI governor-elect resigned his office. However, the same elections determined the deputy and senator who would represent the district in Congress. This situation helped to create a climate in which violations of human rights were committed in the Norte de Chiapas region, as described later in this chapter.

521. Another situation related to the political rights of the indigenous people also contributed to the tension: the possibility of electing their own local authorities using traditional procedures. This right claimed by the indigenous people is already being exercised in the neighboring state of Oaxaca (as was mentioned earlier) and has been accepted as a policy in the San Andrés Agreements. However, this right has not been recognized in Chiapas, despite the fact that the communities have requested it.


522. In recent years, the presence of the Armed Forces in areas that are predominantly indigenous has been growing. A primary reason for this increased deployment has been the emergence of armed dissident groups in various parts of the country, which has led the national government to establish a military presence in those areas. The Commission has received information to the effect that this militarization has entailed restrictions on freedom of movement, commerce and the general tranquility of the population. There have also been reports of human rights violations committed by the security forces against the life, integrity, freedom and property of the rural and indigenous civilian population.

523. It is a general principle of international humanitarian law that Armed Forces must perform their duty with due respect for the civilian population, no matter what their mission may be, and that they must use methods that entail the least risk of collateral harm to the civilian population. This general principle is and given greater and more specific meaning through full respect for the rights and guarantees provided by the American Convention and other human rights treaties, even in territories where there is rebellion or a danger of rebellion. The American Convention itself and the relevant Mexican laws define the situations in which certain rights may be suspended under emergency measures and establish the applicable limits. Even so, there are certain inalienable rights, such as the right to life and physical integrity and other rights specified in the Convention, which must be observed at all times.

524. In Mexico, no constitutional measures to suspend rights and guarantees have been adopted. Therefore, even in areas where attacks by dissident forces may occur or where the presence of guerrilla groups is suspected, the freedoms of movement, commerce and expression, among others, must be respected.

525. However, during its on-site visit and in complaints received subsequent thereto, the Commission had access to credible reports about the militarization of areas with a heavy concentration of indigenous peoples, which involved restrictions on the freedom of movement and commerce and the disruption of the general tranquillity of the population, as well as isolated cases of violations of the right to life, personal integrity and property.

526. In the case of Chiapas, the Commission was told of the presence of Mexican Army camps in 46 municipalities in the state, (or in 41.4 per cent of the total number of municipalities in Chiapas) and the occupation of at least 111 indigenous communities.(150) Under the command of the Chiapas military headquarters, this deployment has expanded to the interior of the state of Tabasco. In various instances, the military presence has allegedly led to restrictions on the freedom of movement and checkpoints have been set up along roads at a number of points, temporarily preventing freedom of movement in some communities.

527. According to the complaints received, 1996 and 1997 witnessed an increase in the number of attacks and rape committed by soldiers and police officers against indigenous and peasant women living in rural communities. In Chiapas, the organization OPEZ issued a public denunciation of the rape of ten indigenous women by a group of heavily armed individuals wearing face masks and uniforms of the Federal Judicial Police, who plundered the Los Centros estate on the border with Guatemala. The Human Rights Commission of Chihuahua received a complaint of the rape of an indigenous Tarahumara woman by a soldier from the Bachamuchi military camp.

528. In 1995, the Union of Sierra del Sur Organizations in Guerrero (UOSS) reported threats made against groups which were demanding an investigation into the Aguas Blanca case and accused the state authorities of instigating the threats. Reports were also received that military and police personnel were harassing residents of the communities under the pretext that they were looking for armed groups. The OCSS reported that its leader in Patatlán, Angel Valdovinos, had disappeared.

529. That same year, during the regional indigenous meeting in Xalapa, Veracruz, the indigenous people gathered there complained of the repression and demanded a halt to the harassment of their leaders in Popoluca, Nahuatl and Zapotec in the southern part of the state.

530. The Mexican Human Rights League reported in 1996 that, as a result of military and police harassment in Huastecas, the mental health of indigenous Otomí and Nahuatl children had been severely impaired. The children exhibit disturbed behavior characterized by fear of the dark, trembling and shaking and neurotic disturbances following the constant raids and attacks on their communities. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), for its part, warned that fight against public insecurity should not affect children and it referred to the serious situation of the Otomí and Nahuatl children in the Huastecas areas, who were victims of military and police repression.

531. In August 1996, officials of the Defense Ministry and of the Seventh Military Region of the state of Chiapas gave a detailed briefing to the Commission, in which they claimed that their presence and actions in various parts of the Federation were strictly related to the performance of their professional duties, in the face of the emergence of irregular armed movements, such as the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL). They also indicated that all of their personnel and soldiers received orders and instructions to respect human rights and that any complaints of human rights violations that were reported by the local people were fully investigated.


532. On June 28, 1995, the so-called "Massacre of Aguas Blancas" took place in Guerrero; those events have been analyzed in Chapter II of this report. On first anniversary of those events, a new dissident armed group calling itself the People's Revolutionary Army [Ejército Popular Revolucionario] (EPR), emerged in Guerrero and expressed its intention to operate as a dissident armed group using uniforms, weapons and military organization. The Mexican State immediately took steps to counter the activities of this new group, mainly through the actions of the Mexican Army.

533. According to reports, the rapid succession of events created a climate of heightened insecurity characterized by frequent human rights violations attributable to State agents, especially in the 14 municipalities that form the area known as Montaña de Guerrero. There is extensive military deployment in this area and this has coincided with other phenomena, such as violence within and between communities, drug trafficking activities and other forms of organized crime, the appearance of paramilitary groups and its sequel of extrajudicial executions.

534. Among the events known to the public which have occurred recently and which exemplify this lack of security and the pervasive tension and human rights violations, the Commission wishes to note the following: the assassination of the former municipal president, Valentino Pérez Carrasco (PRD) by unknown persons on the road from Tlapa to Marquelia; the execution of two teachers from the UOCEZ (the Union of Zapatista Workers, Peasants, and Teachers) by a group of masked men who allegedly operate in the region with impunity; and the assassination of three persons near CERESO in Tlapa, in which officers of the National Judicial Police of that city are alleged to have been involved.

535. Conflicts between communities, generally related to political conflicts between the ruling party, the PRI and the opposition party, the PRD, have also worsened, and it is noted that the PRD has strengthened its presence. This situation has produced victims in the communities of Oztocingo, Ocotequila and Potoichán in the Copanatoyac municipality; in Villa de Guadalupe in the Tlapa municipality; and in the city of Tlapa itself.

536. This entire situation coincides in time and place with the actions taken by the Mexican State to suppress the EPR using both federal and Guerrero state police forces as well as Army personnel. Their repressive actions included a series of events reportedly carried out by the Army, military intelligence, and federal, judicial and state police in violation of the rights of the civilian population, including the following: extrajudicial executions; arrest without a warrant of peasants and local officials who were interrogated, sometimes under physical and/or psychological torture, to obtain the names of ERP supporters; destruction of and setting fire to the homes of presumed ERP collaborators; invasion of the homes of peasants; and seizure and destruction of personal papers and property. These incidents were reported to have occurred starting in October 1996 in various communities, including Tehutaxtitián, in the municipality of Olinalá; Tlapa and Chilpanchingo; Xitopontia, in the municipality of Ahucotzingo; Ocoapa and Ocotillo, in the municipality of Copanatoyac; Alpoyecancingo and San Miguel Ahuelicán, in the municipality of Ahuacotzingo; and San Juan Bautista Coapala, in the municipality of Atlixtac.


537. This report has discussed above the various modalities of municipal elections in the indigenous areas of Oaxaca, a state in which 60 per cent of the 3.2 million inhabitants are indigenous, and 75 percent of the territory is communal owned by the indigenous population. According to official statistics, it is the most socially disadvantaged state in Mexico. For example, in the Ayutla region, there are no public services whatsoever in the areas of health, education and electricity.

538. The Commission was also informed that the increasing organization and politicization of indigenous communities in Oaxaca had brought a negative reaction from the traditional political structure made up of caudillos (local bosses), who reacted by making false accusations and threats and by attacking opposition leaders and other opposition figures. At the same time, military forces moved into the area for the stated purpose of preventing the Zapatista movement from expanding to the north and to counter the emergence of a new guerrilla group, the ERP, in Oaxaca, which appeared there toward the end of 1996.

539. The Commission recently received reports from reliable unofficial sources which contain consistent information about arbitrary executions, torture, arbitrary arrests, and attacks against the civilian population of Oaxaca, either committed or condoned by State agents including the Mexican Army and the Federal Police.


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145. Inter-American Indian Institute, Socio-economic indicators of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, I.N.I. Department of Research and Cultural Development. Research Division, 1993. The census data referred to in this chapter, except where indicated otherwise, are taken from this publication.

146. Proof of this is that in those municipalities in which elections are held according to the general system, the PRI lost to the PRD in the large cities; but in the rural municipalities, winners were distributed equally between the two parties. The PRI won in 40 per cent of the municipalities and the PRD in most of the others.

147. The National Commission for Concord and Peace, the National Commission for Intermediation, the Dioceses of San Cristóbal de las Casas, several of the political parties and indigenous and civic organizations. Bulletin of the Civic Alliance of Chiapas, No. 5, July 1997.

148. Bartólome de las Casas Center for Human Rights (CDHBC). Report on the situation in Chiapas, July 1997, p.12.

149. The irregularities in the electoral process in Chiapas included physical attacks against the opposition candidate Amado Avendaño (PRD), whose pickup truck was rammed by a truck without license plates. These actions led to the formation of a civilian association, the Electoral Agency of the People of Chiapas (non-governmental) to supervise the elections. This organization mobilized thousands of citizens who monitored 95 per cent of the polling stations and found that there were irregularities in 57 per cent of them that met the requirements for voiding the votes cast in polling stations. Ni Paz ni Justicia op. cit. p. 69.

150. Alianza Cívica Chiapas, Carta a la opinión pública, July 10, 1997.