Indigenous Media in Mexico: Culture, Community, and the State

Indigenous Media in Mexico: Culture, Community, and the State

by Erica Cusi Wortham


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ISBN-13: 9780822355007
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 09/23/2013
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Erica Cusi Wortham is Assistant Research Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University.

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Culture, Community, and the State


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5500-7


Global and National Contexts of Video Indígena

1. Governments shall have the responsibility for developing, with the participation of [indigenous and tribal peoples], coordinated and systematic action to protect the rights of these peoples and to guarantee respect for their integrity.

2. Such action shall include measures for: (a) ensuring that members of [indigenous and tribal groups] benefit on an equal footing from the rights and opportunities which national laws and regulations grant to other members of the population; (b) promoting the full realization of the social, economic and cultural rights of [indigenous and tribal peoples] with respect for their social and cultural identity, their customs and traditions and their institutions; (c) assisting the members of the peoples concerned to eliminate socio-economic gaps that may exist between indigenous and other members of the national community, in a manner compatible with their aspirations and ways of life.

Article 2, ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (1989)

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.

2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity.

Article 16, United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007)

With the purpose of creating an intercultural dialogue from the community level up to the national level that would permit a new and positive relationship between pueblos indígenas and between them and the rest of society, it is essential to endow these pueblos with their own means of communication, which are also key instruments for the development of their cultures. Therefore, it will be proposed to the respective national authorities that they prepare a new communications law that will allow the pueblos indígenas to acquire, operate and administer their own communications media.

San Andrés Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture (1996)

The documents quoted above were drafted in different contexts—the first two in relative peace among international counsels, the third in a war between a state and a rebel army. Taken together, they garner the collective force of countless indigenous representatives, activists, and experts who tirelessly engage the structures of power that, in turn, continue to make empty gestures that fall tragically short of the kinds of structural change many indigenous peoples seek. These documents also place self-representation squarely within the context of indigenous rights and self-determination. While making indigenous video does not lead directly to increased autonomy in ways that are easy to measure, indigenous video, as a practice, is an expression or assertion of self-determination. Gaining access to the means of audiovisual communication is an accomplishment, a victory, in the process of securing control over lives long determined and represented by others. I use these important international documents to open this chapter on the global and national contexts of video indígena in order to situate this particular media "postura" (position) amid much broader circuits of action and discourse, but also to bring these global discourses home, as it were, within the Mexican context with a brief exegesis of situated notions of autonomy and a detailed history of Mexico's Instituto Nacional Indigenista.

The possibility of the "global indigeneity" that Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart discuss in their introduction to Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics is built on foundations and openings forged by the growing concern for human rights and the rights of once colonized peoples in the late 1960s, as well as on the civil rights movement of the same era in the United States (2008). International indigenism is a relatively new "global political entity," as Ronald Neizen asserts, that "has the potential to influence the way states manage their affairs and even to reconfigure the usual alignments of nationalism and state sovereignty" (2003, 3). Indeed, international conventions and declarations such as the ILO's Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are ratified by states, signaling their legal obligation to make and maintain necessary changes in domestic practices and policies in order to fulfill the various articles. International organizations like the UN and the ILO play a key role in deciding global agendas, in channeling where resources are to be applied, and more important, they provide a powerful space (albeit mostly discursive or legal) in which indigenous activists and organizations can appeal for support and gain international visibility, leap-frogging repressive state regimes.

The ILO was founded in Switzerland with the participation of nine countries, in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War, with the goal that "universal, lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice" (Rogers et al. 2009, 3). As "a standard-setting agency" the ILO is a tripartite organization—"the only international intergovernmental institution in which governments do not have the exclusive voting power in setting standards and policies" (Rogers et al. 2009, 12)—and has established nearly 200 conventions on labor that have been ratified by many of its member nations. The ILO became the first specialized agency of the newly formed UN in 1946 and in 1957 adopted the first convention related to the rights of Indigenous and Tribal Populations, Convention No. 107. This convention was undergirded by the familiar assumption that assimilation offers the best future for indigenous people, much as was advocated in Mexico throughout most of the twentieth century. It was not until the late 1980s, with the rise in participation of NGOs that bridged the communication and reality gap between these high-level arenas and people on the ground, in villages and communities, that scholars and government representatives began to see the need for a revised convention. In 1989 the ILO adopted Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which presents a human rights-based approach to indigenous policies from the "standpoint of multiculturalism" (Rogers et al. 2009, 85). The shift from "populations" to "peoples" in the title of the convention is widely seen as a positive move that opens the door for self-determination and the recognition of political rights, even though the ILO is primarily interested in mandating economic and social rights: "The ILO was the first to be able to adopt the use of this term 'peoples'—although in so doing Convention No. 169 provided that the use of the term did not determine its meaning in international law" (Rogers et al. 2009, 89). Mexico was the first Latin American member nation to ratify Convention No. 169, in May of 1990, two years into the administration of President Salinas Carlos de Gortari (1988–94). President Gortari subsequently spearheaded constitutional reforms that for the first time ever in Mexico's history formally recognized the "pluricultural" composition of the country, signaling Mexico's move to join the global sentiment to protect the rights of indigenous peoples when, in fact, calls for recognizing cultural pluralism had been vociferously made by leading scholars inside Mexico since the late 1970s. It was also under the Gortari administration that the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI) launched their indigenous video program.

The Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples began its journey within a context that sought to protect not just labor rights, but human rights. The atrocities of the Second World War and the subsequent establishment of the UN, in 1945, institutionalized with broad international participation a concept of human rights that had previously existed in many literate and nonliterate societies. The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by all member nations in 1948, states that "the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world." The nongovernmental organization International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, which was founded by human rights activists and anthropologists in 1968 who shared an awareness of the need for special measures to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, urged the un to establish the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982. In 1988, the UN requested that the group begin putting together a set of principles for a draft declaration of rights specific to indigenous peoples. The first draft of the declaration was completed in 1993, but it took another fourteen years of reviews, debates, and negotiations between independent experts, government representatives, indigenous activists, and participating NGOs before the document was finally ratified by the global assembly, in September of 2007. In the intervening years, the UN launched the first International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995–2004), in order to bring global awareness to indigenous peoples' struggles. Now, approaching the end of the second Decade of the World's Indigenous People (2005–15), the declaration remains without covenants to transform its articles into international law. Nevertheless, the document stands as an important global referent to which indigenous peoples can appeal when seeking protection of their rights, to strengthen and maintain their own institutions, cultures, and traditions, and to pursue their development in accordance with their aspirations and needs. Mexico and 143 other member nations ratified the declaration while eleven nations abstained and four voted against it.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, like the Universal Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, attempts to guarantee our rights as individual persons, independently of what the governments under which we live do or say, allow or do not allow. The authority of the nation-state is bypassed as our individual rights are deemed indivisible and inalienable, and, of course, universal. The declarations provide a higher order to which we can appeal when our individual rights are violated, but there is less recourse for asserting and protecting collective rights. The rights of collectives, as peoples, continue to be a primary concern of many indigenous groups and, without a doubt, are a fundamental issue in any struggle over self-determination and autonomy, as collectives with rights not only pose a radical alternative to the primacy of the individual in Western democratic culture, but tend to directly clash with issues of national sovereignty (Anaya 2004). Indeed, the nation-state plays a critical role as the protection of our rights cannot be achieved without the cooperation of nations and their governments, and sadly, the nation-state remains the most enduring obstacle to real change in favor of indigenous peoples, as the unfulfilled San Andrés Accords remind us.

The San Andrés Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture are specific to Mexico but resonate directly with the documents discussed above. The accords were signed by both the Mexican government (at the time headed by President Ernesto Zedillo) and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), on February 16, 1996, in the village of San Andrés Larráinzar, after many rounds of dialogue between the two parties and among broader audiences and experts consulted by both sides. Based on principles of respect, participation, and autonomy, the San Andrés Accords were intended to be the first in a series of accords that outlined a new relationship between indigenous peoples and the state of Mexico. The second set of accords, on land, were never debated, however, as the EZLN broke off negotiations with the Mexican government after the Zedillo administration introduced a flawed and watered-down counterproposal later that same year. The "Indigenous Law," known as the COCOPA proposal, which the Mexican congress did pass in 2001 after the opposition president Vicente Fox promised to renew the peace process, was loosely based on the accords but was emptied of all their potential for structural change. The Indigenous Law passed under Fox—which the Zapatista spokesperson renamed the "Constitutional Recognition of the Rights and Culture of the Landowners and Racists"—put the possibility of any indigenous autonomy onto the states. The Mexican supreme court ruled, in 2002, on the hundreds of objections filed against the law: "The Magna Carta should always prevail, and any secondary laws (such as those proposed in the original COCOPA legislation) which opposed it should not be obeyed by any authorities" (Stephen 2009, 130).

Forms of indigenous autonomy—already and for many centuries practiced in Mexico—are not inherently incompatible with nationhood or state sovereignty. Indeed, these documents outline specific ways in which indigenous self-determination and "nation" can openly and manifestly co-exist, just as today's forms of indigenous autonomy such as self-government and self-representation offer situated and daily evidence of such a co-existence. However Convention No. 169, the Universal Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the San Andrés Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture come on the heels of nearly a century of assimilation practices and programs—known as indigenismo—that are deeply engrained in relations between the state and indigenous peoples, and therefore difficult to reverse. Video indígena emerges at the end of official indigenismo as if to deal it its final blow. Conceived in an experimental moment within the very institution that embodied indigenismo, video indígena, as state-sponsored indigenous media, nevertheless ultimately fell short of changing the terms of self-representation. The history of unequal relations between the state and indigenous peoples, so heavily shaped by assimilation programs which pitted culture against political action and structural change, weighed too heavily, and video indígena was brought back in line with safe versions of cultural expression and pluralism, in response to the Zapatista movement in 1994. Indeed, in a recent study on indigenous media sponsored currently by the Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CDI), which was created in 2003 to replace INI, communication scholars Jorge Rodriquez Ramos and Antoni Castells-Talens conclude that the CDI practices neoindigenismo, a new form of an old assimilationist policy with a neoliberal bent (2011).

It is important to note that global, national, regional, and local arenas of social activity and discourse constantly intersect and interact; and while this level of complexity is critical to understanding video indígena, I feel it is my obligation here to thread the needle through the local, to assert the most particular examples of indigenous self-determination and the specific struggles indigenous actors face, while sewing up as many loose ends as possible. Videomakers like Juan José García and others have never traveled to Geneva to participate directly in discussions and draftings of declarations and conventions that have come to define the imperative of indigenous self-determination for the broadest audiences. Some of them, however, have sat at the table with Zapatista authorities at conferences and workshops where the San Andrés Peace Accords were vetted. And all of them, in one manner or another, live forms of self-determination and autonomy on a daily basis as members and leaders of their communities, as activists and as video-makers whose work it is to make their culture visible.

Proposals from Indigenous Activists and Scholars in Mexico: On Autonomy and Self-Determination

Most activists and scholars agree that the question of indigenous autonomy calls for significant structural changes in the organization of the Mexican state, but it is important to consider from the outset that the community-based proposal calls for recognizing what has always existed within the Mexican state: indigenous autonomy at the community level. The comunalista proposal relies on notions of autonomy as "lived" or, as the Zapotec videomaker Juan José García put it, as "esquemas que hay" (schemes that exist). For García and other video-makers in Oaxaca engaged in the autonomy movement, community-based autonomy is seen as natural. Indigenous autonomy is composed of "community practices that are real, that permit us to make and carry through decisions on our own, in practice." For one of García's Zapotec colleagues, Francisco Luna, autonomy is more about self-sufficiency, "about being able to generate and carry out projects rather than depend on government assistance." Like García, Luna believes that "autonomy exists in various aspects of community life." Rather than something to be achieved, in the words of the Zapotec K-Xhon collective, autonomy is more about "respect for what is now": "There will be and should be many, many autonomies, all of them respectable and respected. Autonomy is to become responsible to ourselves. In each family, in each neighborhood or street, in each community or subdivision, from deciding what to do with our trash and other waste to deciding what kind of education we want for our children" (Topil 1994, 1).

Excerpted from INDIGENOUS MEDIA IN MEXICO by ERICA CUSI WORTHAM. Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents


Illustrations....................     ix     

Preface....................     xi     

Acknowledgments....................     xv     

INTRODUCTION Making Culture Visible: Indigenous Media in Mexico............     1     


ONE Global and National Contexts of Video Indígena....................     25     

TWO Inventing Video Indígena: Transferring Audiovisual Media to Indigenous
Organizations and Communities....................     58     


THREE Regional Dimensions: Video Indígena beyond State Sponsorship.........     93     

FOUR Dilemmas in Making Culture Visible: Achieving Community Embeddedness
in Tamazulapam del Espíritu Santo, Mixe....................     130     

PART 3 POINTS OF COMPARISON....................          

FIVE Revolutionary Indigenous Media: The Chiapas Media Project/Promedios...     177     

SIX Conclusions: Indigenous Media on the International Stage...............     207     

Notes....................     223     

References....................     243     

Index....................     261     

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