A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Mexico. Leer en Español.
On a six-day tour through the Free and Sovereign State of Chiapas last month, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez Marichuy transgressed traditional Mexican politics by making her struggle against machismo apparent—and indigenous girls and women visible. In a country that registers an average of seven femicides per day and is governed by a male political class in crisis over high levels of corruption and impunity, the message of the first indigenous woman candidate seeking the presidency in the history of Mexico is reverberating.
In the closing event in Oventic, Chiapa—home of the Zapatista Army of the National Liberation (EZLN) rebel group—covered by mist and intermittent drizzle, Marichuy, a representative of the Mexican government's Indigenous Council (ICG), said that women are the ones who feel the deepest pain due to the murders, disappearances, and imprisonments arbitrarily committed in the country. "But it's precisely because we are the ones who feel the deepest pain, because we [experience] the greatest oppressions, that we women are also capable of feeling the deepest rage," she said. "And we must be able to transform that rage in an organized way in order to go on the offensive to dismantle the power from above, building with determination and without fear, the power from below." The historic character of that pain in Mexico was palpable at the event. On the stage was Regina Santiago Rodríguez, a member of the legendary Eureka Committee of the Disappeared—a group of mothers whose children were abducted and systematically tortured during Mexico's Dirty War, a shadow government campaign waged against left-wing dissidents between the late 1970s and 1980s. Regina was mother to Irma Cruz Santiago, who disappeared in 1977. Standing next to her was Hilda Hernández, mother of César Manuel González, one of the 43 Mexican students at a teachers' college who notoriously disappeared in 2014. On her way through various peasant communities, Marichuy was equally forceful in her defense of the natural resources that are being threatened or have already been ravaged by the government or powerful multinational companies.
Marichuy—a native Nahua woman born in Tuxpan, in the western state of Jalisco—was clear about her feminist politics throughout her speech. That stance was also on display throughout her various campaign actions in the marginalized southeast region of Mexico, where especially profound gender inequalities exist thanks to a persistent cultural tradition of men dominating decision-making at every level.
Fifty indigenous councilors—all of them women—from the ICG, and hailing from different parts of Mexico, accompanied the candidate at each of her events, sharing the microphone and seats on stage. And it was exclusively women and girls from ethnic groups such as Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Tzotzil, Choles, who participated during the welcoming and artistic presentations.
The voice of the military command of the EZLN was also delivered exclusively via its female commanders: Everilda, Amada, Rosalinda, Miriam, and Hortencia (Zapatista tradition is to use only one name). Yes, this was a special time for women. Not a single man took the microphone during the tour, which was held from October 14 to 19. When men were visible—especially in the security cordons of Zapatista militiamen, who were equipped with nightsticks—there was usually a female presence among them. The scene was dominated by indigenous girls who expressed their anti-capitalist positions, and offered performances reflecting their empowerment in the fields of health, education, and other essential jobs in their communities.
Perhaps even more remarkable than the gender dynamics on display was the presence of non-partisan indigenous families and even supporters of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). This despite the fact that there was no distribution of food or souvenir posters—a well-known political practice known in México as acarreo.
On the night before the start of the final event in Oventic, for example, we came across a young couple who have previously supported the PRI and hailed from San Andrés Larráinzar, a neighboring community that upholds traditions such as caciquismo—essentially a local version of machine boss politics where power is maintained over a rural region through corrupt means. They sold coffee and atole, a traditional warm cornmeal drink, on the road. The woman, Karla, was 18 years old and making her first incursion into Zapatista territory to listen to Marichuy's speech. Her parents were non-partisan and her in-laws were supporters of the PRI party. But all of them were on hand for the campaign event.
Living in autonomy
Marichuy toured the five Zapatista Caracoles, the name given to the administrative headquarters in which the EZLN exercises a form of autonomous government. The rebels have severed all institutional and partisan relationships with the Mexican government to create their own systems of education, health, justice, government, and security. These five Caracoles bring together some 30 autonomous municipalities dating from 2003 in which around 250,000 indigenous people make a living from their production of coffee, corn, and various other micro-enterprises. The caravan of vehicles moving from one Caracol to another was slow, due to potholes, roads that weren't fully paved, raging downpours, and intense heat. But in each place people waited for Marichuy's arrival, sometimes spending upwards of five hours outside, as was the case with the Caracol de Morelia. In the Caracol events, each of the Zapatista commanders gave speeches around similar themes: a critique of capitalism arguing it destroys the country and extends impunity to those who commit femicides; a historical account of sexual violations and mistreatment their grandmothers endured at the hands of the region's landowners; and the daily violence confronted in their own families and communities. And unlike many speeches delivered in support of other presidential candidates. Commander Hortencia explicitly called upon female professionals, students, scientists, employees, and artists, urging them to join the cause and to confront neoliberalism. "We have to unite our struggle with those who have their own struggles and ensure that politics don't divide us. As if we need to ask for permission to exist, to be, to fight. The status quo political institution is ashamed of us: We women of color, gays, lesbians, transgender people, and everything different." Commander Hortencia pointed out that "the world is very big and all of us fit, all of us. The only thing that does not fit is the capitalist system because it dominates everything and doesn't even let us breathe. Worst of all is that capitalism has no end—no death, destruction, misery, or desolation is enough. No, it wants more: More war, more death, more destruction."
The tour of the healer
Marichuy was accompanied on her tour by 156 women and men of the ICG, hailing from 63 of Mexico's indigenous regions, encompassing more than 39 original languages, such as the Wixárika of Jalisco, the Rarámuri of Chihuahua, the Mazahua of the State of Mexico, and the Yaqui of Sonora.
The Council, which is part of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI, in Spanish), forms a front of resistance against mega-mining, hydroelectric, and energy projects, as well as other types of business and public construction, like the new international airport being erected in Mexico's Texcoco city.
In May, the 1,480-member Council elected Marichuy as a presidential candidate in a selection process that lasted six months. During that time, they consulted their communities about whether to support a candidate at all in the presidential elections. Not only did they conclude the answer was yes, but they decided to make a special kind of history along the way. The 53-year-old Nahua standbearer, who works in herbal medicine, was selected because of her participatory and inclusive work in CNI over the course of the past 20 years.
In search of what's needed
Marichuy needs to collect 866,593 signatures in 17 states to be included on the ballot as an independent candidate for the Mexican presidency. The deadline is February 12, 2018. The candidate has said that although she's obtained the support of 1,480 volunteers to collect electronic signatures, the app created by the National Electoral Institute (INE, in Spanish) to gather the signatures was blocked during her visit in Altamirano and Ocosingo, two municipalities in Chiapas. But Marichuy isn't giving up. She has plans to traverse Mexico to gather signatures, including university centers such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). During her speech in Palenque, in northern Chiapas, Marichuy announced she was currently trying to double the number of volunteers. In the central plaza of the Mayan city, under a searing sun, the indigenous trailblazer warned that she won't relent in her efforts to generate a groundswell of popular support. "Above all," she said, she intends to "amplify and strengthen the organizational structure of our rage and pain, so that throughout the country, we make the earth tremble at its center and allow the survival of the native peoples and the reconstruction of a Mexico that has been intentionally torn apart by those who have the power." The electoral infrastructure of Marichuy's campaign is sustained by the indigenous communities themselves, as well as by her supporters, all of whom believe "it's time for the flourishing of peoples" and include writer Juan Villoro, political scientist Pablo González Casanova and anthropologist Sylvia Marcos. The challenge is covering the campaign's expenses, as the wannabe candidate and the ICG decided to reject the financing of the campaign from INE—electoral authority in Mexico—in keeping with their autonomy from the government.
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