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News > Mexico

Mexico: 14 Indigenous Towns Continue 20-Year Fight for Autonomy

  • A man cuts grass around a Chinampa, or floating garden, to create a protected area for the Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), or Mexican salamander, in Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City Mexico May 8, 2018.

    A man cuts grass around a Chinampa, or floating garden, to create a protected area for the Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), or Mexican salamander, in Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City Mexico May 8, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 April 2019

Indigenous communities in Mexico City's sprawling, southern sector say they are tired of being neglected by the government and want political autonomy. 

Representatives of the Indigenous from 14 original towns of the municipality of Xochimilco, Mexico City, denounced the local government’s disregard for the formation of their own government at the reopening event of a major highway.

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The Tulyehualco highway reopened Sunday more than a year and a half since a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake September 19, 2017 left it in ruins. Around 300 people were killed and 40 buildings toppled in the seismic event. 

At the ribboncutting ceremony, representatives from 14 Indigenous communities of Xochimilco located in Mexico City's southern end, were in attendance with placards condemning the mayor's office for not respecting their communities’ autonomy within the Xochimilco sector, a fight they have been waging for over 20 years.

"We've already read them, we better all lower the canvases so that those in the back can see. I already read them both, do not worry," Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said to the activists.

For more than 20 years, the Indigenous people of 14 communities in the southern area of Mexico City have been trying to create their own governments because the capital government has neglected them for decades within one of Latin America's largest and sprawling cities. They want autonomy to manage basic services such as schools, health centers and public transportion that several administrations have failed to provide.

Professor Silvia Cabello who is part of the committee for an autonomous Xochimilco council says that Sheinbaum is meddling in their process of choosing community authorities because she doesn't want the people to have autonomy. 

"What we want is the council to organize with the communities ... to get services and improve those that are already there," Cabello says.

Indigenous people have the right to form their own government under the 2017 Mexico City constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

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The communities are trying to establish their council since 1997 to protect their space that was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. Around the area local reporters say they see cracked public buildings and there is no public square, as is typical in nearly all towns and cities throughout Mexico. There is still tremendous damage left by the 2017 earthquake, which has reinvigorated the communities to create change themselves.

"That they make us a square. It is the only thing we are asking for. This problem is four years old and now we suffer from harmful rats because merchants throw their waste there. If that becomes plaza that won't happen," says Cabello.

As Sheinbaum inaugurated a market last October saying that the official government would rescue public market culture in the capital, but this Xochimilco market was never opened by the city and stands abandoned and vandalized. "It is the white elephant of this town," says local Roberto Espinoza.

"People are tired, they feel forgotten. They have contributed their communities in environmental terms, of the forests, of the waters," says a community lawyer, Alejandro Velazquez. Xochimilco is world famous for its floating chinampas gardens and canals which mark the last vestiges of a vast water transport system built by the Aztecs.

Despite promises from the new mayor that this area within Mexico City, Latin America's most populated metropolis, will be rejuvenated and rebuilt, the progress is slow or yet to arrive.

"The towns of the south of the city are ... being forgetting," said Espinoza.

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