R. Aída Hernández Castillo




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. Much of the government’s rejection of the agreements was based on the way in which recognizing autonomy compromised the central power of the state. Government speakers argued that autonomy threatened ‘national unity’ and that autonomy would represent a step backwards in ‘civilization’. The racist prejudices of government consultants were reflected in statements such as one that mentioned that there was a danger of indigenous peoples reverting to ‘human sacrifices’ if they were given autonomy (La Jornada, 4 March 1997). The Zapatistas and the indigenous independent movement declared on several occasions that they did not want to separate from Mexico, but rather to have a measure of autonomy within the nation. Adelfo Regino, a Oaxacan indigenous leader, stated: ‘Politically speaking, the concepts of autonomy and sovereignty are radically different. It has been understood traditionally that sovereignty is an attribute of states... whereas autonomy is the ability of communities within the framework of the state – not outside it - to determine, together with agencies of the state and federal government, their general living conditions. When the indigenous peoples of Mexico claim our right to free determination in pursuit of autonomy, we are not challenging sovereignty’. (La Jornada, 9 January 1997, p. 10). For a detailed analysis of official speeches and of the indigenous movement towards autonomy, see Hernández Castillo 1998c.

10 The project was carried out in the framework of an agreement between the Grupo de Mujeres COLEM A.C., a non-governmental feminist organization formed of indigenous and mestiza women, and CIESAS, an anthropological research center. The collective project is entitled ‘Positive Law and Customary Law in the Face of Sexual and Domestic Violence: A Co-participative Investigation in the Search of Legal Defense Alternatives for Indigenous Women’. The members of the research team were lawyers Martha Figueroa and Guadalupe Elizalde, pedagogue Guadalupe Cárdenas, and anthropologists Anna María Garza and R. Aída Hernández.


11 The first paragraph now reads: ‘The Mexican nation has a pluricultural composition sustained originally on its indigenous peoples. The law shall protect and promote the development of their language, culture, ways, customs, resources and specific systems of social organization; it shall grant their members effective access to state law. In the trials and agrarian procedures in which they participate, customary law and practices shall be taken into account as prescribed by law’.

12 Official Federal Journal, 8 January 1991.

13 In his initial statement, Bruce admitted to having argued with his wife and to having struck her with a bamboo cane, although he played down the severity of the blows. He subsequently retracted this first statement and presented his marital relationship as an harmonious one.

14 Paramilitary groups are formed of armed groups of civilians who receive training from active army members. Their links with the official party and with local power elites have been denounced by human rights organizations. (See Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, 1996).


15 See Propuestas de las Mujeres Indígenas al Congreso Nacional Indígena. From the seminar ‘Reformas al Artículo Cuarto Constitucional’ October 8-12 1996, Mexico City.


16 For a detailed analysis of the political and cultural implications that the national post-revolutionary project had for indigenous peoples see Hernández Castillo 2001.


17 The National Indigenous Institute, INI, is the government institution in charge of public policy towards indigenous peoples.

18 I do not mean to imply that culture and power are always mutually exclusive concepts; much has been written based on the works of Michel Foucault about the way in which discourses reflect culture and the relationships of power that exist in the context from which they spring. Nevertheless, many functionalist studies from the 1950s and 1960s that highlighted cultural analysis did so without recognizing how the construction of meaning is marked by power relationships.


19 In 1989 History and Power in the Study of Law, edited by June Starr and Jane Collier, was published, marking a new direction in North American legal anthropology. This volume highlighted the importance of considering power and historical perspectives in the analysis of any legal system.


20 I take the term ‘legal maps’ from Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who refers to legal pluralism as ‘different legal spaces superimposed, interpenetrated and mixed in our minds as much as in our actions, in occasions of qualitative leaps or sweeping crises in our life trajectories as well as in the dull routine of eventless everyday life. We live in a time of porous legality and legal porosity’. (1987:289)

21 This contrasting characterization is present in the classical works for Oaxaca and Chiapas by Nader, 1966, 1969, and Collier 1973, and continues to hold sway in the anthropological debate, as shown in a recent paper by the Bolivian anthropologist Xavier Albó (2000).


22 The way in which various political sectors struggle for control of the ‘authentic’ tradition has been analyzed by George Collier (1994) in the case of the Zinacantán Tzotzil.


23 In some areas, such as Simojovel, the Catholic Church, through its Indigenous Pastoral, created a new religious structure, which re-invented traditional posts, taking up such terms as ‘principals’ and ‘elders’ councils’. In contrast to pre-existing civic-religious authorities, women can occupy public office (although only married women who occupy them together with their husbands).


24 Anna Garza (1999) has traced the formation of ‘traditional’ spaces for justice administration in the highland municipality of San Pedro Chenalhó and has noted the important role played by the Mexican government in the legitimization of some concepts of ‘tradition’ and the negation of others.


25 Interview of Aureliano López by R. Aída Hernández, 8 May 1999.


26 In her analysis of nineteenth century judicial records from Chihuahua, Ana Alonso (1992) has shown how legal reforms of the time aimed at penalizing domestic violence in fact served to ‘rationalize patriarchy’ by reinforcing gender roles. Only ‘decent and obedient’ women could count on the law to protect them from domestic violence, others could not.


27 Both customary law and state law define the domestic space as a female space par excellence. Until 1998 the Chiapas State Civil Code established in its Articles 165 and 166 that the wife was responsible for the upkeep of the home, and could only have a job if it didn’t affect her domestic responsibilities. The same code established that wives required conjugal permission to work outside the home or to travel. These articles were modified in 1998 partly in response to an initiative presented to the state Congress by the lawyer of the San Cristóbal Women’s Group COLEM.


28 One of the cases reviewed was that of a girl raped by the Municipal President of Chenalhó (in 1991) whose parents denounced the rape with the help of the COLEM lawyers, only to retract the charges later after a conciliation between the parties. Several indigenous women expelled from San Juan Chamula also denounced the use of rape as a form of punishment used against their parents or husbands who confronted local political bosses (caciques).



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