<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
 English | Español December 18, 2017 | Issue #51


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Women, Caciques and Remote Indigenous Towns

Eufrosina Cruz Leads Fight for Indigenous Women's Rights: Political Bosses Manipulate Traditions


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

March 5, 2008

More information is coming out about Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza, an indigenous Zapotec woman, and her attempt to be elected mayor of the town of Santa Maria Quiegolani, population 1506 (in the year 2000), of whom 1166 are indigenous Zapoteco or Chontal. There are 94 private homes in the town (according to the government statistics bureau, INEGI), located in the Sierra Sur.


Eufrosina Cruz on the TV Azteca program Entrevista con Sarmiento.
Photos from Huajuapan Web
Nothing in indigenous usage prohibits governance by a woman; many towns such as Tlalixtac de Cabrera (about twenty minutes by bus from Oaxaca City, and roughly twice the size of Santa Maria Quiegolani) have elected a woman to fill the position. In Tlalixtac, the woman mayor chosen last week is highly respected for her community services. Now retired with a pension, she can afford to give her time and energy to her town. So electing a woman depends on each autonomous town’s own decisions. At present, of the 412 municipalities governed by traditional indigenous laws known as usos y costumbres, at least 80 impede participation by women. But it’s not clear how many of these do so because of machismo, or because of caciquismo – the power of local political bosses.

The Sierra Sur is the area most named as containing towns on the verge of violence, identified as a foco rojo – a red flag or problem area on the map.

Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza, who just turned 28, is a university graduate in accounting, and director of a technical school for indigenous students. She left her remote hometown of Santa María Quiegolani to pursue her education and a career. She returned to run for the mayor’s office, supported by a group of women – how many, I don’t know, but it seems from what I read that Eufrosina is leading a true indigenous women’s movement.

In an assembly held November 4, 2007 under the system of usos y costumbres, her name was placed on the “ballot” because the outgoing mayor, Saúl Cruz Vázquez, was sure that in an election in which women were not allowed to vote, the accountant could not defeat the man whom Cruz Vazquez had personally selected, Eloy Mendoza Martínez. Neither Eufrosina or other women were permitted to participate in the assembly. The big surprise came when the vote tally began to run in her favor. At that moment, Cruz Vázquez decided to annul the election. The reason he gave: No women allowed.

On January 1, 2008 Eloy Mendoza Martínez assumed power in Santa María Quiegolani. Eufrosina began her campaign for the rights of women in many indigenous towns. She presented her complaint to the Oaxaca State Electoral Institute, which turned over the case to its internal director of matters concerning usos y costumbres. The director told Eufrosina not to worry, that being young she would have another chance in the future to run for office, and asked her if she was single and would like to go out for coffee.

This information comes from a commentator from the daily Oaxaca newspaper Noticias, Sergio Sarmiento, who interviewed Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza on his television show called Entrevista con Sarmiento. Sarmiento published his account on a web site called “Paco Calderón.” To orient you to the bias of Sarmiento, he is no participatory democracy enthusiast, and never expresses support for Oaxaca’s popular movement. However, like the majority in Oaxaca, he sees political corruption and intrigues devouring this and other Mexican states as well. He wrote for Noticias on February 19, “We are not building a democracy but rather a series of feudal states in which the governors do what they want to. Maybe this is what the parties want: a system in which each has its territory where nobody else can enter.”

The Congress of Oaxaca, acting as verifier of election results, declared valid the election of Eloy Mendoza. In a chamber of deputies (state representatives) dominated by the governor’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in its Spanish initials), the conclusion they offered was, “in the face of usos y costumbres, nothing can be done.” Eufrosina went to the National Commission for Human Rights, in December.

Neither that official institution, nor non-governmental organizations, were interested. No satisfaction has been forthcoming because legally, indigenous towns with “abusos y costumbres” as Eufrosina referred to them on Sarmiento’s program, are within their rights to make whatever regulations they choose. This is not completely true, however. The constitution takes precedent. The curious fact in Santa María Quiegolani: it was okay for her to run but not okay for her to win.

In my view, Sarmiento did not go far enough in saying the political parties want exclusive territories –he should have said why. Oaxaca is staring neoliberal development in the face, and unbridled “ownership” of territory is exactly how the money can be stolen. Was Santa María Quiegolani truly a battle over gender? Or is it yet another battle for power and control by the local bosses? Does everyone who declined to investigate, as in so many criminal actions here, know who these caciques are, and if Governor Ulises Ruiz (“URO”) wants them in power?

Sarmiento says, “It’s really incredible that nobody in the costly governmental institutions created to guarantee equality between Mexican men and women, dares to fulfill their function.”

The governor accompanied Eufrosina to Quiegolani last January 18, where he exhorted now-mayor Eloy Mendoza to guarantee participation in decision-making to women. Immediately thereafter, Eufrosina began to receive death threats.

She claims the intimidation is coming directly from Eloy Mendoza, whom, she added, is “managed” by former mayor Saúl Cruz Vázquez. The death threats were received by telephone on February 26, warning her not to continue agitating. Her lawyer has filed criminal complaints on her behalf, with the state attorney general – who responds to the orders of URO.

In Quiegolani, Eufrosina added, “the mayor didn’t permit the participation of women in the community assembly. The first assembly of this year (2008) is over and he didn’t permit women to participate because he said it’s going to be the men who decide if the women can have the right to vote or not in the elections.”

By now, this case of violation of women’s rights has gone global, placing Oaxaca once again in the eyes of human rights commissions and world opinion. On March 8, Women’s Day, Eufrosina will be at Los Pinos, (the president’s official residence), at the personal invitation of President Felipe Calderón. According to Heraclio Bonilla Gutierrez in his opinion piece published in Noticias on March 1, 2008, she was invited for “a very simple reason: he (Calderón) wants to separate himself from URO regarding the treatment URO gives the indigenous Oaxacans, who for him don’t exist, until dumb reality and Eufrosina contradict him.” When URO went to Quiegolani, Bonilla writes, he had no intention of furthering the political development of Oaxaca, or of solving problems, but rather to present himself to the media as solving problems – which, as is evident to both Bonilla and to me, he himself caused. In other words, a photo op.

Bonilla points out that March 8 will be a big press day, in which Eufrosina can further her cause. Bonilla calls her genuinely dedicated, “equal to Emiliano Zapata” in her selfless regard for indigenous women. The PRI governments have known how to take advantage of indigenous women’s poverty and remoteness. It’s a lie that usos y costumbres negate a woman’s right to vote, it’s local manipulation that does it, Eufrosina says – indigenous norms cannot contradict federal and state constitutions which clearly state that women have the same rights as do men.

“A bad joke” is how Bonilla refers to the creation of the post of Secretary of Indigenous Affairs, a person who apparently has charge of collecting votes: “…to have captive promoters of the PRI vote, since we know how they collect electoral credentials (the ID cards presented when a person votes)… or carry out public works obviously to promote a vote in favor of the ’governor,’ since in Oaxaca what remains of his party is represented by him.” Further, he says, state officials have done nothing to help the indigenous population.

Oaxaca is a showcase of half-completed or shabbily made roads, schools, and drainage systems.

So I have to suspect – I’m not alone in this – that the long-standing policy of PRI governors since Diodoro Carrasco Altamirano was in power in the 1990s, has been to denigrate and ultimately destroy usos y costumbres. Then the parties can step in, as Sarmiento suggests, to hold the territory.

The caciques, present in many indigenous and non-indigenous towns alike, not only control the townspeople, but also control the natural resources of the town. If you recall, Eufrosina was being voted for by a male-only assembly. Their other choice was the hand-picked successor to Saúl Cruz Vázquez, his puppet Eloy. The townsmen would have chosen even a young woman, instead of Eloy, if permitted.

Santa Maria Quiegolani lies in the Sierra Sur, an area of intense and on-going struggles for control. “Follow the money”: caciquismo echoes in my mind as the most threatening aspect of the corrupt government in Oaxaca, which Bonilla refers to as “the planet of the apes.” As Oaxaca stares at neoliberalism rushing toward it, the development of mining, wind generators and hydroelectric dams will be like candy flung to children by performers on stage. All a corrupt boss has to do is raise his arms and catch.

In urging equal rights for women, usos y costumbres will surely be attacked. That has been the PRI plan all along, and Eufrosina’s welcome and just campaign must somehow avoid the traps. Indigenous populations and their usos y costumbres have adapted for hundreds of years. Here comes another challenge.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America