Why is it important to build a relationship between the government and indigenous communities?
The role of INPI is important to this country and the world because we have 68 native communities located throughout the national territory that represent the roots of the country and have great cultural and ethical richness. There are 68 indigenous languages spoken in our country, not to mention all the linguistic variations. The territories where they live have been protected by the communities, including the varieties within them. The main ecological reserves of the country are within indigenous territories such as the Lacandona jungle, which is populated by the indigenous communities of Chiapas. There is a great natural richness in these communities. Paradoxically, studies carried out by government agencies demonstrate that the poorest among them, however, are also indigenous.
Which strategies are you pursuing to change this?
That is an important question. Why are communities with such culture and natural richness, traditional knowledge, and history marginalized? This is due to a lack of employment opportunities, and health and education. They are also forced to migrate, a phenomenon that has grown exponentially in the last few years. They migrate to the cities and to agricultural crops in the north in Sinaloa, Sonora, Baja California, and especially the US. There are a few answers, but one that we have had trouble understanding is why our communities have been excluded in the decision-making processes. The government decides which programs, projects, and resources are given to the communities and regions, and often they are not included or consulted before these are executed. As a result, despite certain actions and resources, the poverty and conditions of the communities have not improved. That is why this government has decided to view indigenous communities as active subjects rather than objects of public policy. This new institute is the instrument of the government to cater to their needs. The communities are capable of making decisions and deciding which projects they want to implement, rather than the government forcing projects upon them.
What kind of priorities or projects have arisen from these consultations with the communities?
There have been multiple initiatives. We were with the president talking to the Yaqui tribe, which raised three issues: the sovereignty of their territory, since their water supply is being used by agricultural companies; in the city of Hermosillo, they have to drink contaminated water; and an integral development plan according to their capabilities. As a result, the institute is working on a justice plan for the Yaqui people. Every government institution needs to put their resources, human, financial, and technical, to the service of this plan. We will have regional development plans for the 68 indigenous communities, but also for the Afromexican community in Oaxaca and Guerrero. Our main premise is that any development or welfare initiative is decided by the communities.
Considering this new strategy, how do you plan to create synergy between the communities and the private sector?
By law, we need to consult communities before we do any project. We did it for the strategic plan of the president for the development plan of the Istmo de Tehuantepec. We have done seven consultations directed at the indigenous communities in the territory, both in Oaxaca and Veracruz. Nowadays we are consulting about the Tren Maya in Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo. We do this process because we are convinced that any development plans have to consider the local and regional contexts and help them actively participate in planning and implementation. And it also comes down to the equitable distribution of benefits, since it is not fair that we continue with this colonial logic of destroying nature and keeping communities poor and marginalized. If there is an investment project by the government or a private entity, the voice of the local communities must be heard, and there should also be an equitable distribution of benefits.