Indigenous Peoples’ Access to Information in Mexico: Review

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 68 (En Español)

Under the framework of the Conference on Access to Information: Latin America and the Caribbean (CAI:LAC), on September 28, 2021, the last panel on Access of indigenous peoples to information in Mexico was held and moderated by Juan Vega Gómez. The panelists were the following: Saúl Ramírez Sánchez, Roxana Rosas and José Enrique Victoria Saavedra.

The first panelist Saúl Ramírez Sánchez presented a “Panorama of indigenous peoples in Mexico in times of COVID-19” on the following topics:

  1. Population data of indigenous communities and peoples
  2. COVID-19 in Mexico
  3. COVID-19 in indigenous peoples

Regarding the first topic, he offered general data on the indigenous communities in Mexico, highlighting a total of 126.014.024 indigenous people in Mexico, of which 7 million are considered indigenous language speakers according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI in Spanish). The panelist highlighted that the Census carried out during the pandemic in 2020 did not consider self-recognition as indigenous. For this reason, it takes up the data from the INEGI Intercensal Survey of 2015, which indicates that the indigenous people who self-ascribe to an indigenous community correspond to 25 million people. Saúl Ramírez Sánchez highlights that these data are very important for the elaboration of public policies.

The panelist stressed that in Mexico there are 2,457 municipalities, of which 623 of these have an indigenous population, while the total number of municipalities without an indigenous population is 33 (1.3%), thus emphasizing that in almost all municipalities in Mexico there are indigenous peoples. Furthermore, he offered data that show the high marginality regarding access to health, houses with piped water, drainage, electricity, dirt floors and cooking with firewood.

Regarding the second issue, COVID-19 in Mexico, he pointed out that the data available for September 25, 2020 did not reflect the situation regarding COVID-19 cases. He highlighted some health indicators. He pointed out that the indigenous community has high rates of chronic diseases that are the cause of mortalities.

Regarding the third topic, COVID-19 in indigenous peoples, the panelist stated that there is little information about the indigenous community regarding COVID-19. He presented some data offered by the Mexican Ministry of Health on COVID-19. There are 19,149 indigenous people infected. Information was presented on age, medical care received, occupation (mostly domestic workers), and comorbidities. There were 2,905 deaths with an average age of 65 years. 

Saúl Ramírez Sánchez concluded with the following considerations regarding indigenous communities in Mexico:

  1. Due to the lack of action of the Federal Government of Mexico, these communities took their own measures and decisions.
  2. There was no reaction, no budget from the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI in Spanish).
  3. The impact of the pandemic will exacerbate discrimination.
  4. There is no data on the situation of COVID-19, although there are efforts by indigenous organizations to offer information to the authorities, but it is not enough.

The moderator asked what lessons have been learned from this pandemic to guarantee access to health for indigenous peoples. The panelist commented that self-determination and autonomy have not been guaranteed, much less access to health, education, and the use and enjoyment of their indigenous lands. He added that political rights are beginning to be guaranteed through affirmative actions by the National Electoral Institute (INE in Spanish) at the federal level, which does not guarantee political representation.

The second speaker, Roxana Rosas, commented on the “Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, pointing out that economic, social and cultural rights are complex in Mexico, which is why it presents a greater difficulty for indigenous communities. The panelist pointed out the two rights which are the most burdensome are health and access to justice.

Regarding the right to health, she pointed out the following gaps: a) the life expectancy of indigenous people is lower than those who are not, b) the probability of infant mortality in this population amounts to 70% according to UNICEF, c) the malnutrition of infants according to UNICEF considers 16% in Latin America, d) the nutrition of indigenous women is deficient. This gap increases in a context of COVID-19 and public health,

Regarding access to justice, he commented that the indigenous and Afro-Mexican population face obstacles due to their condition of poverty, and that the lack of access to justice is due to the lack of interpreters in different languages ​​and experts in indigenous law. Accessing justice represents implications of language, poverty and of a system prepared to apply this plurality of norms, an autonomous justice system according to its uses, customs and traditions.

Regarding the question, what have been the gender advances in the indigenous population, panelist Roxana Rosas pointed out that there are not many studies on the reality of gender in indigenous women from academia, government or statistics. In addition, she added that gender equality includes intersectional approaches that must be given a vision of identity, values ​​and culture that must include the gender identity of indigenous women. She pointed out that sometimes violence against women and girls is associated with and rationalized on the cultural identity and cultural context of this population. The lack of access to information on topics such as the right to sexual and reproductive freedom present greater obstacles for indigenous women.

The third panelist José Enrique Victoria Saavedra responded about international commitments on indigenous matters during the pandemic. The panelist highlighted the recommendation made by Michelle Bachelet (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) to the governments to recognize that extraordinary powers will be used only to effectively confront the pandemic, that is, maintain respect for human rights and not to abate dissent, control the population or prolong their political stay in power.

José Enrique Victoria Saavedra commented that Mexico leads a group of “countries that are friendly to indigenous peoples.” The panelist highlighted that the second constitutional article of the Mexican Constitution recognizes the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples. It recognizes that there is an effort from the current government, but it does not fully comply with international standards.

In response to the question, What has happened to the public policies of megaprojects promoted by the Public Administration during the health contingency? José Enrique Victoria Saavedra pointed out that many groups organized in defense of indigenous lands considered that projects such as “the Mayan train” were going to stop due to the contingency of the Mexican government when decreeing sanitary measures.

The speaker said that he requested information and consulted the environmental impact statements on the “Mayan train” project from the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT in Spanish) and the National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (FONATUR in Spanish). However, there were no records of this impact, which implies that some of the basic principles of indigenous peoples have been violated, that is, free, prior and informed consultation in good faith and with cultural relevance that make up collective rights. 

He adds that these projects affect community development, which implies forced displacement, poverty, destruction of the environment. Therefore, he suggests that the population be taken into account when these projects are developed as well as the conception that these peoples have about their development. He proposes to be attentive to the Constitutional Reform in indigenous matters because it allows to know the point of view of the current administration on these collective rights.

In response to the question: Has the religion of indigenous peoples influenced the decisions made regarding COVID-19? He pointed out that some communities did not stop their religious festivities, but, on the other hand, thanks to their internal networks they have managed to survive as peoples. 

The panelists offered precise data on indigenous peoples in Mexico. They pointed out the importance of recognizing their rights (health, political, economic, social, cultural, educational, sexual and reproductive freedom, access to justice). The panorama that was offered and the problems faced by these communities and the marginalization will be exacerbated. In addition, the impact of the pandemic will further increase inequalities for these communities.

By María Lourdes Quiroa

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