By Alexia Rauen
María de Jesús Patricio Martínez is an indigenous healer running for the Mexican presidency. Her hope is to fight Mexico’s rampant corruption by altering the system in which political parties, such as the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN), have dominated for decades. While it is unlikely she will be competitive with national icon Andrés Manuel López Obrador and other big-party candidates, her candidacy still represents a significant movement within Mexico’s political system.
Patricio Martínez is of Nahua descent and will be the candidate of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). Previously, the EZLN had never presented a presidential candidate and instead chose to remain outside of the electoral system. The political group arose in 1994, the same day NAFTA was signed, in direct opposition to the economic agreement. AlJazeera argues that the EZLN and its desire to uproot the political system has global influence – from Occupy Wall Street in the United States to protest groups in Spain and Greece. The EZLN hosts a school of learning to express their goals, which are to operate as an alternative to the current political system. Patricio Martínez herself hopes to provide an alternative for voters tired of the dominant narrative of politics in Mexico.
Patricio Martínez feels that the plights of the indigenous have been largely ignored by the PRI government of Enrique Peña Nieto. She hopes to find support among the indigenous and the working class, which she believes need to unify in order to create tangible political change in Mexico. For the developed OECD nations, Mexico falls just below Chile for largest levels of income inequality, and is much higher than the OECD average level. Overcoming this extreme wealth divide is even more difficult for the indigenous, who find themselves among Mexico’s poorest and face significant racism and discrimination. To combat this inequality, indigenous groups throughout Latin America have demanded protections, some of which have been achieved through constitutional modifications. While Mexico’s national constitution defines rights and protections for indigenous peoples, some local state constitutions undermine these measures. The current Mexican political system does not do enough to listen to the voices of the indigenous and the poor; with support, Patricio Martínez can reemphasize the need to include these groups in the national consensus.
Patricio Martínez’s campaign is reminiscent of that of Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous Nobel Prize winner who ran twice for Guatemala’s presidency, garnering few votes but creating the WINAQ Mayan political party in the process. In a country with a notoriously large wealth divide, Menchú knew her campaign would not succeed without hefty financial backing, but that it would be impossible to get. For Menchú, her candidacy was about creating a voice for Mayan women, which she has achieved through WINAQ, a political party operating in Guatemala today.
However, Latin America is still a region where female leadership appears to be receding (gone from the presidency are Rousseff, Kirchner, and Chinchilla). This adds to the significance of Patricio Martínez’s campaign. In 2011, then UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, visited the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where 56 percent of the population is indigenous. She highlighted how indigenous women “suffer two types of discrimination, as indigenous people and as women.” Representation, in this case for the indigenous women, is critical for change. Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza, an indigenous Mexican woman, has been instrumental in developing reform to give indigenous women more political rights. Grassroots change and the strength of indigenous women has led to the advancement of their political role. But to do so, the nation of Mexico needs to affirm the humanity and importance of indigenous women. Menchú was praised internationally but failed to be seen as a serious candidate for the Guatemalan presidency. Mexico’s absentees, who are about 40 percent of the voting population, can choose instead to vote for a candidate who deserves to be recognized for trying to reform the entire system. The latest gubernatorial elections in Mexico were marred by extreme corruption which kept the PRI in power. Patricio Martínez’s cause is both noble and relevant, and as her campaign continues to unfold, it will be critical to watch the perspective and proposals she brings to improving indigenous representation and eradicating government corruption.
The international community and Mexican government both need to reaffirm their support for indigenous rights and for free elections. Regional and international bodies, such as the OAS and the UN, should invite Patricio Martínez to address their members. Her success lies in her ability to be heard. Her campaign is not just for the presidency; it is a campaign for awareness.
Image from Anticapitalistes.net.