An Election and a Movement: Marichuy, Mexico’s Indigenous Presidential Contender

Can Marichuy, an Indigenous activist, collect enough signatures to appear on ballots in Mexico's 2018 presidential election? 

February 9, 2018

María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, known popularly as Marichuy (Center). (Photo by Tropical Flúor)

We do not bring promises, we do not bring anything to give away, more than the heart, more than sweat, more than the effort of each day. It has been a difficult road because people no longer believe in anything and are tired of hearing promises. That is why we are not promising things. We are launching a call to the organization of society, to a union that goes beyond elections. This is the moment of youth, of childhood, of women. It is time for us to be aware that we can move forward together.”

As young councilor Yamili Chan Dzu gives her speech, Marichuy’s eyes roam the small crowd. There’s only a little over a hundred people there. Unlike the mass meetings of the political parties, where trucks arrive full of people from all the neighboring communities to listen to the candidate in turn, this event of the Indigenous Council of Government has not been able to gather more than a handful of artists, reporters and some other clueless souls who heard what was happening and approached, perhaps moved by curiosity to see the small white cloth at the entrance of the Chan Santa Cruz Cultural Center that read: “This event is totally peaceful, for the people and of the people, unrelated to any political party”.

Although the state of Quintana Roo is home to one of the largest Indigenous populations in Mexico, it is the first time that the Indigenous Government Council has held a public event to collect signatures in the state and the outlook is not encouraging. At the time of this event, there were not even two months left before the Feb 19 deadline—and they had barely managed to gather 10% of the million signatures necessary for her placement on the national ballot. That day in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a population of more than 25,000 inhabitants, only about 60 people signed.

“This event is totally peaceful, for the people and by the people, unrelated to any political party.” Meeting of the Indigenous Council of Government in Chan Santa Cruz Cultural Center, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo Mexico (Photo  Angélica Almazán)

Despite the minimal returns, Marichuy, born María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, an Indigenous Nahua and a traditional doctor from Tuxpan, Jalisco, showed her appreciation for the humble effort made by the small group of citizens of Carrillo Puerto and surrounding towns to organize an independent event without any support from the National Electoral Institute. Each peso invested in the event for printing informative material, transportation, lodging and meals came from the pockets of the Councilors and the citizens of Carrillo Puerto and the surrounding area, who have shown solidarity with her cause, lending space, chairs, sound equipment and other items, while local artists contributed music and dancing to liven up the event. Therefore, to those present it does not matter if there are many or few people there, they are the people who believe in the project, so their objective,  that people organize themselves to achieve a common goal, has been fulfilled. 

Several artists expressed their solidarity with the Indigenous Government Council and livened up the signature collection event. (Photo by Tropical Flúor)

The Council of Indigenous Government (CIG) has agreed to carry out its electoral campaign without accepting money from the federal budget, although if Marichuy achieves her goal and is registered as an independent candidate, she will legally be entitled to a percentage of the 42.96 million pesos that the government will allocate in 2018 to finance candidates and independent parties. But the CIG decided to refuse that funding, because, among many other reasons, they want to show that when people organize and collaborate, anything is achievable, without needing to depend on government support. According to Councilman Francisco Ortiz, originally from Tepoztlán, Morelos, the CIG’s interest is not to win an election, but to call all citizens to organize themselves to transform the way politics is done in Mexico, and achieve change from below, regardless of what happens at the polls in 2018. “It’s not an electoral proposal, it’s a proposal for struggle,” explains Ortiz.

Marichuy emphasizes that she is only the spokesperson who will represent the Indigenous Council electorally, since it is not possible to register a group of people as a presidential candidate, but that the CIG government project is to make decisions in a collective and horizontal manner. Its goal is not to seek power, but to call civil society to organize and promote a completely different system of government, one in which the people rule and the government obeys and where the marginalized sectors of society can empower themselves and take their place. “We want the original peoples to flourish again, we want the communities to be strengthened. How are we going to do it? Only by us giving our hand to each other, trusting those who are next to us, only making ourselves strong among us all,” she says.

Marichuy's electoral platform is characterized by her concern for protecting nature. Unlike most politicians, who speak little or nothing about the measures their governments will take to protect the environment, Marichuy focuses almost all of her speech in Carrillo Puerto on the need for all Mexicans to come together to defend forests, waters, and life in general, in the face of the megaprojects that are devastating all the natural wealth of Mexico and all of America, and that with the recently approved Law of Biodiversity, the table is set to continue with the dispossession of protected areas.

Marichuy’s followers are aware that entering the game of electoral politics can be very dangerous. As Lizbeth Morán, another young councilor originally from Tuxpan,  Jalisco, said during her speech at the rally, there is still a deep racism in Mexico and Indigenous peoples continue to suffer from serious discrimination. For this reason, she insisted on the urgency that all Mexicans, in all the states of the Republic, join together to put an end to the problems that afflict the country, both in the cities and in the communities and villages. “Exile, disappearances, deaths, and drug trafficking are not only in Indigenous communities, but also the brothers and sisters of the city are suffering,” says Morán.

However, this discrimination and the gap between the Indigenous and “the people of the City”—mestizos and non-Indigenous Mexicans—is a factor that may prevent Marichuy from  becoming president of Mexico. It is improbable that she will even reach the number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot. In order to obtain registration as an independent candidate, Marichuy needs to collect about a million signatures of Mexicans registered with the National Electoral Institute in at least 17 states of the Mexican Republic before February 19, 2018.

Marichuy’s supporters are organizing signature collecting events all over the country.

The only requirement to sign is to be a Mexican citizen and have a valid voter registration card. Through the Citizen Support INE application, registered CIG assistants take photographs of both sides of the card and then capture the citizen’s electronic signature. It is a process that takes no more than five minutes, with a good internet connection. However, it is a system that is clearly leaving aside a large segment of the population: exactly the segment that includes most of the supporters of Marichuy.

Throughout Mexico there are many Indigenous communities that support the National Indigenous Congress, and they could collect thousands of signatures to obtain the registration of the CIG. But these are places that do not have access to the Internet or where none of its inhabitants have sophisticated devices such as tablets or smartphones. In many Indigenous territories, there is not even cell phone coverage. Silvia Diaz, who has been supporting as a registered volunteer to collect signatures in Carrillo Puerto even points out that at the beginning of the process the application could only be installed on iPhones and iPads, which was a problem, as only one registered volunteer in the region even had a device of this type. 

Currently any citizen who wishes can download an application on their cell phone to register as a registered volunteer to support this collection of signatures. In theory, they do not need to pay for large advertising campaigns that other candidates for the independent candidacy are carrying out. If Marichuy’s proposal reaches more people who have access to networks and technology that take the time to register and urge others to do so, and if more Mexicans express their solidarity with the Indigenous movement, then Marichuy could reach the number of signatures needed to qualify as a candidate. “This proposal comes from Indigenous peoples, but it is not just for us. We are defending life for all, not only for Indigenous peoples,” she says.

Therefore, the Indigenous Government Council continues its tour throughout the country, trying to reach all possible places and inviting Mexicans to join, organize, and stop waiting for a political messiah to arrive to solve all of Mexico's problems. “We already saw that the change will not come from above,” says Marichuy. “We have to make the change from below.”

Angélica Almazán is a Mexican singer and writer, and assistant editor of The Esperanza Project.

A version of this piece was originally posted in Intercontinental Cry

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