A two-week tour, called The Two Faces of Mexico, addresses the protection of indigenous rights in the Chiapas region of Mexico.
On Nov. 15, María Estela Barco, head co-ordinator of Economic and Social Development of Indigenous Mexicans (DESMI), brought the tour to campus.
The group’s main focus is to develop the capacity for indigenous groups to respond to their own development and economic needs, while maintaining their cultural identity.
“It’s important to listen to the communities’ needs,” Barco said.
“There have been times where communities have refused government funding because they feel like their desires will be ignored and their cultures threatened,” she said.
DESMI holds workshops for community members to help individuals become better farmers and profit more when selling their farm products.
Barco said the organization applies a methodology known as economic solidarity in determining how to develop the communities’ economies and strengthen individual potential.
“[DESMI] acknowledges that different communities have different social and economic development needs,” she said.
According to the Horizons of Friendship website, 76 per cent of the Chiapas region population live below the poverty line. One third of indigenous men and one half of indigenous women in the area are illiterate.
Though the root cause of poverty and marginalization in indigenous communities is complex, Barcos said recent government initiatives are further threatening their culture and safety.
“President Felipe Calderon’s war on drugs constantly threatens the lives of civilians, including indigenous people,” she said. “This makes it hard for them to sustain economic progress in the community.”
The constant political and economic turmoil in Mexico makes DESMI’s work important for the preservation and livelihood of Chiapas peoples.
Barco said all indigenous people should be involved in the development process.
“Many have received the message from the government that their indigenous cultures don’t have any value,” she said. “That message should be reversed.”
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