In a Life Without Politicians, a Michoacan Indigenous Community Finds Its Own Way
Lourdes Cardenas - Truthout
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December 10, 2016
Around 300 people work in the Cheran’s reforestation project during the raining season. Because schools are on vacation, many young boys get temporal jobs for the summer. (Ana Lourdes)
At a time when people in diverse areas of the world, including the United States, are very frustrated with politicians, the citizens of Cherán are trying to find their own way apart from traditional institutions. They want to demonstrate that it is possible to build a safer and better society by recovering the Indigenous Purépecha ancestral practices and values and adapting them to modern times.
By no means is it a small merit, considering that Cherán is within a territory controlled by powerful and violent drug cartels: La Familia Michoacana and Los Caballeros Templarios, as well as the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, which, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, is the fastest-growing cartel in Mexico. The state of Michoacán is the main producer of synthetic drugs in Mexico, and an important producer and exporter of marijuana and opium poppies. The cartels have grown and multiplied in spite of a long, costly and bloody war on drugs, partially financed by the United States.
Under these circumstances, one wonders how this Indigenous community of 19,000 inhabitants has been able to sustain a successful self-determination movement, and to avoid the interference of drug traffickers and organized crime. What kind of challenges can they face?
"It's all about communality," said Pedro Chávez, one of the 12 members of the K'eri Janaskaticha, or the Consejo Mayor, the main governmental body in Cherán. "After living in a situation of uncertainty and insecurity, we hit bottom and we decided to get back to our roots and develop a different way of life, based in communality and respect for our resources."
It was not an easy fight. It cost them more than 20 lives, extenuating hours of organization and vigilance around the community, and a long legal battle to get official recognition from the federal and state governments.
In Cherán's unique form of government, the real power lies wholly with the people. There is not a single decision taken without consensus, from who will get a local job in construction, to the allocation of public services and overseeing the spending of the budget. The authority of the community's assembly is above any other local governmental body.
It is a tedious and sometimes bureaucratic process that involves several hours of community assemblies with dozens of redundant interventions, but in the end, the results can be translated in a word: accountability. In a country plagued by corruption and impunity, Cherán is perhaps the only place where that word has a profound and real meaning.
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