María de Jesús Patricio or Marichuy (Emily Corona)
A few days before Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s landslide victory as president-elect of Mexico and as he addressed the people of Guerrero and Michoacán, an early opponent, one backed by the country’s most radical anti-capitalist leftists representing its largest coalition of organized Indigenous communities, toured the northern states of Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Durango. Wherever she went, with quiet determination, María de Jesús Patricio would pull out her pretty embroidered notebook with the initials “EZLN” stitched onto the back in pink, and took notes as she listened to the stories of mothers of disappeared children.
Marichuy, as she is affectionately known, never really aimed to become president of Mexico, as she stated repeatedly from the start of the campaign. Her plan was to focus attention on the troubling realities of land dispossession, environmental pollution, human rights violations and the everyday deprivations of her Indigenous followers, who represent some 10 percent of Mexico’s total population. She traveled throughout the country to give what her supporters described as an “articulation of the resistances.” In Marichuy’s words, “If they are going to kill us one by one they might as well try and kill us together; let’s make it harder for them.”
Her campaign began nearly two years ago, in October of 2016, when the Indigenous Zapatistas from Chiapas and the National Indigenous Congress of Mexico made the momentous decision to reverse their two-decade-old refusal to engage in electoral politics. They formed a national Indigenous Governing Council and, seven months later, elected Marichuy, an Indigenous Nahua and traditional healer. She became their spokeswoman and candidate in the 2018 presidential elections. She comes from Tuxpan, a community in the central area of the Pacific coastal state of Jalisco.
On Oct. 7, 2017, national electoral authorities recognized Marichuy’s plan to run for president as an independent, meaning she did not have the backing of a political party. That gave her 120 days to collect roughly 900,000 signatures from at least 17 of Mexico’s 32 states, which would represent one percent of the country’s registered voters list.
Wherever she went, María de Jesús Patricio would pull out her pretty embroidered notebook with the initials “EZLN” stitched onto the back in pink. (Emily Corona)
There were perils along the way. On Jan. 21. unidentified gunmen stopped and attacked a press van that was following her caravan in Michoacán. A month later, only days before the signatures were due, a highway accident on the arrow-straight roads of Baja California left one of the 11 people on board the campaign van dead and Marichuy with a fractured arm.
An even greater impediment was technological. As the days ticked by, it became clear that Marichuy was in danger of missing the deadline, her efforts severely hampered by the system established for registering signatures: a telephone app compatible only with specific mobile devices too pricey for most Indigenous Mexicans to own. Nonetheless, she spent four months crisscrossing the country to hear the concerns of members of 60 of Mexico’s Indigenous tribes.
“We discovered that the National Electoral Institute was designed with the rich in mind,” Marichuy would say months later during a press conference in Monterrey. Not only did the lack of the right phone present a block, but the electoral institute’s system required adequate Internet coverage. That meant volunteers collecting signatures in remote localities had to travel sometimes many hours to find a decent enough connection to relay the signatures.
In the end, the barriers proved too great, even after the authorities began allowing the submission of signatures on paper. When the Feb. 19 deadline rolled by, Marichuy’s movement was some 600,000 signatures short of the 900,000 needed to put her on the ballot.
Did the Indigenous Governing Council consider its failure a missed historical opportunity? I asked Oscar Espino, a Totonaca Indian from Veracruz and a member of the council. His answer sidestepped the question. “It was a very good opportunity to position our agenda,” he said, “but we feel it was more of a loss to the entire country than a loss for us. We all missed the possibility of listening to one another.”
After the road accident, Marichuy suspended her tour. With no true independents to oppose Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the campaign rolled on. Support for the anti-graft platform of AMLO’s Movement for National Regeneration (whose acronym, Morena, alludes to the mestizo-construct of the Mexican nation) grew in force, spurred by profound disenchantment with the mainstream political parties.
A week-and-a-half before election day, Marichuy ended her three-month hiatus with a two-day appearance, again in the Baja California peninsula. A few days later, she appeared in industrial-driven Monterrey in Nuevo León, and in the violence-stricken cities of Torreón and Saltillo, in Coahuila.
In a country where women tend to become progressively masculinized as they rise in the power echelons of politics, the stillness of Marichuy’s style stands out. Other writers have noted her deference to other women in public appearances, mindful of her triple exclusion as a woman, and a woman of Indian heritage in a largely patriarchal society.
Read the rest at Latin Dispatch
Emily Corona is a journalist and translator from Mexico City, pursuing a master’s in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies at NYU. Before moving to New York she worked as a national news reporter for Reforma covering Mexican politics, education, social movements, environment and religion.
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