Mexico Facts
Area:    1,972,550 sq. km.
Capital:    Mexico City
Total Population:    84,486,000 (source: UN, 1995, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The non-Mayan indigenous groups in Mexico demonstrate three factors that increase the likelihood of future rebellion: (1) persistent protest in the past decade, (2) territorial concentration, and (3) increased indigenous solidarity in support of the Zapatistas. However, four factors support the strong likelihood that rebellion will be avoided: (1) increased democratic stability under the Fox administration, (2) a bigger commitment of the Fox administration to meet indigenous demands, which has been backed by immediate action, (3) widespread public and ideological support of Mexican indigenous groups by numerous foreign governments and transnational NGOs, and (4) a lack of serious armed conflicts in neighboring Guatemala.

The prospects for peace in indigenous regions are good, primarily due to President Fox's decisive action upon election to scale back military operations in indigenous regions and his commitment to addressing the grievances of indigenous groups. Despite opposition to the Indian rights bill passed in April 2001, there is no indication that opposition will turn violent. Though the presence of pro-PRI(Institutional Revolutionary Party) paramilitary groups in indigenous regions pose a continued threat, such groups are likely to face greater constraints with the PRI unseated in the presidency and in key gubernatorial offices.

Analytic Summary

Other Indigenous groups in Mexico include the Nahuas, Mixtecos, Otomis, Totonacos, Mazatecos, Mazahua, Tarascos, Huicholes, Coras, Tepehuanes, Cuicatecos, Huaves, Chatinos, Triquies, Amuzgos, Papagos, Pimas, Huastecos, Seris, Tarahumaras, Popolucas, Chinantecos, and Yaquis. The Nahuas, Mexico's largest "Other Indigenous" group, is located primarily in Morelos and Tamaulipas and is part of larger indigenous communities in Coahuila, Colima, and Guanajuato(GROUPCON = 2). Most other indigenous groups are located primarily in the southeastern part of the country, including the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Mexico, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Luis Potosi, Veracruz, and Yucatan. They are distinguished by various indigenous languages (LANG = 2), including Nahuatl, which is spoken by 23% of Mexico's indigenous population. They traditionally controlled native lands through the ejido communal land system (TRADITN = 1; AUTON = 1) until government efforts to privatize Indian lands, beginning with agrarian reforms in the 1940s and continuing through the enactment of NAFTA, began to subject indigenous populations to increasing land and territory losses.

Mexico's Other Indigenous experience demographic stress in the form of poor health conditions, periodic natural disasters, and substantial migration (DEMSTR = 8). Political activity is restricted (POLDIS03 = 3), in part, due to social exclusion and state neglect, but also to human and civil rights abuses precipitated by the militarization of Indigenous regions. Other Indigenous groups face economic discrimination (ECDIS03 = 3)primarily in the form of social exclusion and are also economically disadvantaged due to the privatization and environmental degradation of communal lands and low state infrastructure investment. Though the government has taken recent measures to reduce them, cultural restrictions remain on instruction, speaking, and publishing in indigenous languages. Until late 2002, Mayans faced significant language discrimination in the justice system, where Spanish is used and interpreters were not supplied for non-Spanish speakers. A law passed in mid-December 2002 guaranteed that indigenous language speakers would have a bilingual judge.

Other Indigenous demands and grievances include regional autonomy and self-determination for indigenous communities, major investments in social services for indigenous populations, control of elections, anti-discrimination legislation, conservation of natural resources in indigenous regions, opposition to foreign commercial interests in indigenous regions, the demilitarization and removal of paramilitary groups from indigenous regions, and promotion of group culture and lifeways. Until late 2002, indigenous speakers faced significant language discrimination in the justice system, where Spanish was used and interpreters were not supplied for non-Spanish speakers. A law passed in mid-December 2002 guaranteed that indigenous language speakers would be provided a bilingual judge.

Mexico's Other Indigenous groups, were represented by the state-sponsored Autonomous Department of Indigenous Affairs beginning in 1940 and, later, through the National Indigenous Institute (INI), the official government agency for indigenous affairs said to coordinate over 3000 indigenous organizations, including the National Union of Indigenist Organizations (UNOI), the National Federation of Indigenist Youth (CNJI), and the Mexican Association of Indigenous Professionals and Intellectuals (AMPII). In 2003, the INI was replaced by the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI), designed to take over and better manage all the functions of the old INI. The National Council of Indigenous Peoples (CNPI) formed in 1975 to work with the state on indigenous issues, but later staged protests against state policies. The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), which advocates the rights of Mayans and all Indians of southeastern Mexico, emerged from the 1994 Chiapas uprising as a militant organization, but has since favored political forms of mobilization and is currently the most widely recognized pro-indigenous organization in Mexico. Indigenous causes are also supported in Mexico by numerous smaller organizations, both militant and conventional, including the People's Revolutionary Army (EPR) and the Revolutionary Army of Insurgent People (ERPI) (GOJPA00 = 3). Although Indigenous groups are generally unified in their support for indigenous rights and for the leftist PRD and PAN political parties (COHESX = 5), cleavages along political (pro and anti-PRI) and religious (Protestant and Catholic) lines, as well as occasional property disputes, have lead to intragroup conflict, the most recent being in 2002 between pro-PRI and pro-PRD factions (FCCS102 = 4). Other Indigenous groups have benefited from the ideological support of the international community, but have not received significant military or material aid from external actors.

After a period of state co-optation under the Cardenas administration (1934-1940), Indigenous groups began to mobilize against the privitization of communal lands, though continued to advance demands through largely government channels and state controlled organizations until the Chiapas rebellion of 1994 precipitated a wave of indigenous protest and rebellion, that continued through the rest of the decade. Numerous protests against and violent clashes with largely PRI-controlled local and state governments were driven by claims of corruption and electoral fraud, state failure to provide promised aid, opposition to the exploitation or sale of communal lands, and expressions of solidarity with the Zapatista rebels (PROT94-00 = 5; REB94-00 = 6). Government efforts to institute meaningful reforms were unsubstantial until the 2000 election of President Vicente Fox, who scaled back the military presence in indigenous regions, to which numerous arrests, killings and disappearances had been attributed, shortly after taking office in December 2000. Fox also submitted and passed legislation through congress, shaped principally by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), which although deemed insufficient by the EZLN and other indigenous communities, contained numerous protections of indigenous rights. Opposition to the bill has been peaceful (PROT01 = 5, PROT02 = 4, PROT03 = 3). There have been no reports of significant conflict between Other Indigenous and other groups (INTERCON01-03 = 0).


Kicza, John. The Indian in Latin American History. Wilmington, DE. Jaguar Books. 1993.

McGuire, Thomas R. Politics and Ethnicity on the Rio Yaqui: Potam Revisited. Tucson, Arizona. The University of Arizona Press. 1986.

Nexis Library Files, 1990-2003.

Panagides, Alexis. "Mexico. Indigenous People and Poverty in Latin America. Washington, D.C. The World Bank. 1994.

Tresierra, Julio. "Mexico: Indigenous peoples and the Nation-State. In D. Van Cott, ed. Indigenous peoples and Democracy in Latin America. New York. St. Martin's Press. 1994.

EFE News Service, May 1, 2001, Mexico-Indians Mexican Indians Reject Indian Rights Bill.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur, July 20, 2001, Indigenous rights bill controversy heats up in Mexico.

The News, December 13, 2002, Congress approves indigenous language provision.

** Reuters News Service, Inter Press Service, and the New York Times

were also utilized for this chronology.


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