Mexico: Indigenous Healer is Running for President

Mexico News Daily, June 19, 2017

María de Jesús Patricio Martínez

María de Jesús Patricio Martínez with Zapatista figurines.
(Credit Image: PetrohsW / Wikimedia)

For the first time in history an indigenous woman is going to run for president of Mexico.

María de Jesús Patricio Martínez —a Nahua woman affectionately known as Marichuy — will officially contest the ballot next year as an independent candidate although she has the backing of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).

The two groups announced they would nominate a female indigenous candidate last year although the EZLN later denied they had any intention of participating in the national poll.

Almost 1,500 delegates at a conference in Chiapas on May 28 elected the Nahua healer and herbalist as the spokesperson for the Indigenous Government Council (CIG) — a joint initiative of the two organizations. The appointment effectively means she was endorsed to run as their presidential candidate.

Patricio sees the role as central to the indigenous rights movement.

“When the representatives of the original groups asked if I wanted to be the spokesperson of the CIG, I thought about how much the country’s indigenous peoples have suffered, the dispossession, the repression. That drove me to take this decision to accompany [the people] and take on this very important position.”

Patricio says her work in that role as well as a presidential candidate will be to seek to “make the pain of the indigenous peoples visible so that voices that seem to be hidden in the mountains and the jungle don’t continue to be ignored.”

She will also advocate for a leftist agenda. The newspaper El Universal reported that Marichuy sees capitalism as a virus that is exterminating all life on the planet.

Next year’s presidential election will be the first to allow independent candidates to run although they must collect the signatures of at least 1% of eligible voters in 17 of Mexico’s 32 states.

That means that Patricio needs to collect signatures from about 850,000 people in order for her candidacy to be ratified, but with the support of the CNI and EZLN that hurdle is likely to be overcome.

Running against candidates from long-established, well-funded parties makes chances of her being a genuine contender negligible but Patricio says victory is not the objective.

“In the end we’re not going to win and that’s not the aim but we do [want to] achieve the organization of the [indigenous] peoples for themselves, so that they speak for themselves, so they don’t have to be asking for somebody else to speak for them, like those in government who impose on and speak in the name of the people without consulting them.”

Instead, she sees bringing diverse groups together and giving them a voice as a priority of her candidacy.

“What we propose is organization. Arriving and sitting in the presidential chair doesn’t concern us very much but rather [we want] to open a space to organize both indigenous peoples and other sectors of civil society who consider it important to find another way of organizing.”

Born in Tuxpan, Jalisco, in 1963, the mother of three has carried on a family tradition by working for much of her life as a herbalist and set up a health center in the city 22 years ago.

In times past her grandmother and aunts are said to have cured children of ailments such as mal de ojo or evil eye, indigestion, diarrhea, frights and fevers using natural remedies.

They passed on their knowledge to Patricio, who preserves and integrates ancient indigenous medical practices in her work today.

The Calli Tecolhuacateca Tochan health center also trains health workers from indigenous communities in the region.

Patricio has a long history of fighting for indigenous rights in the country and has been particularly active on issues related to women and indigenous autonomy. She has been an influential member of the Central Pacific region of the CNI and a close observer of indigenous movements.

She clearly remembers the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in 1994 as being a pivotal moment.

“The people weren’t visible, we ourselves didn’t know about the others. I believe that the uprising helped a lot of people, it made the indigenous peoples of Mexico visible.”

As a presidential candidate, Patricio will be looking to differentiate herself from other candidates by fulfilling the seven principles of the CNI: to serve and not serve oneself; to build and not destroy; to obey and not order; to propose and not impose; to convince and not defeat; to rise and not to fall; to connect and not isolate.

As she begins a tour around the country to build support, many people think her campaign and the associated movement could be the beginning of the biggest non-violent indigenous uprising in Mexico’s history.

With 21.5% or 25.6 million Mexicans identifying as indigenous, it certainly has the potential to become a powerful force in Mexican politics.

Patricio is certain that in order for Mexico to rebuild, indigenous voices will be indispensable and she is intent on ensuring that they have greater resonance in the political landscape.

While it remains to be seen just how influential the healer’s ideas and political remedies will be, how much support she will attract in the long campaign towards the July 2018 election and how much she can shake up the status quo in Mexican politics, of one thing there is no doubt: she has determination, desire and drive.

“We have no other option but to confront this system that is destroying us, not just our communities, but everyone.”

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