Indigenous peoples’ political inclusion enriches democracy in Latin America | Heraldo Muñoz

23 May 2013

Indigenous woman at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples "Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions." - Article 5 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (UN Photo)

One of the most significant roles of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is to help boost indigenous peoples’ political participation.

It is crucial to ensure that all people participate in political life and are active decision-makers—especially indigenous peoples. This is essential to overcome historical inequalities and discrimination.

In Latin America and the Caribbean there are approximately 50 million indigenous peoples, about 10 percent of the total population. In Peru and Guatemala indigenous peoples account for almost half of the population, while in Bolivia they are more than 60 percent. Even though in Mexico indigenous peoples cover only 10 percent of the total population, Mexico and Peru contain the region’s largest indigenous population: about 11 million people.

Mexico, for example, is advancing the ‘coexistence’ of indigenous peoples’ legal systems with the national legal system. It is not an easy process. The indigenous peoples’ representation at local and national levels, including dispute resolution methods, can differ widely and also spark tensions.

However, indigenous peoples have shown that they are aware of how modern democracies work, as well as the limitations imposed to their political participation. For this reason, indigenous peoples have been adapting their traditional knowledge systems and their institutions to become key players in national and international politics. Even though their participation has been limited to certain decision-making spaces, they have proven that their contribution is crucial to enrich Latin American democracies.

We see multiculturalism as part of the process to build a broader democracy. In our region we argue that sustainable democracy depends largely on its ability to guarantee human rights, including those recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The efforts of Mexican institutions and indigenous leaders show that with political will we can move towards a multicultural democracy that promotes human development to all citizens.

Talk to us: How can we encourage governments to promote a diverse political and cultural context by including indigenous peoples in their political agenda and processes?

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