Mexico and UNDP highlight indigenous peoples’ political participation

19 May 2011

New York – Democracy in many Latin American countries hinges largely on government action to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights and ensure their participation in decision-making, according to Heraldo Muñoz, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“Multiculturalism as a key component in the construction of a true democracy,” Muñoz said yesterday, in the opening address of a meeting attended by indigenous peoples and authorities from Mexico and other Latin American countries, at the Xth United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place on 16-27 May in New York.

Over the last 20 years considerable progress has been made in Mexico to increase representation of indigenous peoples’, a population of 15.7 million — 13 percent of the country´s total.

Even though indigenous peoples are the majority of inhabitants in more than 30 percent of Mexico´s municipalities, they represent only eight out of 500 members of the lower house of parliament.

While a larger number than in the parliaments of many other countries in the region, the representation is still substantially lower than in Bolivia, with 43 percent of indigenous representatives in the lower house, and Guatemala, with 9.4 percent, according to a recent UNDP-Organization of American States report on Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Responding to demands that began during the first half of the 1990s, Mexico went through a number of reforms of laws and institutions at the end of the decade, giving more rights to the country’s indigenous peoples.

Within the following five years, the Government approved boundaries for 28 indigenous territorial and electoral districts, a development highlighted in the documentary “Indigenous identity and democracy in Mexico” which was premiered yesterday in New York.

“As indigenous peoples, we seek to make decisions for ourselves but obviously never outside the remit of Mexico´s judicial system,” said Martha Sánchez, coordinator of the Alliance of Indigenous Women in Mexico and Central America, speaking in the documentary produced jointly by UNDP and the Government of Mexico.

For many years UNDP has also supported Mexico´s electoral bodies in a number of significant electoral reforms and cooperation initiatives between countries in the region to promote political and electoral participation of indigenous peoples.

Currently UNDP is working on a programme to enable governments and indigenous peoples in Bolivia and Mexico to share experiences in electoral and political participation.

Since 2009 the programme, with assistance from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation Development, has trained thousands of representatives from both government and civil society in 24 countries, available through the Internet website Escuela Virtual (Virtual School, in English).

According to the recent UNDP Human Development Report of Indigenous Peoples in Mexico, multiculturalism can lead to greater human development if it impacts on wider political participation, from the local to the national level.