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Agricultura, sociedad y desarrollo

versión impresa ISSN 1870-5472

agric. soc. desarro vol.15 no.4 Texcoco oct./dic. 2018



Communality and Neoliberalism: The Indigenous Dilemma in Chiapas

Luis Llanos-Hernández1  * 

Mara Rosas-Baños2 

1 Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales de la Agroindustria y la Agricultura Mundial (CIESTAAM) (

2 Instituto Politécnico Nacional. Centro de Investigaciones Económicas, Administrativas y Sociales (


The transformations that indigenous communities experience as a result of the implementation of neoliberal policies by the federal government speak of a process of sociocultural innovation that has given rise to various forms of socioeconomic organization in indigenous communities. The objective of this document is to expose two types of responses that arise from indigenous communities in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. The methodology has an interdisciplinary approach that allows building the analysis framework which connects historical, sociological, anthropological and economic elements in the territories, an interdisciplinary perspective that extrapolates diverse explanations about a phenomenon and whose objective is integrating different scientific perspectives in the understanding of real world phenomena. As part of qualitative research, interviews, participant observation and an ethnographic approach are carried out. The results show two types of perspectives of economic and social development among the indigenous population, one linked to capitalist forms of market and another articulated to the renewed indigenous communalist tradition.

Key words: divide; social change; culture; development; market; modernity


Las trasformaciones que viven las comunidades indígenas a partir de la instrumentación de las políticas neoliberales por parte del gobierno federal hablan de un proceso de innovación sociocultural que ha dado lugar a diversas formas de organización socioeconómica en las comunidades indígenas. El objetivo de este documento es exponer dos tipos de respuesta que surgen desde las comunidades indígenas en el estado de Chiapas, México. La metodología tiene un enfoque interdisciplinar que permite construir el marco de análisis que vincula elementos históricos, sociológicos, antropológicos y económicos en los territorios, una perspectiva interdisciplinar que extrapola diversas explicaciones sobre un fenómeno y cuyo objetivo es integrar distintas perspectivas científicas en la comprensión de fenómenos del mundo real. Como parte de la investigación cualitativa se realizan entrevistas, la observación participante y el acercamiento etnográfico. Los resultados muestran dos tipos de perspectivas de desarrollo económico y social entre la población indígena, una vinculada a las formas del mercado capitalistas y la otra articulada a la renovada tradición comunalista indígena.

Palabras clave: bifurcación; cambio social; cultura; desarrollo; mercado; modernidad


During the past 30 years environmental problems in the planet have not only increased, but they have also been exacerbated as consequence of the excessive and indiscriminate use of natural resources exploited as raw materials in the production of goods and services to satisfy the consumption market. It is the economic, political and social strategies of an economic system that prioritizes individual consumption and that cannot resolve equitably the needs of the planet’s population. According to projections of demographic increase, a world urban population of 2/3 of the total population is estimated by 2030 (according to the world conferences on the environment of the UN 2005); as consequence of this, high consumption levels of energy and natural resources will be required, which will not be able to be satisfied due to the high environmental deterioration present today. These environmental problems have caused the decrease of the Earth’s supporting capacity as life-giving source.

Facing this social and ecological deterioration, which is aggravated by the implementation of neoliberal policies since the end of the 20th century, a gradual repositioning of the socioeconomic forms found in indigenous and peasant communities in the national and international level has emerged, primarily motivated by the evidence of a more sustainable ecological and social management (Barkin and Rosas, 2006; Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2004; Altieri and Toledo, 2010; Leff, 2004). However, this repositioning has not been accompanied by policies that stimulate the permanence of the particular logic present in indigenous and peasant communities (Rosas and Barkin, 2009); on the contrary, at the beginning of the 1990s the neoliberal policies began to be introduced into the heart of rural communities through the structural change that sought to eradicate subsistence economies by means of constitutional modifications related to property rights in ejido land ownership, reduction of public credit, and the dismantling of the National Company of Popular Subsistence (Compañía Nacional de Subsistencias Populares, CONASUPO) (Yúnez, 2010). These policies stimulated a series of transformations in rural communities, although “they have not provoked substantial modifications in the structure of agricultural and livestock production in Mexico, or a deep privatization process of the property rights of agricultural land” (Yúnez, 2010). The policies of neoliberal cut have not managed to deconstruct indigenous communities, although they have tested the different capacity for resilience (Berkes et al., 1998), which each has and, with this, their own strength to find new economic and social alternatives that allow them to continue with their historical persistence.

In the country, and consequently in indigenous communities, economic strategies have been characterized by promoting an economic dynamic directed at the foreign market with the aim of generating economic income destined to purchase basic and non-basic goods in the international market for consumption in the localities. This type of production is forced to increase its productivity in a gradual way to ensure a constant and growing economic flow, with a series of damaging effects on the environment.

The type of production strategies studied here present two perspectives of economy that have unfolded in the communities in indigenous lands in Chiapas. On the one hand, there is economic development articulated to the market, an example of which is the production of greenhouse flowers carried out in Zinacantán; this process generated the introduction of technological packages that transformed its agriculture, limited its productive autonomy, and induced greater inequality in the levels of income in this community. On the other hand, a sustainable socioeconomic development has been encouraged in indigenous communities adhered to the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, linked to a perspective of communality (Martínez-Luna, 2010). Political actions have been traced that have a social orientation seeking to strengthen the sovereignty and dietary self-sufficiency in indigenous communities by limiting the dependency on the foreign market.

Analysis and Results

The starting point

In Chiapas, during the 1930s, the government of Lázaro Cárdenas promoted an indigenist policy of social nature that had the objective of the cultural assimilation of this population into the national society. This change in the federal government’s policies towards the indigenous population is part of the social context in which Villoro (2005) produces one of his most important works: The great moments of indigenism in Mexico (Los grandes momentos del indigenismo en México). In the Chiapas Highlands, the new policies were centered on combatting against indigenous culture as a way of advancing towards economic and social development1. As Köhler (1975) describes it, the purpose was to leave behind the relationship of imposition and violence that was exerted in the past against the indigenous population to give way to a new policy of rapprochement that would open the path to cultural assimilation. The religion, its languages, education, the government based on traditional authorities, health, communal property, and in general the social life of indigenous communities of the Highlands was subjected to pressure from the policies of post-revolutionary governments that had the aim of transforming the indigenous person into a free citizen, member of a modern society.

The period of developmentalist policies covered from the years of the Lázaro Cárdenas government to the end of the 1980s. It is a type of economic development organized and planned by the federal government, where indigenous communities only acted as receptors of this process.

“… detribalizing is substituting, in those who have them, the distinctive features of native cultures: language, traditional dress, customs linked to the satisfaction of vital needs, and above all, their internal cohesion with those from Western culture. The process is individual, when it is carried out by direct contact between individuals from different modes of production or groups, when the situation motivates the rupture of the indigenous community and its integration to the economic and sociocultural life of the Nation…” (Pozas and Hernández: 1972:8).

These policies failed, they did not achieve their purpose. A cultural and social resistance unfolded among indigenous peoples that did not accept abandoning fully their livelihoods; opposing social processes emerged that generated a rejection to government policies, although processes of appropriation and renovation of these also began to unfold. This allowed for the indigenous community not to disintegrate from the effect of the modernizing policies of the State; as consequence, the mechanism of cultural assimilation did not manage to disintegrate the community. There are multiple studies that show the strength and vitality of the indigenous community in face of government harassment. The work by Ricardo Pozas, Memories of a Tzotzil indigenous man (Juan Pérez Jolote. Memorias de un indígena tzotzil), shows the complexity of these processes.

Attempts to achieve cultural assimilation were surpassed by the processes of cultural appropriation and innovation, which were decisive for the emerging conformation of the new figure of indigenous population, which became a more creative social actor and with greater strength in its claim for a better life. The interaction with the national society and the State policies opened a process of cultural, social and political change that came about in the heart of the communities, but which was not well-perceived by external observers. The anthropologists who studied it considered that the community: “…prevents the accumulation of capital to the extent that it sterilizes the savings that could be invested in the purchase of goods or in the modernization of production techniques. By doing this, it inhibits the development of any economic differentiation that could lead to a form of social stratification…” (Favre, 1973: 293); mistakenly, cultural limitations of the indigenous community were assumed to be present when facing internal processes of social change.

Ulrich Köhler (1975) studies the way in which this process of cultural appropriation and innovation was produced in the Chiapas Highlands without eliminating the indigenous way of thinking and acting. Developmentalist policies by the federal government were modernizing policies that did not manage to eliminate indigenous culture, and in turn the latter was capable of assimilating that which it was meant to be destroyed with. Currently, in relation to health care, the indigenous community makes use of the two types of medicine: modern and traditional; in the legal system, the forms of constitutional government predominate, without this meaning that they abandon the traditional justice system. In the processes of electoral participation, assemblies are carried out by political parties in the communities where direct democracy is exercised to define candidates and then register them with the Federal Electoral Institute (Instituto Federal Electoral, IFE). An important part of the indigenous population uses Spanish and their language, they are bilingual populations. Concerning religious worship, the situation became complex by the presence of various Protestant groups; however, the cargo system was not only preserved, but it was also renovated by the worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe gaining strength as part of the religious festivities of the communities.

Undergoing modernity

The emergence of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, on January 1, 1994, blurred the existing stereotypes about the indigenous population built in Mexico throughout several centuries. The positivist thought that conceived the indigenous population as a social group distant from progress and modernity, and whose future would only be possible if by taking on one of the new identity figures characteristic of modern society, contributed to this. This cultural project, from its origin, sought not to return to the past; its principles lead it to immediately turn the present into a past without return, in the linear sense of progress flooding the social life of any modern society. Within this context Mesoamerican peoples, whose origin precedes modern time, were perceived as people without history (Wolf, 1987).

Facing these peoples, the project of modernity has taken place as “a civilizing trend equipped with a new unitary principle of coherence or structuring of civilized social life and of the world that corresponds to this life, of a new ‘logic’ that would be undergoing a process of substituting the ancestral organizing principle, which is designated as ‘traditional’” (Echeverría, 2010). In this sense, modernity has not only confronted so-called “traditional” groups, as in the case of native peoples, but rather it is also experiencing a frenetic and incessant process of renovation of its own articulating principles, which from a historical perspective, take on “traditionalist” social forms at the time when the new emerges to combat some of its own features present in all the areas of social life.

The Zapatista emergence is combined with the questioning of modernity that gathers strength in the 20th century, casts serious doubts on the linear and progressive nature of its policies, and evidences the limited scope of it modernizing policies that promised the common good, social welfare and happiness of men and women of the modern society; however, the Zapatista questioning does not constitute a generalized response from the indigenous population in Chiapas. Zapatismo does not represent the indigenous world, this movement is only part of it; there are other indigenous communities that are economically tied to the policies that derive from neoliberal modernization projects.

In the indigenous lands of Chiapas, among the Zapatista and non-Zapatista indigenous communities, divergences arise and conflicts take place in all areas of social life. They are part of these “discontinuous and conflictive” processes (Echevarría, 2010), which shape a particular expression of modernity in these lands, and which have led to a process of economic and political bifurcation between indigenous communities in Chiapas. Although these two perspectives have the same cultural root and have a common past, currently they have opted for political and economic paths that differ; on the one hand, there are Zapatista indigenous communities that develop new forms of association, production and exchange, constitute the search for a more humane and just society; and on the other hand, there are non-Zapatista communities, which for decades have been directing their activities under the influence of neoliberal policies. In these, the effects of social inequality have amplified.

Resilience and communality

The new reality faced by indigenous communities2 brought with it a series of unexpected results3, which must be analyzed in light of new theoretical approaches. The capacity of indigenous or peasant communities to remain in time, despite a long history of government policies (Bonfil Batalla, 1989), must be explained beyond their political and cultural resistance. What economic data show, as well as peasant movements from the 20th and 21st century, is the capacity for resilience by indigenous communities. Resilience refers to the ability to recover after a disturbance, representing the internal conditions that make it possible to absorb stress or conflict, which lead to interiorizing and transcending it (Berkes et al., 1998). Resilience is a concept that analyzes the capacity for conservation of an organism, but also helps to identify the options and opportunities for renovation and novelty, which are evident in the socioeconomic transformations of indigenous communities in the 21st century that achieve a combination between their capacity to conserve their culture and worldview and the novel forms of socioeconomic adaptation. “Suárez Ojeda (2006) establishes the relationship between community and resilience, where the latter is described as a group of people linked by a social bond that may be marked by ethnicity, territoriality, religion, implying a shared cultural orientation that is fundamental in its community identity” (cited literally in García Joahann, n/a,186).

Communality, as axis of organized social life, and a new perspective of production that places internal consumption from the resources available to the community at the center, are elements for the conformation of a new type of economic and social development alternative to the dominating paradigm based on production, individualistic consumption, and buying and selling of goods in the external market.

At the end of the 1970s, Floriberto Díaz (2004) and Jaime Martínez-Luna (2010), researchers of indigenous origin, the first Mixe and the second Zapoteco, coined the expression “communality” in independent studies to refer to a lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that is built by the need of a social rediscovery and reinvention, “we are communality, opposite to individuality, we are communal territory, not private property; we are compartencia (sharing), not competition; we are polytheism, not monotheism. We are exchange, not business; diversity, not equality, although in the name of equality we have also been oppressed. We are independent, not free” (Martínez-Luna, 2010).

For Martínez-Luna the factors that promote poverty in rural communities come from the exterior; the usurpation of the best lands, the disproportionate exploitation of the workforce, the factors of commercialization that increase prices of products, the education that privileges individual training versus community cooperation, the communication media that emphasize individual triumph and discriminate collective success, etc. In communality, there is not entrepreneurial spirit, and the economy is directed towards two aspects:

  1. Self-consumption as fundamental objective

  2. Accumulation for compartencia (sharing) with the community.

The criteria of profitability, productivity, competitiveness, and capitalization are not consistent with communality, whose type of property is communal and is linked to the conception of the collective usufruct of land, providing the meaning of territory linked to the basis of physical and social reproduction of any nation; communal property is based on communal orders and plans. There is work for territorial self-determination under three dimensions: 1) property belongs to the community; 2) it can be used in familiar terms; 3) everything can be arranged inside the nation (Martínez-Luna, 2010). To reach territorial self-determination the consensus of the community and the active participation of citizens are necessary, and they both give life to a very particular type of development, ruled by its principles of compartencia (sharing).

The indigenous dilemma in Chiapas

The decade of the 1980s constitutes a new period when indigenous peoples of Chiapas confront the processes of economic and cultural globalization penetrating social life in the indigenous communities. The neoliberal policies opened the way for the indigenous bifurcation in Chiapas. Developmentalist policies that in the past attempted to transform indigenous culture were substituted by neoliberal polices that encouraged the insertion of the indigenous population in commercial activities articulated to the market. The community of Zinacantán in the decade of the 1980s exemplifies this new process of change.

Since ancient times, the inhabitants of Zinacantán, as all the indigenous nations in the Highlands, organized their social and economic life around agriculture. Maize cultivation was constituted as the basis on which the social and religious life of the community was articulated. Wasserstrom (1989) studied how the Zinacantán resident had to move by seasons towards the fertile valleys of the lowlands to sow maize in agreement with the landowners.

“... We used to go out to work near here on the way to Chiapa de Corzo, we worked on the milpa, rented land, I went with my father and mother, but we would end up far away in the warm lands, since the milpa grows fast there, in three months there is corn, there are at least two harvests per year. If you sow in April, May, by June there is corn; you sow again in July, August, and by September there is corn, and here it takes six months and is only harvested once per year. We rent land. Here in the cold zone I do have land, but since I want more corn we go work far in the warm lands, and I bring some of the corn by car, in bags, and we also sell it over there by tons…” (Arturo Vázquez López, personal interview, July 5 2003).

This lifestyle changed since the 1980s with the introduction of greenhouses to Zinacantán. The state government promoted diverse productive projects that had the aim of transforming agriculture in the Highlands. The economic activity that gathered strength in this community was the production of flowers in greenhouse systems:

“…This was how the first “greenhouse” was created in the community of San Nicolás from the municipality of Zinacantán with the introduction of genotypes of chrysanthemums and carnations of higher quality and greater productive potential. Years later this program was under the coordination of the Ministry of Rural Development, which fostered “greenhouse” production among peasants, so that in 1984 there were already around 20 “greenhouses”… (Díaz, 1995: 57).

The impact of greenhouses was such that the millenary agriculture practiced in these lands was displaced in an accelerated manner. Maize cultivation was substituted by flower growing and with it new social changes appeared in the heart of the indigenous community. This change in the form of production led indigenous people to develop a very intense interaction with the mestizos to purchase plastics, fertilizers, insecticides, hoses, etc., in the shops of the cities of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and Tuxtla Gutiérrez. They established commercial agreements with mestizo intermediaries that arrived in the community to buy flowers and redistribute them in the main cities of the state; or else, in cities as distant as Villahermosa, Mérida, Cancún, and Chetumal. Llanos (2013) explains how flower growing demanded knowledge about the market from indigenous people; that is where they are supplied with seeds and other implements for flower cultivation and where they find a better price for their production. The greenhouse as technology destined to production transformed the indigenous territory, introducing new social relations and a different notion of time. The cyclic time articulated to the sacred vision of social and religious life was subordinate by the time of accumulation, time of profit, time that takes place linearly, and which seems to have no end.

Since flowers are a delicate and perishable product, and many flower producers still lack the technology to conserve them for a longer time, they are forced to use the resources available to them with the aim of placing their product in the commercial circuit. The use of cargo vehicles, telephones and in recent years the use of computers, fax machines, radio locators and mobile phones, have made it possible to connect to cities that are increasingly farther away, such as the main cities of the southeast, at least for the most advanced Zinacantán residents. Flower producers, due to their activity, have also managed to leave their community, have had the chance to know other markets, since the state government has encouraged them to take training courses in various parts of the country after realizing the importance of flower growing as an economic activity that has brought new social conditions.

“… My father did not go to school, he produced radishes, he was a farmer, he grew maize, fruit, but he found a way to produce flower. Last year he went to Ecuador, they helped him with 50 % of the plane ticket, lodgings and food, and another person from the town had to go as well, but he didn’t have money for the passport and the plane. The visit to Ecuador helped my father to realize the importance of the flower quality, because bright colors are obtained from a well-grafted flower that has been well-cared for to prevent diseases. One of our goals is to be able to export… for the time being, in Chiapas, our flowers are known as the “Choko roses” - Choko means place where there is salt water …” (José Hernández Hernández and Manuel Hernández Hernández, personal interview, March 6, 2004).

The commercial activity in Zinacantán has the goal of reaching the market. This drives it to improve the quality of its crops and the most important flower growers at the end of the productive cycle can obtain economic resources that give them the possibility of feeding their family or improving the technological basis of their production. This attitude brings old stereotypes into crisis that had been built around it for decades.

“…the indigenous person belongs to a community. This belonging could be translated by the use of certain clothes, certain language, by the adoption of certain cultural traits, by the manifestation of certain semantic characters. However, the fundamental thing is that when belonging to a community, the indigenous person cannot accumulate wealth, or transform these riches into capital that produces new wealth and, as consequence, doesn’t have the possibility of competing with mestizo people …”. (Favre, 1973:123)

Inside the indigenous community, neoliberal policies have facilitated the processes of social differentiation and accumulation of capital. In the past, agriculture was directed at covering the needs of a family, and it had the nature of self-consumption which attempted to satisfy religious and family requirements. Now the important thing is to produce for the market, and so the indigenous population started losing the image that described it through its dress, language, religion and diet to emerge from this apparent homogeneity as a rainbow of new and renovated identities. Llanos (2013) mentions how, throughout several decades, various social actors that each bore a new type of social relation, began to emerge: merchant, vegetable producer, flower grower, driver, bricklayer, artisan, municipal president, writer, student, political activist, party militant, street vendor, etc. This is a process of differentiation and social polarization that has deepened due to neoliberal policies since the decade of the 1980s. In indigenous communities, economic and social heterogeneity exists, and indigenous people can be found that regularly reproduce poverty and others that have attained economic margins that make them look as the new rich people in town.

As any other social process, ambiguous and contradictory, flower growing brought economic advantages for a sector of the indigenous population. The polarization and differentiation have increased. Dependency on the market is greater, yet although economic resources obtained allow them to change their lifestyle, the dependency on the market generates new uncertainties; abandoning maize cultivation generates other types of dependencies as is the case of foods. In Zinacantán, despite recent years being dominated by social-leftist governments, the neoliberal economy has penetrated the community and has differentiated inhabitants economically and socially; albeit this, their culture has managed to preserve the cohesion of the community through the cargo system, the organization of religious festivities, and the conformation of committees to address problems such as water supply, school, etc.

However, the neoliberal market is not the only path by which the indigenous population makes incursions. In parallel, other forms of collective and solidary work have emerged in the communities, influenced by the political action of Zapatismo. The neoliberal policy and the Zapatista communities represent two paths that differ; they are two perspectives that lead to different futures. This takes place in the large territory located in the eastern part of the state of Chiapas, which is the scenario where these visions develop; they are two alternatives that are being built from the indigenous perspective and which have also led to confrontation with each other; they are two processes that have managed to differentiate culturally the territory from what is occupied by the mestizo population, but which differ politically and economically. In the extended indigenous territory, it is feasible to find indigenous communities that are outside the influence of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), and others that have accepted to adhere politically to this alternative.

The two paths have similar cultural characteristics: languages of Maya origin like Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, among others; religious systems, traditions and customs of common origin. Until now the most conventional path of insertion has been the one articulated to the economy and the Mexican political system. This alternative is immersed in the market dynamics with economic and political rules of neoliberal cut and even with policies of social type from the leftist political parties. The second path is the Zapatista, this is a more democratic alternative for development, seeking the direction of justice, representing a path to reach progress and welfare in a more equitable manner; the autonomous Zapatista municipalities prioritize their internal market and the formation of more horizontal political representations. These two paths enter in conflict with each other, and they mutually try to reduce their influence on the whole of the indigenous population. After the indigenous uprising of 1994, the order from the EZLN command was for indigenous communities not to accept help from the government, defining these two paths with greater clarity:

“… But as you can see, the change, in 1994, was still quite good, but after the war of 94, the command changed ideas again, setting it in resistance against the people. That’s when people got angry, thousands of people, because [they would think]: I will fight, what the hell will I fight with, I will give my life, I don’t want to be told not to take a single metal sheet, taking money from the government doesn’t command me, they say you can’t take anything, anything; but then the people got very angry. Many that are authority were upset, because I know many now that are delegates of the government, who are Zapatistas, they are leaders, but they saw that the high command gave that bad order, they didn’t like it, they are working with the government now, but because they got upset, and many peasants like us, we didn’t like it, and so… then we had to leave, because that placed us as opposition. The idea was to fight, but as I’m fighting, I ask and I receive, that’s the idea. But what command did of saying you cannot ask for a house, you cannot take a solar panel, nothing, for that same reason the people got upset and the strength of Zapatismo decreased. There is Zapatismo but they are small groups, like that… every community very little Zapatismo, yes, there is no more. Then that’s how the unity of Zapatismo was also destroyed, and that’s why we left …” (Melquiades Hernández, interview, January 25, 2011)4.

Facing the lack of knowledge about the San Andrés Agreements by the federal government, the EZLN decided to advance by the path of the facts in the construction of Zapatista autonomy. This process impacted the territorialization of two types of social, economic and political practices that bring indigenous populations in Chiapas carry out. In the indigenous territory there are internal frontiers, processes of differentiation and conflicts between members of the indigenous nations. These two perspectives confront the power of the State. One accepts the rules of liberal democracy that preserves the State, with indigenous people adhering to various political parties, such as Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) or else Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD).

The other displays a more communal democracy, although it does not detach fully from the liberal influence, it is a democracy where the power emanates from the people and which rests on the perspective of the general will that Jean-Jacques Rousseau (2003) proposed in The Social Contract. A direct democracy that Karl Marx rescues from the experience of the Paris Commune and that the Zapatista municipalities apply with the constant change of representatives in order to avoid a concentration of power in individual representations. The two alternatives seek to exchange in the market, one does it within the context of neoliberal rules of the market and another exchanges in solidary markets seeking greater equity, uses money and sometimes barter, attempts to reach a fairer trade. These two visions share the same cultural features, the same origins, they are two paths that conserve collective forms in their social organization; however, both or one of them will define the future of the indigenous territory in the state of Chiapas, in a few more decades.


The neoliberal policy has had heterogeneous effects among the indigenous communities in Chiapas. In Zinacantán and the autonomous rebel Zapatista municipalities located in eastern Chiapas, they manifest these differences. In the case of Zinacantán, a process of productive and technological adaptation has taken place, linked to the rules of the capitalist market that is sustained in a process of technological change that directs market production. In the case of the autonomous rebel Zapatista municipalities, the type of economic alternatives is connected to their culture and their forms of social and political organization that derive into a sustainable management of natural resources linked to solidary national and international markets, where technology is selected to be incorporated into traditional productive processes. The divergence provoked by the sense of communality and political autonomy, in face of neoliberal policies that have been interiorized in the indigenous communities located at the margin of the Zapatista movement, has opened social tensions between them. The relationship between indigenous communities and the dominating economy and the Mexican State is not the only one in discussion, but rather the Zapatista path has also opened questioning of the current condition in which the cultural project of capitalist modernity occurs.

The forms of production of the autonomous municipality of the autonomous municipalities, such as those of indigenous groups that are not part of this movement, have the same cultural root, but these differences promote the conformation of different social practices and of social actors that differ in the way that they relate to the economy and the national state. The autonomous movement is not a unique expression in the country; there are other experiences such as the one developing in Oaxaca, which indicates the cultural and political wealth of this process, but at the same time shows weakness due to the absence of interaction among them. The indigenous dilemma in Chiapas is a quandary of cultural, political, social and territorial type. It is a continuous process that does not remain static, and which has given a new social and political configuration to the state of Chiapas.


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1 Arturo Escobar (2007) in this work, “The invention of the Third World: Construction and deconstruction of development” (“La invención del tercer mundo. Construcción y deconstrucción del desarrollo”), analizes the context and origin of the concept of “development” promoted by the United States of North America towards the so-called underdeveloped countries.

2Their persistence in the first half of the 20th century is explained by the need for exploitation of their work to drive industrialization (Bartra, 2006); however, at the end of the 1970s, after an acute crisis of the rural sector, a radical process of peasant and indigenous exclusion begins, according to Rubio (2003). The new onslaught against indigenous production begins in the 1980s with the process of economic globalization, millions of indigenous peasants are displaced from the economic system. And it is specifically during this phase of globalization when sociology begins to suggest, from the approach of New Rurality, the viability of the peasant and indigenous population in face of the new risks that would place it in a condition of possible disappearance (Carton de Grammont, 2004). Particularly in Mexico, the modification of Article 27 of the Political Constitution of the Mexican United States in 1992 generated the expectation of the disappearance of social property that represented approximately 52 % of the national territory with 31 514 ha, according to the Agricultural Census of 2007, of which 22 million are in indigenous municipalities, that is, they are owners of approximately 20 % of the national territory.

3On the one hand, social property was reduced until 2011 by only 4.2 % (Appendini, 2010) and the production volume in rainfed lands of the 10 basic grains did not decrease, even when a fall in prices was experienced, The most representative case in terms of decrease of prices and increase of volume is that of maize, which went from 4242.1 to 7758.5 thousand tons in the case of irrigation cultivation and from 2020.6 to 12 750 thousand tons in the case of rainfed cultivation in 1970 to 2006 (Yúnez, 2010). This, despite the rural sector experiencing a huge increase of rural migration.

4This extract of interview was taken from the Master’s in Regional Rural Development thesis for the UACh, campus Chiapas, presented by Oswaldo Villalobos (2012:127), “Del lacandón a la selva Lacandona; la construcción de una región a través de sus representaciones y narrativas”.

Received: April 2014; Accepted: October 2017

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