María de Jesús Patricio Martínez is a Nahua woman from Jalisco and a practitioner of traditional indigenous medicine. This week, she began her campaign for the Mexican presidency in the southern state of Chiapas, backed by Mexico’s National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). She is the first indigenous woman to ever run for the presidency, and is competing with 85 other candidates in the lead up to the election in July 2018.
Better known in Mexico as Marichuy, Patricio is campaigning in order to draw attention to the issues that affect the most marginalized in Mexican society: the indigenous, poor, and female. In a political sphere often tainted by corruption, she has also pledged to refuse any money from the government for her campaign. According to Regeneración, she spoke of electoral reform in Palenque earlier this week. “The electoral system is not made so that we, the people below, govern,” she said. “The laws and institutions of the state are made for those above, for the capitalists and their corrupt political class, resulting in a big illusion.”
In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Patricio explained her vision for Mexico. “It’s part of the same problem. The government, the army, the police, the narcos, they all facilitate the exploitation of our natural wealth. They all want to scare our people and make those of us who oppose their capitalist projects disappear,” she said. “We have to tear up the roots of what’s hurting Mexico. This country needs healing.”
Over 25 million Mexicans (21.5% of the population) identify as indigenous, but since their independence, the country has had only one indigenous president, Benito Juárez, in 1858. Since 1994 the EZLN, often referred to as the Zapatistas, has been in a declared war against the Mexican state, taking control of some villages in Chiapas in response to the original signing of NAFTA. In recent years, the Zapatistas have focused on non-violent civil resistance. The EZLN does not describe itself as socialist or communist, but aligns itself with the wider anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over their local resources. The EZLN is also well known for its socially-inclusive structure, including the high levels of participation of women. With the backing of this influential group, Patricio has gained a significant following among rural and indigenous Mexicans.
2018 will mark the first Mexican presidential election that has permitted independent candidates, and in order to make it onto the ballot on election day, Patricio will need to gather 866,593 signatures, representing 1 per cent of the electorate, from voters in at least 17 states. She has a long road ahead of her, but, by giving voice to the voiceless, she is already on her way.
Header image by PetrohsW (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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