Strengthening Democratic Participation Among Indigenous Peoples of Oaxaca, Mexico
The project sought to empower indigenous people from the State of Oaxaca, Mexico. Through jurisdictional resolutions or agreements, the project worked to reduce the number of conflicts between the indigenous legal system, on the one hand, and the state legal system, on the other, seeking to establish precedents for harmonizing the two systems. The project’s intervention was very timely and highly relevant, given the recent changes in the legal framework, especially the passage of subsidiary legislation and a new energy policy. It provided legal assistance and representation before jurisdictional, judicial, and administrative bodies in the State of Oaxaca. Politically, the project made it possible to include the indigenous peoples’ perspective and expectations in the Constitutional Reform proposal for Oaxaca. The project’s support for empowering indigenous women’s groups had a major impact on the lives of the beneficiaries as well as the development and improvement of institutional and democratic life in the State of Oaxaca.
Lessons from Project
Legal establishment of the association of Mixe authorities and the association of Zapotec authorities could not be carried out. While this had its roots in the electoral process and was beyond the control of grantee, these were specific outcomes directly related to the project’s objective. To anticipate this situation, the NGO would probably have had to fine-tune its risk analysis of certain foreseeable events during the project formulation phase.
While the grantee had a clearly defined mission and institutional objectives it lacked a strategic plan that enabled it to clearly define its interventions and the budget needed to implement them in the short, medium, and long term. Up to now the NGO has been funded entirely with donor resources. This poses a risk to its sustainability, given the changing international cooperation priorities and the current adverse environment of budgetary constraints facing all donors.
Another activity that did not materialize out was participation in international events. Although the grantee considered it important to get to know and share experiences with other stakeholders committed to promoting indigenous rights, it received no invitation to participate in international events and thus made no effort to attend any – probably due to the turnover in its Board of Directors and the team’s excessive workload during the project execution period.
This was an overly ambitious project (26 outputs planned) that failed to detail from the outset how the strategy would be implemented and the linkage between its many components. The narrative reports, moreover, were more descriptive than analytical, making it hard to accurately determine the project’s actual successes and achievements.
Given the recent changes in the legal framework, the grantee should have prioritized its institutional strategy in order to capitalize on its success in strengthening capacities and empowering organizations. Identifying lessons should be the starting point for determining the challenges and strategies to implement going forward. This process should be accompanied by training to strengthen capacities in political advocacy, civic organization, and strategic analysis and litigation.
The comparative diagnostic study on Federal and State legislation laid the foundations for holding forums for consultation and the promotion of Constitutional Reform, and for drafting an internal document for the grantee. The Constitutional Reform proposal had the backing of indigenous and Afro-Mexican groups, and hence, legitimacy – an unprecedented achievement in the State of Oaxaca. These organizations have specific demands and agendas that while different, are complementary in terms of their level and content. Recognizing the need to consolidate these processes, they wish to continue receiving legal assistance and training to improve their advocacy and forge closer ties other government and civil society stakeholders.
The project supported a series of initiatives to guarantee respect for indigenous rights and their enforcement, and by strengthening the capacity to handle petitions and cases involving indigenous rights violations. A total of 51 dossiers were processed within the framework of the project. Five criminal cases and three agrarian conflicts were resolved. Forty-three were still pending at the time of the evaluation. The community members interviewed stated how important it was for them to have had good legal advice at no cost. The final adjudication of cases is often a lengthy process. Community authorities have already commented on the uncertainty and insecurity created by this situation, noting that the project’s support and legal assistance had been very important to them.
The project was part of the grantee’ wider development strategy; thus, the project was built on processes already under way, capitalizing on their strong points. The technical personnel involved in the different activities all shared the same vision, objectives, and analysis criteria. The majority of them had been working as a team for years, which enabled them to develop good relations with beneficiaries and State entities and gain their trust.
The project capitalized on the presence of individuals currently in Oaxaca’s Executive branch who at one time had worked for the grantees. These alliances with individuals in both the government and the Oaxaca Congress have the potential to facilitate collaboration and/or extend to other strategic public figures, build relationships, and create institutional agendas capable of lasting beyond the current administration.