The indigenous feminist rebel fighting to become Mexico’s president

Published by Dazed, 17/01/2018

For what’s supposed to be a democracy, the political situation in Mexico is notoriously undemocratic. The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, is a member of PRI, the political party that ruled uninterrupted for 71 years from 1929 to 2000, and media bias, corruption and voter fraud have been consistently reported during recent elections. However, relentless campaigning by local activists and international pressure have resulted in gradual improvements, and this year’s election may turn out to be one of the most interesting yet.

In 2018, for the first time, independent candidates will be permitted to contest Mexico’s presidential election, thanks to a binding ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2013 which found that the ban on independents infringed on the right to participate in government. Of course, the three main parties will also field strong contenders (namely the left-leaning populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador and PRI’s José Antonio Meade).

Of the 63 independents currently campaigning, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, known locally as Marichuy, has gained both national and international attention. A traditional healer from the state of Jalisco, she will be the first indigenous Mexican to run for president in over 150 years (in a country where around 20 per cent of the population identify as indigenous). Like many other countries, Mexico has never had a female president – and it’s also somewhere that documents seven femicides a day. Controversially, Marichuy is backed by the Indigenous Council and the EZLN, the militant left-wing political group known as the Zapatistas (who have focused on improving women’s rights in the country for years) based in the south of Mexico.

Marichuy has explained that she is campaigning to draw attention to the issues that affect the most marginalised in Mexican society: the indigenous, poor, and female. She’s also a supporter of LGBTQ rights. In a speech on the campaign trail in October she acknowledged the odds are stacked against her. “The electoral system is not made so that we, the people below, govern,” she said, according to Mexican newspaper Regeneración. “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.” She has pledged to reject any government funding for her campaign.

In an interview with the Guardian last year, Marichuy explained a very different vision for Mexico in the future. “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.” Her message of peace and sustainability rings true for many in a country that has suffered through a turbulent history of colonialism, civil war and neo-liberal globalisation.

While Marichuy has strong support in majority-indigenous areas of the country, urban voters remain largely unconvinced, citing her lack of experience and socialist politics. Even her supporters have their fears. “Independent candidates like Marichuy are inspiring because she represents necessary diversity in a country in which just a few parties with defined voter bases and values used to be the only choice for the electorate,” a student in Mexico City tells Dazed. “But I think there is the danger that the big parties could use the idea of independents to increase their own legitimacy.”

Others have seen too much corruption to find any hope in political change. “Because of Mexico’s history, I’m very cynical. I think those in power will always find a way to hold on, and independent candidates will not be the exception,” explains a small business owner in Guadalajara.

In order to secure a slot on the ballot in July, independent candidates like Marichuy must collect signatures from 1 per cent of the electorate (nearly 900,000 people nationwide), as well as the same proportion in at least 17 separate states. She currently sits in fifth place among the candidates, with only 15 per cent of the necessary signatures. This distant goal is made even more difficult by the fact that many voters in indigenous and rural areas do not have access to the technology needed to sign for a candidate. The deadline for the signatures is February 12.

Recent polls indicate that independent candidates could receive 14 per cent of the presidential vote, behind Obrador, Meade and Ricardo Anaya of the conservative party PAN. However, these votes are forecasted to be divided between two established candidates: former First Lady and lawyer Margarita Zavala and the rogue, ex-PRI but now independent governor of Nuevo Leon, Jaime Heliodoro Rodríguez Calderón, widely known as ‘El Bronco’. The electoral success of Marichuy’s candidacy is anyone’s guess.

When it comes to ideological influence though, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez has already made her mark. Her revolutionary political ideology envisions a future for her country that most Mexicans could not even dream of until now. She has become a voice for those who rarely see themselves in public life, and an persuasive leader of the reemerging radical left in Mexico. In 2018, the world will be watching.

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