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The Significance of the San Andres Agreements for Civil Society

Part 2 - New relationships in the community,
in the municipalities, in public policy

by Javier Elorriaga
Translated by Cecilia Rodriguez

San Cristobal de las Casas
Chiapas, Mexico

1. In the Community

In the reforms to the Constitution the community is given the character of an entity with legal standing. This means the recognition of the legal character of communities not only in the agrarian arena, as it has been until now, but in many other arenas. This gain is significant for all municipalities, rural and urban, because only municipal agencies at this time have official and minimal recognition; urban neighborhoods, un-incorporated villages and rural centers do not have any type of representation in town halls. In daily life, the neighborhoods and villages are the immediate arenas where citizens organize themselves and act to resolve their problems; the reconstitution of the communities could convert themselves into a primary space for reactivating collective life.

In the reforms it is established that authorities are obligated to carry out the transference of functions and resources to the communities, so that they themselves can administer the public resources which correspond to them. Additionally, these communities should be incorporated into the town halls, by naming their own representatives.

The principle of self-development present the ability of the communities themselves to determine their projects and programs. That is why it is necessary to incorporate in local and federal legislatures the mechanisms for citizen participation at all levels, so that the projects of development can be designed taking into account the aspirations, necessities and priorities of the populations involved.

The communities have the right to designate freely their representatives, within their community as well as in the organizations of municipal government, in compliance with the institutions and traditions of each people. The right of communities and municipalities to incorporate with others in order to unify efforts and coordinate actions, optimize resources, promote regional development projects and the defense of their interests is also established.

If these rights which have been won by indigenous people are made valid in rural communities and in urban neighborhoods, it would be the citizens who would exert their right to organize and to elaborate their own development projects, without subjecting themselves to government programs decided from above and oriented to fulfilling the whims of successive administrations.

2. In the Municipalities

In the agreements it is said that a "re-organization" of municipalities must occur, in order to adjust territorial borders to social and cultural processes which have been developed in them. It is established that this process should follow the results of the consultation of the populations to be involved.

Indigenous municipalities won the recognition of their own internal and democratic forms of government, such as decisions made in assemblies, town hall meetings, and plebiscites. These methods are especially important for small farmer municipalities, where it is necessary to develop a form of direct democracy.

It was agreed as well that municipal agents and officials ( such as aldermen, or commissioners, etc.) would be elected by citizens, and not appointed by municipal presidents. Citizens would have the right to remove their representatives, in case they do not comply or disobey the trust of the people.

The agreements of San Andres established the right of citizens to take away authority from municipal authorities, and the right of local Congresses to seek the mechanisms by which their decision is respected. It is also established that citizens have the right to initiate laws or decrees, through proposals made to local Congresses, through their municipal authorities or through popular initiatives. There is not reason why these rights cannot be claimed all over the country, or why they should be applied exclusively to indigenous people. They should be extended to all.

It is very important to point out that it was agreed to develop legislation about the rights of communities to elect their own authorities without the necessary participation of political parties. In this point the possibility for independent candidates is opened for benefit of all.

The constitutional reform which proposes that town halls should allow populations to participate in all the plans of municipal development and above all to establish mechanisms of citizen participation to collaborate with town halls in the programming, exercise, evaluation and control of resources, including federal ones destined for social development is very important.

It is agreed as well to develop a process of de-centralization of the facilities, functions and federal and state resources to municipal governments.

Municipalities are given the right to incorporate freely among themselves in order to coordinate and initiate regional actions which will optimize their efforts and resources, increasing in this way their capacity for development and gestation. The authorities are obliged to transfer their resources, so that municipalities themselves may administer public funds which correspond to them. This can be very significant for urban as well as rural municipalities, because it makes possible the development of programs and the management of sustainable resources in a scale larger than the municipality.

3. In public policy

The new relationship between indigenous peoples and the State should be based on the principle of consultation and agreement, and in democratic de-centralization. Therefore, the policies, laws, programs and public actions should be consulted with the communities.

The state should commit itself to sustain the principle of integrity and to promote the concurrence of all the institutions and levels of government, avoiding partial practices which fracture public policy. In order to make sure that its action corresponds with the characteristics of diverse communities, and to avoid the imposition of policies and homogenizing programs, the state should guarantee citizen participation in all the phases of public action, including its conception, planning and evaluation.

The State commits itself as well to carry out a transference of facilities, functions and resources to municipalities and communities, in order than public funds be distributed appropriately. Since public policy should not only be conceived by the communities, but implemented with them as well, the actual institutions of social development should be transformed into others which operate in conjunction with these communities.

The commitment for the different levels of government and institutions of the State not to interfere unilaterally in the affairs and decisions of the communities, in their organizations and forms of representation and in their current strategies for use of their resources.

Part 3- Towards the Strengthening of Collective Rights

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