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representante communal (official responsible for community property)


Yavesía, Oaxaca


September 1999


Mauro is married and has two young daughters. Despite being only 28, he has been the community representative for the village of Yavesía for the last four years. He has been particularly involved in the community’s struggle to protect their natural resources and gain official recognition of their community boundaries.

During the interview Mauro discusses how he became involved in the struggle, explaining that he was inspired by his childhood experiences of accompanying his father to the asambleas generales (community parliaments) and into the forest, and by the stories the older generation told him about “what they suffered, the sacrifices they made”. He also describes the difficulties that he encountered by becoming representante communal (official responsible for community property) so young. Initially, he says, some people were annoyed by his age: “When I first got in the insults were strong, they said ‘That kid, what can he know if [his] betters have passed [before him] and haven’t managed to solve [the community problem]’,” while the other young people just laughed at him. However, he describes with pride how he has since witnessed young people getting involved in the struggle, and how he now feels he has the full confidence of the village.

The interview also covers some of the obstacles he has encountered in taking the community’s demands for protection of their resources forward. At times the story is very detailed and gets a little confusing, but there’s no mistaking his impressive commitment and persistence. He explains the difficulties he had understanding the legal procedures involved, and discusses his experiences with the government authorities. He’s clearly frustrated by their lack of action: “well, the authorities in these institutions, well, they’ve neglected the situation. I think that they are able to resolve it… they don’t have the determination or the courage to confront the reality… well they must act like a government institution.”

Mauro feels that its desire to protect its resources is what makes Yavesía different from other communities: “Yavesía’s goal is the protection because this is our way of living, it’s been very different… We, Yavesía, our source of life is different… their ambition is to finish off nature, yes, even though they’ve ruined their forests.” He explains how his parents taught him the importance of protecting nature, and that this is reflected in the legends told by his grandparents. He also emphasises the need to explain the importance of their natural resources to the children, so that they will continue the community’s struggle to protect them. He feels that recent climate changes and natural disasters have alarmed some people, alerting them to the dangers of exploitation, concluding: “it will be an effort to continue protecting [the forest] so as not to live in a crisis or in something that we come to regret… as the saying goes: man provokes his own destruction, and that’s what’s happening.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Some background; went to secondary school Explains that had his first cargo position (unpaid community position) when he was 14, as community policeman in the municipal council.
Section 1-2  How he got involved in the battle to defend Yavesía’s natural resources; his mother told him how when he was born his father was in the forest defending their boundaries. Later, when he was seven or eight he accompanied his father to asambleas generales (community parliaments). They have been defending Yavesía’s boundaries since the Mexican revolution of 1910: “well, if a community has defended itself for many years, to let it be put down at this time - just when one has the opportunity to defend it - well, that’s why I put my heart into upholding the situation.”
Section 3-5  Talks about being elected as representante communal. When he was about 15 he was invited to go and speak in Oaxaca to talk about the situation in Yavesía. Describes the meeting in Oaxaca. Explains that the present representante communal had gone to prison “for defending the community” and that he was elected aged 24 despite being so young. “Well the people that were there gave me confidence; they said to me that you don’t need to live one hundred years to learn either, with your enthusiasm that shows… when I made the pledge in front of the forum, in front of the whole asamblea. I felt very proud.”
Section 5-6  Describes the difficulties of taking on the defence of the village’s resources: didn’t fully understand the legal procedures involved – was given legal advice by licenciado (university graduate) Hugo Aguilar. Talks about the achievements of the last four to five years: feels he has gained the confidence of the village.
Section 6-7  Describes how the community defended its territory when some ranchers came and surrounded them when he was a boy: “that was a very major experience for me, to see how the community defended itself.” Mentions another gunfight that occurred when he was municipal secretario (community secretary). Talks about fires – has helped to carry water from a young age. Mentions the disastrous fires of ‘96, ‘98: “the people acted immediately. This shows that the people had learnt that we have to protect what’s ours.” How Yavesía differs from other communities – doesn’t live off exploitation of the forest: “Yavesía has its own means of living, including many people migrating to the USA... the village has never looked to exploitation of the forest because nature gave it for us to live in, not to destroy.”
Section 8-9  Stories told to him by his grandfather: the legend of “the owner of the mountain” (Zapotec deity) – his grandmother warned him not to go to the land of “Llanos de Chicle”: “a man called Andrés died over there. She said that La Peña put a spell on him and there he stayed because he had killed so many deer” . Current legends: a huge snake in a place called Cua jie. Talks about his grandfather saying that every animal has an owner – reinforcing the idea that if one treats nature badly “well the punishment will come from God because he gave nature.”
Section 9-12  Returns to subject of the village’s struggle: says when he started the other young people laughed at him. Describes the involvement of young people in ‘98 when they were notified that there would be a remarking of the boundary line. A group went to the territory limits to keep surveillance. When the comisariado (community officials) arrived they would not let them pass onto Yavesía’s territory: “I was very proud to see the young people that were there, they put up a resistance… Even though they hadn’t let their point of view be known in the meetings they did where things happened, in the forest.” Tells of another time that they defended their boundary.
Section 12-15  The time his father was sent to prison for cutting down a pear tree. Asked about the mindset of the people in the village who oppose the struggle to defend the boundaries: “I imagine that there are other commitments on the opposing side, such as economic commitments.” Explains how when his uncle became comisariado he didn’t defend Yavesía in the court. Says that now people are much more confident about the situation, and expresses hope that it might be resolved soon: “The people are ready to give their moral, physical and economic support, right? The people have picked up the momentum of the situation again.” Talks about going into the school to explain the situation to the children. Says “the responsibility lies with the municipal authority to promote this for the children, so that they continue with these ideas.”
Section 15-16  Discusses government institutions: feels that the authorities have neglected the situation: “I think that they are able to resolve it, what’s happening is that they don’t have the determination or the courage to confront the reality.” Says the village will continue even without their support: “the village will defend what belongs to it, because we can’t wait for those government institutions anymore because they don’t have the determination to solve the problem...” Discusses how Yavesía is different from the neighbouring mancomunicados (joint communities sharing land): “We, Yavesía, our source of life is different, theirs is different…, their ambition is to finish off nature, yes, even though they’ve ruined their forests… however, we have improved a lot, without a doubt. We’ve advanced the progress of the community without destroying our forests.”
Section 17-18  Discusses the recent heatwave, and other disasters they have heard about on the television and the radio, such as the earthquake that occurred in Oaxaca in 1999: “maybe these have been a punishment from God for destroying nature, so there is a panic because now nature is punishing us too.” The paper he wrote for PROFEPA (Environmental Protection Agency) following their report that everything in Yavesía is okay: “the message that I sent to them says that no, no, our forefathers’ ideas were to protect the forest and we’ll continue with these same ideas. We won’t have other people from the government institutions, telling us that everything is okay… We don’t want to work in the forest, we want it to remain intact.” Says that he represents the village’s wishes. Reiterates the need to talk to the children.