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member of the consultative committee


Ixtlán, Oaxaca


29 May 1999


A member of the consultative committee (Cuerpo Consultivo) for Ixtlán, Miguel has held many cargos (unpaid community positions) in the community. The Cuerpo Consultivo is made up of people whose opinions are respected by the wider community, and they debate particular topics of concern raised for discussion by local people. It is therefore no surprise that Miguel talks informatively about the community and municipal authorities and his experiences of them. He views holding a cargo as an obligation and responsibility that entails personal sacrifice, especially financial: “When they gave us the cargo of topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) in the municipal office we didn’t have any income whatsoever, it was very difficult to support oneself… One concentrates one’s efforts on the cargo, well everything else stops, everything is postponed, interrupted.” Despite such problems he also sees the positive side of the cargo system: “Well, one gets good experience, one definitely learns a lot… one gets to know people from the different problems that each of the ciudadanos (citizens) and commoners have and problems that the community has in its relations with the other agencias (community offices) and with neighbouring villages.”

It is evident that Miguel is proud of the community’s customs and the democratic way it is run: “It isn’t like other places where political parties intervene, or where authorities of the state or of the Procuraduría Agraria (government department in charge of resolving community land conflicts) intervene, delegating the cargo of the comisariado (official responsible for community property). The community has matured a lot in this aspect and appoints its authorities with true democracy.” In particular he talks about the tequios (obligatory, unpaid community work), pointing out that although some citizens disagree with the system the work carried out is important. However he also repeatedly stresses the need for better organisation in the community in order to enable it to progress further.

Such organisation he feels is crucial in order to create new work opportunities and move away from the exploitation of the forest which he sees as “a heritage that our forefathers left us and we must be responsible and leave something for our children, for the future generations.” Despite not having progressed to secondary education himself, he sees training and education as fundamental to development: “A lot needs to be learnt, firstly how to organise oneself to understand things well… But for the community to develop it is necessary to start with the children so that they have the knowledge, they have a view on the community, so that they appreciate the place where they were born.” He also emphasises the need for training for adults, saying that there are opportunities but pride stops people from taking advantage of them.

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Section 1  School: feels education is worse now than when he was at school. He couldn’t continue to secondary school due to family problems – he had to work to support himself.
Section 2-3  The pressures of taking up a cargo (unpaid community position) – economic difficulties, interruption of work. Also the benefits – good learning experience, you get to know the individuals in the community, its relations with other communities. Suggestions for change – he feels that people hold positions for too short a time to really make a difference. Feels the positions of municipal authority and comisariado (community official) could be extended to six years to enable more effective long-term development planning
Section 3-4  Work prospects in the community: better organisation needed to promote new opportunities not dependent on the forest: “We have only thought about exploiting the forest... Our forefathers were very intelligent to leave us a good heritage, above all the forests; our responsibility is to take care of them and look for alternatives so as not to be satisfying our needs only with the forest.” Stresses the importance of conservation of plants as well as animals.
Section 4-5  Legends and history of the community. Describes the legend of the fight for possession of Ixtlán. Describes how the Atepec community helped defend Ixtlán when it was threatened by other neighbouring communities. Outlines the traditional festivals. On festival days people who have moved to Oaxaca and Mexico City as well as those who migrated (illegally) to the United States return to the community.
Section 5-6  Opinions on education: “Well, it’s the most important thing in life, right…it’s an important weapon for living. A lot needs to be learnt, firstly how to organise oneself to understand things well.” Emphasises the need to start with children: “for the community to develop it is necessary to start with the children so that they have the knowledge, they have a view on the community, so that they appreciate the place where they were born.” Explains that the community needs better organisation: “it’s necessary that we, as a community, as people responsible for our community, train and know how to organise ourselves in all aspects, to be competitive every day.”
Section 6-7  The cargos: the obligation and responsibility of holding them and the difficulty of fulfilling all the requirements of the community; the cargos he has held; the differences between the municipal office and the comisariado: “the municipal is responsible for seeing to everything that is in the district capital… Unlike the comisariado de bienes comunales (office responsible for community property) which is exclusively for the community”; the relationship between the municipal authority and the agencia (office of the community officials): “the municipal here in Ixtlán has to intervene in the projects that another agencia makes, to advise them sufficiently so that their work finishes well.”
Section 8-9  Says the community’s customs are “the foundation for the strength of the village, if we didn’t have these well established customs, we wouldn’t have our self-identity.” The tequios (obligatory, unpaid community work) – some people are against the system as there is no financial reward and they “don’t fully understand that the tequios are done for progress of the community” - but the tequios have now been officially recognised. The importance of the democratic system in the village: “the community and the municipal authorities are elected by the ciudadanos (citizens), the commoners… The community has matured a lot in this aspect and appoints its authorities with true democracy.” Memories of the tequios 35 years ago; describes transporting water for irrigation from 4 or 5 km away and the tequios for planting corn: “We all went there with animals and ploughs to prepare the land and afterwards we all went to sow it and to weed the corn, to put more soil on top of the small plants and to harvest.” Improvements in the village in the last 30 years – they now have piped water, highways and vehicles reducing the workload of the tequios.
Section 9-10  Agriculture: the need for better organisation to produce crops that can be sold as well as just used for subsistence. The need for training for better organisation – says that there are opportunities but people are held back by pride: “I think that if we put fear of criticism and pride to one side we could move forward.”