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- Indigenous Law & Justice of Latin America
On my first trip to Mexico ever years ago, I remember visiting an indigenous movement in rural Mexico called the Zapatistas.
Upon arriving, I was taken into a small room where the people in charge of administrative work introduced us and explained to us how the community worked.
One of the things emphasized was how they have their own rules enforced there and are “autonomous” from the federal and state government.
And, over the years of learning about their movement, I realized that they effectively have their own institutions in everything.
Their own clinics, education system, governing system, rules and so on.
For example, you can’t drink on their territory (among other rules that are not applied outside of their territory).
You can read more about that experience here.
Anyway, I guess you can say it was a solid example of how, in Latin America, you have areas of this region that are “separate” in certain ways.
When I say “separate,” I mean that they might have their own institutions (schools, clinics, etc) or have their own political and economic systems.
But, on top of that, they have their own rules that they enforce locally as you can see in the example above.
The Zapatistas are not the only example of that in Latin America.
It’s an interesting little detail about certain rural areas of this part of the world that you likely won’t come across unless you are looking to be there most likely.
But let’s get into some examples.
Foot Punishment for Violating Covid Rules in Colombia
First, we have this example here of an indigenous group called the Zenú in a part of Colombia called Tuchín, Córdoba.
In their community, they had been enforcing rules to limit the spread of Covid.
Some of the rules include things like isolation apparently.
Anyway, not everyone has been following the rules in the community apparently.
So what was the punishment for these folks?
Well, they had the rule violators have their feet placed in something called a stock.
Never heard of that before but it’s apparently a wooden device that you put your feet in such a way that it makes you feel uncomfortable and limits mobility.
And so the rule violators had their feet placed in these stocks in some local park of the area for everyone to see.
Of course, they don’t just punish people with the device who broke their Covid rules.
Apparently the device is used to punish people for violating other rules also.
And the length of time that they place your feet into this device can last anywhere from a few hours to several days depending on how severe the crime was.
The Customs of the People in Mexico!
Next, we have an interesting example to bring up of how indigenous people in some communities of Mexico have been known to sell their daughters for items as simple as beer under the idea of “usos y costumbres.”
As you can read here, there have been reported cases of such in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
Where these fathers have also sold their daughters for other items like money and livestock.
The article elaborates even more in saying that a 9 year old daughter could be sold for a price between 40,000 and 200,000 Mexican pesos.
That’s roughly 2,000 to 10,000 USD.
The article goes on in saying that as many as 300,000 children have been sold into marriage in Guerrero but the exact numbers are hard to find due to how most of the marriages are not registered.
Despite this behavior violating federal law in Mexico, there’s no measures taken against it legally in these communities where it happens apparently.
And after being sold, many of these young girls are basically put into forced servitude to work for the families that bought them to help pay off the debt that came with their purchase.
Though apparently there was one social program called Prospera that was meant to help these young girls but the funding for the program has dried up in recent years.
While one could argue that there are certain cultural practices that should have their autonomy respected from federal law, it’s also pretty clear here that this is just a basic violation of human rights.
For those curious, there’s more information in this article here.
Indigenous Punishments in Guatemala
For those curious, here’s a really great article that discusses the centuries long history of indigenous punishments given to rule violators in Guatemala.
What are some of the key takeaways?
Well, for starters, they begin by saying that lynchings and torture are not used as a form of punishment.
Though, as I wrote here months ago, you do have public lynchings that happen in other parts of Latin America.
But then the article goes on anyhow in describing how the process works with recognition also that obviously every indigenous group is different.
For example, the subject will be brought forth in front of the authorities if his crime isn’t too severe.
The authority usually being some indigenous mayor.
Afterwards, the victim and the offender agree to the punishment as some form of oath to follow through with it.
In one part of Guatemala known as San Juan Atitán, Huehuetenango, the violator kisses the earth in front of the traditional authorities.
And the article goes on to saying that there is no written code in indigenous law but that it’s really oral law from what I understand.
Anyway, the punishments involved often involve a bit of public shame with them.
In the case of robbery, the violator must stand next to the stolen object being displayed at the door of the municipality or a park.
And, in other Mayan towns, the criminal has to return the object and compensate by offering cash or a similar asset.
According to the article, the ultimate punishment in some of these communities is exile.
For example, they mention how a man in 1990 was exiled for adultery. He was told that the husband would not be punished for killing him if he ever returned to the community and the woman was publicly shamed.
Still, physical punishment can be applied to in some communities.
Though the article claims that lynchings, death penalty and torture are out of question, other physical punishments like cutting a woman’s hair off are on the table.
Anyway, another interesting detail from the article states that the enforcement of the law is not always equal in all of Guatemala.
Therefore, in more rural areas of the country where indigenous communities exist, there is a need for their communities to enforce their own justice when necessary.
For those curious on more details, you can check out the article here but let’s move on.
There are many more examples that could be brought up as you have numerous indigenous communities all across Latin America.
But I feel the examples above bring to light some of my own thoughts on the matter.
For one, I agree with the notion that you have rural communities that have a lack of state enforcement of the law.
Therefore, I can see the need for these local communities to enforce their own laws how they can.
Second, I agree with the idea of public shaming as a way to punish people. It sounds like a pretty solid idea.
Third, I agree that there are likely customs and rules that come with indigenous communities that are separate from what you’ll find in other areas of any particular country down here.
However, I also think too that some enforcement of basic standards should always exist anywhere in the country.
Even in indigenous communities.
For example, one could argue that lynchings shouldn’t be allowed as they do happen as I wrote about here.
Also, the example of people selling their underage daughters to be wives and indentured servants should obviously be prohibited.
And any other example of fucked up shit similar to that.
Look, if your culture says that it is OK to rape an underage girl, then your culture is dogshit.
And you’re a fucktard of a person.
There’s no room here for “cultural tolerance.”
And, to be fair, I don’t know personally the culture of the indigenous people in question in Guerrero so I don’t want to actually say that is “part of their culture.”
I doubt it. I’m willing to be nice here and say that it’s probably just a fucked up behavior that is protected by the feeling of authorities to respect “usos y costumbres.”
In cases like the selling of underage girls, I’d say “usos y costumbres” need to be violated here to protect underage children.
And to prohibit other fucked up behavior that could be going on.
So the point here is that there should be a certain baseline of behavior that is always enforced even in indigenous communities.
And other behavior that their communtiies have – assuming it’s not fucked up – should be respected.
Otherwise, the only other thing I can say is that it does seem a bit extreme to me how some of these communities – like the Zapatista ones – prohibit alcohol.
Really? Alcohol? No Jack Daniels allowed? Cmon!
Anyway, I get it – abusive husbands or some shit probably.
Anyway, that’s all I got to say that comes to mind.
Got any comments?
Drop them below in the comment section.
Maybe with your own examples or thoughts of your own.
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Thanks for reading.
The best example was in Cancun was when ‘El Nazi Ruso’ was seconds away from being lynched by a mob on an online stream back in 2017 – the police turned up and told the baying mob who were waiting for him outside his house that they will be back later to deal with the aftermath but they just basically walked away and left the mob to deal with ‘El Nazi Ruso’ mob justice style – that fucker deserved it though, pity the mob didn’t finish him off.