Corona perspectives: Indigenous communities in southern Mexico

This is a short update from different sources (listed below) of how indigenous communities and healthcare workers are dealing with the ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state and the second one with greatest percentage of indigenous population in the country.

In Chiapas, Mexico, indigenous communities are facing a high risk to be infected with Coronavirus as migrant workers returning from other states or the Unite States could be already bearing the virus. Being the poorest state in Mexico with more than 70% of its population being poor and 29% being extremely poor, many people are forced to migrate in order to provide for their families. Zapatista communities are coordinating to prevent contagion isolating returning migrants in quarantine. Subcommander Tacho of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation explained: “Brothers returning from abroad to some communities are voluntarily isolated and after 15 or 20 days they are reunited with their families. So we are safe and we are avoiding any contagion that may come from outside”.

In a video recorded to thank the international solidarity that helped the communities to buy thermometers and paracetamol, the communitarian government of Chilón denounced:

"No one has come here to give us information; the authorities have not looked at us at all. We don’t have healthcare services or medicines at hand. Further, as representatives from the 600 rebel communities fighting for their rights to self-determination as original communities of Chilon, we can say that no one has come to our communities to give us healthcare protocols. It is very sad; if the virus reaches us, we will die in silence. No authorities will notice it. The danger [of contagion] is real. We are at risk in all the communities because the migrants [from the communities] are returning from tourist destinations such as Playa del Carmen, Cancún or from working in agricultural fields in Sonora [in northern Mexico]. We also have to travel to local and regional markets to sell our products, so there are risks to be infected with the virus. As authorities we have done what we can. We have provided communities’ representatives with thermometers to monitor the population, and we also gave them small quantities of paracetamol, amounts that are far from being enough for the whole population. We are also using our traditional medical methods.”

Medical staff and civil organizations working in Chiapas are also denouncing the total lack of medical supplies, infrastructure, and accurate information available in indigenous languages. The Mexican government has created short videos (30 second long), audios (20 second long) and flyers in 35 indigenous languages out of the 68 that are spoken in the country. The information available in National Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ (INPI) website is as follows :

“Do you know what coronavirus, Covid 19, is? It is a virus that causes respiratory diseases, from a normal flu to more serious illnesses. Take care! Wash your hands with water and soap frequently, cover your nose with your forearm when sneezing. Avoid direct contact with people having flu or cold symptoms.”

Further specifications about serious symptoms such as shortness of breath, what to do in case of emergency or where to go to seek medical attention are not available. However, the access to internet in rural communities is expensive and difficult (3G service) or nonexistent. In an official statement from last week INPI assures that they are working together with the national committee of epidemiological monitoring from where they get daily updates that are further transmitted to indigenous communities either through their website or through the 22 governmental radio broadcasters spread in the 16 Mexican states with higher indigenous population. This omission to provide clear and accurate information in all indigenous languages is nothing but a flagrant violation of the constitutional Mexican right to transparency and information access (articles 6 and 7) and heath protection (article 4).

Being questioned about the multiple complaints expressed by different indigenous communities last week, INPI’s director, Adelfo Regino, said in a radio interview that 105 indigenous coordination centers will be helping people in need of healthcare attention to be transferred from their communities to hospitals located in urban centers but the institution is still planning how to coordinate that work: “One of the more significant deficiencies in our country is that, even though there are rural clinics in indigenous territories, there are no medical staff or medicines. This situation places indigenous populations in vulnerability and thus we have to solve concrete situations such as how to transfer people so that they can receive medical attention at the hospitals”.

Even though a plan for transferring people from local communities to hospitals becomes real, it is still uncertain how the indigenous population could receive medical care since hospitals in urban areas are not even properly prepared to attend local inhabitants. The efforts and resources are clearly not enough as Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre (A.K.A. Frayba) reported last week:

“In the case of native peoples, there is a lack of accurate information in their own language. There is an absence of properly installed health centers and action protocols for protection of the population in rural areas following the conditions of the cultural environment. Nor has any emergency care policy been established for indigenous regions, or for hospital admission for people with high-risk health conditions. Once again -Frayba’s denounce highlights- the protection of indigenous communities is not being a priority of the Mexican government. In fact, in hospitals in these regions, doctors have had to make protective suits using plastic garbage bags”. Certainly, the past days Medical staff in cities like San Cristobal de las Casas or municipalities like San Juan Chamula are working under protest to visualize the complete lack of medical material to protect themselves and to respond to the answer given by Chiapas' healthcare secretary, José Manuel Cruz Castellanos, to this serious problem in a public conference: Cruz Castellanos called medical staff to stay calm and to fulfill their medical oath to attend patients even if their own life was at risk. “And if they do not want to comply -Cruz said- it means that they only studied to fill a space, to earn some dough [sic] that they can easier earn by selling tacos, and they will do better than in front of a patient, if they are afraid of [attending] a sick person."

Poverty in Mexico by CONEVAL:…/…/Paginas/Pobreza-2018.aspx
Angeles Mariscal:…/chiapas-usan-bolsas-de-pla…/
Angeles Mariscal:…/medicos-de-chiapas-trabaja…/
Vocera de indígenas de Chilón, Chiapas:
Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre
Only 40% of indigenous population has access to 4G coverage:…/40-por-ciento-localidades…/
INPI implements inforation, prevention and mitigation actions in indigenous population to face COVID 19:…/el-inpi-implementa-acciones-en-pueblos…


Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies monitors the Covid-19 pandemic

There is little doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic affects communities and nations across the world in different ways, and that the world’s poor are going to experience this crisis much more keenly than people belonging to affluent communities. As a postcolonial research centre, Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies will help monitor the development of the crisis. At the centre's web page above, you will find research and opinion pieces that highlight the dispersed and uneven impact of the crisis in Swedish and global society.

Our aim is that articles that we refer to should be open to the public. However, we cannot guarantee that all articles will be, as media companies' policies and the availability of individual articles may change over time.