Eviel Pérez Magaña
Commission of Indigenous Affairs
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Navigating Community Relations

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 16:53

Q: What are the priorities of the Commission of Indigenous Affairs and what are its key accomplishments in the past two years?

A: The commissions, including the Commission of Indigenous Affairs, incorporate a set of objectives that have been mapped out by law. They elaborate points of opinion and reports that are then presented to the Board of Directors of the Senate, and through this process we have been able to position the commission as a leader in the rights of indigenous communities and peoples. The Commission has strong ties with the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Populations, The National Institute of Indigenous Languages, the National Commission of Human Rights, INEGI, INE, and many others.

The Commission is comprised of Senators from Oaxaca, Guerrero, Hidalgo, and Yucatan, among others, and its main political responsibility is to contribute to the decision making process in order to ensure that public and private investments are realized without the stain of social conflict. The Commission for Indigenous Affairs has specific attributes that push laws to strengthen justice and human rights.

Q: How will the Energy Reform help protect the rights of communities?

A: All the Reforms, including the Energy Reform, represent a turning point for the contemporary history of Mexico. Through unprecedented effort from all national political parties, a consensus was reached and it has reshaped the face of the Mexican government. Within the Energy Reform, and specifically the Law of the Electricity Industry, there are benefits that have been incorporated for rural and marginalized regions. For example, a fund has been created that promotes the process of bringing electrical power to rural and remote areas. In addition, the Ministry of Energy will establish policies and strategies to supply electricity to these communities at the lowest cost. It is important that the energy infrastructure that will be created bears in mind the principles of sustainability and the integral rights of communities. I would like to highlight the law that obliges the Ministry of Energy to convene the necessary assemblies to safeguard the interests and rights of communities and indigenous people.

Q: What strategies should companies embrace when approaching communities and what best practices do you endorse?

A: As president of the Commission of Indigenous Affairs of the Senate, and as an official for the Oaxaca Government from 2004 to 2010, where I served as Director of the Institute for Housing and Public Works, I have had the opportunity to trace the development of wind power in Oaxaca. Indeed, the relationship between companies and communities is essential; however, it is important to highlight that there is not always conflict with the communities. These conflicts arise when the fundamental rules have been ignored. The new Law of the Electricity Industry and the willingness of the institutions to respect the rights of indigenous people allow for the relationship between companies and communities to be transparent and open.

One of the most important infrastructure projects of the state of Oaxaca was developed by Eólica del Sur in the indigenous communities of Juchitan de Zaragoza and El Espinal in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. After a consultation period of one year that encapsulated several stages and upheld international standards, the company will be able to install 132 wind turbines in the region. This project will have a generation capacity of 396MW and will demand an investment of US$4.3 billion. One of the most basic best practices we endorse is permanent dialogue with communities. We must all act with strict accordance to these new laws for they embody a democratic, egalitarian, and prosperous spirit.

Q: How will the Commission help assuage the concerns of communities and protect their human rights?

A: Oaxaca is a state of unmatchable wealth and it is considered to encapsulate the highest potential for the generation of renewables and clean energies. While its biodiversity is immense, what truly stands out is its cultural diversity. This demands a high level of sensitivity and knowledge of the diverse communities living there. We have been witnesses to the resistance in Oaxaca to a sector that favored the interests of the unions over the quality of the education. In this process, we have nurtured the trust of the people of Oaxaca.