Receipt: March 16, 2023
Acceptance: June 26, 2023
The paper brings to the discussion the history of indigenous communities in order to present different perspectives on social justice in the universalist sense. It is suggested that, instead of emphasizing only cultural identities, it is essential to open the discussion on the formation of political identities developed by indigenous communities and peoples. It is emphasized that democracy in Latin America can be thought of on the basis of the heterogeneity of the political positions adopted by indigenous peoples and communities.
political identities and democracy of indigenous communities, contributions to a discussion of heterogeneity.
This text discusses the history of indigenous communities with the goal of providing other perspectives to the discussion of social justice in the universalist sense. Instead of only emphasizing cultural identities, it is seen as indispensable to open the discussion about the formation of political identities developed by indigenous communities and peoples, with the goal of opening new ways of thinking about democracy in Latin America, ones that emphasize the heterogeneity of political positions.
Keywords: history, political identities, cultural identities, autonomy, democracy.
During the centuries xix and xxMany indigenous communities in Latin America confronted the systems of republican colonial domination through armed uprisings and manifested themselves through so-called indigenous movements. Historical perspectives demonstrate that indigenous communities, instead of emphasizing cultural identities (as defined by theories of ethnicity), maneuvered to give rise to political identities through which they sought autonomy and forms of self-government (Mallon, 2003; Grandin, 2007). It is suggested that, during the second part of the century xxanthropology in Latin America introduced notions such as "cultural identity" and "ethnic group" to define indigenous communities, notions that reduced them to cultural minorities. Even in the xxiThis perspective prevails in many analyses of indigenous movements, which results in the simplification of the positions adopted by indigenous people.
At the same time, it is considered that the formation of indigenous political identities, which are defined within a framework of heterogeneous political positions, contributes to the general vision of democracy. It is observed that the recognition of indigenous political identities implies a transformation of the current ideas of liberal democracy, limited to the representation of individuals, prevalent in Latin American democracies. On the other hand, a heterogeneous perspective implies the recognition of indigenous collective subjects as actors who contribute from their political actions or from the construction of their community worlds. It is argued that this perspective, visualized as the heterogeneous construction of democracywould have to be placed in a visible plane, as it is proposed to do with the so-called universalist social justice.
This paper begins by describing David Lehmann's arguments on social justice from a universalist viewpoint and the uses given to the concepts of "cultural identities" or "ethnic identities". The influence of anthropology in the construction of a vision that marginalizes indigenous peoples and communities in Latin America is pointed out. Some cases of indigenous uprisings are presented, which summarize the formation of indigenous political positions in a specific region of Latin America during the last centuries. xix and xx. Finally, the heterogeneous construction of democracy is examined with emphasis on the contributions of indigenous movements.
The purpose of David Lehmann's paper is to search for paths to universalist social justice, because so-called universalism is considered an affordable way to achieve it. It seems to Lehmann that it is important to work with conceptualizations that are linked to structures of relations based on impersonal, objective or concrete characteristics, which are necessarily close to the institutional bases defined by states and international organizations. To make his argument, the author criticizes positions that for him promote or are based on dichotomies and separatism. According to Lehmann, decolonial scholars scorn these universalist perspectives, including human rights, defining them as devices of domination arising from the West (Lehmann, 2022).
Strictly speaking, Lehmann notes in his article that universal social justice must involve a focus on "material redistribution" and redistribution of wealth, based on recognized socioeconomic criteria such as socioeconomic status, income, age, gender, place of residence and educational level. He believes that the focus of action should take into account universal categories such as class and gender, in contrast to ethno-racial definitions that are subjective and blurred, as they arise from self-identification. In his view, the legal system has to operate on these contents, for example: a universalist response to racism is criminal punishment. Nevertheless, it is certain that indigenous populations will continue to make claims in relation to issues such as identity, intercultural education, land restitution and self-government.
According to the author, the specific claims of indigenous people get this place (secondary, in my assessment), because it is impossible to clearly define the boundaries of racial and ethnic populations. It is claimed that the identities of black, white, Indian, cholo, mestizo are very permeable or elusive and for that reason are impossible to use for distribution. On the contrary, the provision of resources based on socioeconomic status, gender, age or region is less likely to be questioned, as they are concrete subjects that cannot be manipulated. Lehmann's notion of universalism, as he himself states, contrasts with autonomist policies that are actually limited in matters of redress.
In the discussion developed by Lehmann, the concepts "ethnic" and "cultural identity" are of great importance. They are used to write about the positioning of decolonial researchers and indigenous movements that, according to this author, focus on the claim for cultural rights. This idea posits that decolonial theory develops arguments that deepen ethnic divisions, although in reality many of the indigenous approaches end up being demands for inclusion. In this sense, according to Lehmann, the indigenous movements themselves are demonstrating the falsity of decolonial arguments. Because the indigenous movement in Latin America is diverse, its approaches range from those who speak of "inclusion" to those who propose autonomous projects, such as indigenous teachers who consider important an "alternative" education for the indigenous (Bonfil-Batalla, 1989).
The anthropological vision of indigenous populations in Latin America has profusely used the concept of "ethnicity" to differentiate this population, taking into account their cultural particularities. From the beginning, the concept has been used to define the indigenous as cultural minorities that are inserted in the States constituted in the 20th century. xix (Stavenhagen, 2010). Díaz-Polanco (1981), for example, considers that ethnicity is presented as a dimension of social classes: the indigenous peoples of Latin America, he argues, are based on basic forms of ethnic identity despite the fact that they are members of the peasantry. Likewise, from state discourses and policies, ethnicity was applied as a form of
to name a population that does not fully fit into the catego-
and to the definitions of modernity. Through concrete statistical systems, most governments - including those of Guatemala and Bolivia - have succeeded in defining indigenous people as minor populations, both statistically and culturally. This use of hard data ties in nicely with Lehmann's universalist definition, which advocates the use of concrete categories in the distribution of surplus.
Given this fact, the indigenous minority population is assigned a secondary place of enunciation and, in the best of cases, is the object of public policies defined by the dominant political and cultural frameworks or controlled by the State and the economic, political and academic elites. At the beginning of the century xxi, these policies were centered on multiculturalist and interculturalist proposals. In any case, during the second part of the century xxThe so-called ethnic groups were forced to integrate into the "national culture" and have been the object of educational policies that seek to "civilize" them through a myriad of devices and programs (Bonfil-Batalla, 1989; Taracena, 2004). What has been achieved so far, as a result of these policies, is the granting of a "second class" citizenship to some indigenous people and the reinforcement of their role as intermediaries; the rest remain as "second class" citizens. servants in the socio-racial hierarchy defined by the real politics of Latin American elites. Integration policies were the order of the day in most countries of the subcontinent: from the declarations of the First Indigenist Congress of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, in 1940, to the end of the 20th century, integration policies were the order of the day in most of the countries of the subcontinent. xxwhen intercultural policies emerged. In any case, interculturalism as a state policy was nothing more than a neoindigenism covered with discourses on pluralism; underneath the intercultural concept, the concept of ethnic groups was outlined, which obviously maintained the definition of indigenous people as demographic and cultural minorities. Structural racism was outlined through these concepts, which standardized or normalized the place of each person in politics, economy and development proposals (González, 2006).
The notions of multiculturalism and interculturalism were accepted by many indigenous organizations throughout Latin America. An example, in this sense, are the intercultural universities in Mexico, some of them analyzed by Lehmann, or the affirmative policies, which are also highlighted in the article under discussion. Most of these systems, as is to be expected, were directed with the aim of schooling indigenous people, for example, by attempting to reform and strengthen bilingual education programs or by founding universities for indigenous people, ultimately controlled by the mestizo elites who run the states in this region of the world.
Many of these policies also opened spaces for cultural recovery, regulation of communal land use and communal law, and even indigenous local governments. Various indigenous organizations and some academics viewed these intercultural policies with interest and hope because they believed that they would provide more rights for indigenous peoples. Obviously, indigenous organizations also used state legislation and international conventions to seek opportunities that would benefit them (Dietz, 2016; Leuman et al., 2007).
What can be seen from this account is that ethnization was initially a project of the political and academic elites of the States, who defined indigenous peoples on the basis of categories that contrasted with the modernity they pursued or envisioned. As will be seen below, indigenous struggles not only focused on cultural difference, but many of them sought to dismantle the strong intertwining of servitude, dispossession and racism that communities had endured over the centuries. xix and xx (and so far this century xxi) under states run by landlords, farmers and the military.
The classifications based on culture, made by the States, have been taken up by some indigenous movements, but they were adapted (as was done with liberalism in the first part of the 20th century) to the new culture. xx) to underpin the central concern of indigenous communities, that is, to oppose the triad of servitude, dispossession and racism. The indigenous did not adopt the concept of "culture" per se, but rather it had a strategic use in being linked as a word and a position that opposed structural and everyday racism. On this dilemma, Rodolfo Stavenhagen affirms that
oppressed, exploited and discriminated peoples who claim their cultural and collective rights do not do so to celebrate difference - which in itself is neither good nor bad - but to guarantee their human rights and to achieve a minimum of power in the polis, allowing them to participate on equal terms in democratic governance (2010: 82).
Sophisticated integrationist policy, created at the beginning of the 20th century, has been xxiThe history of the indigenous peoples is ignored. Faced with this current political condition, it is important to say that during the period that historiography calls "colonial times" there were dozens of "indigenous uprisings" in different parts of America. Most of these insurrections had communal bases, questioned the colonial economy and identified enemies, from local indigenous authorities to encomenderos, governors or colonial agents. During the centuries xix and xxWhile republics were being founded and consolidated, there were also multiple indigenous uprisings in different parts of Mesoamerica and the Andean region. Many of these insurrections arose as a questioning of the form taken by capitalism in various regions. They were struggles against racism that ultimately sought forms of self-government on a communal basis, but without losing sight of the political, economic and social processes at the regional and even global levels.
Two important examples are the so-called Caste War in Yucatan (Dumond, 2005) and the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas (Harvey, 2000), both of which took place in southeastern Mexico. According to Piedad Peniche (2004: 149), the Caste War (1847-1901) had much to do with the agrarian conflicts faced by various border Mayan populations due to the reform of land ownership, a process led by the Yucatecan government in the middle of the century. xix. It is stated that the adjudication of "baldíos", at that time, benefited businessmen, military and priests (three important agents of colonization in that century in many parts of America). The government of Yucatan promoted the "spirit of enterprise" through laws that favored settlers who promoted agrarian capitalism (Peniche, 2004: 149). At that time, many Maya communities participated in a regional economy based on the cultivation and sale of corn, as suppliers of labor in the muleteer's trade or the sale of aguardiente in the British colony of Belize. Peniche states that this rural society sought options in agriculture and politics, but the opportunities were not for everyone, not even for the Maya elites, much less for the bulk of the indigenous population (2004: 150).
Although these events revolved around agrarian issues, the leaders of the Caste War never claimed that their uprising was linked to land conflicts, but demanded the abolition of taxes and were against the "abuses" (structural racism) of the State and the Church. Peniche points out that the Caste War was the end of a long struggle against taxation that began in the early 1900s. xix. The author states that the Maya peasants had learned to rise up through the "cause of taxes" and that this was the "coded" language they used to express any discontent. In addition, the Maya leaders, the batabThe Maya were displaced in the new colonial world that was taking shape. At the same time, the so-called "hidden populations", which were settlements made up of Mayas who had migrated to unpopulated areas in southern Yucatan to evade taxes, gave shape to virtually autonomous groups of villages. Peniche suggests that the batab had communication with these communities (Peniche, 2004: 158-160).
She concludes that the émigrés eventually participated in the war, the cruzob fought with their leaders, the batabuntil they chose to keep their communities (Peniche, 2004: 160). This option for the communities even led some of the leaders to found small autonomous villages in the current territory of Quintana Roo (or a Mayan nation), whose capital was Chan Santa Cruz, which had its own form of government, hierarchies, religion, economy, regional relations and cultural organization. This entity maintained, for a long time, its independence from the dzules (Ramirez, 2016), but it was not isolated.
The Zapatista uprising had a brief phase of armed struggle in January 1994. Very soon the actions turned to the political plane with the peace negotiations. In this sense, military actions gave way to the implementation of social and political organizations related to the communities that supported the movement. In December 1994, 38 autonomous Zapatista rebel municipalities were declared, rejecting the forms of local government supported by the State. In 2003, another level of autonomous government known as Caracoles was unveiled, which, according to some, marked a moment of self-determination of the communities vis-à-vis different actors and the Mexican government. For analysts, this event marked a stage of maturing of the autonomy that had begun years earlier (Baronnet et al., 2011).
It is observed that the Zapatista communities do not form a territory or closed groups, but are defined by voluntary political action and are governed by self-governing norms. The forms of government and services in the communities can be used by people and groups that do not belong to the Zapatista movement. Many members of the support bases are also closely related to peasant organizations and even political parties. Actions for autonomy, which have been at the center of political and social activities in these communities, take place in everyday life. These operations take place in the context of a Mexican State that refuses to recognize their rights as peoples and communities, in the face of a war of attrition and the "territorialization of the new logics of capital" (Baronnet et al., 2011: 27).
What can be noticed in these processes taking place in the autonomous communities is the construction of new forms of political identities. In this sense, the communities, by producing forms of life, organization, new political subjects, meanings, subjectivities and knowledge, do so in a strongly politicized space, which define the power to give themselves a life of their own and attempt to reform relations with adversaries and allies (Baronnet et al., 2011). The democratic practices that emerge in these processes contribute to the life of communities, but also influence the Mexican state in different ways. Mallon (2003) has shown how the political practices and positions of subaltern groups influence the formation of the state. In fact, the Zapatistas have developed autonomous communities almost always in the face of the Mexican State denying them the possibility of a life and politics of their own. Thus, it is affirmed that while the autonomous communities generate new systems of education, health, justice, exchange, production, new social and political relations are developed (Baronnet et al., 2011: 29).
In the second part of the century xxIn Guatemala, but mainly in the 1970s, there was a strong mobilization of indigenous communities. With a long history of communal and municipal politics, the Mayas of this part of Mesoamerica implemented a series of local and regional organizations that soon met with guerrilla organizations led mainly by ladinos from the capital's middle class. This confluence had periods of tension, but at other times alliances were produced. The indigenous organizations that emerged from the communities were linked to ideas of self-government (although there was never any talk of autonomy), questioned racism and had a strong discourse advocating equality. Other peasant and community-based organizations, such as the Comité de Unidad Campesina (cuc), they fought for land, for a change in labor relations on the farms, and made claims about historical grievances. For several authors, the political position of the Maya at that time was a clear rebellion or indigenous and peasant revolution (Vela, 2011; Foster, 2012).
While the rebellion lasted, many communities had lapses of self-government, but very soon these actions were violently put down by the Guatemalan army. The political identities developed by the Mayas during the second part of the century xx were attacked with genocide in the 1980s and finished off with official interculturalism with the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996. The culturalist positions taken by some Mayan organizations in the 1970s were thought of as a way to confront racism. In the 1990s, however, through a language of rights, the State implemented intercultural policies that supposedly resolved historical grievances, inequality and the cultural rights of indigenous people, but in reality created devices of control over Mayan populations. It should be noted that the Mayas, protagonists in the 1980 rebellion, were placed in the background by the State during the signing of the Peace Accords by the government and the ladino-led guerrillas. Thus, their proposals for change were defined as cultural during the negotiation process. With a language of cultural rights and a series of agreements to be legislated, the political identities that the indigenous had developed between 1944 and 1980 were erased.
Using historical arguments, this paper argues that indigenous people, in addition to emphasizing a language of cultural identity, prioritize a political identity (Stavenhagen, 2010). Likewise, it is observed that an autonomist position prevails or is anticipated in indigenous and peasant struggles. What stands out is the formation of political identities closely linked to the reproduction of communal life (qualified by anthropology and by the dominant visions as "cultural identity", "cosmovision" or "ethnicity"). Because the ethnization of indigenous people leads to their minoritization, analysts quickly come to consider these indigenous struggles as "particularistic" (not "universal") and, therefore, secondary in a state formation or in the world. In this sense, it is considered that the disadvantaged position of indigenous peoples can be resolved through the analytical priorities that European thought defines using ideas about universalism (social class, in this case) as a unique paradigm and not with the history that indigenous peoples put forward, that is, that of colonial rule. In this sense, Bonfil-Batalla (1989: 235) declares that it is important to change the way in which the West implants in Mexico (or Latin America) its historical condition, that position which contradicts the possibilities of pluralism; this ethnologist proposes, for the first time, that it is necessary to "direct the West".
The uses of culture cannot be seen as positionings that seek radical opposition or exacerbation of differences, at least in most indigenous movements in Latin America. According to the words of Peniche (2004), being aware of their current place in the world, it can be said that many indigenous movements use "culture" as a "codified" language to talk about their history and their autonomist politics. It is well known that culture and politics are concepts that are difficult to separate and that are strongly imbricated in the positions adopted by subalterns, indigenous, peasants, blacks, women or whoever, and that the important thing is to specify the historical and political contents of these approaches, as well as the possibilities of linkage that they offer. The uses that indigenous people make of concepts such as "culture", "Mayan science", "Mapuche models of intercultural health" (Cuyul, 2012), etc., delineate strategic positions in specific historical moments in the face of identified adversaries. Indigenous points of view, in the face of intercultural universities, for example, are moments of a long-lasting political imaginary in a social field, in which they seek to influence institutions and specific actors and contenders; but, at the same time, they seek to gain spaces to build a life of their own.
Up to this point, the prevailing democratic ideal in Latin America has been linked to liberalism and, in other cases, to socialism. The indigenous leadership and the politics that emerged from the communities, throughout the century xix and xxThe history of the Caste War has often been seen as pre-political and secondary in the light of history; however, the point of view would have to be transformed. Historian Arturo Taracena affirms that a few years before the beginning of the Caste War, Santiago Imán - a mestizo leader in the middle of the 20th century - was the first to be killed in the Caste War. xix in Yucatán- advocated a discourse of regional identity based on "interethnic dialogue" leading a "multiethnic" army. Thus, this leader, in various senses, opposed the regionalist discourse held by the Yucatecan elite, that which nurtured the idea of a country and a republic for non-indigenous people (Taracena, 2015: 14).
Moreover, the historian Greg Grandin (2007) states that at the end of the century xix The Quiché elites of the city of Quetzaltenango, with the discourse of the regeneration of the race, created an "alternative" political identity that linked the national with the cultural, reinforcing the power of the Quiché elites and recreating an "ethnic nationalism". The historian affirms that the word "regeneration" had a different meaning for the Quiché elite than the one used by the Ladinos. For the former it meant an "ethnic resurgence", for the latter it meant the assimilation of the indigenous into the ladino culture (Grandin, 2007: 208, 221).
In the heat of the indigenous uprisings of the 1980s in Guatemala, the Maya proposed the creation of a Federated Socialist State. According to their historical and sociological vision, the authors of that project imagined an egalitarian state in which the Maya, as collective subjects, had a place in the political arena (Movimiento Indio Tojil-Mayas, 2016). All these indigenous positionings in Mesoamerica demonstrate that the formation of individual and collective political identities, over time and space, have been fundamental and shape history. In the second part of the xx, Latin American states, supported by anthropology and its conceptual apparatus, defined indigenous peoples as cultural beings, removing from them all political identity. Criticism of this position created, in the last years of the century xx and early xxi, a new language: interculturalism, and a system of rights controlled by the State, a hegemonic vision that basically reproduced a neoindigenism or "integration policies" reproduced in a much more sophisticated way and whose ultimate goal was to stabilize and create a favorable context for neoliberal policies (Hale, 2005). This perspective does not deny the fact that other social movements also put forward their own perspectives on interculturality, to which they imprinted new meanings (Dietz, 2016).
Lehmann follows theories of "ethnic identities" to identify indigenous struggles as cultural struggles and positions the movements as minority actions in established states; however, he also argues that indigenous movements tend toward democratization. What could be said in this regard is that, alongside work to underpin the universalist social justiceIn order to achieve this, it is essential to heterogeneous struggles for democracy. As is well known, democracy is part of an important discourse and ideal in Latin American states and civil society. Throughout the century xx The first of these was the emergence of forceful social actions that have sought it, mainly in the face of military governments, dictatorships, the Cold War and U.S. imperialism. Democracy has been an important discourse for governments, despite being limited to an electoral system, citizen representation and constitutional rights defined on the basis of the interests of the economic and military elites.
From the second part of the 20th century xxEven earlier, indigenous people also participated in one way or another in the processes of struggle for democracy and rights, although they have rarely been visualized as such in studies on state formations. It will not be said that political actions, such as the Caste War, were also democratizing; nevertheless, it is visible that the leaders of those nineteenth-century movements had historical notions about the heterogeneity of the world in which they lived, they wanted to have opportunities, as well as to be linked to those worlds, but they also wished to transform them in a forceful way. In this sense, the ideals for democracy that have emerged from different histories and places can be an important linking point to form weavings that show multiple designs, including those being implemented by indigenous peoples and communities at this time. Given this process, it is obvious that Lehmann is not wrong to argue that indigenous movements contribute to democracy in the states where they are present. What is important, however, is to recognize that these struggles take place under the influence of the heterogeneous world from which we cannot escape, and over which we sometimes want to impose univocal visions or leave it in a secondary place.
All this means that it is necessary to work to think about democracy in other ways. Thinkers such as Jacques Derrida argue that we should always look at democracy as something to come, not as something existing, that is, as a ready-made object. He himself states that democracy is something that exists and that emerged in some places, but in other terms it is important to consider that "it is a concept that carries with it a promise". This is so because "democracy is not adequate, it cannot be adequate to its promise, in the present, to its concept". He considers that if we start from the singularity of the other, what remains is a challenge to democracy not to be seen as a thing or a substance, but as something perfectible. In this sense, the notions or signs that exist on democracy should be starting points for thinking and working for what is to come (Derrida, 1994).
At this moment, in Latin America the word democracy does not correspond to a recognizable historical situation. Thus, justice and democracy in the subcontinent imply thinking for the other (but this does not refer only to the elites that govern up to this moment, but to "everyone"), that other that is irreducible in its political and moral representation (Derrida, 1994). From a radical individualist perspective, it could be said that thinking of the other is a praiseworthy sentiment but does not possess concreteness, thus, it is unrealizable and therefore disposable. In any case, the dominant institutions often invoke an ethic towards the other in order to continue functioning, and they do so. Political positions from indigenous communities in Latin America can be seen from the historicity of democracy and not from the individualism imposed by dominant institutions. In any case, people, nature and community are intertwined, even if we close our eyes to this concrete reality. This situation also implies thinking of justice as something committed to the history of all and as something useful, possible and necessary for the life of all and in the construction of the political.
Indigenous movements try to build democracy from everyday life (like the Zapatistas) or from the State, as in the case of Evo Morales (even if he can be accused of being a populist), showing a fruitful, although also contradictory, field at other times. In any case, the "contribution" of the indigenous and social movements, in this sense, is immense and should not be placed on a secondary plane. What the "new democracy" invites us to do is to take into account the heterogeneity of indigenous political identities -and many others- that struggle to have a place in the heterogeneous world; in this sense, indigenous people do not contribute only to liberal democracy, limited to the representation of the individual. If Latin American states advocate democracy and social movements defend heterogeneity, then it is essential to nurture these perspectives with the multiple histories of diverse individual and collective actors. At the same time, struggles for democracy are linked to actions for rights and justice as possible and desirable paradigms in the 21st century. xxi.
Finally, I think the criticism of decolonial thinkers who, in many moments, idealize the so-called "cultural identity" of indigenous peoples and communities is correct. In various senses, as Aura Cumes (2017) states, this dislocation happens from the authority granted to them, in the privilege of the academy of the so-called first world and in the universities controlled by the Creole elites in Latin America, falling in many moments in the reproduction of colonial domination and subordinating the struggles of the indigenous peoples themselves.
Throughout this process, there is no serious and permanent dialogue between its Latin American or planetary perspectives, with the political and theoretical proposals from the indigenous peoples who inhabit the same territory. It is a perspective that needs to examine more closely the multiple nebulous spaces in the relations between colonizers and colonized, in order to understand the possibilities and limits offered by these histories. However, it is also important to note that decolonial critique, as well as postcolonialism and subalternism have offered a forceful and audible critique of Eurocentrism, anthropocentrism and patriarchy; such contestation and many others are important and fundamental to thinking about the heterogeneity of the world.
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Edgar Esquit is a researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Interétnicos y de los Pueblos Indígenas, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala. He holds a PhD in Social Sciences from El Colegio de Michoacán and a Master's degree in Social Anthropology from the ciesas-West. His line of work focuses on research on the history of indigenous peoples. He is the author of several articles and books, among them Community and State in the revolution, Tujaal Editions, 2019.