Comunalidad, Development and Indigenous Rights in Oaxaca, Mexico


State of Oaxaca
community development


In the 1980s, in the Southern State of Oaxaca in Mexico, a group of civil society organisations, anthropologists and indigenous intellectuals posed a challenge to state-led development. They engaged with the long history of colonialism and injustices faced by indigenous Mexicans, analysed the changing nature of the relationship between local indigenous and rural communities and the state, and proposed a renovation of communal practice and the development of autonomous government based on consensual decision making as a basis for an alternative anti-poverty strategy. They called this Comunalidad, and supporters of Comunalidad engaged with the emerging indigenous rights legislation. Comunalidad can be understood in the context of the Latin American anti-development, anti-capitalist tradition. The movements and projects established as part of the movement have been effective in developing community identity and defending the cultural autonomy of communities in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca. Understanding Oaxacan Comunalidad is important for getting at the 'narrative behind the numbers' of contemporary development policy. Comunalidad anti-poverty strategies revolved around community development rather than economic development and serve as a useful example of a local approach to development.


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