News and Reviews
Corrupt politicians are hardly news anywhere in the world, but Gaston Flosse, the President of French Polynesia, might deserve a prize as an extreme example of the phenomenon. The highest court in France last Thursday upheld his conviction for corruption last year, which resulted in a suspended jail sentence for four years, a fine of US$170,000, and a three-year ban on holding public office.
He has appealed to the President of France, Francois Hollande, for a special presidential pardon. He has been convicted in two separate cases of taking bribes and of running a network of phony employees during the 1990s in order to build the influence of his party. The verdict of the court last week was sent to the French High Commission in Tahiti for it to carry out the requirement of the law—that he be removed from the office to which the Tahitians, and other citizens of French Polynesia, elected him nearly 15 months ago.
Flosse claimed that the French judiciary had lost its credibility in reaching its decision. He repeated his innocence and said, in a statement, that the court had denied the results of democracy. The French Polynesian voters were aware of the conviction when they went to the polls at the beginning of May last year, yet they elected him anyway, he contends.
His practice of running a scheme for phantom jobs from the presidential office 20 years ago has been referred to as “the biggest case of its kind in French legal history.” Flosse maintains his innocence, saying that all of the job contracts were approved by the French high commissioners.
On Friday, his opponent in the election last year, Oscar Temaru, called for the territorial assembly to be dissolved and for fresh elections. The two men have taken very different positions on the fundamental issue of the Tahitian relationship to France. Flosse has steadily maintained the importance of French Polynesia remaining an integral part of France while his opponent, Temaru, has been elected to the office of territorial president several times on a platform of gradually moving toward independence.
Flosse has appealed his sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, asking it to set it aside. That court is expected to consider the request on August 21. Also, he indicated that he intends to take his case to the European Human Rights Court. He wants that body to hear his contention—that his basic liberties have been violated by the French judiciary. The irony of that contention is that the man who has so based his career on the viability of close ties to France is now castigating the judiciary of that nation when it condemns his decades of corrupt practices.
On Tuesday this week, the French High Commissioner in Tahiti, Lionel Beffre, announced that he would defy the supreme court’s ruling last week. He indicated he would delay enforcing the order of the court, pending a decision on a pardon by President Hollande.
The vote in French Polynesia that brought Flosse to power on May 5, 2013, was apparently based on the fact that the economy of the territory is not at all good. It was neither a vote in favor of, nor opposed to independence, but a vote against the then incumbent, Temaru. The economy of the territory has been growing weaker for many different reasons. France has warned its territories that if they move toward independence, they will risk the loss of French financial subsidies, further harming their already fragile economies.
Self-governance, community service, and communal lands are among the traditions cherished by the Zapotec that help them maintain their autonomy, interpersonal harmony and effective approaches to justice. This website reviewed a journal article about the Zapotec social and political system, called usos y costumbres, in 2005, but it is helpful to have a current, popularly-written review of their unique ways of organizing communities that are, at least in some cases, highly peaceful.
A carefully-written, lengthy article published in the online magazine Truthout last week examined the issues relating to these traditions in Oaxaca State, in southern Mexico. It focused on a couple Zapotec municipalities, Guelatao de Juarez, with about 800 inhabitants, and Capulalpam de Mendez, with about 1,500. Both are in the mountains 60 km (36 miles) from the state capitol, Oaxaca City.
The authors, Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F., point out that of the 570 municipalities in the state, 418 use the traditional forms of governance referred to in English as “uses and customs,” while only 152 have adopted more conventional political systems. The unique, dedicated focus by the Zapotec, and the other, smaller, indigenous communities in Oaxaca, on keeping their traditional forms of government and social organization could inspire the rest of Mexico and, more broadly, Latin America.
The communities are governed, rules are set, and decisions are made by neighborhood, agrarian, religious, and town assemblies, with the general assembly, the highest level, having the ultimate authority over the entire municipality. Persons in positions of authority are not elected, however. Instead, the people follow their tradition of “cargos,” a hierarchical system where office-holders assume progressively responsible positions of service.
Children can begin lives of service by accepting cargos such as bell-ringers in the church, with the responsibility of marking the hours of the day for the people of the town. Services by adults can progress from general assistant to police assistant, project manager, town council, community mediator, and, finally, to town president.
Truthout interviewed the mayor of Guelatao, Jesus Hernandez Cruz, who had recently begun his cargo as mayor. He explained the ways the cargo system worked. By having individuals who are interested in service assume progressively responsible positions, they can effectively learn the needs and wishes of the community.
The mayor explained that no one earns money from their cargos, and that they work at tasks that best suit their own abilities. “The only thing one earns as one completes a good service is the respect and recognition of the town,” he said. However, according to another authority, the municipality does give municipal services such as electricity and water for free to people who provide cargos.
The provision of those free community services implies, however, that a stigma will be applied against people who do not fulfill their cargo duties adequately. Another element of the traditional organization of the Zapotec community is the tequios, the required, collective, community work projects that people perform, such as maintenance of roads and highways.
Jaime Martinez Luna, a Zapotec anthropologist, explained that these elements in the structure of the community help form the values and knowledge that have sustained the people for centuries. “We must understand,” he said, “what we are, not the ‘I’ or the ‘you,’ but the ‘we,’ and we should hold onto these principles in order to stop the interference of the vulgar and shameless principles of individualism. We shouldn't enter into competition except to reproduce that which will be shared.”
He added that the Zapotec are against development that requires growth. They reject linear thinking, preferring circular and spiral ways of approaching issues because “men and women are not the center of the natural world. We are not owners of nature; we are owned by nature."
Truthout emphasizes that normally the land in indigenous towns is owned communally. Land is not held as private property. All transfers of rights to use individual property must be approved by the assembly. If three years go by and a farmer does not produce anything on his land, the assembly can transfer it to another who does intend to make appropriate use of the property. Assemblies also have the authority to declare tracts of land as protected communal areas.
The mayor of Guelatao explained the system of justice in his town. Punishments for infractions of the laws may include jail time ranging from 12 hours, to 24 hours, to 3 days of incarceration. Fines and forced labor—for the benefit of the community—may also be imposed.
The community mediator, one of the higher level cargos, handles cases of justice involving theft, physical violence, and other types of crimes. He also helps out with issues that are beyond the scope of his responsibilities. Grave situations might require transferring the case to a higher level, the Public Ministry, but “the majority of cases are resolved here,” the mayor explains.
The self sufficiency of the two municipalities is assured because of resources produced by five local businesses: a toy factory; an ecotourism project; a crushed gravel pit; a water bottling plant; and a wood products mill using forest resources managed sustainably by the communities. The resources these projects generate support salaries for a small number of municipal employees: a librarian, a gardener, and an employee at the community cultural center.
Truthout does not dwell on the issue of autonomy in the two municipalities since, the authors write, the people themselves don’t speak much about it. But the authors do summarize their perception of the issue most eloquently. It is worth quoting their paragraph since it will convey the effectiveness of their writing and analysis. “Autonomy seems to be a daily reality that is breathed and felt in the harmony of the people when they go to participate in the tequio—collective work—or when they attend an assembly, organize to defend their land and territory, and celebrate and dance. The cargos of self-governance are still seen as a symbol of respect for the person who is chosen to give the service without being paid.”
Bessi, Renata,and Santiago Navarro F. 2014. “Across Latin America, a Struggle for Communal Land and Indigenous Autonomy.” Truthout. (Sunday, 20 July). http://truth-out.org/news/item/24981-across-latin-america-a-struggle-for-communal-land-and-indigenous-autonomy
News and reviews of publications relating to peaceful societies—and sometimes to related topics—are normally posted here on Thursday mornings (U.S. time) and are kept on this page for one week. Older news and reviews for 2014 are listed below, and ones from previous years are listed on the News and Reviews 2004-2005 page, the 2006 page, the 2007 page, the 2008 page, the 2009 page, the 2010 page, the 2011 page, the 2012 page and the 2013 page. All stories are also included in the News and Reviews Subject Listing. Recent ones are listed at the bottom of each society entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies, after the heading: Updates: News and Reviews. News and reviews about peacefulness in general are referred to from the bottom of the Facts page, while news stories about this website are linked from the About This Website page. News and Reviews can also be found with the Google search bar.
July 24, 2014. Schooling for the Semai
July 24, 2014. Political, Religious, and Community Tensions in Ladakh (journal article review)
July 17, 2014. Rural Thai Children Threatened by Absence of Parents
July 17, 2014. Official Concern for Birhor Wanes
July 10, 2014. Police Remove Yanadi before Modi Visit
July 10, 2014. Children Learn to Be Peaceful the Batek Way [anthology chapter review]
July 3, 2014. Amish Volunteerism
July 3, 2014. Birthday Wishes for Glenn Paige
June 26, 2014. Atlas of Inuit Trails
June 26, 2014. The Challenges of Lepcha Identity [journal article review]
June 19, 2014. Nubians Waiting for Fair Treatment
June 19, 2014. Homeless Fipa Children
June 12, 2014. Huarime Festival in a Piaroa Community
June 12, 2014. Soups and Such from Hutterite Kitchens
June 5, 2014. Zapotec Affected by Wind Project
June 5, 2014. Reports of Violence in Thai High Schools [journal article review]
May 29, 2014. The Birhor and the Bees
May 29, 2014. Traditional Ways on Huahine
May 22, 2014. Lancaster County Amish Consider Leaving
May 22, 2014. Rat Hunting Holiday on Tristan
May 15, 2014. Ladakh Makes the Effort to Vote
May 15, 2014. A Visitor on Ifaluk
May 8, 2014. Yanadi Abandon Traditions, Modernize
May 8, 2014. Inuit Sale of Game Meat Questioned—and Defended
May 1, 2014. Paliyans Proud to Vote
May 1, 2014. A San Complains about Rotten Treatment
April 24, 2014. Birhor Boycott National Elections
April 24, 2014. Kadar Boycott National Elections
April 17, 2014. Hutterite Colony in Japan
April 17, 2014. Raging Violence, Nubians Versus Arabs
April 10, 2014. Paliyans Exploited in Tamil Nadu
April 10, 2014. Storytelling Preserves Traditions of the Lepchas
March 27, 2014. Presentation on Tristan Coming to Toronto Area Library
March 27, 2014. Philippine Conference Promotes Indigenous Languages
March 20, 2014. Proposed Port Threatens Yanadi Villages
March 20, 2014. A Jewish Scholar Visits an Amish Family
March 13, 2014. Seminar Presentation on Rural Thai Culture
March 13, 2014. Ladakh Political Status Challenged
March 6, 2014. Inuit Languages Celebrated
March 6, 2014. Rules for Maintaining a Peaceful Society [journal article review]
February 27, 2014. Zapotec Linguistics Analysis
February 27, 2014. Schooling for the Lepchas
February 20, 2014. Endangered Species and the San
February 20, 2014. Drive-by Horse Shooting
February 13, 2014. Nubians Recognized in Egyptian Constitution
February 13, 2014. Inuit Sex Trafficking
February 6, 2014. The Semai of Pos Betau
February 6, 2014. New Dictionary for Ju/’hoansi Children
January 30, 2014. Preserving Lepcha Culture
January 30, 2014. Rural Thai Culture of Rice Farming
January 23, 2014. Hutterite Colony School Burns Down
January 23, 2014. Batek Suffering from Logging
January 16, 2014. The Tamaraw and the Buid
January 16, 2014. G/wi are Being “Treated Like Dogs”
January 9, 2014. Central California Zapotec Festival
January 9, 2014. Birhor Poverty Finds Relief in a Picnic
January 2, 2014. A Semai Christmas
January 2, 2014. Nubian Recognition in New Egyptian Constitution