An indigenous leader threatened to lead an armed revolution this week after the head of Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE by its Spanish acronym) was caught on tape mocking him and indigenous people in general.
The audio revealed Córdova reflecting on a recent meeting about the upcoming midterm elections with Mauricio Mata Soria, the supreme chief of the Chichimeca tribe in the central state of Guanajuato.
Spanish is a second language for many indigenous Mexicans, who are among the country’s most marginalized inhabitants, but this did not stop Córdova from laughing and ridiculing the way that Mata Soria spoke.
Córdova also recalled meeting parents of the 43 missing students from the rural Ayotzinapa college, many of whom are from poor or indigenous backgrounds. Again, using explicit language, he made fun of their way of talking.
Córdova’s derogatory comments only served to reinforce the widely held impression that the nation’s elite view the poor and indigenous with contempt.
Hours after the recording was made public, Córdova appeared on CNN México to publically apologize for his comments.
“I want to take this opportunity to offer a frank apology to those offended by my comments that were illegally obtained and improperly leaked to the public,” Córdova said.
“My respect for indigenous peoples and all minorities has been clear throughout my career as an academic and as a public servant,” he added.
Having been roundly criticized for his comments by opposition parties, Córdova suggested that the leak was politically motivated and deliberately timed to discredit INE ahead of the June 7 elections.
‘If they ignore us we’ll start an armed revolution’
Even before Córdova’s comments, relations between INE and Mexico’s indigenous population had already grown fraught.
INE has repeatedly refused to allow the National Government of Indigenous Peoples and Communities (GNCPI), a non-partisan organization that represents indigenous Mexicans, to field its own candidates in the elections.
Hipólito Arriaga Pote, the head of the GNCPI, slammed INE’s stance as “arbitrary discrimination” and denounced Córdova’s comments as “very discriminatory for all my indigenous brothers.”
The GNCPI is now threatening to disrupt the elections, while Mata Soria even warned that Mexico’s 18 million indigenous people could lead an armed uprising against the state.
“We are beginning an intellectual revolution, but if they ignore us we will start an armed revolution, we have the necessary resources to stop the elections,” he said.
Mexico’s indigenous Zapatista rebels, who led their own armed uprising in the southern state of Chiapas in 1994 and continue to live in complete autonomy, have long advocated boycotting elections due to the perception that corruption is rife throughout all of the major parties.
The families and classmates of the 43 missing students are also encouraging a boycott of the elections across southern Mexico this year, having grown infuriated by the government’s inability to locate their loved ones or provide a convincing account of their fate.
‘It’s an illegal act, but we’re not going to blab about it’
The publication of Córdova’s comments was not the only case of leaked recordings embarrassing electoral authorities in recent weeks.
In a tape published by Reforma newspaper last month, Leonel Sandoval, the father of Aristóteles Sandoval, the governor of the western state of Jalisco, was caught making serious indiscretions.
Sandoval senior, who serves as a magistrate on Jalisco’s supreme court of justice, implied that the state electoral tribunal would seek to illegally influence the mayoral election in the city of Guadalajara on behalf of his son’s party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
“Fortunately, the electoral tribunal does our work for us now,” the governor’s father told local members of the PRI. “It’s an illegal act, illicit on the day of the election, but we’re not going to blab about it. We have to prepare and train those who are going to do the work.”
Despite being caught conspiring to commit an admittedly illegal act, the Jalisco electoral authorities cleared Sandoval of any wrongdoing, citing an apparent lack of evidence.
Conveniently for Sandoval, the electoral tribunal and the PRI, the decision to acquit him was made public just hours after the state of Jalisco was struck by a dramatic wave of drug-related violence.
In response to a federal security operation initiated that morning, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel shot down a military helicopter, torched several banks and gas stations and blocked 39 roads across the region with burning vehicles.
The violent chaos dominated the local and national news, meaning little attention was paid to the decision to quietly absolve Sandoval.