Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies

Indigenous autonomy and Latin American state security in contexts of criminal violence: the cases of Cauca in Colombia and Guerrero in Mexico


Carla Alberti

Shannan Mattiace


Scholars writing on Indigenous autonomy in the Americas have focused mainly on social movement demands and on the implementation of laws that enshrine autonomy rights. The motives of state officials in enacting de jure legislation on autonomy have received less scholarly attention. In this research note, we examine the Cauca region of southwestern Colombia and the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero. Both regions have similar percentages of Indigenous populations and have experienced high levels of violence and insecurity related to organized criminal groups (OCGs) in recent decades. Territorial autonomy was granted to Indigenous peoples in the 1991 Colombian constitution, while only weak Indigenous autonomy rights were laid out in the 2001 amendments to the Mexican constitution, leaving autonomy to be legislated by sub-national states. We suggest that state security motives may help explain variation in outcomes between these two cases and that more attention needs to be paid to Indigenous autonomy in the context of narco wars and criminal violence. Increasingly these wars are being played out in rural areas throughout Latin America where Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples reside.