Indians, Ladinos and the Resurrection of the Protector de Indios, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas 1870-1885

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Published in: Ethnohistory, (60:2) Winter 2013: 295-318.


The great social divide between Spanish speaking ladinos and non-Spanish speaking Indians, a long held division reaching back to Mexico‟s colonial period around San Cristóbal de Las Casas fueled distrust and complaints of maltreatment and exploitation of the laboring class of Indians. Indians labored under the double burden of ethnicity and class, dialogues between Indians and ladinos existed throughout the decades in the nineteenth-century over issues of labor, land and pay. On the heels of a violent race war(1867-1870) between Indians and ladinos, the state government sought to allow Indians more opportunities to redress legal issues in order to prevent future rebellions. Beyond aggressive tactics by elites to suppress revolting Indians, government officials opted to re-institute the colonial office of protector de indios in an attempt to address inter-ethnic issues. Indians used the opportunity to contest and negotiate long held grievances. A study of the legal culture in San Cristóbal de Las Casas and the re-introduction of the protector of indios proved precipitous in the two decades prior to the rise of the agro-export industry. The use of the protector de indios eased tensions between Indians and ladinos. Moreover it offered a short period of legal empowerment in the daily lives of individual Indians as they engaged, contested and actively participated in shaping their relations with the ladino elite thus demonstrating the dynamic relationship between Indians and ladinos in the state of Chiapas on the cusp of momentous change in the late decades of the nineteenth-century

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