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article imageHealing Mexico's 'cancer,' with potions and politics

By Yemeli ORTEGA (AFP)     Jun 23, 2017 in World

Maria de Jesus Patricio has a treatment for pretty much anything that ails you: "toad grass" for cholesterol, "dragon's blood" for infections, "sacred bark" for constipation or anger.

Now the traditional healer is turning her attention to her biggest patient yet, as the first indigenous woman to run for president of Mexico -- a country she says is sick with the "cancer" of unfettered capitalism, corruption and drug trafficking.

Patricio's tiny practice in Tuxpan, a village tucked into the western mountains, seems a million miles away from Mexico City, with its graft-stained politics, back-room deals and failure to curb the violent crime racking the country.

Here, men, women and children come seeking antibiotic pomades, tinctures against indigestion and herbal remedies to ward off evil spirits.

Besides running this tin-roof clinic, Patricio, a member of Mexico's native Nahuatl people, is also the spokeswoman for the National Indigenous Congress, which represents 43 ethnicities.

Last month the group nominated her to run for president.

Thanks to a new law allowing independent candidates she plans to stand in the country's 2018 elections.

Her experience as a healer gives her a keen understanding of her nation's ills, says Patricio, 53, whose supporters affectionately know her as "Marichuy."

"I'm seeing a lot more cases of stress, of colitis. Before, we didn't even have these diseases. Now they're chronic," she told AFP from behind the counter where she sells her remedies for 10 pesos (50 US cents) each, next to a wooden sign saying "welcome" in Nahuatl.

Those problems are the product of poverty, marginalization and environmental pollution by large corporations, she explained.

"We have to look deeper. What is making people sick? It's the fact that the economy is out of balance," she said, her jet-back hair trailing down her back in a long braid.

- Herbal medicine and politics -

Maria de Jesus Patricio  an indigenous healer from the Nahuatl ethnic group  is the first indigenous...
Maria de Jesus Patricio, an indigenous healer from the Nahuatl ethnic group, is the first indigenous woman to run for president of Mexico
Hector Guerrero, AFP

The idea for Patricio's candidacy was launched by the Zapatistas, a former guerrilla army that took Mexico by surprise when they declared a rebellion against the state on January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect.

Their "war" is now a symbolic one for land, housing, education and health care for Mexico's indigenous groups -- some 7.3 million people, or 6.5 percent of the population.

"We don't see traditional medicine as something separate from our struggle for autonomy, health, land, natural resources," said Patricio, speaking softly but firmly.

"Everything is linked. It is a whole that we have to defend."

Under the new law, she needs to gather some 800,000 signatures endorsing her candidacy.

But it is not about signatures, nor about winning, she said.

It is about launching a new movement that will "go far beyond 2018, and needs to go far beyond Mexico," she said.

- Trump and narcos -

The symptoms of Mexico's ills are obvious to Patricio.

She sees it in the inequality that divides Mexican society, where a dark-skinned person like her is far more likely to be a manual laborer than a manager.

She sees it in the wave of bloodshed that has left more than 200,000 people dead or missing in the past decade as rival drug cartels wage war on each other and the Mexican security forces.

She sees it in the multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals that regularly embarrass the government, but have not stopped the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from holding power for 76 of the past 88 years.

"It's like a cancer," she said. "It's almost beyond hope."

In her home state, Jalisco, she says that mining firms have grabbed people's land backed by hired guns from the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel and in collusion with corrupt authorities.

"The people don't trust the government anymore," she said.

Turning to international politics, she condemned US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

"He doesn't care about people's lives, about the planet," she said.

Her remedy for the "cancer," she said, will be based on the seven guiding principles of the National Indigenous Congress: "serve and not be served, build and not destroy, represent and not supplant, convince and not defeat, obey and not command, look down instead of up, propose and not impose."

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