Meet the Mexican lawyer who defends indigenous peoples, Pedro Faro, director of the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center, fights to bring justice and equity to Mexico’s native peoples

By Pierre Cochez | MexicoAdd to your favourite storiesPedro Faro confesses that he always dreamed of becoming a poet or a writer. But he says his father convinced him that he’d never be able to make living doing that.So, instead, he went to law school.”Because I had this ideal of justice,” Faro explains.”My father was a lawyer and he defended those who couldn’t pay him, pro bono. And my grandfather participated in the agrarian reform that guaranteed land to the peasants,” Faro continues.A law came into effect during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) that allowed groups of about 20 people to obtain common land.The Zapatistas and the 12-day bloody uprising in 1994And Pedro Faro, inspired by his father and grandfather, decided to dedicate his professional life to the defense of indigenous people.About 12% of Mexico’s population is classified as indigenous. There are 68 different groups of native peoples and they speak one of the 325 identified languages.Faro was a 22-year-old law student in early 1994 when the Zapatista uprising took place in San Cristobal de las Casas, the historic capital of Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state on the border with Guatemala.The Mexican army hunted down the indigenous Zapatistas during the bloody, 12-day uprising.Faro was deeply moved by the mediation efforts of San Cristobal’s legendary bishop, Dom Samuel Ruiz García, the man the people of Chiapas still refer to as “Tatic Samuel” — which means “the father of everyone” in the Tzotzil language.Among his many efforts to improve the plight of the indigenous peoples, Dom Samuel — who was San Cristobal’s bishop from 1959-2000 — created the “Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center” (FrayBa).He named the center after the Dominican friar and former bishop of Chiapas who was famous for defending the rights of indigenous peoples at the beginning of Spanish colonization in the 16th century.”We were a racist people”Pedro Faro joined FrayBa in 2003.”In 1994, we Mexicans of European origin were a racist people. The indigenous couldn’t sit on the same benches as our ancestors,” he points out.”If you were part of the people of goodwill, as was the case in my family, you would dedicate yourself to teaching Spanish to these indigenous people so that they could have access to what we considered to be progress. Their culture was denied,” he explains.Faro, a discreet man who dresses in black and sports a Trilby-type hat, is well-known to the mostly indigenous residents of San Cristobal.He prefers doing long, detailed investigative work on the ground, rather than pleading cases in a courtroom.And when he finally gets a free moment during his visits with the indigenous community, he makes use of the corner of a table to write the administrative letter for somebody or a petition for one of his court proceedings.”An individual can’t build anything on his own””An individual can’t build anything on his own. Nothing can be done without the collective, the community,” Faro explains.FrayBa defends the rights of indigenous peoples and helps them get justice, as well as get access in what are often in the face of violent struggles fueled by drug traffickers.”The meaning of our struggle is to increase human dignity by liberating it from a system that alienates it. You liberate yourself when you think collectively,” Faro says.This is the whole spirit of the “pueblo creyente”, this believing people, that Dom Samuel brought together in 1991 to unite the indigenous people around the common Christian faith.”The root of this movement is found in the Gospel and in a Church for the poor,” Pedro Faro emphasizes.”But it was also necessary to understand how these indigenous peoples sought God from their own cultures,” he adds.”In every being who seeks God, God is present. This is what allows us all to meet,” Dom Samuel used to say.And Faro says FrayBa “is part of this believing people”.”Another world is possible”But he is extremely critical of the policies of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador who has increased aid to individuals, such as farmers who plant fruit trees, single mothers and young people for “building their future”.The indigenous people of San Cristobal line up in front of banks to receive their monthly aid.But Faro believes the president’s policy “fragments the collective life of the indigenous people and turns them into individuals who receive assistance”.He says President López is inspired by similar policies implemented by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Evo Morales in Bolivia.”These models are based on the idea of necessary progress. It is this progress that leads to the destruction of the planet. This system must be stopped,” says Faro calmly.He is convinced that the indigenous peoples are here to show us that “another world is possible”.That was affirmed in the 2000s by the World Social Forums, in which FrayBa participated with the support of CCFD-Terre Solidaire, the Paris-based Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development.”At the end of the day, we all come from native peoples who respected the ‘tierra madre,’ the mother earth. They believed in the communal meaning of life,” Faro says.”All our ancestors, at one time or another, were aware of this.”

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