In Mexico, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governed the country between 1929 and 2000 and designed public policy in a centralized and vertical fashion. The Party established the basis of the current authoritarian political culture (Cabrero-Mendoza 2000: 204). Public policies towards the rural sector were characterized by a clientelist aid-based approach, delivered in exchange for political loyalty. While the drug-economy and migration have offered alternatives to rural people, relative poverty has changed little over the period from 1990 to 2015, and economic inequality has widened (CONEVAL 2019). Critical and organized circles of peasants and Indigenous Peoples, however, have constantly mobilized, particularly over the last 25 years, to have their concerns and priorities taken seriously in Mexico’s national polity and policy.
Due to longstanding struggles, Indigenous Peoples have historically advocated for participation rights, recently grounding their claims on international agreements and conventions, such as the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP, 2007) and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (ADRIP, 2016). The Mexican government signed most of these agreements and these norms are currently treated with the same importance as the national Constitution. The right to FPIC is a governmental duty and it is being as such incorporated into national and subnational legislations (e.g., in Chapter 2, Article 8 of Mexico’s Law for Sustainable Forestry) (Carrillo and Velasco, 2016). This duty, however, is still far from guaranteed and rarely implemented in practice. Drawing on these human rights principles mandated by international law, the country’s ENAREDD + emphasized that:
“The principles and safeguards of the ENAREDD+ must be inspired by the principles of inclusion and social and gender equality, indigenous peoples and communities’ full and effective participation, respect to its rights, wisdom, organization forms as well of the fostering of its duties” (CONAFOR, 2017: 16; FCPF, 2014).
Participatory forums within Mexican environmental policy were established for the first time in the context of the 1996 reforms to the General Law for Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection (LGEEPA) (Blauert et al., 2006). Although relatively abundant across many public policy domains, these forums have been questioned for their lack of transparency and accountability, and their opaque election mechanisms (Hevia et al., 2011). Two REDD + working groups were established by the National Forestry Council (CONAF), an advisory body established by The General Law for the Sustainable Development of Forestry (LGDFS), in addition to the national and state-based CTCs: the REDD + forum, on the one hand, and the Indigenous and Peasants’ Organisations Roundtable on the other. We do not analyse these two here because they held fewer meetings than the CTCs and the discussions held therein did not greatly influence the ENAREDD + (Špirić et al., 2015). The government’s Inter-Secretarial Commission for Climate Change (CICC) and the Inter-Secretarial Commission for Sustainable Rural Development (CIDRS) also provided inputs to the ENAREDD + and advice to on-the-ground pilot activities (Carrillo and Velasco, 2016; CONAFOR, 2014, 2017; Špiric, 2015).
Overall, this evidence suggests that the REDD + readiness process has been accompanied by either the establishment of dedicated forums for discussion and decision-making or the contribution of existing governmental bodies to the policy process. However, we question whether the most influential forum, i.e., the CTC, and the national consultation of the ENAREDD + have been procedurally just and whether this apparent breadth and depth of participation in REDD + readiness has lived up to procedural fairness principles.
The first meeting of the national CTC occurred in 2008 and several meetings were held annually until 2013. These included representatives from federal state agencies, NGOs, social organizations from local communities, independent forestry associations, and forestry consultants, and took place in Mexico City, far from the rural communities where REDD + early activities would be implemented. To support the completion of the ENAREDD + , each meeting addressed aspects of what was to be included in the strategy and the minutes were distributed to a wider constituency for comments. An important member of the CTC who participated in all meetings over these years suggested to us that the committee was “a free, open and plural space for dialogue between society and government.” However, he added:
“It was not representative, not balanced, nor equitable. It was not established to be like that. The CTC does not design policy, it is instead a consultation body. There was no participation from the rural sector. At some point, there were a few subsidies to help with the attendance of campesinos, but it did not have their representation nor a balanced sectorial representation” (interview with CTC participant member, 09/22/2014).
This lack of participation of rural representatives, and forest landowners in particular, has been noted by others as a significant limitation of the committee (Carrillo and Velasco, 2016: 14). The Ministry of Rural Affairs (SAGARPA), considered a central actor for land-use policy in the ENAREDD + document, did not participate in most CTC meetings (ENAREDD + 2016). This was not a minor caveat, since important reductions in deforestation and forest degradation are unlikely to be achieved without the collaboration of this Ministry, nor without actors from the financial and land-use private sectors, who were also conspicuously missing in CTC meetings (Carrillo and Velasco, 2016; Špiric, 2015; Trench et al., 2018).
Despite starting with notable enthusiasm, actors’ involvement in the CTC decreased during our study period (see also, Carrillo and Velasco, 2016; Špiric, 2015). Two national NGOs, i.e., Red MOCAF and RITA, left the meetings arguing that the CTC did not have legal status (interviews NGO 09/09/14; NGO 03/03/15, community member, 22/09/14). Other actors complained that the CTC’s rule of one-vote per participant benefited those stakeholders who were able to send more attendees, such as national and international NGOs (Špiric, 2015: 137). Such unrealized expectations pushed these more critical Mexican NGOs towards the REDD + Working Group in CONAF, which could make decisions binding for CONAFOR given its legal status. Regardless of these representational disputes, the CTC strongly contributed to the design of the ENAREDD + (2016) and was a highly influential decision-making body in the readiness process.
Sub-national CTCs took a different shape in each state. Oaxaca stands out as a relatively successful example of social inclusion in the participatory process: it was the only one whose president was a member of civil society, and which advocated for a strong lead of forest owners in the REDD + process. Reflecting the level of importance granted to community forestry, this committee designated a voting seat for each region of Oaxaca’s State Union of Community Foresters (UESCO) and all decisions had to be approved by this organization’s members. Some actors in Oaxaca lamented, however, that the state government did not take the discussions very seriously, leaving NGOs rather alone in exploring ways in which REDD + could support the sustainability of the forestry sector (interview with government officer, 10/29/14). Conversely, a state-level forestry officer argued that decision-making in the state’s CTC was captured by a small group of individuals who in turn excluded the state government officer acting as chairman. Subsequently, the state government invoked the state’s climate change law, which grants decision-making power to the working group led by the state forestry office, and in so doing downgraded the state’s CTC to a mere “consultation forum” (interviews with government officers 06/26/15; 02/07/15).
The CTC in Campeche had a more balanced but minimal representation of the agricultural, livestock, forestry, beekeeping, and hunting and fishing sectors. Community-based organisations were, in contrast with Oaxaca, almost absent. The committee included representatives of the federal government, civil society, academics, and a few local authorities. Most of its members felt that they generally had both voice and vote. The president and vice-president’s seats were reserved for an NGO member, while the secretary was the head of the state’s environment ministry (Špiric, 2015). Some interviewed members, however, complained that the state’s CTC did not progress at a good pace, it was onerous to travel long distances for the meetings, and that there was a notable decrease in members’ attendance over time. Špiric et al. (2015: 148–129) explained this point as a problem of unsatisfied expectations, resulting in participant burnout.
The CTC in Oaxaca experienced more disputes and tensions than Campeche’s. Oaxaca is divided into eight different regions, and NGOs normally limit their area of work to one region. The selection of REDD + early action areas was a controversial issue, as these selected areas could probably become the target of future REDD + funding (interview with government officer, 10/07/14, 27/10/14). “Everyone tries to get money to fall in their territories,” argued an NGO representative (interview, 21/01/15). Others argued that the most deforested and abandoned regions should be selected as REDD + early action areas, while others replied that target REDD + investments should go to more advanced conservation programs where good practice could be established and in so doing inspire others with lower levels of institutional capacity (interviews with NGO member, 18/07/16; community advisor, 06/29/15; NGO member, 20/01/15; 28/10/14; 12/02/14).
More critically, some interviewees stated that Oaxaca’s CTC only invited those who belonged to certain organizations or were close to specific individuals (interviews with community advisor, 04/14/16; NGO member, 12/12/14; 13/01/15). As a community member noted to us:
“The government’s strategy is to persuade the leaders of the forestry [about REDD+ potential benefits]; they are the ones who are invited to meetings, aren’t they? However, these leaders are not necessarily accountable to their communities. If REDD+ institutional actors do not provide to us, the community authorities, relevant and exhaustive information about REDD+, how can we inform our people about it? This is logical, how can I compromise my community? For any project authorization, we necessarily have to take it to the assembly. We cannot do anything without the assembly’s approval” (interview with community leader, 15/01/15).
Feeling displaced within the CTC, some NGOs left and started participating in the meetings of another sub-national-level consultation forum known as Oaxaca’s Climate Change Technical Advisory Committee, which was regarded as an opportunity to counterbalance the consultation deficit experienced (interview with NGO member, 12/12/14; 29/10/14).