Limited autonomy for Indians and measures to protect Indian culture and language would be constitutionally guaranteed under a plan signed Saturday by President Ernesto Zedillo.
The plan, which Zedillo was to submit to congress Sunday, modifies an accord signed in 1996, aimed at ending an uprising by leftist Zapatista rebels in the southern state of Chiapas.But the Zapatistas, who mainly are poor Indians, oppose any changes in the peace plan.
Zedillo's proposal comes at a time when Mexicans are paying unusually close attention to questions of Indian rights.
But experts say the interest may be much more short-lived than what became known as the "Indigenous" period of the 1930s, when Indians' role in history was admired and glorified, and many received land grants.
While the text of Zedillo's plan hasn't been released, the framework that he signed Saturday is a toned down version of the original accord - one that the president said may have infringed on national sovereignty. Zedillo wanted to prevent the kind of completely autonomous local governments that the Zapatistas have set up in many Chiapas communities.
The plan would insert in the Mexican constitution special protection for Indian communities "to recognize and consecrate the preservation and free development of Indian cultures, with full respect for their dignity."
Indian communities would be allowed to elect their local officials by traditional means, which for some could mean consensus or discussion in a council of elders rather than direct votes.
Some Indians say campaigns and elections tend to split their communities, which place a high value on consensus, continuity, shared ownership and communal work.
The measures to protect Indian culture and language include guaranteeing rights of indigenous groups to own and operate radio and television stations.
Currently, the constitution guarantees various rights to all Mexicans but makes no special mention of Indians, whose ancestors such as the Maya and Aztecs built empires here before the Spanish conquest in 1521.