Cuicatec - Sociopolitical Organization

Each highland municipio is internally organized into a civil-religious hierarchy, with four to eight levels of offices, ranked in prestige. Officeholders rotate annually. The secular side of the hierarchy is recognized by the Mexican government as the official administration of the municipio.

In the more traditional municipios, participation requires a significant expenditure of resources. Because each adult man of sufficient means is expected to assume a post, the system serves to reduce differences in wealth. In the more acculturated municipios, however, the burden is shared by all taxpayers, lessening the system's redistributive effect.

Social Control and Conflict. If possible, disputes are handled outside the official court system by family elders and shamans. More serious cases are taken to the municipal court or to the district court in Cuicatlán, which handles cases from nineteen municipios. If residents remain dissatisfied, they may take their claims to a neighboring district.

Officially, three offices of the civil hierarchy ( presidente, síndico, and regidor ) control the municipal court. This court is used in cases of elopement, to ensure that a formal marriage will take place and that the bride will be supported. Spousal conflict, which may lead to the granting of a divorce, and cases involving witchcraft are also handled by the municipal court.

The Cuicatec are discouraged from using the district court by its limited hours of operation (it is open only during the day, when they are working in their fields), its unwillingness to accept nonmonetary payment of fines, and its failure to recognize Indian customary law (for example, common-law marriage and the transgression of local endogamy laws). Witchcraft accusations, when taken to the district level, are either treated as "libel" or dismissed as frivolous. At best, cases against incompetent shamans (who have, for example, failed to bring rain) are treated as "fraud."

Although municipal judicial officials are supposed to adhere to national and state law, in reality they recognize local customary law. This disjunction between the local and district courts serves to conserve Cuicatec culture, since traditional law remains immune to external challenges.

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