Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Indigenous incorporation in Ecuador

James D. Bowen, "Multicultural Market Democracy: Elites and Indigenous Movements in Contemporary Ecuador." Journal of Latin American Studies 43, 3 (2011): 451-483.


This paper bridges the gap between studies of subaltern social movements and elite politics by asking how political and economic elites respond to indigenous mobilisation in Ecuador. I argue that elites have developed a hegemonic project based around three core principles – multiculturalism, economic liberalism and democracy – that serves to incorporate indigenous peoples into the political system while simultaneously excluding indigenous movement demands that would undermine the political and economic sources of elite power. The paper develops this argument around a concept of what I call ‘multicultural market democracy’ based on historical analysis and in-depth interviews with 43 Ecuadorian elites.

Bowen bases his work on Collier and Collier's influential Shaping the Political Arena, which focuses on the dynamics of labor incorporation into the state to explain political change. He argues that indigenous incorporation is now undergoing a similar process. The bottom line:

After over two decades of continuous organising and frequent mobilisation, indigenous peoples have been incorporated largely into the Ecuadorian political system. Incorporation, however, has come at a price. The principles of multicultural market democracy have proven quite useful to a diverse group of elites (with equally diverse interests) when confronted by the alternative political-economic projects presented by indigenous movements. Even the current president, Rafael Correa (generally considered part of the wave of ‘new Left’ leaders in the region), follows a similar script.

Ecuador, and now increasingly Bolivia as well, has been hard to characterize despite media efforts to make it into a caricature. Even when presidents are sympathetic, state-indigenous relations can still involve friction and discrimination. This article presents a particularly pessimistic view, showing how indigenous groups have become more influential yet there are clear limits to that influence depending on what type of redistributive project they have in mind. Fair enough, though it is also useful to view them in comparative historical terms, as indigenous rights have come a very long way in the past several decades.


leftside 3:33 AM  

I think this line of thinking is mostly crap. The "tensions" between Andean leftist leaders and indigenous groups are blown way out of proportion at every level for political reason. The majority of indigenous people - and largest groups - still support Correa... and Morales, etc. The dynamics in the groups that supposedly oppose are much more complicated than they are made to seem. Indigenous leaders have been brought into the Correa Government like never before. The big problem - the mining and extraction sectors - was dealt with legislatively. A pretty radical bill passed, giving the local communities a million times more power and benefits than before. It is still not perfect, but for any group to wield veto power over all the country's resources is unfair to everyone else. Correa has shown rare dedication and innovation in trying to preserve pristine land from exploitation - an effort the US has given nothing to...

Anonymous,  2:16 PM  

In Ecuador, the tensions between the government and indigenous groups are very real and not at all overblown. The story of Monica Chuji, a former Correa supporter and ex-congresswoman, in today's Diario Hoy is a case in point.

She says she's the 198 indigenous person sued during Correa's almost 5 years in power. Hoy reports that she's being sued by Correa's Secretary of Administration Vinicio Alvarado for allegedly insulting him. Alvarado wants $400,000 and 3 years jail time. Sticks and stones...etc, as the children's rhyme goes, but Correa's boys play for keeps.

As a reporter working in Ecuador, government officials have specifically told me that they are trying to break the leadership of the largest indigenous group CONAIE, and I've seen how they try to sow discord among other indigenous groups in order to eliminate the opposition. It's cynical and is a policy that weakens the ability of the historically oppressed indigenous to organize. Shame on the government.

The May 7 referendum also showed that majority-indigenous provinces like Chimborazo and Cotopaxi overwhelmingly rejected Correa's proposals, a sign that his policies aren’t appreciated by the masses of that constituency.

Finally, in response to Leftside's parting blow against the U.S.: the attack has absolutely nothing to do with the argument in question. It's a red herring, a logical distraction used by those with weak arguments. Logic 101.

I'll sign off anonymously, as I'm not comfortable publishing my thoughts publicly. The level of indirect repression on the press in Ecuador is high and revealing my name would probably lock me out of government interviews in the future. Hasta la victoria siempre, no?

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