Revista Yachaikuna
Working Papers
Boletin ICCI Rimai
A monthly publication of the Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)
Year 2, No. 15, June 2000

General Edition: Pablo Davalos
Editorial Direction: Luis Macas
Design: Rocamadour
Electronic Edition: Marc Becker


También disponible en español.

Ten years following the indigenous "Inti Raymi" uprising of June 1990: A provisional assessment

Luis Macas

1. The indigenous movement’s political transformation

The indigenous uprising of June 1990, known as the “Inti Raymi (Sun Festival) Uprising”, at the same time as having turned indigenous people into an important political actor also led to a number of changes in the country at different levels. It is clear that previous, traditional perceptions of indigenous people within the other sectors of society have been undergoing fundamental change. Non-indigenous people no longer see us as dependant rural small-holders or huasipungeros (the old hacienda system of indentured laborers), nor is our movement seen as a form of peasant union as traditional sociologists and the old Left have characterized our struggle seeing it as merely one of demands over land distribution and agrarian reform. Now the rest of Ecuadorian society sees the Indigenous movement in another light and the same movement is fully conscious of its identity, which has served as the basis for developing its long-term national project.

At this moment the conditions in which the Indigenous movement struggles and develops are different from a few years ago. We are fighting as a part of society the seeks to ensure that our rights are respected, but also that we be recognized as distinct cultural and political entities. From that awareness, proposals are drafted and strengthened and presented to the rest of Ecuadorian society. It could be said of the Indigenous movement’s political proposal that it’s a search for and reaffirmation of its historical roots. Finding and placing ourselves in history will enable us to jointly create a different reality from the present.

How has the rest of society responded to our demands? There are a number of different interpretations of the Indigenous movement’s proposals, some that come from the country’s political Right, which depreciates our proposals because it considers indigenous people to be a burden on the State and society as a whole, as well as blocking the way towards ‘development’ and ‘modernity’. This current of thought sees the need for the State to implement paternalistic and ‘clientelist’ measures (which contain a high dose of racism and exclusion) as a way of leading indigenous people on the road to ‘modernity’ as passive subjects of change. When the Government talks of ‘helping’ us it reduces us to the basic requirements of society in general in an attempt to avoid recognizing that the Indigenous movement has become a social and political subject in its own right.

For other sectors of society indigenous people appear to be copying the Left in wanting to stop the imposition of a certain kind of economic, social and political model and, furthermore, are trying through their ‘pluri-national’ proposal to break the country up into small countries and so – according to them – leading to Ecuador’s balkanization.

These perceptions illustrate the profound lack of understanding by society in general about its own roots, identity and history. It’s an ignorance that has been maintained and sponsored by the existing educational systems and by the existing ideological structures of power.

In this way, the Ecuadorian Indigenous movement has challenged and begun altering the very roots of this power structure and has made fundamental changes in Ecuador, although not in all areas nor in a total sense. Perhaps one of the most important of these changes has been the recognition of indigenous peoples’ historical identity and of their the very existence. That is, the recognition of the ‘pluri-national’ character of our society and State.

In effect, one of the Indigenous movement’s contributions that has changed the political discourse in Ecuador is the proposal to create a ‘pluri-national’ State and to recognize Ecuador’s ethnic-national diversity as a prior basis and necessity for establishing democracy. That is to say, we must recognize ourselves as we are, who we are, and in this sense there’s been noticeable advances in overcoming existing prejudices. That’s been one of the Indigenous movement’s main contributions.

From 1990 to the present, the country has discussed the issues of ‘pluri-nationalism’ and has recognized the ‘pluri-national’ character of the State. It has recognized the indigenous peoples as ‘nationalities’ and has incorporated collective rights into the country’s new Constitution. The country has witnessed the confluence of different social sectors who have come together and agreed a hitherto unheard-of political proposal: the Movimiento Pachakutik that for the first time in our history has led to many local authorities being governed by indigenous people. All this is the result of a hard struggle over five hundred long years.

A new space has been opened in Ecuadorian society; new issues have been incorporated into the national political debate; and the confluence of diverse social sectors with a united proposal for change has become reality. In this sense the Indigenous movement has made a qualitative jump that has led to new challenges, new alternatives and new perspectives in contemporary history. The Ecuadorian Indigenous movement has been changing and developing and those changes have been political. From the Inti Raymi uprising we have been witnesses to this transformation in the Indigenous movement, that in turn has led to a profound change in Ecuador.

2. The indigenous movement’s political project

The process by which the Ecuadorian Indigenous movement has been consolidating its political positions and long-term project starts from the State’s and the rest of society’s incomprehension and inability to recognize the indigenous peoples as distinct, separate entities with the right to live our differences. Because of this, throughout the past decade the Indigenous movement has established a strategic objective to make our historical presence felt and lived with proposals that also include proposals that recognize other sectors of Ecuadorian society.

The Indigenous movement has a process of struggle that goes from the issue of improving our communities’ living conditions through to proposals for radically changing the existing social and economic system.

In recent times we have witnessed direct confrontation with the State, a confrontation in which we were the only organized social sector that interpreted and catalyzed the demands of the majority of Ecuadorians, achieving a leading protagonistic role of interlocutor vis-à-vis the State and the existing system of power.

This situation leads us to recognize that the Indigenous movement’s political project had already been developing before the Inti Raymi uprising in 1990 and has been continually evolving up to the present. Our political project has been to profoundly and radically change the structures of the Ecuadorian State and the ways in which the dominant classes have been imposing their power on the whole of society.

The Indigenous movement has always been very clear about power. Last January’s events (which led to the overthrow of the Mahuad government) can be understood from a standpoint that includes important political processes that have been developing through the 1990s. Indigenous people have always seen history as part of great cycles in time that underlie our worldview. In order to attain power it’s necessary to have an initial concept of power and for the Indigenous movement power lies in the communities, in the real and effective capacity of our organizations, the community, the center, the cooperative, and so on that enables us to decide in a sovereign, independent, participative, fair and ethical way the destiny of each peoples, of each person. That’s where the essence of power lies.

The Indigenous movement has always proposed building from the grassroots upwards, from the foundations, from where our power lies. It’s not a new idea. Now people are saying that indigenous people wanted to take power. But power doesn’t lie in taking over the National Congress or the Presidential Palace. In reality, these are mechanisms, not for taking power but rather for opening up political spaces and establishing democratic and participative power.

“Building from the below” has always been our proposal; from the strength of community-based government a different power will evolve. This means that, in order to build power, the whole of society must participate as active subjects. In this sense, existing concepts of citizenship, of civil society and even of the State have to change, have to transform themselves.

The aim is to shift community power to the State: that power must reside in the communities’ hands and not in a small privileged group as is the case at present. This view is not utopian nor outside reality – it exists and is part of our communities’ daily life. We are proposing to the whole of society a different way of making and of thinking about politics based on our roots, our history, our memory and our experience.

3. The search for consensus as a new way of building democracy

What the Indigenous movement has proposed to Ecuadorian society as a whole is a change in the State. Society should recognize the diversity and complexity of existing reality because it is only when we all have the opportunity to objectively see what the State is, from the point of view of different social sectors, will there be genuine participation. This is quite distinct to the idea of the State as a form of social ‘homogenizer’, that subjects, that does not consult; that imposes and doesn’t enter into dialogue; that talks but doesn’t listen. The role of the State should change, starting with the participation of the whole of society in dealing together with problems that concern everyone. That is to say, we must seek new forms of finding consensus to resolve conflicts through dialogue.

The search for consensus is one of the most ancient practices within indigenous society. Consensus is a fundamental part of the community without which they would cease to exist. All important decisions made by communities are done with every member’s participation, through dialogue that seeks to reach stable and harmonic agreements on the basis of consensus.

It’s this political practice that the Indigenous movement has proposed to the rest of society and the State as a way of building democracy, which include relevant and valid elements of indigenous society through democratic processes, such as dialogue and consensus, are also a form of recognizing diversity. They are part of the State’s ‘pluri-nationalism’. The practice of seeking consensus through dialogue strengthens genuine democracy and avoids conflicts that create irreconcilable opposition and differences between different actors. There are also differences in our own communities that at first sight appear irreconcilable, as each side claims its right to the truth. But community dialogue doesn’t end until a consensus has been reached that enables everyone to share in mutually advantageous and durable agreements.

This is valid for democracy in our country because, being a different form of practice to what has until now been called “democratic decisions” by the majority, consensus, independently of the exact mechanism used, is a practice that can be applied at different levels. For example, in the national political arena in we can match democratic ‘government by the majority’ with ‘consensus’ as political practice for reaching agreements that would be valid for establishing national agreements and would open up democracy to include different forms of social participation.

However, ‘dialogue’ as it is now practiced is really a form of imposition by those in power. Dialogues and meetings are called without any real political desire to make the even the smallest changes. In contract, dialogue as an intrinsic part of the process for reaching consensual agreement is quite distinct to existing formal democracy ‘by majority’.

So, what can the indigenous and social movements do when faced with an agenda drafted by the State by other interests that decide the agenda of these ‘dialogues’? Our proposal is different insofar as that we make concrete proposals according to people’s interests. For example, the government will invite the social and Indigenous movements to ‘discuss’ the neoliberal model as a way of achieving an apparent social legitimacy that will enable it to impose the same economic model with a minimum of resistance.

On the other hand, a call by the Indigenous movement for national dialogue could bring people’s interests together as the basis for establishing an alternative. The indigenous movement, with its moral authority, can invite Ecuador’s different social sectors to debate alternative proposals to the neoliberal model that the Government is trying to impose.

How is it possible to establish a dialogue when the Government has already decided that there is no turning back on the issue of dollarization? Has the Government listened to the opinions of all sectors of society? Has it taken the different sectors of society into account? Should we enter into a dialogue with a pre-established agenda in order to be given a few concessions that conform to the interests of those it really represents?

At ECUARUNARI’s (the indigenous confederation of Kichwa peoples) 15th Congress a number of very important decisions were taken over the conditions in which dialogue with the State could take place. The task of looking for alternatives to dollarization was also discussed, so that the traditional political class can understand that the Indigenous movement is not going to negotiate as beggars pleading for crumbs for ‘the Indians’. We are going to seek a dialogue in which State policies that concern indigenous people will be defined: social policies for the poor, alternative economic policies to the neoliberal model, Government policies based on transparency, democracy, equality and justice.

4. The founding of the Movimiento de Unidad Plurinacional Pachakutik – Nuevo País (MUPP-NP)

The Indigenous movement’s political project has a clearly defined strategy based on establishing a broad front that brings different and important sectors of civil society together to widening the historical struggle. The Indigenous movement’s political initiative implies change and suggests that this national strategy signifies a means of ‘democratizing democracy’, deepening and giving new meaning to ‘democracy’.

We believe this process began when the Pachakutik Movement was founded. Although it’s based on a symbolic and historical relationship with the indigenous movement, the Pachakutik Movement is part of a general popular struggle, a renewed struggle that isn’t frightened to participate in institutional spaces of the State and which has become an option for change for society.

People clearly identify with Pachakutik, proved in the recent local elections where its candidates won 27 mayors, 5 provincial prefects (out of a total of 22) and between 60% to 70% of rural parish councils. This expresses people’s desire to build democracy from below.

The viability of building a national project over the long-term has been shown in the these gains, as Pachakutik consolidates itself among the popular sectors of society. The Right and the oligarchy have contemptuously said that the Pachakutik Movement belongs only to the ‘Indians’, but with 27 mayors it’s clear that we’re dealing with a national process that involves many different social actors as well as indigenous people.

Now the great challenge for Pachakutik is to implement a strategy for achieving power and managing the State. We have to work towards this. Pachakutik could become the focus for bringing people together, to reach common agreements, to take political actions and to seek consensus for the country, not for dignitaries or individuals but a proposal to remodel the State.

5. The symbolic value of Pachakutik

Pachakutik means a different form of political practice, from a different perspective; it’s not just another slogan or just another name of some political party or other.

Pachakutik comes from our indigenous culture and signifies ‘the return of better times’, of profound changes in the conception of society, of the State, of people. It doesn’t just mean the a cold political change of power but rather a change of attitudes and behavior in the social and political tasks that lie ahead. The first thing that Pachakutik proposes are ethical principles that guided our ancestors (ama shua, ama quilla, ama llulla – “don’t steal, don’t be lazy, don’t tell lies”) – a code of life. Its more modern interpretation means incorporating ethics into political practice, into daily life, identity and way of thinking above. Everything starts from here.

Pachakutik attempts to turn politics into an ethically-based social practice, where responsibility is taken for the future and the present, for people and Pacha Mama (Mother Earth, the environment). Political ethics means recognizing diversity, tolerance, accepting our societies’ “pluri-national” character. It also means understanding that there are different ways of seeing the world that are equally valid which should be protected and respected.

Pachakutik is a point of view in which everything is in constant movement in space. However, from indigenous people’s worldview space is not linear, there’s not a simple past, present and future, but rather space is understood as a form of spiral with internal cycles of time. With Pachakutik, time revolves in cycles of 10, 50, 100 and 500 years within which time and history changes qualitatively, as do human societies. Our ancestors used to assess how we had ‘developed’ and ‘improved’ through each of these time cycles.

When we originally proposed Pachakutik to be our symbol as we entered into ‘formal’ politics, it was not simply a matter of replacing the traditional Left’s politics with another form of ‘alternative’ politics but rather as a qualitative change in the way we see the world, of permanent, positive changes that are effected in time and space.

Pacha is Time, and Kutik is process, movement, continuity, permanence and change; it also means ‘return’. When we talk of permanence and return (permanence in time, return in space) we always refer to a qualitative return in terms of what preceded: new times, different times, the arrival of a new era. With its proposal to recognize its identity the Indigenous movement is proposing a new and different society.

“I will come back and we shall be millions” said Atahualpa and Tupac Amaru. They spoke of the return of time, which will be different. For the Indigenous movement, loss can lead to victory in the long term, loss means multiplying the results, which is why the dynamics of the indigenous world are not the same as that of the West’s; things often takes time, we wait. What we waits for are results in the medium or long term. For example, the deaths of Atahualpa and Tupac Amaru, although they did signify the loss of important figures in the indigenous struggle, in the end their deaths led to a qualitative and quantitative multiplication of the Indigenous peoples throughout the colonial and republican periods and up until the present. Thus the celebrated phrase, “I go, I die, but I will be back and we shall be millions.”

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