Revista Yachaikuna
Working Papers
Boletin ICCI Rimai
A monthly publication of the Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)
Year 3, No. 22, January 2001

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


También disponible en español.

The 1990s: An evaluation by the Indigenous Movement is required


The 1990s was a special period in Ecuador's history, which involved a number of specific processes that led to new historical possibilities for our societies in the mid- to long-term. Internationally, the 1990s signaled the end of the so-called "socialist" countries. The fall of the Berlin wall signified, on one hand, an ideological offensive by the new holders of power that have discredited and announced the defeat of all critical or anti-establishment thinking by a single mode of thought. On the other hand, it has also opened up possibilities for generating new ways of thinking and a historical practice free from dogma and all mortgaging of speculative theory, providing new contents for a new utopian horizons for humanity.

It was a decade of postmodernist thinking and when new social movements emerged. The unipolar world that has arisen following the end of 'real' socialism involves unheard-of power relations and levels of scientific and technological development. It's a world of contradictions and paradoxes: as power, science and technology and the economies of the richest countries (especially the United States) grow so the gap widens between them and poor countries.

For poor countries the option of attaining their levels of social welfare, economic growth and technological and scientific development has been closed, at least in the mid-term. Given the present conditions in which the world's dominant economy, science and technology and power have been structured, poor countries (the majority of the world's population) are merely the uninvited guests at a feast they are hardly even aware of.

It's precisely these new relations of power that articulate and create new roles for poor countries (known previously as the 'Third world', which makes allusion to the 'Third Estate' of the French Revolution). In the case of Latin American countries, these new economic roles have been defined and agreed by the so-called 'Washington Consensus', that is the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank who are charged with supervising and imposing economic policies on all the countries of the region.

The tutoring of our countries by these multilateral credit institutions turn our democracies into backdrops that serve to justify the existing power structure instead of developing genuine participatory processes in which society manages the public sphere. In this way, democracy as it exists ('real democracy'?) has little to do with the original Greek concept nor with the genuinely participatory forms of social regulation practiced by Andean communities. Instead, 'democracy' has been developing as a form of technology of political power that does away with conflicts by creating the illusion of 'representation' that enables neoliberal economic policies to be imposed without tearing countries' social fabric apart.

Another factor to be taken into account is that the framework for this new world order involves incorporating and subordinating poor countries, under unequal conditions, to serve the global capitalist market's needs that are part of a new form of corporate finance capitalism in the world in which speculation plays a leading role.

It shouldn't be forgotten that the 1990s were also a period of macroeconomic structural adjustments applied to the State in which the neoliberal model was consolidated and responsibility for social regulation and distribution of resources was shifted onto the market. It was the decade of privatization and deregulation that freed the movement of finance capital. It was an unprecedented period of economic boom for the United States, as well as a period of widening and deepening world poverty. In Latin America, poverty continues to increase at a great rate while the economic crisis assumes greater structural characteristics. The decade ended with the one of the biggest financial interventions by the IMF (following those of Brazil and Mexico) in which it provided Argentina with credits of US$35 billion to save its economy.

But the 1990s also saw new forms of resistance to this 'unidimensional' thinking and the dictatorship of finance capital, with the emergence of the Zapatista guerrillas who formed the EZLN. At the beginning of the decade Ecuador's indigenous peoples established their political presence during the Inti Raimi (Sun Festival) uprising in June 1990. It was also the decade when the Brazilian Movimiento Sin Terra (MST) - one of the continent's most important social movements -became a social referent for the region's peoples.

It was also during this decade that - thanks to factors such as the Internet and other facets of globalization - new forms of resistance come into being, which are proof that social movements' and civil society's capacity to respond has been internationalized. The first major example were the protests against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in 1997, which was sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as a way of subordinating the sovereignty of States to multinational corporations. Social mobilizations in Europe, North America and some Latin American countries stopped this initiative in its tracks.

Another achievement was the anti-Davos Forum protests initiated against this annual meeting of heads of State of the Group of Seven richest countries, company directors, the IMF and the World Bank, among other representatives who meet there every year to agree and define new conditions of world power.

Also, the international protests in Prague during the IMF's ordinary meeting that led to the premature ending of this meeting. All these mobilizations are a new kind and reflect new forms of resistance in the world today. They're a form of embryo that could, optimistically, be considered as the beginning of a planetary civil society strongly committed to democracy and respect for peoples' self-determination.

The Ecuadorian indigenous movement is well aware of the global dimension of its struggle and proposals. Delegations from the indigenous movement regularly participate in forums, seminars and other meetings at international level. Permanent contacts between the indigenous movements of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru are maintained and strengthened. These evolving networks form the basis for establishing a possible form of regional structure in the mid-term.

However, as at the start of the 1990s that was inaugurated by the June 1990 uprising, the decade closed with another event of fundamental importance that will mark future relations between the country's social movements and the governing elites: the January 21 2000 events in which CONAIE, in alliance with middle-ranking Army officers, overthrew the government of Jamil Mahuad and his Democracia Popular party, and established a short-lived government of 'national salvation'.

Putting aside its short life, the events of January 21 are evidence of indigenous peoples' high level of political organization. It wasn't just a casual incident in which a number of factors led indigenous people to play a bit part. In fact, January 21 gave rise to a much more complex phenomenon that demonstrates the profound political and organizational changes that Ecuador's indigenous peoples have undergone.

From the moment indigenous peoples and the social movements took the decision in 1996 to become involved in the electoral process (without the political parties' tutelage) they have played a fundamental role in redefining the country's political landscape. Indigenous people were a determining factor in the fall of the Bucaram government in 1997. It was they who managed to set-up the Constituent Assembly in 1998 that led to the country's new Constitution recognizing ancestral indigenous and other peoples' rights for the first time. It was they who in 1999 stopped the biggest packet of economic measures from being imposed, and it was also the indigenous movement that formed the focus of opposition to the Democracia Popular government and its subsequent overthrow. This whole process has led to Ecuador's indigenous people, and CONAIE in particular, to assume a very important role and become a form of reference point for social movements in Latin America.

In the context of an uncertain future of globalized exclusion and private gain, it's necessary to keep in mind the current situation, with its historically-based complexities, because these events and processes within Ecuador have international repercussions. As the 1990s come to an end, the Ecuadorian indigenous movement's political actions have been positive and it is precisely because of this fact that the movement shoulders a great responsibility for the future.

Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)

Address: Buenos Aires 1028 y Estados Unidos
Quito, Ecuador

P.O. Box: 17-15-50B
Tel/Fax 593-2-2229-093
E-mail: icci@waccom.net.ec

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