Revista Yachaikuna
Working Papers
Boletin ICCI Rimai
A monthly publication of the Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)
Bulletin No 23, February 2001

General Edition: Pablo Davalos
Editorial Direction: Luis Macas
Translation: Gerard Coffey


También disponible en español.

Editorial: The indigenous uprising, institutionality and States


At the end of 2000, the Ecuadorian government, under pressure to come to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, an agreement which, it is worth noting, was presented as and indispensable condition for the dollarisation of the economy, introduced a tough package of adjustment measures, whose basic components were more than predictable: an increase in the price of fuels; increase in the price of electricity; increase in the price of transportation; as well as a fiscal proposal to reduce income tax and increase the value added tax. In other words, a type of proposal which has always led to the transfer of the costs of the crisis to the most vulnerable sectors.

This adjustment package came at a time when the regime appeared to have acquired a certain capacity for political manoeuvre, and in which the indigenous movement appeared, in the perception of the elites, as divided due both to its failed attempt at an uprising in September of the previous year, and to the problems caused by the supposed falsification of the signatures presented by the movement in support of a popular plebiscite on the legitimacy of the administration's economic policy.

The government on the other hand, was itself confronted by a political and economic impasse, due to the fact that it had gambled all its privatisation and State structural reform policy on the legal reforms contained in a single body of legislation known as the "Trolleybus Law II." Reforms which had been substantially modified by the Constitutional Tribunal on the basis of a claim of unconstitutionality presented by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE.

CONAIE itself has in fact been transformed during these past number of years into the central point around which a number of social movements have coalesced, at the same time as it has been consolidated as the backbone of the political and social opposition to the regime. The vision of CONAIE as a powerful actor on the political scene, was seen to be strengthened due to the key role it played in the events of the 21st of January 2000, which ended in the destitution of ex-President Mahuad.

So that within the government, the internal organisational events of CONAIE had been followed with great attention, in particular the assembly of December of 2000. It was able to verify the questioning of the leadership of CONAIE by its grassroots, above all related to the political and organisational breach between the leadership and the grassroots. The indigenous people decided that their organisation would embark on a process of internal restructuring within three months, and that the present leadership had this period in which to guarantee the organisational change and the internal political restructuring. The view of these events, from the regime's perspective, was that given the internal conditions of the organisation, CONAIE was probably entering a process of internal division, and that the influence of its principal figures was so eroded that they would not have any real capacity for leadership..

It was in this context that the new economic measures were announced. Many social sectors questioned the effectiveness of the adjustment measures. In fact, Ecuador has now been applying the IMF's macroeconomic recipe for twenty years, and during that time their application has caused destruction of the national productive apparatus, the sharpening of the economic recession, has provoked a high level of income concentration, promoted capital flight, caused the breakdown of the structure of a number of key sectors, including the agricultural sector, and provoked the expansion and deepening of poverty.

In the country's present economic situation, such measures are not valid either in the medium or long term. In the past twenty years, the IMF's structural adjustment model has been shown to have failed in its entirety, and the applied economic model had become so worn as to become a straightjacket for national development. Besides the official recognition there was a lack of a national vision of economic development, insisting on the application of the IMF's adjustment policy implied the rupture of the social fabric and thus carrying the country's internal conflict to increasingly dangerous levels. In fact, within a month of the application of the adjustment package, the official bodies responsible for measuring national inflation, admitted that the rate had risen substantially as a result of the government's economic measures. Thus, the regime itself undermined the economic base which supported its own dollarisation proposal.

The first protests against the adjustment were felt in urban sectors, above all university students and the poor. The government decided that the political management of the crisis which was beginning to show its face, would be assumed directly by the Ministry of Defence, together with a hard line on the part of the Minister of State. This delegating of responsibility to the police and military reduced the regime's political capacity for negotiation, at the same time as it exacerbated the crisis. In effect, at every outbreak of popular protest, the armed forces responded with an unusual level of violence and repression. The regime's initial idea was that the big stick would be put to the demonstrations against its economic policy, and that it was therefore not necessary to establish any type of dialogue with civil society, and even less to discuss the validity of the economic adjustment. A dialogue, it was thought, would involve a recognition of political weakness that the government could not afford. It is exactly this lack of political vision on the part of the regime which caused the broadening and the deepening of the conflict. So for example, in the middle and the end of January, when indigenous community members from the Province of Cotopaxi joined the protests, the army, without previously attempting to mediate a process of dialogue or creating conditions for a truce, launched a brutal assault against the indigenous people, injuring seven with firearms, pursuing and arresting, even to the point of torturing a number of indigenous leaders from that Province.

It was from the date of this uncalled for display of violence, that the organisational structures of the indigenous movement decided to carry out an uprising against both the economic measures and the violence and repression. The regime decided to close off the political mechanisms for a detente, and open the gates of repression. And as the indigenous organisations joined the uprising, the level of repression rose. This lack of political tact lead the government to order the arrest of the indigenous movement's principal leaders and thus to exacerbate a crisis which was evolving into a conflict of serious social consequences. As a result, the regime restricted its capacity and its room for political action, and entered a downhill slope of authoritarianism, which finally led to the declaration of the State of National Emergency.

The refusal of the regime to enter a dialogue with the indigenous movement, its intransigence towards any opportunities for social detente, its vacillation between more conciliatory and hard line positions, and its use of violence to close off any space gained by the indigenous movement, can be explained by the conjuncture of a number of circumstances:

First: The regime could not be totally sure that there was support within the armed forces for a "coup de force." This internal insecurity, on not being able to count on the unrestricted support of all branches of the armed forces, meant that the hard line was obliged to look for support of a more specific nature. In effect, since the 21st of January 2000, it has been well known that there were differences within the armed forces, above all within the mid level ranks of the army. The regime did not therefore have the guarantee of being able to keep the armed forces insitutionally united in the case of a military "adventure."

Second: the ghost of January 21st past. Ex-President Mahuad suffered his political fall from grace when in July 1999, due precisely to pressure from an indigenous uprising, he signed a decree to overturn economic measures. Given this background it was therefore deemed necessary to suppress the effectiveness of indigenous uprisings. This was the pronouncement of the elites and, in particular, of Oswaldo Hurtado, the leader of the right wing Popular Democratic Party (DP).

Third: The political pressure placed on the government by the Social Christian Party (PSC) and the elites of Guayaquil, economically the most important city in the country, not to allow the power of the indigenous movement to be consolidated by means of dialogue: "it is not possible to talk while the uprising is in progress" was the pretext used in order to force the government to maintain a hard line.

Fourth: The regime's erroneous view of the indigenous movement. It was thought that the uprising was provoked by the indigenous leadership in order to reaffirm its legitimacy after the December assembly. The government realised, too late, that the indigenous leadership itself had been overtaken by events. For this reason there was a sudden change in the official communications strategy.

Fifth. The perception that the use of force would provide a politically viable outcome. In fact, it was expected that the response of the indigenous movement to the assault of the armed forces would be one of violence, thus legitimising the use of force, and provoking a loss of social credibility and legitimacy on the part of the indigenous demands.

And finally, the validity of the economic model, which was sustained, at least theoretically, by the support of the multilateral credit agencies such as the World Bank and IMF, whose recommendations could not be questioned, nor even discussed by civil society. And so, the use of violence. Of all the indigenous uprisings since 1990, this has been the one most fiercely repressed. While in 1990 there was only one death, as a result of this present uprising the number of deaths has already risen to six, with dozens of injured, and hundreds of people detained. This added to the suppression of constitutional rights, the arrest of leaders, and even the torture of children in the community of the Cayambi people, the state of martial law in the Amazonian province of Napo, etc. However, it should be pointed out that, this time, the external political events came at a time when the indigenous movement was fully involved in a process of internal dialogue and strategic unity between its diverse organisations.

Indeed, the call for the uprising went out from a leadership, which was, for the first time, united. This included the President of CONAIE, the President of the National Federation of Campesino, Indigenous and Negro Organisations, FENOCIN, the President of the Federation of Evangelical Indigenous People, FEINE, the President of the Ecuadorian Indian Federation, FEI, and delegates of FENACLE. Also present was the President of the biggest campesino organisation in Ecuador, CONFEUNASSC.

It is the first time that the organisational structures of the indigenous movement have joined together in a single process of resistance and struggle, with common objectives, statements, strategies, and direction. And so during the uprising, the indigenous movement not only consolidated its unity, something completely new given its characteristics, but also demonstrated its organisational power and its capacity for political negotiation.

The movement was consequently able to confront the government's position with a great deal of solidity; but it was not a matter, at any time, of provoking another Coup d'Etat or a change in the upper echelons of power. After the fall of Bucaram (1997) and Mahuad (2000), the indigenous movement understood that mere name changes did not imply any change in the power structure, nor the model. And what is more, the movement was aware of the plans of the right-wing political parties, the PSC and DP, to move the dates of the elections forward in order to regroup themselves. Processes of change are complex and difficult and the resistance to change, above all on the part of the elites, is atavistic.

This uprising is a victory for the movement, but above all is an important triumph for the entire country, for the whole of civil society. The articulation of a proposal that incorporates the demands of all citizens, not only those of the indigenous peoples, has lead to an enormous amount of solidarity with the Indigenous Movement. The regime knows that in the future in order to define economic policy it has to include the opinion of the indigenous peoples, and to begin a political dialogue with the whole of society.

For its part the indigenous movement knows that this is not about the creation of an overarching organisational structure which incorporates all national indigenous organisations, it also knows that unity is not built by the creation of new bureaucracies. Inside the movement there is a respect for existing organisational options. Be it from the vision of Plurinationality and Interculturality (CONAIE), spirituality or religion (FEINE), the campesino land union (FENOCIN), or from the point of view of the class structure (FEI), all these organisational options are part of a single process of resistance and struggle. The unity of the indigenous movement is not, therefore, to be translated into the creation of a new structure, but rather into the adjustment of political objectives and strategies which allow it to move in a single direction. The complexity of the indigenous movement is based, precisely, on the respect for diversity.

This latest uprising has also contributed to the political consolidation of the movement. It permitted the growth of a number of people on the inside, such as the mayor of Cotocachi. It opened new fissures in the atavistic structure of domination and power. At the same time the enormous social prestige which the Indigenous Movement enjoys, as a political entity which is capable of redefining the political destiny of the country, is due to its vision of developing a long-term national project.

However, one of the revelations of the latest uprising, and something that merits closer attention, was the fact that the systems of political representation, such as the political parties, do not serve as social spaces useful for negotiation and the resolution of social conflicts. In this new uprising, none of the political parties, including the indigenous people's own Patchakutik Movement, played a leading role; even though it must be said that the movement knew how to make political use of its parliamentary representation in order to exert pressure for dialogue. At the same time, neither the Congress, nor the Courts of Justice, nor the Electoral Tribunal, nor the Constitutional Tribunal, played any type of role. The uprising of February 2001 placed the system of political representation in parentheses, and negotiation was carried on directly with the power structure. In fact, in cases of conflict, almost all social actors tend to negotiate directly with the Executive power. This supposes that in the context of the present political regime, the Presidency could dispense with the services of parliament.

A number of conclusions can be drawn from this:

  • The loss of legitimacy and credibility of the entire system of political representation (the erosion of the political parties, which are not seen by civil society or by social actors, as agencies of mediation with the State)
  • The systems of representation have not adjusted to the logic, dynamics, processes and needs of the social actors and civil society. While the political parties have their rhythm and processes, these are not synchronised with those of civil society.
  • The structural reform of the State and its systems of representation are not being processed within civil society, but outside it, and not only that, these reforms are adapted to the corporate character assumed by the political parties, which tend to subscribe to, and make themselves functional to, the needs of certain elites, rather than those of civil society.
  • The evidence that the present power structures in Ecuador are not harmonised with the liberal democracy discourse. The Presidency is where the real power is exercised, while the counterbalance to this power is not to be found in the legislature, but rather in the capacity of the social actors and civil society to negotiate directly with the Executive. Within the public perception, and rightly so, the legislature is not viewed as a counterweight to the power structure, but rather as part of it.
  • The system of political representation, with its discourses and its institutions, is incapable of functioning as a mediator between civil society and the State, which makes democratic dialogue impossible between the institutions of the system of political representation and civil society.
  • Civil society does not feel itself to be "represented" by the system of political representation. Political mediations tend, rather, to put distance between the social responsibility of the actors and their own problems. The systems of political representation tend to usurp the ground of the social organisation, to undermine capacity for mobilisation, and to generate networks of patronage on top of organisational structures. And so we find a rejection of the insertion of the political parties in issues which are the domain of the social actors.
  • The government itself weakens the political representation system when it begins to accuse the social actors of having "politicised" their demands, or to be under the influence of "political interests." When a social actor which demands attention or dialogue, or defends its interests, is accused of having "political intentions," it immediately withdraws its discourse, distancing itself from the political sphere, and therefore from all forms of political representation.

By placing the system of political representation in parenthesis, the indigenous uprising of February questioned, in reality, the whole legal framework of liberal representative democracy. At the same time it facilitated a reading, unaffected by societal prejudices, of its own organisational structures, its ancestral practices of consensus, and its need to reach agreements based on the participation of the grassroots. Consequently, it presented the idea that another form of democracy is possible.

All these aspects, which carries within them a profound political reform of the Ecuadorian State and its form of democracy, have been made evident precisely by the political action of the indigenous movement. The constructing of a different society, in which systems of political representation imply processes of full and differentiated citizenship, and the constructing a State which accepts and respects the radical difference of the ancestral peoples and nations, all within a context of political democracy, social justice and economic equity. This is the long term challenge of the Ecuadorian indigenous movement, and definitely, of the whole of civil society.

Festival and Power: The rite of "occupation" in the Indigenous movement

Pablo Davalos


The article proposes a re-reading of the symbols used by the indigenous movement in its protests. The "occupying" of cities, events of a political nature found within the dynamic of the indigenous uprisings, has symbolic connotations and form a part of the symbolic imagination of the indigenous peoples. The author proposes that the "occupation" is part of the ritual which accompanies indigenous festivals, above all that of Inti Raymi, and thus suggests the possibility of a re-reading of the symbolic in the political action of the indigenous movement.

In indigenous festivals, above all that of Inti Raymi (the Festival of the Sun), are found "occupations" of the plazas. A ritual which links the past and the present and which mixes historical notions with the contents of the possible reality of the present. It could be that the "occupation" of the plaza is a form of memory of that occupation carried out more than five centuries ago by the Spanish, or possibly it goes much further back, and is inscribed in the ancestral memory of the peoples which inhabited this area.

The plaza as a specific geographic location, as a public space, as the main square, is the most visible point in which the private is subordinated to the public, and also makes a multiple view possible: in this public space all meet and know each other. There, daily tribulations as well as the pageantry of the sacred are displayed. There in the plaza new content is given to social representation and to the collective perception of the festival.

A place of meeting and exchange: a place of commitment. A symbolic site par excellence, but also site of the Polis, place of the people, which belongs to all and in which it is possible for all to meet, exchange looks, questions, comments, make appointments, commitments, learn about distant relatives. Is is a site of daily and also festive life.

It is in the plaza that the community exercises justice. It is in the plaza that the festival displays the secret and public manifestations of its spell. It is in the plaza that spirituality is demonstrated and practised. Therefore, after the conquest, both earthly and heavenly powers established themselves around the plaza. From there power could be exercised. The panoramic view of Bentham encounters the symbolic and sacred view emanating from the plaza.

Therefore, the "occupation" of the plaza, the appropriation of this public space which also has a sacred content, and the claim to exercise a symbolic power over it. The "occupation" is ritual but is also violent.

In the festival of Inti Raymi in the province Cotocachi, rival groups settle accounts and begin a fierce battle to occupy the plaza. The plaza is occupied be means of a hard struggle. Injuries and deaths are frequent. These deaths are not those of propitiatory victims, but rather the result of a more transcendental event: that of the insertion in the social imagination of a space which is both sacred and political at the same time, and the control of which presents itself as a fundamental relationship of the people with the sacred. It is in reality, the recognition of a profound spirituality, more distant than that which Christianity wished to reform, and which has endured in the recesses of the memory.

The "occupation" of the plaza, is also an act of social catharsis, of internal regulation, it is something game-like, something which exerts attraction to that violent centre of gravity. To appropriate the plaza is also to appropriate the church in the plaza, and thus the seat of political power. It is to empty the plaza of its contents of power, those of control, of vigilance, of punishment, of repression, in order to construct for a short time, a space of one's own, a place in which is present a violence which emphasises the sacred, but which liberates, which lends its actors an importance which they do not enjoy during the rest of the year, which converts them into mediums, into the spokes people of a profound, atavistic and millenary spirituality.

The violence of the "occupation" of the plaza is therefore of a different stripe. A violence which makes possible the harmonisation of the social, mediated by the sacred. Something similar to that liberated by the propitiatory victims. In order to arrive at that ritual space, the ceremony establishes its strict codes. The "occupation" is prepared, is adjusted to the content of the festival, and the festival responds to the sacred.

Thus the "occupation" underlines the sacred. It is inscribed in a whole universe in which the sacred shapes and structures the meanings and views of the world. It is a symbolic centre which gives way to the dimension of the spirits which govern the world and also our lives.

The view from the plaza and toward the plaza is a view in which the sacred determines the meanings and the references. In the Inti Raymi, the relationship is in those forces which unite the Runa (the human being) with the Pachamama (natural world), but the view structured by the sacred is also a view subjugated by power, by the systems of control, by the mechanisms of vigilance. It is a view that has learned to hide itself, to be silent even while speaking. It is a view that withdraws from that of the powerful, that appears to speak with the codes of power, but which finally has, secretly, harmonised its own codes with those of power. Thus the festival is reinvented. Before it was the festival of San Juan, Corpus Christi. Now, after the indigenous uprisings, after the new relationship of power between the "Indians" and society has emerged, it is possible to speak with greater freedom. A new voice emerges which gives a precise name to the most important event in the life of the indigenous peoples, now it is Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun. A political appropriation of a symbolic event that shows the nature of this profound transformation that the indigenous movement has experienced in Ecuador.

However, because the festival is now a symbolic vindication, it can also become a political act. And in fact it is a political act. And one of the first consequences of this act is the redefinition of the content of spirituality and its relationship with the catholic church. The priest, together with the owner of the hacienda, has left behind his leading role in the centre of the festival. Despite this, this space still exists, there is still the representation which was previously visible in the priest and the landlord of the hacienda. It is therefore necessary to give new content to this space. Perhaps within the reconstruction of and reconstitution of the peoples could be born a new form of practice of spirituality.

However, the sense of the "occupation" remains latent within the ritual ceremony of the festival. If the festival is the central theme which gives structure and meaning to social and community relations, in the social imagination the "occupation" remains as an act which stands out in the festival, a festival which little by little has been re-appropriated has been re-assumed; which is expressed as a political act of ownership of spirituality. To "occupy" the plaza is not to appropriate the plaza but to give it new meaning. It is to transform the plaza into a sacred place. It is to re-read the codes within a new practice. This "occupation" empties the plaza of all the content assigned up until this moment, and incorporates new references, new significance.

Perhaps for that reason, within the indigenous world, the march on the capital, towards the city, which mobilises the community members to "occupy" the city, to appropriate this distant centre, one that evokes resentment and apprehension in their social imagination, perhaps this "occupation," political and ritual at the same time, has all the content of the symbolic universe of the festival and the ritual ceremony.

The "occupation" of the capital of the republic, as a political act, as a strategic movement, is in this way inscribed in the order of symbolic codes which gives it a new dimension, a different content, and some unexpected consequences from the perspective of power. It is not simply a going down of pathways, roads, of unknown routes towards a hostile city representative of the centre of power, and, therefore, the union of racism, exclusion, violence, in a single geographical and population locus.

It is not only the political resource derived from a strategy of resistance and one that demands a different visualisation of the "Indian." It is something more. It is the reference to the "occupations" of the plaza, as symbolic occupations of power and representation. It is the re-creation of a space different to that of the plaza, but in virtue of its presence, which restructures it, readjusts it, giving it its own symbolic content and transforms it into a plaza, to be occupied reinvented, re-assumed from its presence, and therefore, a symbolic, a sacred site.

The city is a framework of functionalities. There, those references which daily structure the life of the communities do not exist. They are places devoid of ancestral symbolic content, or in any case, saturated with a different content. The cities are a framework of functional relationships, with their anticipated places, points of reference which are already established and in which the link between Runa and Pachamama has been broken. The city confuses the oracles, disorients the signs, mixes the references. Therefore it is necessary to reinvent it, from the "occupation" from the ritual appropriation.

The cities are the centres from which violence and exclusion are practised. People, in the city, are functional data. The houses, the streets, the buildings, the colours the noise, the speed, the consumption, all of this, makes this world strange. Makes it hostile, and that city is made even more violent when a threat is felt.

When the city feels that the Indians are coming down from the mountains, from their communities, the city closes its doors. It watches the street with fear and apprehension. It feels a beat in the air which is one of fear before the unknown. The city is shaken by this different presence: it becomes more hostile It feels that its most intimate codes have been violated: it therefore takes precautions. It hides its objects of value, its belongings. It closes the windows, it spies through its shutters, pulling to one side a fold in the curtain, it scrutinises. There they are, the unfathomable presence, this group of unknown humans. Those beings which prowl around a place of guilt. The city demands repression. Demands violence. A violence which purifies it of that presence which returns its codes intact. It demands and clamours for the violent and radical expulsion of that undesirable presence. It wishes to return to the acceptable daily routine of the established.

The response of the city is coherent with the intention of the "Indians." If the "occupation" of the city is a question of a re-appropriation of a place, then the city intuitively feels that symbolic violence and develops forms of rejection and self defence. For the communities it is a matter of converting the city into the symbolic plaza of the fiesta, and the appropriation of the city, as "occupation" in the ceremonial ritual by which the appropriation of the world was produced by means of the symbolic form of the occupation. Behind it, is shaped the restructuring of the forms of power. If the city allows this occupation, then the content of power, those acts of racism, of exclusion, and of accentuation of difference, may lose their importance and their symbolic effectiveness. In play is a whole complex universe of references and meanings related to the structures of the discourse and ideology of power.

It is not for nothing then that the Indians call their political act the "occupation" of the city. In reality, it is not a march of a group of indigenous community members toward the city. It is not a political act per se, carried out within a broader, more general strategy, that of the uprising. It is an "occupation" in the most complete sense that this can evoke in the indigenous communities. It is the revolt against the content of domination and, which is not only economic, but also ritual, ideological.

When the community members propose to "occupy" the cities as a form of struggle and resistance, they are appealing to their ancestral memory. For them the "occupation" of the cities acquires a different meaning, which provides the strongest motivation for committing themselves to the struggle. It is their response, almost spontaneous, and always charged with ritual references, to the mechanisms of domination and control. Their symbolic universe is distinct. Also are their references. This symbolic content forms part of their cosmology which is itself expressed in their form of family, communal, and social organisation, and which therefore becomes political and organisational.

In the uprising of 1990, the Indians began the "occupation" of the church of Santo Domingo, in the capital of the republic. That same day, the afternoon paper "Ultimas Noticias" took notice of the event, and placed in quotation marks the word "occupation." "The Indians 'occupy' ('toman') the Church of Santo Domingo." The intention of placing this in quotation marks reveals the semiotic management of discourses that is a daily event for the media. It was in no way an attempt to read a political event, exceptional at the time, in a different way. It was an attempt to apply to that event the references given by power to the "Indian." The conjugation of the verb "to occupy" ("tomar" in Spanish) is a play on words as it also signifies to ingest alcohol. To drink alcohol is "tomar." In the symbolic imagery constructed around the indigenous people, the "occupation" ("la toma") underlined this imagery: drunken Indians, turned in brutes by their condition of permanent humiliation. Ten years later, the political practice of the occupation does not lend itself to this type of confusion. The "occupation" of the cities is inscribed within the dynamic of the indigenous uprising. It is therefore virtually impossible for the centre of power to stop or slow the "occupation" of a city. In the language and codes of the centre of power this other universe does not exist. The indigenous people as difference, as other, simply do not register in their imagery. It is clear that they are different, but the recognition of their difference does not signify, in any way, that it is necessary to attempt to understand and respect that world.

Regarding the Indigenous Uprising: The breach between the political and the social movements

Kintto Lucas


The author is concerned about the relationship which exists between the social movement and the political movement and which made itself evident in the latest indigenous uprising. This separation can be taken as a gulf, and from there to the questioning of a Patchakutik political movement that has not been able to interpret the social movement "What is the point of Patchakutik?" asks the author "to become into just another party of the centre left, supported by a number of NGOs, with some representatives that speak Quichua, and stuck to the 'institutionality' of the political scientists?" The author says no, and that the political victory of the latest uprising goes beyond the interests of the group and strengthens the building of a social identity in the political movement and a political identity in the social movement.


The latest uprising not only demonstrated, once again, that the indigenous movement is the only social force with an organisational structure and capacity for mobilisation in Ecuador, but that it is the only one with the moral force to overcome the blows dealt by the centre of power. It is a movement that has been able to create and recreate itself with the passing of the years, transforming itself from an understanding of, and a claim for, its own place, to understanding and claiming a place for all.

The Ecuadorian indigenous movement is the expression of a country which does not wish to disappear in the maelstrom of an exclusionary model. A model promoted by sectors nostalgic for the iron fist, hucksters of autonomies and sovereignties. An exclusion observed from the polls of the sectors of the "centre-left" which have accustomed themselves to think about elections, and not about the construction of a different nation. A model of exclusion, analysed from behind a desk by the political scientists, lovers of the well dressed "Indians," perfumed with cologne and defending ethnic questions, as a living expression of a paper democracy.

The recent protest, which began in the provinces and grew to national proportions, shows the constant error of the nostalgic "centre-leftists" and political scientists who underestimated the indigenous movement's capacity for permanent construction and reconstruction. But above all, it clearly demonstrated the indigenous grassroots' capacity for response, initiating and strengthening the uprising beyond the projection of the national leadership. Grassroots which began the process of unity at a meeting between FENOCIN, CONAIE AND ECUARUNARI in January, and demonstrating a solid, and always vital, bottom up organisational structure which could, and did, flower when confronted by the blows dealt it by the economic policy of this exclusionary model.

However, this capacity for indigenous action and reaction in critical moments has often not found its perfect reflection in a political expression. At times this can be seen in the gulf between the social movement represented by CONAIE and the political movement represented by Patchakutik.


On Patchakutik's part, the gulf has expressed itself in the fact that this political arm has often been unable to interpret the social movement that it represents, most particularly in the moment of forgoing electoral alliances which reflect the identity of a movement making the jump from the social to the political struggle. This incapacity to understand the political moment and interpret the social level, was made evident in the elections of 1998 when Patchakutik stuck to the coat tails of other parties and failed to give priority to its own candidates, which in many cases were more representative, something most notable in the Province of Pichincha where the candidature of Luis Macas, Alberto Acosta and Julio Cesar Trujillo was wasted. It was also made evident in the mayoralty elections of 2000, when in Pichincha, Patchakutik stuck to the heels of the Izquierda Democratica (the social democrat Democratic Left Party) allowing this latter to capitalise on the rebellion of the 21st of January of that year, even though it did not represent it. Again it wasted candidates. It lacked long-term vision, capacity to put aside certain internal differences, and to propose its own representative candidates who would have helped in the construction of its own identity. The siren song of the Izquierda Democratica bemused, and no capacity was found to demand support for a Patchakutik candidate for Provincial Comptroller in exchange for support for the Izquierda Democratica's mayoralty candidate Paco Moncayo. Later, Mayor Moncayo, who was seen as an expression of the events of the 21st of January, not only made lukewarm statements about the latest uprising, but allowed the Ministers of Defence and State to deny both his authority as Mayor, and the autonomy of the Municipality, when they rejected the municipal authorisation for the indigenous people to use one of the city's central parks, when they laid siege to the Salesian University, and when they allowed the indigenous people's water supply to be cut off.

So what is the point of Patchakutik? To become just another party of the centre left, supported by a number of NGOs, with some representatives that speak Quichua, and glued to the "institutionality" of political scientists? I believe not. This would be tragic, not only for the construction of the indigenous nationalities political movement but also for a number of popular sectors which still believe in the building of a new type of movement whose goal is at the implementation of the necessary social transformations. A movement without the vices of a certain old left, corroded amongst the stones of a wall that fell on top of it; and without the accommodation of a certain new "left," instructed by and swamped in papers on the desks of Political Science, that species of post modern pathology.


But the gulf between the political and social movements can also be observed in the positions taken by a number of Congressional Representatives and Mayors who appeared to be more intent on representing themselves than the collectivity which elected them. This was seen on the 21st of January when some of them trembled at the possibility of losing their positions in Congress. It happened later with some mayors and comptrollers who were more concerned for their personal image than the struggle of their brothers and sisters. Such as the case of the mayor of Otavalo, who, instead of joining the mobilisation and concerning himself about the brutal police and military repression, declared himself to be suffering because the indigenous people were not allowing the "markets to function properly." Even though later, when the cards were on the table, he did show himself to be a defender of the uprising.

Clearly it is not possible to generalise these positions, and happily there were, and are, other Congressional Representatives who have committed themselves to direct communication with the grassroots, and have based their positions on this communication at the moment of presenting parliamentary proposals. Amongst others this was the case with Miguel Lluco, previously, and at the present time with Gilberto Talagua.

On the mayoral level we find people such as Auki Tituania of Cotocachi who, besides building a participatory model in his city, did not lose contact with the grassroots he represents. He also did not allow the representative nature of the indigenous leadership to be questioned, as the government hoped to do, thereby presenting the best example of the juncture of the political movement that elected him and the social movement that he represents. A similar attitude was seen in Virgilio Hernandez who was able to unify his view form the political movement, of which he is part of the directive, and the social movement to which it is owed.

Analysing the behaviour of some of the mayors and provincial comptrollers who were unwilling to participate in the uprising, Auki Tituania made a statement which shows the essential complement between the behaviour of the political and the social movements. "They have disappointed me" he stated (referring to the mayors and comptrollers who did not join the uprising). "In difficult times leaders should be with their people, and not only see the indigenous people as electoral resource. We do not agree with the comfortable position that some politicians maintain from behind their desks, increasing racial confrontations and verbal attacks." He later clarified his view regarding the position the political movement should take regarding them, commenting that "the Patchakutik movement gave specific instructions for the 27 mayors and 5 Provincial comptrollers to join the process of struggle. And when the emergency was announced we needed to give the signal that we were present and not invisible. Their dismissal will be requested for not having respected the basic principles of the Movement. Even though this may not be possible, it will remain as a moral sanction. Perhaps the words of Auki Tituania reflect what ought to be a constant and coherent attitude on the part of the political movement with regard to those that facilitate a gulf with the social movement.


On the part of CONAIE, the gulf can be seen in the position assumed by its president, Antonio Vargas, in paying no attention to the existence of the political movement. Instead of building bridges for the development of two tools complementary to the struggle, proposals and dialogue with both the regime and with other social, political and military sectors, he assumed a personalised leadership which has not helped in the construction of the collective. But the gulf can also be seen in those who call for an ethnic indigenous movement, one not "contaminated" by other social sectors, and who are not committed to the building of a larger Ecuadorian movement, which would in turn be reflected in the larger political movement which Patchakutik ought to be.

The gulf can also be seen in the naming of the person who directs CODENPE, (Ecuadorian Nationalities and Peoples Development Council) which in the past few years, instead of representing the indigenous movement, has represented the government of the day. Previously with Mahuad, and now with Noboa.

Another factor which facilitates the separation, is a type of influence foreign to indigenous and popular organisation. And as part of that foreign influence, one can locate certain advisors, a certain business presidential candidate who is looking for an indigenous vice president, certain social leaders who cannot find their role alongside a movement with a representational strength that they themselves do not enjoy, sectors which try to exercise a type of social and political hegemony over the popular nature of events, communications media which thrive on internal differences such as the case of the signatures for the popular referendum.

Speaking of foreign influences we should also mention those people who, during the last uprising, exercised pressure from outside the social movement for the acceptance of the minimum in negotiations with the government, and ended up indirectly contributing to the fact that less was accepted than could have been achieved. There are the others who wanted to radicalise the protest for the simple sake of radicalising, without having a political sense of the social actions. Neither the one nor the other had a long-term proposal, they only thought about saving (or weakening?) the movement.


The contradiction between the political and the social movements, added, on both sides, to the incapacity for profound political debate, can lead to grotesque situations. One such case is that of an Amazonian indigenous leader, who when he was a Congressional Representative was accused of links with corruption, and who left prison in order to present himself as a candidate of the political movement in May of 2000, and in March 2001 could try to become the president or vice president of the social movement. Whatever the case, the important thing about the last indigenous uprising is not to be found in the agreement that (according an editorial writer in the Daily "El Expreso") "shows little capacity for negotiation on the part of the indigenous leaders, easy meat for old school politicians skilled in manoeuvring." On the outside, the most important thing is to have demonstrated that the social movement has kept its capacity for response intact, that it is a step ahead of the political parties (including the political movement that represents it), that the grassroots can superimpose themselves on a questioned leadership, and that when the time comes for listening to proposals for nation building, it is impossible not to take it into account. On the inside, the gulf between the social and political movements of which we spoke, is once again in evidence.

But apart from the concrete achievements of the agreement, the latest uprising was a political triumph for the indigenous movement, and therefore for the social movement in general, that forced the government to back down during the protest. The image of the regime, which was one of intolerance for dialogue, was, after leaving six people dead on the way, also part of this political victory. Hopefully, this triumph affected by the social movement will help in continuing to build up power from the roots, and will be reflected in the actions of the political movement. Hopefully, the gulf between the social and political movements will not permit others to take of the spoils without putting anything, not even a message of solidarity with the movement, on the line. But above all, let us hope that this victory goes beyond group interests and strengthens the building of a social identity in the political movement and a political identity in the social movement, and makes a commitment to the construction of strategic alliances more durable than those of a merely electoral nature that also help in the accumulation of strength 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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