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The (Re)articulation of Political Subjectivities and Colonial Difference in Ecuador

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The (Re)articulation of Political Subjectivities and Colonial Difference in Ecuador

Reflections on Capitalism and the Geopolitics of Knowledge


Catherine E. Walsh



It is to the zone of occult instability where the people dwell that we must come.


Frantz Fanon,
Black Skin, White Masks
(1967 [1952])



To think and speak from the geopolitical and historical location of Ecuador and from the colonial difference formed within this location are processes that guide my reflections here. By “geopolitical . . . location” I mean not only the physical space, the place on the map, but also the historical, social, cultural, imagined, and what Walter Mignolo (2000a) refers to as the epistemologically diagrammed spaces that provide the ground for political subjectivities, colonial difference, and struggle. As Adrienne Rich (1987, 212) once commented, “A place on the map is also a place in history.” In the spacialities of geopolitical location, boundaries are formed, negotiated, and transgressed, power and politics played out on both national and transnational terrains. It is also here that diverse knowledges are generated, produced, and distributed.1


The material conditions of subjectification are always intertwined with space and place. That is to say, the particular site and temporal junctures within which subjects (and difference) are both marked and constructed, where culture-as-political struggle is waged and authors write, matter. But locating ourselves in relation to places defined and taken up through experience, identity, and power (Mohanty 1987; Pile 1997), and in relation to the subjects/objects that we purport to study, is not usual practice in the academic world. Instead, modernist tendencies in the social sciences disembody the author from the text and split the subject and [End Page 61] object of knowledge, thus contributing to what José Rabasa and Javier Sanjinés (1996 [1994], ix) refer to as “a series of forms of disciplining subjectivity.” This discipline recalls both the Foucauldian use of formulas of domination as well as the colonial experience: the discipline to organize and maintain control over the body, and the disciplining through knowledge to marginalize, exclude, and obliterate collective identities, memories, and alternative forms of knowing and living (Smith 1999). It also serves to obscure the power relations grounded in the epistemological apparatus and in the geohistorical confines of what Mignolo (2000a, 2000b) calls the modern/colonial world system, as well as the specific place of Latin America within it. The geohistorical colonial difference created by the coloniality of power (Quijano 1999) has subalternized not only ethnic-racial groups but also their knowledge. “To think from the colonial difference” and “from the ruins, the experiences and the margins created by the coloniality of power in the structuring of the modern/colonial world” as a way not to restore knowledges but to “make them intervene in a new epistemological, transmodern, and postoccidental horizon” (Mignolo 2000b, 23–24), is thus central.


In Ecuador, the complex nature of colonial difference constructs its meaning, in part, through a national ideology of mestizaje, the principal referent of a homogeneous national identity. The perpetuation of this national ideology marks indigenous people and blacks—who, according to some accounts, together constitute almost half of the population—as other. Concurrently, and in apparent contradiction with this ideology, inordinate value is placed on whiteness and on everything that comes from the North. In this context, my own subject positioning and embodiment (North American and white) becomes a necessarily conscious and daily act, as does the consideration of what it means to live and work in and write from this social and historic locality; what it means to position myself in the interstices necessarily created when one lives in a country that is not one's own but that is at the same time part of one's identity.


The opportunities afforded to me in the last ten years to collaborate with indigenous and Afro-descendent movements, and to live through uprisings, mobilizations, and popular rebellions that have resulted, among other changes, in the overthrow of two presidents, have made me think more critically about the social, cultural, political, and epistemological agency of these movements, and about the related role of state and transterritorialized interests. It is this thinking rather than anthropological observations or objectivized conclusions that informs this article. [End Page 62]


In what follows I explore the (re)articulation of political subjectivities and colonial difference in Ecuador, specifically in reference to the indigenous and Afro-descendent movements, as a way to enter into the broader questions and concerns posed by capitalism, the geopolitics of knowledge, and our role as critical and committed intellectuals. What is the emergent relation of culture, identity, politics, and knowledge within these movements and what are the changing roles of the state and the neoliberal project with respect to this relation? In what way can current cultural politics in Ecuador further our understanding of transnationalism and the multiculturalization of capitalism? What are its implications for the academy, particularly in terms of (inter/trans)disciplinary work, the relation between social movements and the university, and the (re)production/subalternization of knowledges? And what does all this suggest in terms of academic and intellectual work and responsibility? These are the questions that guide my reflections.


(Re)thinking the Relation of Culture, Identity, Politics, and Knowledge


In the 1990s a new form of cultural-identity politics2 emerged in Latin America, most notably among indigenous peoples but also among Afro-descendents. These politics have moved beyond previous national-popular projects and traditional leftist articulations of identity, which for much of the twentieth century were based predominantly on class, marking both rural Indians and blacks as campesinos,3 and making class-conscious leaders the mediators of their voice and vision. Instead, the new politics of mobilization in discussion here depart from the agency of indigenous and black peoples themselves; taken as central are ethnic and racial differences as well as the recognition and rearticulation of what Mignolo (2000b) refers to as colonial difference, that is, the intertwinedness of colonial legacies, subalternity, and ethnic/racial struggle.4


It is not identity or ethnicity per se that ground the new Latin American identity politics or the social movements that are its result. Rather, it is a strategical politization of difference—cultural difference but also the epistemic difference within it—focused on recognition, construction, confrontation, and transformation. In countries throughout the region, attention, demands, and confrontational actions in the last decade have sought a political and social recognition of the pluricultural character of national society, the construction and strengthening of collective indigenous and black identities (both national and transnational), as well as the establishment of [End Page 63] specific policies and rights directed at reversing past injustices. Through demands and actions like those of the Zapatistas for new conceptualizations and practices of democracy, or those of Mapuche communities in Chile, the Uw'a in Colombia, and blacks on the Pacific coast of Ecuador and Colombia against transnational extractivist (oil, mining, timber) companies, the struggles to transform national social and political structures, and confront transnational interests and neoliberal policies, are increasingly evident and visible.


In part the aim has been the incorporation and inclusion of ethnic concerns within the existing nation-state structure. At the same time, however, the goal is to bring into question the very concepts, constructs, and institutions of state, citizenship, democracy, and nation. David Slater (1997) refers to this as the inside and the outside of social movements and their dialectic, the discussion and analysis of which is often evaded in much of social and political theory.


The organized resistance of indigenous people and blacks in Latin America to the coloniality of power is not new. In fact, social and political resistance has been frequent since 1492, often taking the form of identity-based rebellions, as both Aníbal Quijano (1999) and Irene Silverblatt (1995) remind us. Yet the social and political conditions under which today's cultural-identity politics and social movements construct themselves are distinct from those of centuries past. The strategic politicization of identity and difference by indigenous and Afro-descendent movements in the region takes on new significance in the current climate of globalization and the attendant crisis and erosion of states, in the neoliberal projects and the transformation of capitalism into something that, as Oscar Guardiola-Rivera (2000) argues, is symbolic and cultural as well as economic (not to mention in the simultaneous junctures and contingencies of cultural homogeneity/cultural heterogeneity and particularity/universality that this reality proffers). This new importance resides, in part, in the emergent political subjectivity of the movements and their leaders, in their condition as actors of their own experience rather than as mere objects of study or development.


Through increasingly visible and vocal processes of self-determination and self-definition, indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples are unsettling the ethnographic and development-based paradigms that have been prevalent in the region (see Escobar 1999). They are also beginning to recover and reconsider their own knowledge, to construct the difference between ethnic epistemology and Western, “civilized,” global knowledge [End Page 64] (what is presumed to be available to everyone) and not only redefine but decolonize the relationship between them. This involves, as Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999, 64) explains, a recognition of the nexus between the cultural ways of knowing, scientific discoveries, economic impulses, and imperial power that have enabled the West to make the ideological claims of having a superior civilization, and to impose this positional superiority in social institutions like schools. Recent works that analyze the consolidation of black organizations in the southern Pacific region of Colombia and their organizational and knowledge-based processes, particularly those in support of the environment, serve as examples (see Escobar 1998, 1999; Escobar and Pedrosa 1996; Restrepo 2000).


In nations that have traditionally defined themselves as mestizo while perpetuating in practice the value of whiteness or blanqueamiento, indigenous and black peoples are making their presence visible. By pushing these nations to redefine themselves—as evidenced, for example, by recent constitutional reforms in Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador, which now denote the pluricultural and multiethnic character of their societies and define certain ethnic group rights—and to start programs of bilingual or ethno-education in the schools, indigenous and Afro groups have succeeded in making their demands law.5 Such changes, though they often remain discursive, without concrete application, or, in the case of education, without adequate support or financing, bring local identity politics into the national and transnational realms and make plurality a societal rather than just an ethnic proposition.


Thus while political subjectivity, increased visibility, and knowledge recuperation are central elements of the movements, they also point to concerns fundamental to society at large, issues that implicate each and every one of us. Concerns, for example, like those raised by Fernando Coronil (2000a) about how we ought to live, how we can counter conditions that sustain structures of privilege and inequality, and how we should rethink our own relationship with the centers of power and with knowledge itself, in the past as well as in the present. Similarly raised are concerns about social justice, the recognition and respect of differences, and the bridges and contingencies between particularized demands and dimensions of universality or interconnectedness.


The “new” significance also finds its place in the conditions of globalization or, more particularly, in what Santiago Castro-Gómez and Eduardo Mendieta (1998) refer to, citing Ronald Robertson (1995), as “glocalization,” the asymmetric processes of interaction between the local and [End Page 65] the global. Today indigenous and black peoples' struggles are waged not only in local contexts but also in national and transnational spaces that cross and make fluid geopolitical as well as ethnic or racialized borders. The joint declaration of black organizations from the Andean region (Comité Andino de Servicios 2001) about racism, common histories, and continued experiences of marginalization and exclusion, as well as about economic globalization, biodiversity and, in the case of Colombia, internal armed conflict and forced displacements, serves as an example.


Similarly, calls from the Lacandona jungle for new visions of social and political participation and democracy in Chiapas and in Mexico as a whole, as well as for an end to neoliberal policies, resonate beyond geopolitical boundaries. They transcend ethnic divides and fuse local, national, regional, and global arenas. Thus while Zapatista demands emerge from localized, geohistorical struggles, they also embrace the concerns of many throughout the region and the world. They are echoed with different localized intonations by Brazil's Sin Terra, Argentina's Carpa Blanca, Chile's Mapuche organizations, Bolivia's Coordinadora de Agua, and the international Social Forum held in Pôrto Alegre in 2001, to name just a few. In the particularisms of each, there are seeds of universality, cores that, as Ernesto Laclau (2000, 306) suggests, we should expand “so that we can have a full social imaginary, capable of competing with the neoliberal consensus which has been the hegemonic horizon of world politics for the last thirty years.”


In countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador, the most organized and vocal political opposition continues to come from indigenous nations. At times in alliance with other social groups and at times enacting a politics rooted in the particularisms of their own ethnic struggle and colonial difference, these groups continually construct a cultural politics that, as Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (1992) notes in relation to the Sendero Luminoso in Peru, social scientists have been unable to predict or fully understand.


Ecuador affords an interesting example to explore these points, both because of the organizational strength of the indigenous movement (an important referent since 1990 for the rest of the region) and because of the movement's ability to (re)articulate political subjectivities, challenging and transforming both cultural politics and political culture. Moreover, with the recent establishment of an indigenous university—developed by the movement with the support of nonindigenous individuals, organizations, and institutions from within the country, as well as from elsewhere in Latin America, the United States, Canada, and Europe—the case of Ecuador also [End Page 66] raises fundamental questions about the geopolitics of knowledge and new, divergent forms of knowledge production and dissemination.


The Political and Epistemic Agency of Ecuador's Indigenous Movement


Since the 1990s, the cultural politics of identity and difference in Ecuador have challenged occidental, postmodern, and deconstructivist propositions as well as perceptions within Latin America of increased hybridization and cultural syncretization. Academic propositions that question the “authentic” essence of women, of blacks, indigenous people, or other “peoples of color,” and denials of this essence in other forms of oppression, of imperialism, local history, and so on, become unsettled when indigenous people claim and (re)appropriate a collective self, a move that also challenges the imputing of a Western psychological “self” to group consciousness (Smith 1999). But as Smith notes, authentic means something different here than when it is used by first world academics; that is to say, the term functions under a different logic.


Generally, this notion of an authentic collectivity does not refer to a naturalized category, although there are “Indianist” tendencies in Ecuador and other countries of the region where authentic sometimes has these connotations. Rather, in its use by Ecuador's indigenous movement, authentic is an oppositional and politically strategic term, a way to articulate what it has meant to be culturally and epistemically dehumanized by colonization and a way to reorganize “national consciousness” in the struggles for decolonization. This identity is not objectivized as such but part of a lived, vindicated, and creative experience of identification within conditions of extreme political and socioeconomic marginalization. It reflects, as Mignolo (2000b, 8) suggests, “a way to critically think modernity from the colonial difference.” This is what distinguishes it from essentialized and objectivized categories that find their substance in ethnicity and not in the coloniality of power, the latter understood as an established system of social classification and identification based on the repression of native identities and on the conformation of a negative common identity—“lo indio” (Quijano 1999). The reinvention of “Indian” by Ecuador's indigenous movement serves to highlight this colonial difference, to strategically subvert and rearticulate it in order to think and act toward decolonization.


The cultural politics of Ecuador's indigenous movement also upend arguments that urbanization, migration, technology, and globalized communication have made cultural hybridization the dominant norm (see, [End Page 67] for example, García Canclini 1992). Although globalization has of course had a major effect on all sectors of Ecuador's society and on its everyday social and cultural practices, the lines traditionally drawn to separate ethnic groups are not fading.6 On the contrary, the ideology of mestizaje in Ecuador, historically premised on white superiority and the depreciation of all that is indigenous, is strengthened by dominant groups reacting to the indigenous movement. Through the discursive use of the press, these groups promote the notion that indigenous people are reestablishing ethnic division. In practice, however, these discourses actually help to objectivize and essentialize “lo indio.” But while they establish the difference, they also promote a liberal-multiculturalist vision of society based on tolerance and inclusion, thus promulgating the idea that the indigenous people and their movement are the perpetrators of their own exclusion.


In response to this context—which, on the one hand, masks the modern operation of coloniality and, on the other, reinforces propensities toward ethnic fundamentalism (Díaz Polanco 1998)—Indians increasingly identify as Indians, and blacks as blacks. And, while these categories are part of and essential to the colonial difference, they are reinvented and reappropriated by indigenous and Afro-descendant movements on their own terms but always recognizing past and present colonial relations.


The strengthening of the indigenous movement in the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE)—and its public emergence, with the massive 1990 Inti Raymi uprising, as an important social and political actor with “ethnic” demands, including the creation of a plurinational state—positioned lo indígena in a new and different way in relation to lo blanco-mestizo and to the historically homogenizing national project. The uprising's national visibility and multitudinous force disturbed the ethnic imaginary in which Indians were perceived as tied to the countryside, artisan work, and/or manual labor, as disappearing entities anxious to become “civilized” mestizos.


The minister of social welfare commented at the time that “CONAIE is part of a process that has no parallel in the history of our country” (Diario hoy, 14 October 1991, 6B). In its assumption of an anticapitalist, anti-imperialist, and anticolonial stance, and in its presentation of proposals and demands not just for land rights but for a “plurinational state,” the movement called into question existing models of state, society, and nation, making evident its intent to rethink all three from the perspective of the indigenous peoples, in response to the voracity of the neoliberal agenda, and with an eye to decentralization and democratization (Almeida [End Page 68] 1993; Sánchez-Parga 1990). As a result, “it is now impossible to imagine a shared [societal] destiny without considering their [the indigenous peoples'] presence and participation” (Almeida 1993, 8).


One of the effects within the indigenous movement of this and subsequent uprisings in the early 1990s was an increase in indigenous identification, including the recuperation of Quichua language use and native dress among both rural and urban people who had previously identified as mestizos, Spanish speakers, and, in the countryside, along class lines as campesinos. This reconstruction of an identity defined for its ethnic-cultural and epistemic difference and conceptualized as collective and political calls into question the notion of a “national” identity and the colonial difference it has traditionally sought to mark and control. It has also prompted the construction of new imaginaries and representations by white-mestizos and by the media of the indigenous other. No longer just liminal servants, rural farmers, or producers of crafts, indigenous people must now be recognized as politicized actors/insurgents able to shut down the country, stand up to and speak about the patrón in a language the boss cannot understand, and make ethnicity-based demands to a government that in modern times has not recognized indigenous difference. Indigenous people now can even ally themselves with the military, assume national power, and demand dialogues with the government, including with its president.7


Political action has laid the groundwork for a collective indigenous consciousness. This awareness is based on a fluid interconnection of culture-identity-politics and its articulation with knowledge. Knowledge, here, is considered as simultaneously ancestral, communal, and political. It is rooted in a recognition of the bonds between humans and nature, as well as in forms of coexistence and social organization marked by community cohesiveness. It also derives from both physical and symbolic struggle. As such, this knowledge is the result of a dynamic, collective production that articulates the past and present and the local and the global—the latter understood not just as the dominant world but also as the indigenous transterritoral one. By means of this dynamic and articulation, a source of power-knowledge is built that, as is made evident in CONAIE's publication of its own Proyecto político (1994, 1997), comes to underscore collective action, serving as a necessary component for building a political project, a national movement. It has also served as a base from which indigenous actors situate themselves vis-à-vis other social movements, establishing their [End Page 69] difference as millennial people (“millennial” being the term used by indigenous people to designate their aboriginal character).


This understanding and use of knowledge by the indigenous movement suggests that their political project is not simply political but epistemological.8 But what is meant by knowledge in the way that it is employed here? Embedded within this political understanding and use of knowledge (certainly not the only understanding and use for indigenous peoples) are foundational elements and a logic grounded in a cultural system of thought produced at the collective, not the individual, level. This logic arises from an accumulated “scientific” base of knowledge related to the earth, the environment, and the relationship between humans and nature, within a historical-cultural condition and experience that includes community organization and the exercise of authority, as well as the coloniality of power, oppression, resistance, and continuous struggle. This logic and these elements serve as the foundation of an indigenous epistemology, of cultural, and, at the same time, epistemic difference (Mignolo 2000a). It is this historical-cultural-colonial condition (in which indigenous knowledge was repressed, marginalized, “disciplined,” and sometimes even destroyed) that has engendered the production of new knowledges—new modes of analysis, conceptualization, and thought that envision the “indigenous problem” as fundamentally structural, political, and economic, as tied to capitalist hegemony, and as both national and international (CONAIE 1994). It is the imbrication of the historical-cultural with the new that gives this political knowledge its significance.


While knowledge also informs Western political projects, its historical-cultural roots and the notion of knowledge itself are obviously quite different from the understanding I've just discussed. Since the advent of monasteries (the precursors to universities), Western conceptions of knowledge have advocated the separation of humans and nature, work and everyday life, and made the production and use of knowledge an individualized, expert, and consumer-based enterprise devoid of emotion (Vera Herrera 1997). This separation is particularly evident in the discourses of progress and modernity that affirm the supremacy of time over space and of culture over nature, severing nature's role as a constitutive dimension of modern wealth and of capitalism's development (Coronil 1997, 2000b). By masking what Coronil refers to as the dialectical play between capital, work, and earth or nature, these discourses both constitute and construct universal conceptions of knowledge. At the same time, they conceal the economic, political, and cultural processes and practices that conform and maintain [End Page 70] the colonial difference, the coloniality of power, and the geopolitics of knowledge.


Despite the globalized and neoliberal nature of present-day society, indigenous peoples have generally resisted the adoption of these discourses and singularized, universalized conceptions of knowledge, as well as the separations and discontinuities they propose. As Apffel Marglin (cited in Vera Herrera 1997, 84) notes, “Life in nonindustrial societies and in collectivities not caged in consumption isn't divided into spheres where passions have a legitimate place and others where they do not; everything merges with passion and values.” Moreover, the distinctions established between intellectuals (who individually produce knowledge)9 and others (who do not) do not apply in indigenous epistemology, in the politics of communal consensus, in its collective exercise and the social fact of knowledge. However, Western political projects do tend to require such distinctions. Yet the issue here is not to polarize knowledges. In indigenous projects, more traditional or localized versions of knowledge do not exist in isolation from other knowledge forms. The efficacy of the movement in fact derives from its ability to construct and use the correspondences among various contemporary knowledge positions: using knowledges in the plural, it can move between knowledges in order to exercise political tactics and strategies.


Indigenous self-awareness and agency and their dialectical relation to the movement's construction and consolidation has led it to challenge a number of other sectors. Among these is the one Edward Said (1998) refers to as the “armies of researchers” coming from foreign and national academic institutions, governmental and nongovernmental organizations and projects, multinationals, and other entities. With an ostensible zeal to study and help the “civilization” of the Indians, to save and defend indigenous knowledge and culture, and/or to speak for them to national and international institutions and the academic world, these researchers often, knowingly or not, continue to contribute to the colonial and imperial enterprise as well as to the dominant geopolitics and the disciplining of knowledge. Moreover, in disembodying themselves from the work and failing to consider their own subjectivity, they perpetuate the same “disciplining” of the subject that has been practiced since colonial times.


In the last decade Ecuador's indigenous movement has called into question this dominant mode of social science research and the colonial trajectory and paternalism it recalls. The results are a crisis in the national [End Page 71] schools of anthropology, a reticence by the movement toward nonindigenous academics and assistance providers, and a strengthening of the movement's own role as a social, political, and, as I will discuss later, intellectual actor.


Of all the challenges posed by the cultural-identity politics and emergent agency of Ecuador's indigenous movement, the greatest has probably been to the dominant political and epistemic order. The uprisings of the early 1990s, accompanied by such demands as those for legal recognition, territorial rights, and a plurinational state, forced the government not only to take into account the indigenous movement and to award collective land titles but to seek ways to incorporate (indigenous) opposition into the state apparatus—ways, in other words, to bring it “inside.” Although the Ecuadorian government has taken steps to control the indigenous movement's political opposition, the movement has begun to exercise a new form of agency and new ways of doing politics within a cultural framework, entering into the sphere of government and state on its own terms.


New Ways of Doing Politics


In 1996, the indigenous movement decided to participate in the electoral process for the first time. The formation of the Movement of National Pluricultural Unity Pachakutik–Nuevo País (which recalled Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition) brought together indigenous peoples, peasants, unions, Afro-Ecuadorians, and ecologists, as well as women's, citizen's, and youth groups. Candidacies were launched for national and provincial posts within congress, for mayoral and other municipal positions, and for the presidency of the republic. After only six weeks of campaigning, Pachakutik won seventy-five posts, including eight congressional seats, ten mayor's offices, and eleven provincial councilor seats. Only eleven of Pachakutik's winning candidates were not indigenous.10


However, the new way of doing politics was not limited to the electoral process. In 1997, after playing a key role in the destitution of President Abdalá Bucaram, the indigenous movement negotiated with the new interim government for a state institution with autonomy that would replace both the Office of Indigenous Affairs and the Ethnic Ministry, established during the governments of Sixto Durán Ballen and Bucaram, respectively. In contrast to both, the National Council of Planning and Development of Indigenous and Black Peoples (CONPLADEIN) had a governance structure comprised of the national indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian organizations.11 This new ethnic alliance, begun with Pachakutik, placed [End Page 72] an emphasis on shared social, economic, political, and subaltern conditions and used cultural identity politics in a strategic way that had not been previously seen in the country or in the region, a coming-together in response to the coloniality of power that had traditionally separated the groups and put them in competition for resources. Further rupturing the dominant notion of the indigenous movement was CONPLADEIN's ability to negotiate directly with the World Bank and Fondo Internacional del Desarrollo Agrario (FIDA) for the establishment and financing of a project-based technical arm—Prodepine—with a budget of $51 million. This revealed a political agency—international as well as national—that could no longer be discounted.


These new ways of doing politics raise several interesting tensions. One has to do with the strategic use of difference, or what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1985) calls a strategic essentialism. Ethnic identity becomes the tool to build the movement, to highlight conditions of subalternity and colonial difference, and to voice social, cultural, and political demands that critique state policy and homogeneous constructs of society, citizenship, and nation. The meaning of these concepts, as well as of democracy, are also destabilized and put into question by the strategic use of difference. Moreover, indigenous identity serves as a tool in assembling alliances that themselves have a strategic or tactical function (de Certeau 1996).


For example, the alliance between the indigenous movement and Afro-Ecuadorians was conceived, according to some of the leaders involved, as a joining of forces by the discriminated and oppressed; a way to turn around the racialized practices that since colonization have separated and divided the two peoples. Yet Afro leaders maintain that some of these same racialized practices are reconstructed in the organizational and personal relationships between indigenous peoples and blacks. By assuming the leadership and determining the definition and usefulness of alliances, for instance, indigenous leaders relegate blacks to an inferior position and, some say, cast them as the racialized other. The situated knowledge, struggle, and subjectivity of Afro-descendent peoples becomes invisible in this union, especially when indigenous leaders assume the right to speak for them. Afro-Ecuadorians began to form their organizations at this time, but since they did not enter the relationship on equal terms, precisely because they did not have an organized national entity or program, the hegemonic indigenous paradigm, or what an Afro-Ecuadorian woman leader (in a conversation with me) recently referred to as “indomanía,” shrouded them. Such tension indicates the need for more critical consideration of identity [End Page 73] and cultural difference and more careful examination of how racialization practices operate among subaltern groups through notions of hierarchy and hegemony (Gilroy 1998).


Two further tensions are raised by the new ways of doing politics, neither of which is often analyzed in studies of social movements. The first has to do with the “inside” and “outside” that I have already mentioned. Since social movements are typically (and more easily) perceived as working outside and against dominant political structures, their incorporation within such structures is more easily ignored. I will address this dynamic in the next section. The second tension has to do with the distinction between politics and the political made by Slater (1997). For him, the dominion of politics refers principally to the institutional order of the political system, including the codes, practices, and meanings this order creates. Geopolitics adds a spatial dimension that can refer, for example, to the internal territoriality of the institutional order, the relations among nation-states, and/or to global processes that transgress borders.


The political, on the other hand, “is a living movement, a kind of ‘magma of conflicting wills,' or antagonisms; it is mobile and ubiquitous, going beyond but also subverting the institutional settings and moorings of politics” (Slater 1997, 266). The political makes possible the subversion of the institutional order, whether that order be the territorial state, the external or internal colonial power, the meanings that govern subjectivities and the concepts of citizenship and nation, the regionalized project of neoliberalism, or universal/global knowledge with its logic of truth. It is the periphery inside the heart of politics that cannot de taken away. And it is for this reason that politics and the political are dialectically related (Slater 1998).12


The geo- permits a simultaneous ordering of actors, subjectivities, place, and space, not only in relation to the inner realm of the territorial state and national political systems and institutions, but also with respect to broader social and economic spheres, as well as to the discourses, knowledges, and relations of power constructed within all of them. Its spatial orientation permits the drawing of new political and cognitive maps of both “geopolitics from above” and “geopolitics from below” (Tuathail 1998). In the latter participate voices, discourses, and diverse and subalternized knowledges that do not limit themselves to the contested sphere of politics as a closed institution but rather form part of the broader, living, and conflictive space of the (geo)political; here the exercise of power-knowledge [End Page 74] and the struggle over it articulate themselves in a variety of hegemonic and counterhegemonic forms.


As we will see below, in the Ecuadorian case, (geo)politics and the (geo)political are interwoven, intersecting with the inside/outside tension and dialectic.


Inside/Outside, or Adentro-afuera-en contra


In order to think through the geopoliticalness of the indigenous movement and its relation to the geopolitics of the state, we might begin by considering this characteristic in terms of the tension and dialectic of inside/outside (Slater 1997), given a critical consideration in Quijano's (2000) construction of adentro-afuera–en contra [inside-outside-against], which denotes a continuous flow, filtration, or articulation of subject positions. Can a social movement continue to be considered as such once it enters the state structure and institution and begins to assume more than just an outside position? Can it be inside and at the same time against? How can an outside and against position and perspective operate simultaneously with an inside reality?


In establishing and organizing CONPLADEIN, the indigenous movement sought an “inside” place from which to push for social and political change while at the same time promoting the development of and access to resources for indigenous and black communities. This latter goal was aimed at constructing and implementing the communities' own vision of and approach to development: desarrollo con identidad (development with identity). With a governance structure comprised of representatives from national and regional indigenous and black organizations, and with a government delegate functioning as chair, CONPLADEIN endeavored to maintain a level of organizational accountability and participatory management not present in other government institutions. Its technical arm, Prodepine, similarly answers not to the government or to the World Bank but to the organizations. At least at first, it appeared that an inside-outside-against filtration was possible.


But with the constitutional reform of 1998, which legally recognized the “indigenous peoples that self-identify as nationalities” and “blacks or Afro-Ecuadorians,” and established a series of fifteen collective rights (the most extensive on the continent), a sector of the CONAIE leadership, in conjunction with a small group of indigenous intellectuals, began to shift the orientation of identity politics. This shift involved the reconstitution of pueblos y nacionalidades, that is, a reconstruction of the [End Page 75] ancestral differences among indigenous peoples that existed before the arrival of the Incas, those maintained as a form of resistance throughout the Inca colonization, and those that have been subject to other forms of colonization and neglect in the Amazon and coastal regions. The fact that the push for this reconstitution comes primarily from urban intellectuals and not from the communities themselves, often going against their preferred forms of identification, raises some interesting questions about the problem of social-cultural inscriptions, the (re)production of knowledge, and imposition within the movement (a different kind of inside-outside-against tension) in the name of politics. Using ethnic-ancestral and territorial criteria, a series of micro-identities are now named that, although lacking major significance in daily life, serve to reconceptualize the representativity and organization of the indigenous movement and substantiate the proposal for plurinationality. The identification of twenty-eight distinct nationalities and peoples, while CONAIE recognized only eleven before, is illustrative of this process.


Also constitutive of this shift are tendencies in some quarters toward a more separatist form of politics. These have included a break with Afro organizations and indigenous organizations not totally allied with CONAIE, and a distancing from other social movements. With this break, CONAIE began to act on its own, establishing a kind of hegemony of protest in which other groups were expected to support and ally themselves with actions decided upon and defined by the CONAIE leadership. The events of January 2000 were an example of this; few knew what the strategy of protest was to be, that it would include the alliance with a group of insurgent colonels, the takeover of Congress, and the eventual assumption of the presidency by a triumvirate composed of an indigenous leader, a representative of the social movements, and a military man—first a colonel and later a general (see Walsh 2001b).


The trend toward a separatist politics is also reflected in the reconceptualization and reorganization of the government indigenous-black institution. Through a presidential decree in 1998 negotiated by the CONAIE leadership, CODENPE (Council for the Development of the Nationalities and [indigenous] Peoples of Ecuador), replaced CONPLADEIN, excluding blacks and establishing a new form of governance based not on organizational participation but on the election of representatives from each of the nacionalidades and pueblos.13 This reorganization has engendered protests and legal claims within the movement itself primarily because it dismantles the structure of accountability to local communities. Given this context, it [End Page 76] seems appropriate to ask: Is it possible that in promoting and approving CODENPE the state partly hoped to divide the indigenous movement and its organizational base as well as to rupture subaltern alliances?


The other concern expressed within the movement is that this new formulation based on ancestral ethnic criteria and a defined territorial space14 denies the reality in much of the sierra or highland region where different groups frequently share the same land. It also overlooks the fact that with increased urban migration, indigenous reality is no longer a purely rural phenomenon. Other concerns regarding dialogues and tacit agreements established between the leadership and the government have also been voiced. All these concerns bring us back to our initial questions: Can social movements continue to function as such when they enter into the structures, institutions, and spheres of the state? To what extent does this relationship reduce the movements' resistance and ability to act “against,” that is, how much does it diminish their social, cultural, and political symbolism, significance, and subjectivity?


In late 2000 and early 2001, the indigenous movement began to identify the problems and difficulties of an inside-outside-against articulation, seriously questioning internal leadership, tactics, and government relations and discussing the need to rethink and reposition itself. The creation of a space for critical reflection and the subsequent action based on this reflection suggest a regrouping, a return to consensus, and the reconstruction of a praxis that might afford a stronger resistance to the neoliberal project in general, and to economic and political measures that threaten to further deepen the national crisis in particular.15 This reflection and action also suggests that the conditions which enable knowledge production have been reestablished. Arturo Escobar (2000) has defined these conditions as ones that facilitate knowledge which is both coyuntural and puntual. That is to say, knowledge that is contextual and specific, that is continually reinterpreted, that is constructed in progress or as you go along, that has a political strategy, and that is “ontologically dirty,” occurring in meetings, in the preparation of documents, or in other “nonacademic” spaces. This is the knowledge, which I discussed earlier in the context of CONAIE's political project, that is much more apt to drive action.


The practical effectiveness of reconstructing and unifying the movement and of producing this kind of knowledge was shown in the February 2001 levantamiento (uprising). In this protest, more than six thousand indigenous women, children, and men, representatives of all the national indigenous organizations, set up camp for over a week at the Quito [End Page 77] campus of the Politechnical Salesian University to denounce the government's draconian economic measures. The repression by government forces of protesters both in Quito and in the provinces was the worst seen in “democratic” times.


The platform developed by leaders and finally accepted by the government as a negotiation document incorporated needs and concerns of the majority population, not just of indigenous sectors. By highlighting everyday problems like the cost of transportation and gasoline as well as transnational concerns like Plan Colombia, the demands demonstrate levels of analysis that imbricate the local, regional, and global. At the same time, they show the precarious situation of the established spatial order.16


But particularly important in terms of political agency and knowledge use is the fact that it was the movement and not the government that established the methodology of negotiation—a process of dialogue that included both high-level indigenous leaders and representatives from the bases. By requiring a methodology that recognizes and validates indigenous practices of thought, analysis, and collective representation within the context of government politics, the movement upset the established dominions, including those of politics, its institutions and culture, and knowledge. These processes reveal a tactical use of the inside-outside-against dialectic. This includes, for example, showing a mobilized and unified front against imposed economic and social structural adjustments and against a government that responds not to the needs of the citizenry but to multilateral politics and policies. However, at the same time, the movement intervened in the political processes, working inside the system without being fenced in by it, contributing to the redefinition of its limits and meaning. Nevertheless, the government also plays its cards. This has included attempted co-optation of indigenous leaders, bribing of legislators, and the promotion of divisions within the movement, including efforts to promote the leaders' candidacy in elections. But there is also another obscure side to the hegemonic game: the incorporation of the opposition into the state apparatus as part of a new politics of diversity. This new politics is not limited to Ecuador but can be seen throughout Latin America. It is financed and supported in great part by the multilateral institutions (like the World Bank and the International Development Bank) and designed to facilitate the processes and goals of the globalized neoliberal project. [End Page 78]


State Tactics and Neoliberal Agendas


What has been the role of the state and the neoliberal project with respect to cultural identity politics and social movements in Ecuador, and what kinds of strategies have been exercised in this regard?


Even before the early 1990s, when the indigenous movement emerged as an important social and political actor, the Ecuadorian state began trying to mediate and incorporate indigenous demands and opposition. In 1988 for instance, one of the first acts of newly elected President Rodrigo Borja was to officialize bilingual education, give the bilingual education office a level of semi-autonomy, and put an indigenous linguist in charge. When indigenous protests of government policy continued, Borja acted surprised. The next administration established the Office of Indigenous Affairs. The populist government of Bucaram, which followed, maintained this office under direct control of the presidency and added the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs, with an extended focus to include other ethnic groups, specifically blacks. Appointed as minister was the then–vice-president of CONAIE, a Shuar with strong Amazonian backing. Black members of Bucaram's populist party were added as staff.17 It is with this government that the state strategy of incorporation and division became obvious.

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Although CONAIE maintained a strong opposition to the Ethnic Ministry and its structural and institutional presence, the fact that a recognized indigenous leader was at its head required vigilance; it also further aggravated inside/outside tensions. But it was not until the ethnic minister and others, including two Amazonian indigenous congressional representatives, were caught at CONAIE's national congress literally buying the votes of indigenous delegates with suitcases full of cash to secure the election of another Amazonian that the focus and impact of this strategy became clear.18 During his year-and-a-half reign, Bucaram succeeded not only in fomenting Amazonian-highland tensions within CONAIE but also in fostering the trend toward an ethnically divisive politics in which “difference” has made consolidated opposition virtually impossible. Moreover, by incorporating black politicians from his party who had no community base, he established a model of representation that has continued to hinder Afro unity and the formation of a national Afro-Ecuadorian organization.


The aim of the politics of incorporation and division of various governments during the 1990s was not simply to weaken the opposition but to debilitate it in order to insure the implementation of a neoliberal agenda. Through strategies of manipulation, co-optation, division, and control, the [End Page 79] state has demonstrated, especially in the last several years, a new tolerance and acceptance of diversity aimed at integrating differences within the dominant apparatus, controlling social conflict and assuring social stability.


One way to theoretically locate these political strategies is through the tensions and contingencies of the particular and the universal. Judith Butler (2000, 165) reminds us that if hegemony is to work, the particular must come to represent something other than itself. As she explains,


The particular, which constitutes only one part or sector of the sociopolitical field, nevertheless comes to represent the universal, which means that the possibility for the principles of equality and justice that define the political field within a nominally democratic context seems now to depend upon the actualization of the goals of the “particular” sector. It is not the case that the particular now postures as the universal, usurping the universal in its name, but that the universal comes to be regarded as insubstantial unless the claims of the particular are included within its purview. (166)


In the case I am describing here, the particular represented by the indigenous movement claims a broader universal of struggle (against the neoliberal project and for equality, justice, and self-determination), a universal that because of particularized and ethnically divisive politics sometimes appears shadowed. But the appropriation of the particular and its claim to the universal is not solely the purview of the indigenous movement; it is also used by the state itself, though of course with a different kind of universality. Moreover, the assumption in its use by the state is that universality precedes or is anterior to particular claims and is the centralizing force to integrate differences and dissolve their conflictive character. Rather than discount particularisms as it has done in the past, the state and neoliberal project recognizes them, gives them space within geopolitics, and simultaneously incorporates them into a universal that has reinvented itself. With the particular within its purview, this dominant universal becomes part and parcel of the transnational neoliberal agenda and, as I later discuss, of the cultural logic of globalized capitalism.


The play between the particular and the universal are particularly clear in the present government's tactics with regards to the indigenous movement and the movement's own complicities through participation, tactics that also demonstrate the present-day nature of the coloniality of [End Page 80] power. One example is President Gustavo Noboa's recent distribution of picks, shovels, and other basic agricultural tools to highland indigenous communities with the support of some indigenous institutions. With the rate of rural poverty currently estimated by indigenous organizations to be at 95 percent, this particularized “micro” project serves as a smoke screen for the real universal needs and realities as well as for the government's complicity and responsibility in the economic crisis. But do such practices not also seem to resurrect a paternalistic colonial project and order? Concurrently, the “macro” project of the Fondo Indígena, a new state structure that, between support from the Inter-American Development Bank and the national government, will channel at least $12 million to indigenous projects,19 affords a strong financial incentive to the movement and its leadership to work with rather than against the state machine and in alliance with multilateral institutions. These days, “national” politics clearly have global designs.


Ecuador is one of the few countries in Latin America where social movements have until now been successful in blocking implementation of the neoliberal agenda, known in other terms as privatization and state structural reform. But in order to sustain the dollarization of the Ecuadorian economy, which began in 2000 (Ecuador is now the world's only “free” country other than the United States and Panama where the U.S. dollar is the national currency), the government needs to rapidly implement a series of economic measures aimed at privatizating the public sector and transferring resources from the state to private companies. With this in mind, the government presented an initiative to Congress that would have reformed twenty-two laws and jump-started the privatization not just of state enterprises like mining, oil, water, and electricity but also of public spaces, including beaches, parks, and waterways. But before the bill could be approved, the indigenous movement, in conjunction with the social movements' coordinating council, undertook a series of consultations and developed a counterproposal demonstrating the unconstitutionality of the proposed law. The Supreme Court used this document to study the legislation and subsequently declared various articles to be unconstitutional, thus halting the planned privatization, at least for the moment. CONAIE's actions—another new form for them of doing politics—challenged the state, restricting its space of political action, putting its legitimacy into question, and blocking the neoliberal agenda (ICCI 2000b).20 For the present government and for the neoliberal project in general, the political cost of this kind of opposition could not be greater. Furthermore, with Ecuador's [End Page 81] involvement in Plan Colombia, the ever-growing U.S. presence in the military base in Manta, and the militarization of indigenous communities on the border, the need to control the “indigenous problem” and to keep the social movements divided is paramount not just for state but also for international interests.21


The “Multiculturalization” of Global Capitalism


Characteristic of the last decade in Ecuador, as in other countries of the region, is the state's recognition of and attempt to incorporate cultural diversity, specifically the oppositional politics expressed in terms of colonial difference, into the state institution. Part of this recognition has included the legislation of indigenous rights and, in Ecuador, of rights for Afro-Ecuadorians. But as Héctor Díaz Polanco (1998, 5) notes, such recognition limits the sphere of change to the ethnic particularity (a kind of cultural relativism) that “supposedly can be achieved without substantial transformations to the nation-state.” This phenomenon of recognizing diversity, incorporating it inside the state apparatus while at the same time promoting it as a set of particularisms external to the state, is representative of the new forms of universality advanced by the discourse and politics of neoliberal globalization.


The World Bank's establishment in 199122 of an operational directive regarding indigenous peoples, its financing of projects like Prodepine (the first in the world where the bank's funds go directly to an institution run by indigenous organizations instead of being filtered through a government) and the Interamerican Bank's recent support of the Fondo Indígena are illustrative of this neoliberal multiculturalism. As both banks support indigenous initiatives, they also advise and provide support for the national government's implementation of neoliberal policies. Similarly, transnational oil corporations now negotiate directly with local indigenous communities, hire sociologists and anthropologists to assist with community relations, and design manuals for oil workers about local customs that outline strategies for establishing amicable relations. They also fund bilingual education programs (see Walsh 1994) and, in media ads, declare their cultural sensitivity and concern for the environment. Of course, there is a correspondence between these cultural politics and the economic interests of multilateral institutions, transnational corporations, and the state.


Slavoj Zizek (1997) is not alone in arguing that there is a multicultural logic embedded in today's global capitalism that incorporates difference while at the same time voiding it of real significance. For Zizek, the [End Page 82] emphasis placed on tolerance, human rights, and democracy permits “each specific ‘life-style' to flourish in its particularity”; tension inevitably results between the postmodern and postnational state and the earlier “concrete universality” of the nation-state (41).


While the predominant social form of the “concrete universal” continues to be the nation-state because that is what local populations can more easily target and see, the state and nation are component parts of a now globalized society—a broader universal—where the particular and the universal assume contingent and hegemonic functions, and where the post/transnational market economy reigns. In order to insure that this economy functions, it becomes imperative to work with the particularisms, that is, with local governments and populations, and with the colonial differences posited within (of course made benign by their incorporation inside the state-trans-territorial apparatus). The recognition of and respect for cultural diversity, in this sense, becomes a central component of global capitalism, or what Quijano (1999, 101) refers to as “its other face,” the new model of postmodern cultural domination (Jameson 1996).


This cultural logic of global capitalism comes to serve as a modern-day form of colonization that obfuscates and at the same time maintains the colonial difference through the discursive rhetoric of multiculturalism. In the same way that global capitalism involves the paradox of colonization without the colonizing metropolis of the nation-state, this rhetoric treats “each local culture the way the colonizer treats colonized people—as ‘natives' whose mores are to be carefully studies and ‘respected'” (Zizek 1997, 44), all the while maintaining a Eurocentric distance. As such, multiculturalism establishes a relationship with Western cultural imperialism that is exactly the same as the one between the self-colonization of global capitalism and traditional imperialist colonialism.


It is these patterns of patronization that, along with strategies of mediation and incorporation, define the new cultural logic of state-neoliberal politics toward indigenous groups in Ecuador and the region as a whole. The official discourses of pluriculturalism assume a fundamental value in the new order, attempting to control the particular by converting differences into identities that can be integrated into the globalized, neoliberal all-world order. This integration is not aimed at creating more egalitarian societies but rather at controlling social conflict and insuring social stability, all in order to push forward the model of accumulation.


However, as Dipesh Chakrabarty (1998, 108) notes, the politics of ethnicity and of being human have contextual and cultural differences. [End Page 83] The imaginaries of cultural diversity constructed by postnational and postmodern states and neoliberal globalization in so-called first world countries are not the same as those constructed in the (post)coloniality of the South. Neither do they function under the same logic, practices, or universalities. That is to say, despite the operation of, and national complicities with, a neoliberal-global multiculturalism, there are Latin American specificities and particularities—including the history and subjectivity geopolitically inscribed in the coloniality of power, and the colonial difference and the resistances of subaltern groups—that authors like Zizek do not consider.


The Ecuadorian state, for example, uses a discourse and practice in relation to indigenous peoples that is sanctioned and supported by the multilaterals. However, the political and epistemic agency of the indigenous movement, and its unpredictability from the perspective of the dominant logic, constantly disturbs and destabilizes this discourse and practice. By identifying as pueblos y nacionalidades with collective rights (and not as individual subjects) and from the position of their cultural and epistemic difference, and by proposing other conceptions of nation and democracy for the whole of society, the indigenous movement upsets the multicultural logic of global capitalism, a logic that derives from the notion of ethnic-cultural diversity and not from colonial-cultural-epistemic difference. Moreover, the fact that interculturality was an indigenous political proposition long before the state inscribed it in the 1998 Constitution (see Walsh 1999) places the discursive and practical meanings of the term, as well as those of official pluriculturalism, in permanent conflict and contradiction. It is largely for this reason that the marketization of difference and the large-scale application of neoliberalism have not yet been achieved in Ecuador.


However, in the case of Ecuador and particularly in light of the new politics of transnational corporations and of transterritorial interventions like Plan Colombia, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and dollarization, it is global capitalism, with its often hidden cultural logic and strategies, that is the real adversary, not just of the indigenous movement, but of all social movements, of civil society, and of those who identify as critical and committed intellectuals. The crucial question remains of how to conceptualize this “it,” and how to effectively organize and direct opposition. [End Page 84]


The (Re)production/Subalternization of Knowledges, the University, and Critical Intellectuals


The fluid relation of culture-identity-politics seen in Ecuador's indigenous movement and the production and use of knowledge in this relation remain largely outside the confines of academic institutions. When the indigenous movement is discussed, it is as an object of study, part of the incessant need to examine the other not as a source of knowledge but as an objectivized condition or reality. In a practice typical of modernist tendencies within the social sciences, disembodied professors and students embark on studies that split the subject from the object of knowledge and negate the social processes that construct both, thus contributing to the “disciplining” of subjectivity (Rabasa and Sanjinés 1996 [1994]) that I have already mentioned. As Castro-Gómez (2000) makes clear, such tendencies are a constituent part of the epistemological posture of universalism that within the academic institution continues to define what counts as knowledge and which individuals produce it.


Not only is this traditional understanding prevalent in Ecuadorian institutions of higher learning but, worse yet, the gaze is directed toward theories and processes of analysis that have their roots in the global North; the epistemological concerns, knowledge production, and geocultural realities of the South are seldom central elements of the curriculum or serious considerations within it. Zulma Palermo (2001, 94) refers to this as the reproduction of knowledge and the negation of the social “real”: “Read in the classrooms are Foucault and Deleuze (until recently it was Barthes and Kristeva) and their theories of discursive power, while in the streets, Senate corruption and the decomposition of political power are the focus of talk, questions that the students are barely informed about and that as researchers we have no proximity to.”


This is not to suggest that we reject theoretical knowledge, particularly the kind produced in the global North, or deny that the conceptual categories presented in this work may have a universal use. Nor do I mean to suggest or promote a divide between theory and practice. Rather I suggest that we recognize the hegemonic nature of knowledge (re)production, dissemination, and use, the hierarchies that it constructs, and the geocultural subalternization of knowledge (including local versus global) that it establishes.


In response to the colonial and geocultural subalternization of knowledge, and in an effort to extend their agency beyond the realm of [End Page 85] oppositional politics (integrating this politics in a more explicit and organized way with a strategic knowledge production and dissemination), the indigenous movement inaugurated in 2000 the Universidad Intercultural de las Nacionalidades y Pueblos Indígenas (UINPI). As the Instituto Científico de Culturas Indígenas (ICCI) notes in its description, the university is “part of the political project of the indigenous movement,” with a specific focus on “scientific research, academic teaching, and technical preparation” (ICCI 2000a, 5).23


[The Intercultural University] is not about producing one more institution to replicate the existing relations of power in a society in which indigenous people have not been a circumstantial or formal aspect of the curriculum. Neither is it about inventing a space of knowledge reserved just for indigenous people in which the fundamental contents are merely disguised as indigenous, and the criteria of truth and power are reproduced. The creation of the Intercultural University does not signify the division of science into what is indigenous and what is not. It signifies the opportunity to embark on a theoretical dialogue grounded in interculturality. It signifies the construction of new conceptual, analytical, and theoretical frameworks that can generate new concepts, categories, and notions under the framework of interculturality and the comprehension of alterity. (6–7)


This proposal reflects the need to foster processes of mutual translation of knowledges in the plural (Vera Herrera 1997). Yet as the Intercultural University project implies, the object is not to mix or hybridize knowledge forms nor invent the best of two possible worlds. Rather, the university represents the construction of new epistemological frameworks that incorporate and negotiate both indigenous and Westernized knowledges (and their theoretical as well as experiential bases), consistently maintaining as fundamental the coloniality of power and the colonial difference to which these knowledges have been subject.


For the UINPI, the positioning of interculturality as a new epistemic paradigm implies the articulation of five elements or visions central to indigenous epistemology, elements that recall the relation of culture-identity-politics and knowledge which I have already mentioned. The first is the vision of conflict. This includes the construction and valuation of [End Page 86] indigenous peoples through uprisings and mobilizations, dialogues, and confrontations with the dominant power. It also includes a consideration of the role of uprisings in validating indigenous demands and proposals. The second element is tied to the development of indigenous languages and their potential in terms of knowledge production. The third has to do with valuing cultural as well as epistemic difference, positioning of indigenous peoples as subjects and creators of knowledge, not as objects of study. The fourth vision is the strengthening of cultural identity as a continuous process of construction that confronts the multiple processes of colonization. The fifth is the epistemic or scientific interculturality that references the interrelation of aboriginal knowledges with the knowledges of “universal” cultures. These five elements form the base of the curriculum (Ramírez 2001).


As a political and epistemic project of the indigenous movement, the UINPI challenges academic-institutional enclosures and epistemological borders that are always crossed by power relations and that limit study to the confines of occidental-universal-liberal knowledge. By recognizing epistemic diversity, by working with it and at the same time recognizing and confronting epistemic-colonial violence, the UINPI creates a strategic model of struggle and of education. This model allows political subjectivities and colonial difference to be (re)articulated, and knowledge to be politically problematized. What does this suggest in terms of the relationship between social movements, subaltern groups, and universities, and in terms of our own work and responsibility as critical and committed intellectuals?


In Ecuador and in other Andean countries, a drastic and growing divide separates those who have access to a university education, and/or the means and support to complete it, from those who do not. Although a scholarship program financed by Prodepine through the World Bank has enabled a number of indigenous and Afro-descendent students to study at the undergraduate level, incompletion rates are inordinately high. Students frequently complain that the curriculum, the pedagogical and epistemic approach, and the attitude of faculty continually exclude them. The result is that the voices, epistemologies, histories, and subjectivities of indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples are generally absent from the university and academic world, left to be interpreted by others. The development of a higher education institution within the indigenous movement is a positive response, but this should not free other institutions from their responsibility to address these issues nor should it pardon the epistemic-colonial violence [End Page 87] that continues to characterize these institutions. The challenge established by the indigenous movement needs to be assumed by other universities as well as by society. But again, cultural difference should not simply be incorporated into dominant, standing structures, in a kind of affirmative action that affords entry but not access; instead these structures (including the social sciences) should be (re)negotiated, (re)structured, and “(in)disciplined” so as to enable a “transplurality” and interculturalization that attends to the meanings and specificities of in-between spaces, contact zones, and border epistemologies (Bhabha 1994; Pratt 1997 [1992]; Mignolo 2000a). This restructuring should promote thinking that comes, as Mignolo (2000b, 8) suggests, “from an other place,” a place from which it is possible to construct interculturality not as a liberal project of cultural diversity but as colonial-cultural-epistemic difference.


And what about the more fundamental concerns of our own individual and collective locations, subjectivities, and responsibilities in relation to the geopolitics of knowledge? At the very least, such concerns require a recognition that these locations, subjectivities, and responsibilities exist and play an important role in our work within the academy, with students, and in relation to one another. Such concerns should push us to build new types of academic relationships and dialogue between North and South, South and North, and within the South. Similarly, they should encourage us to construct transdisciplinary spaces within the social sciences, spaces that derive from the present-day reality of the Andean region, and permit the construction of new spaces of confluence of critical knowledge—disciplinary, situated, local, and global. These spaces should promote epistemological practices not just “from” but “among” and “within,” practices of articulation that simultaneously break the division of subject/object and disturb the modernist project that disciplines subjectivity. They should engender a more critical attention to global capitalism and to the peculiar way the Andean countries are inserted within it. Finally, recognizing this peculiarity should make us move from the comfortable physical and epistemological space and place of the university so that we can traverse and pursue other sites of knowledge production, not just to expand academic knowledge but, more important, to build strategies, perspectives, and analysis directed toward the grave injustices and problems confronting the region, continent, and the planet—strategies, perspectives, and analysis that will allow us to unmask and confront the power of neoliberalism and global capitalism and the multiple layers of imperial and colonial practice. [End Page 88]


The production of knowledge and the decolonization and transformation of the world in which we live are not necessarily distinct tasks; they need not be accomplished by individual and separate actors. Nor do academics own or hold authority over one mission, with social and political movements responsible for the other. In a reflective world, we are all producers of knowledge (Giddens 2000). And for us to unmask and confront the complexities and threats that neoliberalism and global capitalism pose within the modern/colonial order, for us to imagine and construct a social structure radically different, collective knowledge, collective analysis, and collective action are essential. The words of a Mexican Huichol shaman (cited in Vera Herrera 1997, 81) seem appropriate in closing:


Juntar los momentos en un solo corazón, un corazón de todos, nos hará sabios, un poquito más para enfrentar lo que venga. Sólo entre todos sabemos todo.


[To bring together the moments in one single heart, a heart of everyone, will make us knowledgeable, a bit more than we are now in order to confront what may come. Only among all of us together do we know everything.]





Catherine E. Walsh is director of the Doctoral Program in Latin American Cultural Studies, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Quito, Ecuador.



The stimulus for this text came from dialogues initiated at the workshop “Knowledges and the Known,” Duke University, Durham, NC, November 2000. I wish to thank Walter Mignolo for his invitation to participate in this workshop and he and Freya Schiwy for the subsequent comments that they offered on an earlier version of this article.


1. For a discussion on the geopolitics of knowledge in relation to Latin America, see the special issue of Comentario internacional (Quito: Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar), no. 2 (2001), which includes my interview with Mignolo (Walsh 2001a) and a partial dossier of the “Knowledges and the Known” workshop.


2. I use the notion of “identity politics” here in much the same way as does Charles Hale (1997), that is, as the “collective sensibilities and actions that come from a particular location within society, in direct defiance of universal categories that tend to subsume, erase, or suppress this particularity” (568) and as “a generalized idiom through which groups engage in politics with one another, the state, and other powerful adversaries” (572).


3. For an important and critical discussion of the category of “class” and the current trend to make it one more link in an enumerative chain of identities associated with the new social movements, see Laclau 2000.


4. While the indigenous and Afro movements may not speak of colonial difference or a coloniality of power as such, the sociohistorical past and present of domination, marginalization, racism, and exclusion serve as clear referents and reasons for organization and struggle.


5. Ethnoeducation is the term used in Colombia to refer to indigenous bilingual programs and, with the passing of Colombia's Law 70, to Afro-centered education. In the Andean region, the idea of Afro ethnoeducation has begun to spread. In Ecuador, for example, there are initial experiences at the community level that have been shared with both Peru and Colombia. Within the Afro Workshop—a permanent space for dialogue and debate with Afro communities and other members of civil society—coordinated by the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in conjunction with Afro organizations, these experiences are being socialized and discussions initiated regarding national educational policy.


It is important to note that constitutional reforms, while often fought for by these social movements, are not necessarily the sole result of their struggles, nor do they necessarily suggest a new openness or sensitivity by governments to their interests and demands. Rather, as I discuss later, the new official attention to diversity in the region also reflects global, neoliberal interests.


6. This is in contrast to Peru, for example, where the construction of a “cholo” identity during the period from the Second World War until the 1970s (see Quijano 1999), and newer constructions of a cultura chicha among migrants during the last thirty years, suggest creative and positive processes of what Quijano calls “subversion and reoriginalization.”


7. The media has played a particularly crucial role in constructing representations of the indigenous other. This was made particularly evident during the events of 21 January 2000. For example, isolated incidents of Indians harassing white-mestizos (e.g., pulling a white-mestizo man by the necktie and making him dance) were displayed prominently, as if they were widespread occurrences. These images shared the screen with interviews of right-wing politicians and ex-presidents, who decried the notion of an Indian president (see Walsh 2001b).


8. I am grateful to Freya Schiwy for pointing this out to me.


9. In fact, the modern-day notion of the intellectual is also distinct. The formation of an indigenous intellectual class comprised of lawyers, social scientists, medical doctors, agronomists, and other “professionals” mostly trained outside the country (e.g., in Cuba and the Soviet Union) incorporates within it yachags or shamans and other recognized leaders and elders. Yet the authority of these so-called intellectuals does not come from knowledge per se, individually held and administered, but from the recognition bestowed by the communities themselves through praxis, including a constant give-and-take that results in new knowledge generation.


10. In the most recent elections, in May 2000, Pachakutik finished third in terms of seats won. Elected from its ranks were more than 30 indigenous mayors, 5 indigenous provincial prefects (out of a national total of 22), and a large number of town councilors. Pachakutik also took 60 percent of the seats on parochial juntas (Walsh 2001b).


11. Although there was an initial agreement for autonomy, in the final presidential decree that officialized the institution, the word autonomy did not appear. As a result, the government has had control over the appointment of the executive secretary (i.e., director). And while the governance council of the institution is made up of indigenous representatives, a government representative chairs and presides over this council.


12. The distinction and relation between politics and the political is particularly important in the context of the South, where the notion of a Western territorial state does not quite fit and where the coloniality of power, with its impositions, logics, and effects, violates the bond between national sovereignty and the constitution of societal being (Slater 1997).


13. The response by blacks to this exclusion has been to petition for their own governmental institution. CODAE, the Council for the Development of Afro-Ecuadorians, was recently approved, but it has been the subject of considerable discussion and debate within the Afro community, much of this centered on concerns about representation.


14. These territorial concerns are tied to the collective rights established in the 1998 Constitution, which permit the development and legalization of “territorial circumscriptions” for both indigenous and black groups, similar to the resguardos indígenas in Colombia or the notion of reservations in the United States. The circumscriptions establish autonomy, self-governance, and legal authority within a defined geographical space under the jurisdiction of one ethnic group, for example, Afro-Ecuadorians, or, in the case of Indians, a recognized indigenous nationality, or, for Quichua highland groups, a particular pueblo or peoples (e.g., Cayambes, Otavalos, Saraguros, etc.). But in contrast to Colombia or the United States, these circumscriptions present a major challenge to the territoriality of the state because they could conceivably occupy the majority of “national” territory.


15. For a discussion of the elements involved in an internal evaluation of the movement, see Macas 2000.


16. For a discussion of similar processes among the Zapatistas that imbricate the local, regional, and global, see Slater 1998.


17. The strong regional conflicts in the country played a major role in Bucaram's strategies. One of these traditional conflicts has been between Amazonian and highland indigenous groups, particularly in terms of power within the movement and its organizations. CONAIE until this time had a strong base of highland control. By putting an Amazonian in charge of the ministry, Bucaram succeeded almost immediately in gaining Amazonian support and in wresting some of the Amazonian organizations away from CONAIE. But as the first president from the coast in almost a decade and as the leader of a coastal-based populist party strongly allied with coastal economic interests, Bucaram also used the coastal-highland conflict to his advantage. His populist message and approach aimed at constructing an image of a president “of the people,” affording a supposed representation to those sectors previously excluded from national government, including the poor, indigenous people, and blacks.


18. The Amazonian candidate, Antonio Vargas, won the election. From 1996 to October 2001, Vargas served as the president of CONAIE. He was also the indigenous member of the triumvirate that attempted to assume the presidency in the popular rebellion of January 2000. As a result of demands and internal evaluations within the movement, Vargas and the rest of the leadership of CONAIE agreed to leave their positions in March 2001 without possibility of reelection. However, after the successes of the February 2001 uprising, their resignation was put off until October. Contributing to the tension between Vargas and the movement is his announced interest in becoming a candidate for the presidency of the Republic.


19. This sum is expected to increase with the inclusion of royalty payments on certain products.


20. Although the indigenous movement continues to develop an oppositional agenda, neither it nor any other social movement has offered alternative proposals. In this regard, the threat the opposition presents is just that, opposition without concrete substance.


21. Adding to this concern and particularly impacting indigenous communities was, initially, the aerial spray-testing of bacteria-based fungi, and more recently, the aerial spraying of glisofate, designed to kill coca crops but obviously affecting all forms of plant (and possibly human) life. Recent investigative reports indicate that at least six thousand peasants and indigenous people have been seriously affected, both with health problems and the destruction of their crops. This “damnification that has arrived from the heavens,” as the people call it, continues to be the denied by the Ecuadorian government and is the source of major current debates among the governments of Ecuador, Colombia, and the United States, as well as ecological and nongovernment entities.


22. In 1998, the World Bank began a revision, now in its final stage, of its policy toward indigenous peoples. Between March and June 2001 a series of new drafts of operational policies, procedures, and strategies was circulated, directed at “securing the process of development.”


23. While the design and development of the university is the work of the Ecuadorian indigenous movement, transnational networks of support from indigenous universities elsewhere and from U.S., Canadian, and European institutions of higher education have helped make it a reality, including in terms of legal operation. The rector of the university is Luis Macas, a lawyer, former president of CONAIE, and former member of the Ecuadorian national congress.




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