The Ecuadorian Revolution

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Jan 27 11:54:48 MST 2000

The Socialist Appeal article has useful information, but everything I've
seen from the Marxist left on Ecuador tends to underestimate the importance
of the _indigenous_ character of the revolt. We should remind ourselves
that indigenous revolts, either directly or indirectly, have played key
roles in Central American and Latin American revolutions for over 25 years

1. Guatemala: The Guerrilla Army of the Poor reached out to Mayan peasants
in the 1980s while earlier guerrilla movements largely ignored them.

2. Chiapas: Perhaps learning from the experience of Guatemalan Indians who
had fled north to escape army repression, the Zapatistas have learned to
give the indigenous character of their revolt its proper due.

3. Peru: Although the Shining Path movement and its supporters on the
Internet speak incessantly about the class basis of this struggle, there is
little doubt that what gave it its peculiar intensity was the voice it gave
to Highland Indians who were the victims of racism for centuries.

4. Ecuador: The Indians in this country are descendants of the Incan
Empire, just like in Peru. The most important ethnic grouping is the
Quechua who have a potential for enormous self-sacrifice in pursuit of
social justice.

On the negative side:

1. Nicaragua: The Atlantic Coast Indians could have been powerful allies of
the revolution, but dogmatism and racism set them against it.

2. Colombia: In a scenario similar to Nicaragua, the forces of
counter-revolution are trying to use the Indians as a battering ram against
the guerrilla movement.

There is another important aspect to the Ecuador struggle. It will serve as
an inspiration to Indians from Argentina to the Arctic to fight for equal
rights. When a minority can shake up society the way it has in Ecuador, it
will very likely have the same ramifications as the Civil Rights and black
power movements had in the United States. This article from the NY Times
shows that our enemy understands the ramifications, even though the Nisga'a
treaty alluded to in the article was far less favorable to the Nisga'a than

NY Times August 30, 1998

Throughout the Americas, Natives Invoke the Law of the Land


Earlier this month, after initialing the first treaty that his people had
ever concluded with Canada's Government, Chief Joseph Gosnell Sr. held the
document over the seal whiskers of his regal headdress and shouted, "The
Nisga'a canoe has returned."

It was a reference to a trip to the white man's capital taken by his native
American ancestors a century ago, and it was a way of saying that the
Nisga'a's long journey for recognition within Canada was over. But the
Nisga'a in fact have a long way to go, and in that they are little
different from other native Americans in Canada, Mexico and the United
States. For the treaty, which gives the Nisga'a title to ancestral lands
and the right to govern what goes on there, still must be approved by
Nisga'a members, the legislature of British Columbia and the federal
Parliament. It has already raised objections from other Canadians about the
special rights it would give the Nisga'a.

In fact the Nisga'a experience illustrates how much, across all of North
America, the original problem that European settlers faced on their arrival
in the new world remains largely unresolved.

More than 500 years later, Indians continue to demand recognition that they
have special rights to live a special way of life by virtue of their having
been in North America first.

And this is more than a simple question of granting justice, as the native
Americans see it.

Even where the political will exists to grant such rights, governments and
courts struggle to reconcile the needs of Indian cultures with the concept
of equality in the constitutions of all three countries.

It is a little like the basic political problem with affirmative action
programs: While the central goal of righting past wrongs enjoys
considerable support, the formulas being put forward are under attack
because they seem to grant special privileges to some, but not all,
citizens. In Mexico, for example, Indians in the state of Chiapas have
taken up arms to force the government to recognize Indian autonomy, but
officials worry that doing so too broadly could give Indians rights not
available to other Mexicans.

And in the United States, tribes are testing the boundaries of their
sovereignty by exploiting their land in ways that might not be tolerated
off the reservations.


In the Canadian case, opponents object to the treaty because it would allow
elections limited by race. So they are preparing to challenge the
constitutionality of the Nisga'a treaty before the precedent is followed by
dozens of other Indian groups that are also clamoring for self-government.
Despite different histories and vastly unequal populations, these issues
all boil down to a demand to control Indian destiny by controlling Indian

"What makes Indians Indians is the dream of living on communally held
lands," said José Barreiro, associate director of the American Indian
Program at Cornell University, who has worked and studied Indian groups
across the American continent. "The issue of land is very, very strong in
all indigenous communities."

The issue of the land itself has been addressed, fairly or not, in treaties
or contracts signed over many years. Now the crux of controversy in all
three countries is the way Indians live on the land.

Although they travel in pick up trucks, wear jeans and use the Internet,
many Indians lead lives on their reserves and reservations that are
different from the societies around them.

The 2,500 Nisga'a who live on their traditional lands are divided into four
bands, which correspond to four villages. Patterns of leadership, land
tenancy and even marriage are determined to a large extent by participation
in the bands.

Some tribes have their own courts, their own methods of punishment and
their own preferred style of elections, which is not always democratic.
These patterns have persisted despite ferocious attempts at assimilation
through residential schools and laws that banned traditional ceremonies.


Over the last 30 years, the recognition of basic human rights around the
world has exposed injustices in the way Indians are treated. In the United
States, the civil rights movement focused attention on Indians, and
affirmative action gave a whole generation of Indian students access to
universities and law schools. That generation of lawyers is now testing the
limits of Indian sovereignty, and the fight for greater independence is
sometimes financed by tax-free revenues from gambling operations. In
Canada, the Government is still smarting from a violent confrontation
between soldiers and Mohawk Indians in 1990. A report by the Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples last year left no doubt about how badly
directed Canada's paternalistic handling of Indians had been. Recent court
decisions have upheld Indian claims and even the legal validity of Indian
oral histories.

In the United States, Indians in Utah, claiming sovereign powers, caused a
panic with their plan to accept nuclear waste.

In Mexico, where there are no reservations, the number of full-blooded
Indians is estimated to be around 10 million. Their poverty is as extreme
as their marginalization from the rest of society. Much of the current
tension can be traced to a constitutional amendment in 1992 that
essentially privatized Indian land, which until then had been held by the
community. The Government believed it was boosting Indian chances of
entering the modern economy but Indians have opposed the change. The
Zapatista uprising in Chiapas was based on issues of the land and Indian

In negotiations with the Zapatistas, accords acknowledging Indian autonomy
were reached in January, 1996. But the government recoiled at what the
negotiators had given away. It was particularly concerned that
acknowledging the rights of "the Indian people" as opposed to the more
limited concept of "Indian communities," infringed on the sovereignty of
Mexico and created two classes of Mexicans.

The Zapatistas prefer to see themselves as part of a global tribe of
Indians. "We have helped create, at the side of men and women in the five
continents, a great network," the Zapatista leader, Marcos, wrote in the
Indians' latest declaration from Chiapas, "a network that is fighting to
build a new world."

Louis Proyect

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