Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador′s Modern Indigenous Movements

Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador′s Modern Indigenous Movements

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 24 b&w photos, 1 map Published: August 2008

Author: Marc Becker

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Central America

In June 1990, Indigenous peoples shocked Ecuadorian elites with a powerful uprising that paralyzed the country for a week. Militants insisted that the government address Indigenous demands for land ownership, education, and economic development. This uprising was a milestone in the history of Ecuador’s social justice movements, and it inspired popular organizing efforts across Latin America. While the insurrection seemed to come out of nowhere, Marc Becker demonstrates that it emerged out of years of organizing and developing strategies to advance Indigenous rights. In this richly documented account, he chronicles a long history of Indigenous political activism in Ecuador, from the creation of the first local agricultural syndicates in the 1920s through the galvanizing protests of 1990. In so doing, he reveals the central role of women in Indigenous movements and the history of productive collaborations between rural Indigenous activists and urban leftist intellectuals.

Becker explains how rural laborers and urban activists worked together in Ecuador, merging ethnic and class-based struggles for social justice. Socialists were often the first to defend Indigenous languages, cultures, and social organizations. They introduced rural activists to new tactics, including demonstrations and strikes. Drawing on leftist influences, Indigenous peoples became adept at reacting to immediate, local forms of exploitation while at the same time addressing broader underlying structural inequities. Through an examination of strike activity in the 1930s, the establishment of a national-level Ecuadorian Federation of Indians in 1944, and agitation for agrarian reform in the 1960s, Becker shows that the history of Indigenous mobilizations in Ecuador is longer and deeper than many contemporary observers have recognized.


Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements corrects numerous misconceptions about indigenous movements in Ecuador that are likely to be relevant to understanding experiences in neighboring countries. It is the most comprehensive and insightful narrative available of the development of relations between an important indigenous movement and the political left. The book also fills a gap in our understanding of the historic role of indigenous women in the success of indigenous mobilisations in Ecuador.” — Donna Lee Van Cott, Journal of Latin American Studies

Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements is a rigorously researched and nuanced exploration of the history of indigenous-leftist collaborations in 20th-century Ecuador. . . . based on meticulous archival research, the study of national, indigenous and leftist presses, and thoughtful interviews with Native leaders.” — Joanne Rappaport, Against the Current

Indians and Leftists is a thoroughly researched text and Becker’s knowledge of the history of Ecuador’s Indigenous movements is deftly demonstrated. Becker presents a great deal of new documentary evidence that is a much needed addition to the currently available scholarship on Indigenous movements in Ecuador. Becker’s text provides a new perspective on Ecuador’s Indigenous movements and it is sure to be the subject of much debate. Indians and Leftists is a valuable addition to the growing body of research pertaining to Latin American Indigenous movements and it is a must-have for scholars with an interest in Ecuador.” — Daniel Bauer, The Latin Americanist

“[A] clear, persuasive, and brilliantly written history, based on exhaustive documentation and his direct experience in Ecuador.” — Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Monthly Review

“Provides a vital perspective on the role of left ideology and individual leftists in these movements, displacing many false assumptions, even if it is unwilling to fully explore their failings. This text is a fine complement to studies of Ecuador’s more recent indigenous upsurge, and would fit well in graduate and undergraduate courses on Ecuador, the Andes, multiculturalism, indigenous politics, and especially the internal life of social movements.” — Carwil James, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“[T]he most comprehensive and insightful narrative available of the development of relations between a Latin American indigenous movement and the political Left. . . . Highly recommended.” — D.L. Van Cott, Choice

“Becker effectively demonstrates that CONAIE’s activities represent a century long history of political activism. . . . Becker provides a strong argument, amidst a growing body of scholars. . . . [T]he most exciting aspect of this book is Becker’s exploration and historical examination of the role of Indigenous women leaders within the movement.” — Patricia Harms, Canadian Journal of Native Studies

“Becker provides a detailed history of indigenous political organization back to the early twentieth century and documents the complex, two-way relationship between indigenous leaders and the national left.” — John A. Peeler, Latin American Research Review

Indians and Leftists is an important book that not only challenges prevailing understandings of Ecuador’s Indigenous movement, but also provides important methodological insights for those who rely on written history to make sense out of contemporary politics.” — John Cameron, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“It is certainly a book that makes important contributions to a series of conversations about the indigenous political movements in Ecuador, and in the Andes more generally. . . . As I am not a specialist of Indigenous political movements, I found the book to be very informative. It should be useful in graduate seminars on Latin American contemporary politics, and related issues, because of the evidence it uses and the discussions it engages in.” — Jean Muteba Rahier, EIAL

“Scholars from diverse disciplines will appreciate the book’s vivid attention to individual activists as well as its broad scope. . . . Indians and Leftists provides an important new perspective on this history by revealing crucial connections between rural indigenous movements and the urban left.” — Laura Gotkowitz, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This book is unparalleled as a case study in the history of twentieth century Ecuador, and will doubtless be greeted with intense enthusiasm by specialists in the region. However, the scope of Becker’s arguments and insight means that it will also be required reading for anyone interested in peasant activism, in Latin America, and far beyond.” — Nicola Foote, A Contracorriente

“This is a meticulous work that fills a void in our understanding of recent Ecuadorean history and, more generally, the history of the Andean world. A meticulous work that, in addition, has the virtue of paving the way to an inescapable debate about citizenship, its creation in Andean countries, and the intricate ways by which groups historically considered ethnically inferior and subordinate reach social representation.” — Víctor Breton Solo de Zaldívar, International Review of Social History

“What stands out [in this book] is not only his employment of a variety of methods drawn from a multitude of social scientific disciplines—archival research, participant observation, interviews, and discourse analysis—but also his unwavering commitment to building an argument rather than unrolling a simple historical narrative.” — Kathleen S. Fine-Dare, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“In this timely contribution to Latin American history and the study of Indigenous South Americans, Marc Becker documents the long history of Indigenous political activism in Ecuador, reminding us that current events never spring into existence without historical precedent. The impressive amount of new documentary evidence he provides makes this a book that will be immediately read and discussed, and then debated for years to come.” — Mary Weismantel, author of Cholas and Pishtacos: Stories of Race and Sex in the Andes


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Marc Becker is Associate Professor of History at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. He is the author of Mariátegui and Latin American Marxist Theory and a co-editor of Highland Indians and the State in Modern Ecuador.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Chronology xiii

Acronyms xxiii

1. What Is an Indian? 1

2. Socialism 17

3. Strike! 50

4. Federacion Ecuatoriana de Indios 77

5. Guachala 105

6. Agrarian ReforM? 123

7. Return of the Indian 144

8. Pachakutik 166

Notes 195

Glossary 251

Biographies 255

Bibliography 261

Index 293
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4279-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4256-4
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