Ecuador: Beyond the Dollar Coup

Article excerpt

Globalization is fine, say Ecuador's indigenous leaders, as long as it allows us to preserve our traditional culture and begin talks with the North on a level playing field

Luis Macas is one of the most prominent leaders and thinkers in Ecuador's indigenous people's movement. Invariably dressed in the distinctively dark poncho and sombrero from his village of Saraguro, in the country's western highlands, he manages the Internet edition of a newsletter published by the Institute for the Knowledge of Indigenous Culture. Macas heads this Quito-based body, having served stints as president of the Confederation of Ecuador's Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) and as a national deputy for the Pachakutik movement.

The CONAIE and its political wing Pachakutik, which today has six deputies in the 123-seat unicameral Ecuadorian parliament, was one of the main groups involved in a popular uprising in January 2000 that shocked the world by seizing control of the government and parliament in Quito. Allied with a group of young military officers rebelling against corruption, the indigenous groups forced the then President Jamil Mahuad to resign and flee the country, though the insurgents failed to secure one of their main objectives: stopping a bid to dollarize the economy, which wiped out the national currency, the sucre, with the stroke of a pen.

Niches of Local power

For Luis Macas, a restored sense of identity is not only important for indigenous people, who make up a third of the country's 12 million people, but for Ecuadonan society as a whole. Once indigenous people complete their period of "self-definition" through struggles for land and preservation of their ancestral culture, Macas argues, "ethnic differences can be superseded" and political plans drafted for the whole society.

Macas places great hope in the niches of local power won by Ecuador's indigenous movement in May 2000, when they romped to victory in 27 town halls and five provincial districts out of 22--a totally unparalleled event in recent Latin American history.

According to Macas, success at the ballot box needs to be converted into better training for local indigenous leaders and greater democratic participation by communities: "there are two bases, the technical and the political, and we have to strengthen both," he declares.

One person who appears to carry off both technical and political roles with ineffable skill is Mariano Curicama. Mayor of the Guamote district in the province of Chimborazo, which houses over 133 indigenous communities, Curicama combines a long career as leader of his people's campaigns with an extraordinary managerial dynamism. "You'll never find me inside my office," he explains, "I'm always on the road." Re-elected twice since 1992, this Quechua from the country's central highlands who started work as a builder at the age of 17, has revolutionized his district, promoting public participation in local assemblies, and combining the minga--the Quechua people's traditional community work--with assistance from leading foreign organizations. …