Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Quest for Self-Determination

Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Quest for Self-Determination

Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Quest for Self-Determination

Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Quest for Self-Determination


"An important book first for its critical history of indigenista policies in Latin America and the limits these policies placed on social autonomy; and second for its examination of the development of indigenous autonomy, particularly in Nicaragua. Argues that autonomy is no panacea; rather, it is one possibility given current social, economic, and political processes"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 57.


In previous works I have dealt with various theoretical problems associated with the ethnic-national question and the complexity of its contribution to the structure of society. Throughout these essays I have emphasized the vital political issues arising from the pluralism of the majority of Latin American nations. From that perspective, I have emphasized a theme that seems of the utmost importance for the future of these countries: the challenges and difficulties of solving the problem of sociocultural inequality and achieving national democracy in the historical context of an enduring colonial legacy and a subsequent period of independence in which insensitivity to diversity persists.

This work examines a sociopolitical policy that in various national contexts has proven to be the most appropriate way of resolving the conflicts and ameliorating the conditions of oppression, discrimination, and inequality that go hand in hand with ethnic-national heterogeneity in Latin American social life. I will call this policy regional autonomy. My analysis focuses on indigenous ethnic groups, but it will be evident that many of the questions presented here are also applicable to other collectivities that have their own identities, such as the black and criollo communities, that abound in the region.

The history of the Latin American peoples involves policies explicitly aimed at denying rights to communities considered inferior and incapable of handling their own affairs precisely because they are socioculturally different from the dominant groups. Underlying this characterization of their difference is the intention of depleting their resources, exploiting their labor forces, and dominating them ideologically and politically. Hence, the various class concerns that began to take shape from the very first contact of the European invaders with the aboriginal peoples of America presume the exclusion of any possibility of selfdetermination for these indigenous ethnic groups, thereby placing them in a subordinate position.

In the first section I examine the main features of the historical conditions under which indigenist policies were established as a denial of any kind of autonomy for the various groups with identities of their own.

Indigenous peoples continue to be an important part of the population of many countries in Latin America despite the coordinated action and the more subtle divisive forces that for centuries have operated to make these ethnic groups . . .

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