Millennial Ecuador: Critical Essays on Cultural Transformations and Social Dynamics

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Millennial Ecuador: Critical Essays Cultural Transformations

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780877458647
  • Publisher: University of Iowa Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2003
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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Millennial ECUADOR Critical Essays on Cultural Transformations and Social Dynamics
University of Iowa Press Copyright © 2003 University of Iowa Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87745-864-7

Chapter One Introduction


The world over, millenarian and revivalistic movements ... originate in periods when societies are in liminal transition between major orderings of social structural relations. -Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors Power is an instrument to complement what we are creating: democracy and a new Ecuador. -Antonio Vargas, "Nos Faltó Estrategia"

The coup of January 21, and the symbolism of respect for diversity that it condensed, epitomizes the drama that marks millennial Ecuador. At 10:00 a.m. Friday morning, January 21, 2000, on a signal from the national police, the armed forces guarding the empty Legislative Palace in Quito pulled back from the doorways and allowed a throng of thousands of indigenous and nonindigenous peoples to enter. As they waved the national flag and shouted "E-cua-dór! E-cua-dór! E-cua-dór!" people again parted to allow three emissaries of the new national power figures to enter and take center stage. One of these was Carlos Antonio Vargas Guatatuca, a Canelos Quichua indigenous man from the hamlet of Unión Base, just southeast of Puyo in the Amazonian region. Another was Colonel Lucio Edwin Gutiérrez Borbúa, a Quiteño originally from Tena, one of the heroes of the Cenepa Valley conflict in Amazonia from which Ecuador emerged victorious in 1995 in its sporadic armed conflict with neighboring Peru. The third, dressed in a well-appointed suit and tie, was the former supreme court judge Carlos Solórzano Constantini, a resident of Guayaquil.

Vargas voiced, loudly and clearly, words that were heard live on national television and ramified worldwide. "El pueblo está en poder" (The people are empowered). The three of them formed the Junta of National Salvation, joined hands with one another and with other indigenous and nonindigenous peoples, and led the assembled throng in the national anthem. Later, they joined hands again and recited the Lord's Prayer.

The coup itself came as no surprise. During the first year of his presidency, Jamil Mahuad Witt placed supreme confidence in the activities of prominent bankers, a group of distinguished gringos known as the Harvard Boys, and especially the officers and advisers of the International Monetary Fund. Mahuad brought the dignity of a master of arts degree in business administration from Harvard University and his experience as mayor of Quito to bear on the worsening economic situation of the republic. He championed the ideology of a neoliberal political economy, which, essentially, affirms that "the market" should dictate global economic activities within the sovereign state, as though any market could exist outside of a social and cultural context (e.g., Gudeman 1992, 2001:94-109). Mahuad relied heavily on the ideological trappings of modernity and neoliberal capital enterprise, and he gave those in charge of state and private banks free reign to wheel and deal with millions of dollars of entrusted capital. In the strong and hyperbolic words of Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff, one might say that Mahuad's image of the state turned to dimensions of "intensified magicalities and fetishes in order to heal fissures and breaches in the fabric of the polity" (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001b:36; also Palmié 2002).

The fetishes and magicalities that undergird and surround the reified image of a self-regulating "market" are embodied in the International Monetary Fund, theWorld Bank, the Groupof Paris, the Harvard Boys, and the national banking elite. The result of policies and practices during Mahuad's presidency exacerbated a currency crisis in which the sucre was devalued radically from a few thousand sucres per dollar to more than twenty-five thousand sucres per dollar. According to Vistazo magazine (2000:66) devaluation between January 1999 and January 2000 was 249 percent. Mahuad and his banking crews froze all bank accounts in order to dollarize the economy at twenty five thousand sucres per dollar. Within one year, people with capital lost 75 percent or more of their purchasing power.

Lest these comments and information lead readers to think that I write to condemn Ecuadorian banking and governmental officials as isolated pirates of the modern global economy, or to fix specific blame on one modern president, Mahuad, quite the opposite is the case. Ecuador at the end of the 1990s and into the 2000s may be seen as a globalized vortex of economic and political modernity (e.g., Hernández, Rodríguez, and Bejarano 2000). Its elected president in 2000 epitomized this global political-economic system. As such, Ecuador stands at one and the same time as a unique national system of the modern Americas and also as microcosm of cognate systems worldwide. It is essential, then, to look at Ecuador in its multifaceted particularities and to set its historical and emergent cultural systems in global dimensions.

Andrés Oppenheimer (2001), a distinguished Latin Americanist journalist for the Miami Herald, has written a devastating critique of U.S. banking, business, and governmental procedures that create a modern economic field sown with growing money for some and peppered with political-economic land mines for most others. To appreciate the degrees to which modern banking, financial, and business institutions may injure thousands of citizens to the enrichment of the very few, one need only glimpse the process of "Enronitis" (now a Spanish word) in the United States in 2002 and the activities of prominent banks (and bankers), some financial institutions, and some accounting practices vis-à-vis massive short-term profit. As Scott Burns, a syndicated business columnist for the Dallas Morning News, wrote on May 5, 2002, "In 10 fast years, the rawgreed of American executives has transformed us [the United States] from the most highly respected, well-regulated and robust market in the world into a New Economy banana republic." Mahuad and those he trusted fell victim to the New Economy and neoliberal ideology, and he paid the price of ouster and exile.

Steve Forbes visited Ecuador during the summer of 2001 and commented that "countries like Ecuador [that follow the policies and directives of the IMF] are like a hemophiliac turning to Dracula in search of aid" (Hoy, July 13, 2001). In his pithy, conservative manner, Forbes identifies the International Monetary Fund as the epitome of what Andean people call the pishtaco or ñakak, or carasiri, the foreign, white bogey man who renders and sells "indian fat" and sucks the blood of indigenous people. When confronted with certain realities, western capitalist metaphors resonate remarkably closely with those of indigenous South American people (see, e.g., Taussig 1986; Wachtel 1994; Orta in press; Whitten 2001; Uzendoski and Quiroga this volume; and especially Weismantel 2001).

In the spring of 1999, public figures suggested that Mahuad leave office (e.g., Mendoza Poveda 2001:49, 58), and by December 1999, elites and members of what is called the "political class" were calling for Mahuad to resign (e.g., Hernández, Rodriguez, and Bejarano 2000; Lucas 2000a, 2000b; Ponce 2000; Dieterich 2000; Mendoza Poveda 2001; Selmeski 2000; CONAIE 2000). Expresident Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea, the founder and leader of the Popular Democratic Party of which Mahuad was a prominent member, wrote a formal letter to him asking him to step out of office (see, e.g., Mendoza Poveda 2001:150). Word was rampant in Ecuador that a junta would be established to include one or two prominent military generals and a few of those prominent in the clase política. It was widely speculated that Hurtado would be a participating member of such a junta. All this reorganizing and speculating was based on the modern premise that the "ruling class" would, with the support of the military high brass, run the country for a while and sort out the carnage seemingly caused by what appeared to be extreme greed and corruption within the powerful and influential banking fraternity.

The surprise-a jarring one for many-was caused by the chiliastic forces unleashed primarily by indigenous people, but supported and perhaps abated well in advance by the military colonels and captains. Generals of the armed forces were in on agreements to overthrow Mahuad's government and, at first, seemed to be in collusion with the colonels, some of whom were in serious conversation with indigenous leaders. Ecuadorian social structure had changed radically. No longer could the republic be seen in terms of the stability suggested in Cultural Transformations, wherein the pendulum of power swung between elected governments and military coups and where the United States supported both (e.g., Agee 1975; Whitten 1981a; Kissinger 2001). Ecuador emerged in 2000 poised between radically different systems of governance; the military might support either system; and it might even support both. The United States, however, would no longer support a military coup with a grassroots uprising as its social and cultural base.

Millennial Ecuador and Persistent Modernity A Review of the Fin de Siècle

In 1979, after nine long years of military rule, the people of Ecuador overwhelmingly elected Jaime Roldós Aguilera as president and Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea as vice president, resoundingly defeating the military's own candidate, Sixto Durán Ballén (Whitten 1981c:776). Roldós believed that "only the clash of ideas can ignite the light of truth." 5 In his inaugural speech in the Legislative Palace, following the presidential elections overseen by the military, the newly elected President Roldós addressed the nation in Quichua. Recently enfranchised Quichua speakers of the Sierra had bloc-voted for him and they now heard him address them, as citizens, in runa shimi (human speech): "Kunan punchaka, mana pushaita japinchik" (Today we are no longer entrapped [as in the year past]), he began (Whitten 1981c:776-78, 795; El Comercio, August 11, 1979). Rudimentary though this speech was, in the opinion of many "experts" on the language, Roldós effectively communicated with perhaps one-third of the people of Ecuador in a way they never before had experienced. On August 10, the historical day of the shout for independence, they heard in their own language about new freedoms and ethnic liberation from the pinnacle of presidential power, the head and embodiment of el gobierno. A new civil society with millennial overtones was in the making.

One of the new president's first acts was to formally expel the personnel of the Summer Institute of Linguistics/Wycliffe Bible Translators. By so doing he complied with requests of Amazonian indigenous people and placed the onus of clear communications from Amazonia to governing Quito in the hands of Ecuadorian agencies, including nascent indigenous organizations. As Roldós continued to construct an administrative policy based on a plank of cultural diversity and awareness of oneness in diversity, his vice president began to speak publicly of a unified and central "cultural policy," reminiscent of that proclaimed earlier by the deposed nationalist military dictator, General Gonzalo Rodríguez Lara (Whitten 1976; Stutzman 1981; Whitten 1981c). The policy of blending or hybridization focused on what Hurtado called indomestizaje, an ideology of racialized and cultural mixing and ontology that stressed the rediscovery of "authentic" cultural roots and the "whitening" powers of Euro-American value and administrative orientations. Contemporary people classed as indio (Indian) and all people of black or dark complexion were excluded from the ideology of cultural mixing to enlighten. Immediately after the tragic death of Roldós on May 21, 1981, Hurtado became president.

Bit by escalating bit the people who spoke indigenous languages as first languages and those who identified with them by parentage or other persuasion increased their ranks and worked toward informal and formal modes of communication across lines that were often hostile and dangerous under the rules of racialized modernity. In 1989, Rodrigo Borja Cevallos of the Democratic Left Party became president and immediately put his first cousin (their mothers are sisters), Alfonso Calderón Cevallos, into Carondelet (the presidential palace, Ecuador's White House) as assessor of indigenous affairs. One of the first things that Calderón did was revise his book, now in its fifth edition, entitled Reflexión en las culturas orales (1987). This was a blueprint for indigenous resurgence to claim lands lost during the European conquest and colonial and republican rule.

In 1990 the first nationwide Levantamiento Indígena occurred (see, e.g., Almeida et al. 1992; Whitten 1996). In the aftermath of negotiation, a delegation of indigenous people from the Amazonian region met with President Borja in the special room at Carondelet reserved for meetings with diplomats. There, the people presented Borja with their document, which stated their needs and made some demands. The hubris of the document was taken entirely and exactly (the necessary changes having been made for specific localities) from Reflexión en las culturas orales.

Calderón and indigenous people had worked together on the document in the offices of CONFENIAE, which is just southeast of Puyo, abutting the small Canelos Quichua hamlet of Unión Base. Glaring at Antonio Vargas, who is from Unión Base, Borja asked, "¿Ima shuti tiangui?" (What's your name? Who are you?). Vargas answered in Quichua, since the president asked the question in his language, and began to state the positions of indigenous people of Amazonia. Borja abruptly cut him off and, on the national television network, went ballistic. With his long index finger raised and gesticulating, and his classical Spaniard countenance beamed at the entire nation, he lectured the people present and their families nationwide about the inappropriateness of their position. Borja's position on indigenous rights, on the one hand, and his regal but controlled fury at those who sought the promise of indigenous self-determination, on the other hand, call for critical interpretation. Mine goes like this: it is one thing for his cousin to take a "pro- Indian" stance in writing, but quite another for real indigenous people to ask for the same national concessions that the book recommends. The first position is literate, philosophically socialist-liberal, and redemptive; the second is indigenous, pragmatically socialist, and, consequently, dangerous and subversive to national sovereignty. The text or discourse of liberation, in other words, is interpreted according to its position in class-ethnic hierarchies as these reflect conflictive arenas, contrasting cultural paradigms, and enduring polarizations (e.g., Turner 1974).

When ideological polarizations such as blanco/indio exist, the text on one side of the contrast takes on the opposite meaning of that which it represents on the other. Following Victor Turner (1974), we could say that the text itself in its symbolic dimensions oscillates between the official (institutional) pole and the dynamic, agentive (orectic) pole of human discourse and social action. With this speech and its polarized (indigenous/nonindigenous, upper middle class/lower class) reception nationwide, the modern (institutional) and millennial (agentive) dynamics that continue to play out became publicly established.

In 1992, the March for Land and Life from Amazonia to Quito took place. Antonio Vargas was one of the leaders, and Borja was still president. Various officials including César Verduga Vélez, the minister of government (who fled to Mexico in 1997 after purloining the national reserve funds and is now director of the Latin American Association of Human Rights), took the necessary steps to eliminate the possibility of serious violence. The police and the military protected the marchers all the way from Puyo to Quito (Whitten, Whitten, and Chango, this volume). There, indigenous organizations of Amazonia received 1,115,574 hectares, with rights to be divided according to contemporary occupation of land, ancestral occupation of land, identity with nacionalidades, and allegiance to or membership in specific indigenous organizations.


Excerpted from Millennial ECUADOR by NORMAN E. WHITTEN, JR. Copyright © 2003 by University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Notes on Orthography, Pronunciation, and Acronymns
Preface and Acknowledgments
1 Introduction 1
2 The Modern Political Transformaton of the Secoya 46
3 Haunting the Present: Five Colonial Legacies for the New Millennium 75
4 The Catholic Church, Ritual, and Power in Salasaca 102
5 Purgatory, Protestantism, and Peonage: Napo Runa Evangelicals and the Domestication of the Masculine will 129
6 The Devil and Development in Esmeraldas: Cosmology as a System of Critical Thought 154
7 Return of the Yumbo: The Caminata from Amazonia to Andean Quito 184
8 Indigenous Destiny in Indigenous Hands 216
9 Actors and Artists from Amazonia and the Andes 242
10 Tigua Migrant Communities and the Possibilities for Autonomy among Urban Indigenas 275
11 Racist Stereotypes and the Embodiment of Blackness: Some Narratives of Female Sexuality in Quito 296
12 Mothers of the Patria: La Chola Cuencana and La Mama Negra 325
13 Epilogue 355
App General Information on Ecuador 375
Glossary 389
Contributors 399
Index 403
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2009

    Millenial Ecuador

    Best for students of the political system in Ecuador. Very knowledgeable author. Helpful to those visiting for extended stays or interested in more than just the traditional tourist spots.

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    Posted May 20, 2010

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