A Search for Unity Within Diversity
A number of organizations claim to represent the indigenous populations of the Andean Region. As they vie for economic and political support many of these groups are manipulated by individuals, political parties, unions, churches and assistance agencies.
Since the 1950s, a number of organizations have emerged in the Andean republics which claim to represent the aspirations of the region's indigenous population. This situation has grown more complex and certainly more confusing to outsiders because of the growing antagonism among many of the organizations and their supporters. This has its basis in ideological, programmatic and strategic differences, and in a competition for political and economic support, which, in turn, easily lends itself to the manipulations of outside interests.
Within each national context, organizations with different ideological positions and political interests compete with one another for legitimacy, members, and political and economic support. These three elements are closely interwoven. For example, an organization's ability to command political and economic support is contingent on its legitimacy, which is derived in part from its capacity to demonstrate that it has a broad constituency of members or bases. At the same time, in order to attract a constituency, the organization must demonstrate to its prospective members its political efficacy and its ability to hustle political and economic support. When the legitimacy of an organization is in question, or if the competition is especially keen, a group may resort to direct manipulation or coercion of prospective members to improve its advantage. Inaccurate information is often disseminated by such an organization in order to create confusion and to mask its questionable methods and its ultimate purposes. Examples of this sort of behavior are especially evident in the case of the Amuesha Congress in Peru, where competing outside interests used a small faction of Amuesha in their struggle to gain control of the organization.
Within the international arena, the stakes include the important political and economic support of foundations and funding agencies, as well as that of governments and multi-lateral bodies such as the United Nations. Largely as a result of the U.N. NGO Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples held in Geneva, the growing "Indian movement" in Latin America impinged on the European and to a lesser degree on the North American consciousness and caused a sensation not unlike that which must have followed Rousseau's discovery of the "noble savage" in the eighteenth century.
As leaders claiming to represent Indian peoples paraded in full costume from one European capital to another, support groups mushroomed around Europe. Within a very short time, both foundation and private money began to flow to these Indian leaders and to Indian organizations, with little or no critical evaluation of their legitimacy or of their programs for solving the problems of their peoples. As long as those speaking for the indigenous peoples spoke of the glorious Indian past ruined by European colonialism, possessed certain "Indian" racial features and wore feathers or a poncho, that seemed proof of their legitimacy. In some cases European romanticism, guilt and a desire to be in on the "action" played into the ambitions of unscrupulous individuals and political factions, weakening the efforts of community-based organizations in the rural areas of Latin America.
Whether the confusion in the national and international arena is innocent or intentional, it has the same effect: it allows specific interests, often antithetical to those of the local indigenous community, to take advantage of the situation, legitimize themselves and direct the movement toward their own ends.
Representivity, Autonomy and Identity
Three themes - representivity, autonomy and identity - serve as lenses through which organizations can be analyzed; each theme raises important questions about the organizational structure, the internal and external relations of power and the ideological underpinnings.
Representivity illuminates the legitimacy of a leader or an organization to speak on behalf of a population. What is the basis of that claim? What is the population whose representation is claimed? How are leaders chosen? Is legitimacy grounded in traditional power relationships, or in ones borrowed from the colonial situation?
The theme of autonomy raises questions about the degree of control which the organization and its members have over the course which the organization takes. What is the constellation of interests surrounding the organization? How free is the organization of control by special interest groups, be they church, state, political parties, landlords or politically ambitious individuals?
The third theme is the question of identity. How do indigenous peoples of the Andean region identify themselves? How do the dominant non-Indian societies identify the indigenous populations? How are these two views of identity reconciled within the organizations analyzed here?
All of the organizations in the Andean region are founded on the principle that unity among those who have common problems and are politically weak is essential. A different view of the basis of that unity distinguishes the different types of organizations; at the root of these distinctions lies different interpretations of indigenous identity.
A key to understanding indigenous identity is a recognition that their world is not homogenous. There are strata of indigenous identity deposited by comings and goings within a long and complex history. Out of this long history emerged three separate strands of identity - an ethnic or tribal identity, an identity as "Indio" and an identity as peasant. The first is the oldest, the most subtle and complex. In the areas peripheral to the early Andean states, to the Spanish colonial regime and to later capitalist expansion, this tribal identity, which recognizes discreet ethnic boundaries, is still vigorous. In the core Andean region, however, tribal identities have largely been replaced with a dual identity: there is a local identity tied to one's place of origin and a broader identity as a speaker of Quechua or Aymara.
The second strand, "Indian" identity, derives from a colonial category roughly equivalent to "one who is dominated." As such, in the core areas of Spanish occupation, the term indio is both used and received with a sense of deprecation. It marks a hierarchical relation between one who is powerful and one who is powerless. Indio, unlike the tribal identity, is not a self-identification; rather it is a political and racial label imposed on the indigenous population, irrespective of tribal affiliation, by an outside force. Depending on a group's particular history, the label has been assimilated to one degree or another into the indigenous collective consciousness.
The third strand, the peasant or campesino identity, is a product of the expansion of the market into areas with an indigenous population and the assertion of central control over rural populations by a state which represents the interests of the market system. Like Indio, campesino is not a term of self-identity. It is a political label for a particular class of rural workers imparted to indigenous populations by outside forces.
Given its particular history, an indigenous group may identify itself by any one of the strands or by a combination of them. A group which has remained peripheral to state and economic interests likely will identify itself in ethnic or tribal terms, and not at all in indio or campesino terms. On the other hand, tenants on a highland hacienda may identify themselves strongly as peasants, weakly as Quechua speakers and may shun an identity as indio. Others may keep all these strands in their repertoire and use each in a different context. No single strand serves as the basis of identity of all indigenous peoples at all times.
A Typology for Organizations of Indigenous Peoples
Although many groups claim a similar goal of uniting rural populations to liberate them from the structures which oppress and marginalize them, there are important differences in their organizational structures, in their ideological perspectives and in their strategic and programmatic goals. Three fundamentally different types of organizations claim to have a base among rural indigenous populations - the "peasant union," the "ethnic federation" and the "indianist movement." Each is based on a different strand of indigenous identity and exalts that strand as the source of unity for its particular organization. While ideal types are easily defined, few, if any, actual organizations conform to all the characteristics outlined here.
The peasant union movement in the Andean region began in earnest during the decade of the 1950s, within a context of social and political mobilization which followed World War II. Four factors laid the groundwork for that mobilization: 1) the expansion of mining activities, especially in the central departments of Peru and the southwestern provinces of Bolivia; 2) the expansion of the modern ranching sector, which aimed at producing wool for the export market; 3) the expansion of public education into rural areas; and 4) the expansion of mass communications into rural areas, especially the ubiquitous radio.
Despite the political rhetoric of the peasant union leadership, the "peasantry" is by no means a homogenous group. The failure to recognize fundamental differences and to adequately deal with the diverse interests represented by a broad peasantry has been the basic source of weakness within these movements.
Up to the 1950s, throughout the Andean region, there was an important distinction between those peasants who belonged to an indigenous community (i.e., corporate land holding entity with roots in the colonial period) and those who worked, as tenants, for a mestizo or criollo landowner in exchange for use of a small piece of land. In general, community-based peasants were better educated, had more contact with the outside world and more control over their land and labor than did the hacienda-based peasants. While both groups of indigenous peasants suffered as a result of the same colonial regime, each developed different reasons for confronting their oppressors. The community-based peasants were concerned most with the return of community lands of which they had been dispossessed during the previous century. On the other hand, the colonos, or tenants, were concerned with improving the terms under which they obtained use of hacienda lands - i.e., abolishing forced service to the hacienda owner and his family, reducing the required work load and in some cases gaining access to their own land.
While most mestizo peasants, like indigenous peasants, occupy a marginal position within the overall economic and political structure of the Andean republics, they too have developed a particular set of special interests as a result of their position within the local social structure. Because the mestizo peasant has acquired certain privileges vis-a-vis the indigenous peasant and is in a position to benefit from some of the surplus production of the community-based peasants, he is reluctant to engage in broad based political movements which may threaten his local privileges, unless he is in a position to control such movements. The inclusion of these different rural populations into a single union, and the balancing of their different if not contradictory demands and interests, is a difficult task.
In the Andean region, urban-oriented groups, including both school teachers, university students and public sector technicians, became actively involved in organizing local peasant unions, usually under the auspices of a particular political party.
The model that was used to develop the local unions of hacienda tenants by the early organizers was by and large borrowed from urban and mineworker unions. Individual tenants of a single hacienda established a local sindicato. They would meet to discuss important issues and strategies and to elect a directorate consisting of a head of the union and a long list of secretaries in charge of specific activities. The directorate, usually in the person of the Secretary General, would represent the union to the state offices, to the broader based regional organizations and often to the political party in control of the regional movement.
In the case of the indigenous communities, the traditional political structure of the community fulfilled the role of the sindicato. By the late 1950s, local tenants' unions and indigenous communities began federating, at times in the same organization and at other times in separate organizations. Simultaneously, national level confederations were established which attempted to integrate tenants' unions, community federations and unions of wage-earning workers.
Peasant mobilization became a two- and in some cases a three-tiered endeavor. There was often a very wide cultural and political gap between the local level unions and communities - the base organizations of indigenous peasants - and the leadership of the departmental and national level federations. Local organizations tend to be more democratic, in the broad participatory sense of the term; decisions and actions tend to reflect the consensus of the members. The over-riding concerns of the local unions and communities reflect the concrete problems which they face. At this organization level, there is little interest in party politics and ideological issues and more interest in results.
On the other hand, all too often urban mestizo or criollo organizers, without roots in the indigenous bases but with the right party connections, dominate the upper levels of federation and confederation organization.
Along with the urban organizers, however, comes cultural baggage which often includes the colonial legacy of racism and paternalism toward rural and indigenous peoples. Another aspect of that cultural baggage is that power and authority tend to be more centralized in a charismatic leadership, which depends on the loyalty of subordinates. Decision making is less democratic, and participation is greatly restricted. There is usually a great concern for ideological issues or for the intricacies of party politics.
Ideologically, the upper echelons of union leadership and their party sponsors generally have a broadly defined "class" orientation, although by no means are all unions Marxist. The unions are based on the premise that Indians, peasants, colonos and rural workers have common class interests. That is, their situation as an economically poor and exploited, politically marginal, rural population is the basis of their unity. In turn, their unity as a class is of a higher order than other, possibly competing, grounds for unity, such as ethnicity, and is thus the correct path toward improving their situation.
Furthermore, the organization of peasant unions is not viewed as an isolated phenomenon; it is seen as an integral part of a broader political and social mobilization of other exploited sectors of society, with a party appartus at the vanguard of the movement. Thus, attempts have been made, with different degrees of success, in all the Andean countries to integrate the peasant unions with urban, blue and white collar workers' unions.
Until quite recently, the leadership of peasant unions has ignored or suppressed both the Indian strand of identity and the ethnic strand of identity. A criticism now being leveled against this position by the indianist movements, the ethnic federations and others is that criollo and mestizo dominated political parties have used the peasant union movement as means to integrate indigenous societies into the national political and economic structures and to assimilate them into the national class culture and identity. According to such critics, policies of integration and assimilation, like the Indian policies of the criollo-dominated regimes which have traditionally protected the interests of the landlords and the capitalist class, negate the pluri-national character of Andean society and deny the right to de-colonization and self-determination to the indigenous peoples of the region.
During the 1960s, two unique organizations appeared which were to serve as models for a proliferation of organizations during the 1970s. The first, the Shuar Federation, was founded in 1964 as an association of Shuar communities located in the Sucua region in southeastern Ecuador. The second, the Congress of Amuesha Communities, was established in 1969 by all Amuesha communities located in Peru's central jungle.
Both of these organizations, and most of the subsequent ones, coalesced under rather similar circumstances. The increasingly more militant mobilization of Indians and peasants in the Andean regions during the 1950s produced two important results: demands for agrarian reform and massive migration of rural landless to urban areas. The official response was to redirect the migrants toward the eastern forests which were billed as a vast emptiness and a future bread basket. Vast sums of money were spent during the decade to build roads into the forest and to establish centers for colonization rather than to make fundamental changes in land tenure patterns in the highlands.
Along with the drive to integrate the lowlands into the national market economy came an increased interest in the integration of the lowland native populations into the national society. In many areas, religious missions were enjoined by the state to undertake this task. The Summer Institute of Linguistics, through its mission work and its program of bilingual education, along with several Catholic missionary orders, played an important role in this endeavor.
While this background explains something about why these indigenous groups mobilized, it does not explain why a particular form, the ethnic federation, came into existence. The areas where the ethnic federation has proliferated are precisely those areas which were peripheral to or outside of the integrative horizons which have swept the Andean region over the past several centuries. Thus, while Andean peoples of the core areas have emerged with a fuzzy sense of ethnicity which is perceived through a strong sense of hierarchy and class, those indigenous groups living outside of the Andean sphere continue to recognize ethnic boundaries. These groups, ranging in size from a hundred to one hundred thousand, regard ethnic issues as a primary factor in their discourse with the national society.
Issues of land and ethnic identity coalesced the ethnic federations. In each case, a particular group felt its collective land base and identity threatened by both state policies of colonization and integration and by the expanding market economy. Virtually every ethnic federation began as headmen or representatives of different settlements of a particular ethnic group met to look for common strategies to defend their land and their nationality.
In most cases, organizational meetings were sparked by non-Indian field workers representing urban-based institutions with a wide range of political and ideological orientations. Both Protestant and Catholic missionaries of varying political hues encouraged the formation of ethnic federations. Political parties and peasant unions were notably absent in the early years of this process. More recently in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, indigenous members of the stronger federations have become active in spreading the model to groups without organized federations.
The organizations which have emerged, while they call themselves by a variety of terms - Council, Congress, Central or Federation - share many common structural features. Organizations are usually an alliance of corporate land holding groups, with either formal or informal guidelines for cooperation on political, economic and social projects.
Delegates from each community meet at least once a year to make the major decisions about the goals of the organization and to name a directorate to act on its behalf. Decision making tends to be a lengthy process during which many opinions are expressed. Participation in the process is open and active. Meetings are usually conducted in the native language.
In rare cases, the organization, from its inception, incorporates all the communities of the ethnic group. It is more common, however, for an ethnic federation to represent only a portion of the communities of a group. In cases of a widely dispersed, population [like the Ashaninka (Campa) of Peru], regional organizations may arise representing the communities of a given area. This situation may generate some rivalry between the regional organizations over claims to legitimacy and cause confusion for outside observers.
In some cases, rival outside interests - for example, Catholic vs. Protestant missionaries, or rival peasant unions, or the governing party and the opposition party - may foster competing ethnic federations.
While indigenous groups in the peripheral areas of the Andean republics have been threatened for many decades, the more recent policies of national integration through road building and agrarian reform through colonization pushed many groups to the brink of crisis. Although aggression against the ethnic basis of the indigenous groups was many-sided, the open assault on their land base brought the issue of survival into clear focus. It was this struggle which was the original raison d'être of the ethnic federations.
As these organizations mature and as the land issue finds partial resolution in the issuance of land titles, many federations have begun to focus their attention on broader questions of future economic, political and social development of the group. Federations now attempt to resolve concrete problems of their member communities, particularly those relating to production, consumption, marketing, education, health, legal status, culture and language.
By and large, for the ethnic federations there is both little interest in and little understanding of the ideological issues which concern the peasant unions and the indianist movements. This is coupled with their distrust of political parties and, in most cases, of the peasant unions as well. The Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca (CRIC) is a notable exception to this rule, as it has attempted from its beginning to integrate ethnic issues with class issues and has shown more willingness to collaborate with peasant unions.
The ethnic federation, as an organizational alternative, continues to grow in numbers and in strength in the Andean republics. In Ecuador, as the Shuar Federation prepares to celebrate its twentieth anniversary, there are currently eight regional ethnic federations. In Peru, while the Amuesha continue their organization after fifteen years, twelve other local ethnic federations have come into existence. In Bolivia, recent attempts to establish ethnic federations in the Oriente have met with growing success. Indian policy and land policy in these three republics have been influenced positively over the past twenty years by the federations.
The success of the ethnic federation model is by no means uniform. Some groups have consolidated their organizations while keeping effective control at the community level; others have not. An important test of their success is to see how they can broaden their outreach while still keeping control over their organizations. Leadership is in the hands of the indigenous base members and, to a remarkable degree, free of manipulation by outside political, economic and religious interests. The issues raised at the national level continue to reflect the local communities' own perception of their situation. It is for these reasons that the ethnic federations have earned a large measure of legitimacy, both among their own people and among their adversaries.
During the latter half of the 1970s, a number of groups appeared in Bolivia and Peru which focused attention on the colonial situation of European domination of Indian peoples and offered, as a basis of Indian liberation, a new ideology - "Indianidad." I call these groups indianist movements.
While the emergence of indianist movements was influenced by the social and political mobilization of rural peasants during the 1950s and 1960s, there were several other factors at play. One of the roots was the Black Liberation movement which swept the Caribbean, USA and parts of Africa during those same decades. These movements focused on the colonial domination of "white" societies over black peoples and the resulting racial discrimination against blacks as a major cause of the marginalized situation of black populations. One of the major currents of this movement sought to politicize the concept of "blackness" by exalting its positive features ("black is beautiful") as the cohesive element of the liberation movement.
The mobilization of Indian peoples in North America, especially in the USA, which attempted to foster an Indian consciousness, following many of the guidelines established by Black Power movements, also had an effect on Indian peoples of the Andes.
While this movement, especially the American Indian Movement (AIM) enjoyed some political successes, it was not able to effect such profound political and cultural changes as did the black movement. Yet, a notion of Indian consciousness was launched and caused ripples internationally, especially in intellectual circles.
Finally, within the Andean region, and especially in Peru and Bolivia, three decades of rural migration to the cities, programs of rural education and improved economic conditions in the countryside resulting from the agrarian reforms produced two important results: 1) rural migrants were pressured to assimilate into the urban market economy, and thus into the often fuzzy "national culture" and identity of their respective countries; and 2) new social contradictions arose within the "Indian masses," especially between rural Indians and urban Indians. University trained, urban Indians, many of whom by the 1970s had lost their roots in the countryside and found themselves facing an acute identity crisis, played a decisive role in the rise of the indianist movements. Elements of this alienated intelligentsia realized the potential for politicizing their colonial identity as Indians and using it as a symbol of unity and liberation.
Perhaps the most successful of the indianist movements, at least in terms of attracting international attention, gaining Indian sympathy and surviving beyond a year or two, is MITKA of Bolivia. It can trace its roots to the urban based Aymara organizations founded in the late 1960s - MINKA, Movimiento Universitario Julian Apaza and the Movimiento Tupaj Katari - all concerned with the issues of Aymara cultural identity. At its height in 1980, the two factions of MITKA received a combined total of 32,875 votes or 2.5% of the total vote. Since then political events in Bolivia and factionalism within MITKA over ideological points have greatly weakened the organization.
In 1977, a Lima-based group calling itself the Movimiento Indio Peruano (MIP) made itself known through a series of publications and public events. Its membership included both mestizo and rural migrants associated with one of Lima's largest universities, together with some cultural associations of rural migrants based in the slums around Lima. A dispute between the two principal spokesmen, both university professors, over the use of international funds while sponsoring the Pimer Congreso de Movimientos Indios de Sud America in early 1980, brought the movement to a close. Elements of MIP have continued to promote its ideology of indianness through their involvement with the Consejo Indio de Sud America (CISA), formed in the Primer Congreso of 1980, and through the recently created Lima-based Movimiento Indio Tupac Amaru (MITA).
The indianist movements appeal to the Indian strand of identity, subsuming both the ethnic and the peasant identities within their indianist claims. It is on the basis of revindicating Indian identity that they are trying to build a mass movement. So far, most observers agree that they have enjoyed little success.
The indianist movements are not organizations of rural based indigenous populations. They are not federations with roots in the rural indigenous communities. Their limited constituency comes from the former peasant populations which have migrated to the cities, where economic and cultural pressures have weakened their ties to the countryside and their linguistic and localist identity. Indianist movements, despite their ecumenical Indian appeal, have managed, to date, to incorporate only speakers of Quechua and Aymara, the majority languages of the Andean highlands.
The internal organization of the movements has never been outlined clearly in their publications. These movements are centered on a charismatic figure whose charisma, perhaps more than his ideology, attracts a following of individuals and legitimizes the hegemony which he exercises over followers. Like traditional criollo- and mestizo-based political parties, the indianist movements tend to be more autocratic and authoritarian, with power and representivity residing in a strong central figure rather than in delegates or a general assembly. Thus, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the political ambitions of these central figures from the interests of the indianist movement.
The ideological content of the indianist movement is based on the concept of Indianidad, which purports the existence of a pan-Indian identity and civilization which is the basis of unity of all Indian peoples. The ideology of Indianidad has three tenets: 1) Indian peoples lived in a near perfect state of moral, social and ecological harmony before the European invasion. 2) In order to regain that lost harmony, Indian peoples must return to the institutions of their past as the basis of a new political and economic order. 3) The left-right political confrontation in Latin America is seen as a struggle within an already alienated European civilization, and Indian peoples are enjoined to remain neutral. Indians must direct their energy toward liberating themselves from non-Indian domination, institutions and culture.
Given this ideological stance, the question of alliances with other organized sectors of the population becomes divisive for indianist movements. Dogmatic adhesion to the anti-European tenets of the ideology have led some movements, notably MITKA, ex-MIP and the recent Movimiento Indio Pedro Vilca Apaza (MIPVA) to decry as traitorous any collaboration with peasant unions, which are accused of being dominated by European political models and ideology.
But this presents a serious problem for the indianist movements, since it is the peasant unions which represent the largest numbers of rural Quechua and Aymara speakers and the ethnic federations which represent the largest portion of other Indians. Rather than join in efforts to build broad based popular movements to struggle for Indian as well as ethnic and peasant revindications, the indianist movements seem to be focusing their efforts on consolidating their party-like structure with an eye on competing for a share of the power within the current political framework.
There can be no doubt that, in its general sense, the new political message of Indianidad and its appeal to an Indian nationality are important. The notion that Indian peoples, as victims of European colonialism, have the right to recuperate their history and control their future is a powerful message which could have political repercussions throughout the Andean region.
There are two serious problems in the way that message is being broadcast. First, it is being carried by new indianist movements which look and behave very much like traditional Latin American political parties with all of their intrinsic weaknesses: the importance of a caudillo figure, centralization of power, authoritarianism, elitism and an overriding concern for ideological positions to the detriment of real people and their problems.
Second, the indianist movements promote themselves, especially within the international forum, as the only legitimate representatives of Indian peoples. These claims, received enthusiastically in many European capitals, have been the source of a great deal of confusion and conflict regarding Indian organizations in Latin America.
Representivity: The Base vs. the Top
The representivity and, in the final analysis, the legitimacy of any organization, is closely linked to three aspects of the organizational structure: 1) the underlying model for organizing a disperse population for effective political action; 2) the degree to which the base membership participates in the decision making or to which decisions made reflect the consensus of the membership; and 3) the nature of the relationship between the leadership and the bases. The three types of organizations differ in these respects.
Automony: The Question of Outside Control
The issue of organizational automony must be understood within the context of the colonial situation which continues to dominate indigenous peoples in the Andean republics. Out of a diversity of cultures, identities and political units, the Spanish colonial regime imposed a single new political category of being: indio, the colonized people. Through five hundred years of continued use, this term has come to mean, like the term "nigger" in the USA, a category of low-level human beings who are subservient, dependent and incapaz.
Different kinds of outside interests tend to be involved with each type of organization. Political parties and the state are the major outside factors in the peasant unions. The Catholic and Protestant church and the alliance of private support, funding agencies and academics are the principal interests involved with the ethnic federations. And finally, international support groups and academics play a principal role in the indianist movements.
In analyzing the role of these support groups, it is important to ask from the outset, what are the particular interests of each in focusing attention on the indigenous organizations? Is there a sectarian political interest, a sectarian religious interest or an economic interest? Are the interests personal or altruistic? What view does the outside interest have of the role of indigenous peoples within the state framework, within the national society and within the national market economy? What kinds of goals do they emphasize for the indigenous organizations? Is the relationship based on a respect for the autonomy of the indigenous organization, on paternalism or on a desire for hegemony over the organization?
It is also important to look at the relationship between the outside interest and the indigenous organization over time. Has the relationship led to greater autonomy or to greater dependency of the organization? Here it is helpful to distinguish three kinds of outside interests: 1) those which were active in the founding of the indigenous organization; 2) those which were attracted to the organization once it became politically successful; and 3) the state.
Of the first type, it is important to ask why they were interested in founding an indigenous organization, what sort of role they played and to what extent they continue to dominate the organization. Of the second, one must ask why they became attracted to the organization. Did its political success pose a threat or provide opportunities, in either case making the organization a candidate for cooptation or outright takeover? And finally, rather than view the state as a monolith, it would be useful to look at the relationship of the different sectors of the state. Have they encouraged the growth of autonomous organizations or attempted through legislation, cooptation or repression to control them?
Also important is the indigenous view of autonomy. The ethnic federations, and a few of the peasant unions, while conscious of the issue of autonomy, view it from a more pragmatic standpoint. They engage in a continuous give-and-take with the outside interests in order to achieve specific objectives. The majority of the peasant unions are so dominated by the upper-tier leadership who, in turn, are compromised with either political party or state interests that autonomy has become a potentially subversive question within the organization.
The indianist movements refuse to make any alliances with outside groups which may be "tinged" by non-Indian domination. Yet, the indianist movements are dependent on both European funding and to some extent on European (certainly non-Indian) intellectual training and ideas.
Conclusion: Unity Within Diversity
One of the keys for understanding the indigenous response to a long colonial history is diversity. The solutions proposed by indigenous peoples in the Andean republics and the organizations which have emerged to seek those solutions are as diverse as the identities and the cultures which produce them. The peasant orientation, the Indian orientation and the ethnic orientation, each an interpretation of current reality based on different historical experiences, all contribute to our understanding of the struggle by indigenous peoples in the Americas to regain control over their lives.
Indigenous peoples belong to diverse nationalities which were involuntarily incorporated into modern state structures that not only do not represent their interests, but whose ideology of one nation/one state threatens to obliterate them as distinct ethnic groups. Indigenous peoples were subjugated by a colonial regime and relegated to a subordinate and dependent category. Indigenous peoples are further victimized by an economic system which incorporates them as low-paid laborers and producers of raw materials and permits the dominant groups to further consolidate their economic and political power.
The challenge, then, is to build political unity within such diversity. The ethnic federations are currently gaining valuable experience in this field. Regional and national level federations are being built on alliances among local federations, each of whom may represent a different cultural, linguistic and historical experience. Out of this local diversity, they are building effective political organs which are capable of speaking with a single voice when appropriate. They are learning to negotiate points of unity - common strategies for common problems - in a context of respect for underlying differences.
In general, both the indianist movements and the peasant unions (or at least the upper-tier leadership) insist that unity can only spring from homogeneity. An extreme position reflecting this bias claims that ethnic diversity - the strand of identity underlying the ethnic federations - was created and continues to be used by modern capitalist imperialism as a means to divide the popular masses.
There is no question that the indigenous peoples of the Andean republics must seek alliances among themselves and with others in order to bring about a transformation of the current political and economic structures which oppress them. But dogmatism and hegemonic control must be put aside if broader bases of unity are to be found. And out of that unity hopefully will arise new structures which affirm diversity as a fundamental human attribute and which permit greater autonomous development of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.