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Politics in the Andes: Identity, Conflict, Reform (review)

From: Latin American Politics & Society
Volume 49, Number 3, Fall 2007
pp. 212-216 | 10.1353/lap.2007.0029

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Throughout this engaging work, Burt, Mauceri, and their contributors explore three themes integral to current Andean politics: identity-based mobilizations, violent conflict, and struggles over democratic institutions. The discussion of identity centers mainly on indigenous issues, while the section on violence identifies linkages between political conflict, drug trafficking, criminality, authoritarianism, insurgency, U.S. policies, and civil-military relations. Treatment of the third theme, reform, makes it clear that trends in the region cannot be summed up neatly as moving either toward greater democratization or away from it. We learn that while some innovative reforms exist, countervailing tendencies prevail: the continued decline of political parties; the persistence of clientelism, corruption, and repression; the weakness of civil society organizations in regard to socioeconomic elites; and the marginalization and victimization of subaltern groups.

The book opens with Xavier Albó's authoritative discussion of the historical subjugation of indigenous populations and the evolution of ethnic consciousness in the central Andes. Albó analyzes both the rise of identity-based political organizations in Bolivia and Ecuador and the absence of a strong indigenous movement in Peru. Basically, groups that affirm indigenous identity and cultural practices have surpassed traditional leftist and campesino organizations in mobilizing people and in representing constituents. Peru differs in three ways. The millions of highland Indians who have migrated to Lima encounter greater cultural hostility and fewer opportunities to maintain links to their villages than migrants to Quito or La Paz. Civilian activists were persecuted by various armed groups during Peru's 12-year civil conflict. The indigenous movements in Bolivia and Ecuador advanced rapidly in the wake of democratic transitions, just as Peru was experiencing greater authoritarianism under Fujimori.

Indigenous mobilization is also the focus of Jennifer Collins's chapter, which analyzes the impressive showing of the Ecuadorian party Pachakutik in the 2000 elections. According to Collins, the electoral system overrepresents highland and Amazon districts. Local elections are not a recent reform, but actually have been held since 1978. Traditional parties have been deeply discredited, and elites divided, by a succession of political and economic crises since the 1980s. Most important, Pachakutik derives much of its strength from the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE), which brings three major resources to bear: a positive indigenous identity that unites highland Quichua speakers with the Amazonian Shuar; a reputation for efficient and transparent local administrations, some of which have attracted significant external funding; and an organizational structure consisting of indigenous communities and regional associations with decades of experience in making decisions collectively and holding leaders accountable.

Amy Lind's contribution to the section on identity politics analyzes the political weakness of women's groups in Ecuador and Bolivia in the 1990s. Lind argues that the economic dislocations of neoliberalism have placed greater burdens on women and their organizations. Governments and international donors redirected support for women's political groups toward microenterprise and voluntary projects. Women's groups that received funding from political parties and government agencies lacked autonomy, and government agencies for women's affairs—staffed by middle-class professionals with backgrounds in traditional politics—distorted movement priorities. Other sources of movement fragmentation and weakness were personal and ideological differences within the leadership and class cleavages, which were aggravated by rising inequality levels. Lind concedes that neoliberalism has galvanized mass action by women but notes that to date, such participation has contributed little to the advancement of gender issues.

Lisa North's masterful overview of twentieth-century politics in Ecuador deepens our understanding of the context in which indigenous groups have managed to topple presidents and defend protections for communal property. North argues that while several military governments in Ecuador have attempted inclusionary policies that could have led to socioeconomic progress for the masses, these reformers have, so far, lacked the organized support to offset the power of civilian economic elites. Such elites have consistently opposed policies to strengthen public institutions or distribute earnings from the agrarian and oil sectors, preventing the development of a state capable of serving broad public interests. Neoliberalism has given elites new opportunities for weakening state institutions, for steering public policy toward narrow private interests, and for extracting wealth from the country. North also notes that the vanguard...

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