The Americas 61.2 (2004) 284-286
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Ecuador has long been considered to be a quiet country compared with its Andean neighbors. However, in the 1980s and the 1990s, economic and labor relations were transformed by "Andean Thatcherism," peaceful civil mobilization, the non-violent overthrow of two democratically elected presidents, and a new constitution enshrining extensive 'minority' rights. In an earlier collection of essays, Norman Whitten presciently took a snapshot of the country just as it started these transformations.
Whitten's new edited collection addresses other, no less important, aspects of Ecuadorian recent social and cultural change by focusing on shifts in symbolism and political culture during times of political upheaval and globalization. By examining [End Page 284] in ethnographic detail the cultural forces at work in political conjunctures, Whitten and his contributors examine complex and multi-layered processes of empowerment and contested representation in this multicultural and multi-ethnic country. His Introduction sets the scene for understanding the 1990s, providing an overview of political history up to the coup of January 21, 2000 (led by an indigenous representative and a young army officer) and the election of Lucio Gutierrez in January 2003 (the very same officer). Whitten interlinks national history with global patterns of colonialism, and the geopolitics of terrorism and drugs. He usefully reminds us that up to one in ten Ecuadorians are abroad at any one time and that violence against indigenous people and blacks has not diminished, despite multicultural legislation and the 1998 constitution.
The chapters provide in-depth descriptions of how these general processes are played out in everyday situations, and how Ecuador's localized globality remains highly differentiated among ethnic groups, across the country's varied terrain, and in rural and urban areas. William Vickers examines the impact of Plan Colombia on the political organization of the indigenous Secoya. Kris Lane discusses five colonial legacies: the reduction of historiography to concerns over sovereignty and nationalism, the myth of El Dorado, corruption, racial divisions, and religion. Lane argues that because Ecuador experienced no revolution it remains "haunted" by these historical legacies. Religious belief and symbolism provide the topic of a number of chapters: Rachel Corr discusses religious (dis)continuities since colonial times in the Andean area, while Michael Uzendoski examines Quichua evangelicals in the Amazon region, and Diego Quiroga explores devil beliefs in the Afro-Ecuadorian coastlands.
The middle chapters explore political organization and artistic self-expression among indigenous populations. Whitten's collaboratively written chapter on the "March for Land and Life" in April 1992 examines the protest as a symbolic process, exemplifying Turner's liminality, as well as the alternative modernities produced by the march. One of the key indigenous leaders, Luis Macas, is featured in a chapter that intersperses his life history (told in narrative form) with background information, showing his path to the Ministry of Agriculture in Gutierrez's government in January-August 2003. Dorothy Whitten's chapter on indigenous artists outlines the complex cultural meanings and global connectedness of indigenous aesthetic production over recent decades. The final section of the book addresses indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian experiences in urban areas, from which they have long been marginalized by entrenched geographies of racism. Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld explores urban indigenous experiences and "how city lives can foster a connectivity that reinforces a Quichua community's push for self-determination" (p. 276). Jean Rahier examines racist stereotypes about Afro-Ecuadorian women in light of women's self-identities, showing that the "racial-spatial order" (p. 297) impinges directly on women's sense of self and value. Mary Weismantel's chapter explores the history of the imagery surrounding Southern Andean mixed-race women, especially in relation to urban economies and spaces. Overall, Millennial [End Page 285] Ecuador provides a rich, in-depth picture of this "small but highly significant country" (p. 368), which will be of interest...