This article examines the implications of the Ecuadorian Indian movement for democratic politics. During the 1990s, the movement successfully fostered indigenous and popular participation in public life, influenced government policies, and became a contender in power struggles. But in the institutional domain, the participatory breakthrough had mixed effects. While the movement fulfilled functions of interest representation and control of state power, its involvement in a coup attempt demonstrated that its political socialization had not nurtured a sense of commitment to democracy. The evidence is discussed by reference to the proposition that civil society actors may or may not contribute to democracy. The article argues that the study of the democratic spinoffs of civil activism requires a context-specific approach that considers the particularistic orientations of civil associations and pays attention to their definition of means and ends, the institutional responses evoked by their initiatives, and the unintended consequences of their actions.