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 8 Black Activism in Ecuador, 1979--2009 Ollie A. Johnson III Blacks have lived in Ecuador for more than 400 years.1 Yet this demographic reality is not currently reflected in the country’s scholarly studies of history and politics. The Afro-Ecuadorian experience under slavery and in the postslavery period remains largely unexplored in elementary, secondary, and university educational institutions. In mainstream media, if they are mentioned at all, blacks are often presented as criminals, athletes, or entertainers. Newspapers, magazines , and journals rarely cover Afro-Ecuadorian life.2 According to the census of 2001, Afro-Ecuadorians are 5 percent (more than 600,000 citizens) of the national population and live in each of the country’s twenty-two provinces. Blacks are concentrated in four main areas: the provinces of Esmeraldas,Guayas,and Pichincha and in the Chota Valley,which runs through the provinces of Imbabura and Carchi. The provincial capital cities of Esmeraldas, Guayaquil, and Quito are the centers of urban political organization and activism among blacks. As a result of decades of internal migration from Esmeraldas and the Chota Valley, Guayaquil and Quito have emerged as cities with large numbers of blacks, even though blacks constitute less than 10 percent of these municipal populations (Whitten [1974] 1986; Whitten and Quiroga with Savoia 1995; Pabón Chalá 2007; Antón Sánchez 2009). Ecuador’s political and economic structures are dominated by whites and mestizos (Roitman 2009; Cervone and Rivera 1999; Dixon 1997; Minda Batallas 2002; Stutzman 1981). Since the 1990s, the rise in indigenous organization, mobilization, and protest has challenged these arrangements and contributed a new and dynamic element to the country’s politics. During the last two decades, indigenous groups have condemned the poverty, marginalization, and discrimination they face as well as the inequality, corruption, and elite rule rampant throughout the country. The indigenous uprising of June 1990 demonstrated that indigenous groups had developed the organizational capacity to paralyze the country. Since then, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Black Activism in Ecuador, 1979–2009  177 Ecuador (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador; CONAIE) and other groups have organized impressive uprisings, marches, and protests. The Ecuadorian state has been forced to recognize and negotiate with major Indian organizations (Selverston-Scher 2001; Yashar 2005, 85–151; Van Cott 2005). Blacks share some of the goals of the indigenous movement, especially the importance of respecting cultural diversity and promoting social and political change. Blacks have allied with indigenous organizations and movements and other social movement groups. At the same time, there have been some tensions between Indians and blacks because indigenous groups have increased their political visibility and influence while Afro-Ecuadorians have remained more marginal. This chapter examines the evolution of black political activity since 1979. During the last three decades, blacks have formed local, provincial, and national groups to affirm their racial identity, strengthen their cultural legacy, fight for their rights as citizens, and connect with international campaigns for human rights. They have participated in the struggle against poverty, racism, and invisibility . This history of activism shows that black political activists have worked to organize fellow Afro-Ecuadorians and to expand their role in Ecuadorian politics and society. However, black leaders have not been successful in creating a strong national social movement or in mobilizing adequate resources (material and human) to give themselves substantial organizational autonomy or political power. Recent scholarship has described Afro-Ecuadorian activism as an emerging social movement in recognition of the creation of new organizations and the modest protests these organizations have mounted (Medina Vallejo and Castro Torres 2006). In the last few decades, Afro-Ecuadorians have devoted time and resources to making their presence felt as citizens with constitutional and human rights.They have condemned various manifestations of racial prejudice and discrimination. Afro-Ecuadorian leaders have raised critical questions. How long will black women be stereotyped as undeserving of dignity and respect? Why are black men seen as prone to violence when they regularly suffer police brutality? When will the country’s leadership take action to improve the unjust living conditions of most black children?Afro-Ecuadorian organizations are demanding changes to the status quo. This chapter analyzes the challenges that hinder black progress and the opportunities that facilitate it. Black poverty is at the core of the difficult socioeconomic situation of Afro-Ecuadorians. Limited material resources in urban and rural areas require inordinate time and attention to basic survival. Participation in the political process has yielded limited results. Important...


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