Indigenous municipalities in Ecuador and Bolivia:
transnational connections and exclusionary political cultures
Paper prepared for the workshop
“Beyond the lost decade: indigenous movements and the transformation of development and
democracy in Latin America” University of Princeton, 2-3 March 2001
Sarah A. Radcliffe,
Department of Geography, University of Cambridge,
Cambridge CB2 3EN, UK
In Andean Latin America, profound political changes are currently occurring under neo-
liberal precepts, including “rural municipalization”, that is, the inclusion of rural areas and their
populations under the remit of newly-formed municipalities. Simultaneously, neo-liberal
development reforms concerned with social capital, legislation to increase the electoral voice of
previously excluded groups as well as intensified rural-urban connections occur. These changes
reconfigure the spaces of politics away from a core metropolitan centralized state, to a
“municipalized” and putatively more participatory state. State reforms have aimed to redistribute
resources to non-metropolitan (often rural) populations. However, power and resources remain
tied to exclusionary political cultures and social divisions that undermine efforts by states and
transnational agencies to increase opportunity and participation.
Ecuadorian municipalities led by indigenous mayors or with a number of indigenous
elected officials – what I call in shorthand here indigenous municipalities - represent the
construction of a politics contesting the exclusion of indigenous peoples from formal politics.
However, these municipalities continue to operate within a highly fractured and weak central
state, an international policy field concerned with “indigenous affairs”, and an informal political
culture that marginalizes indigenous and female subjects. In developing my argument, I consider
the transformations in provincial municipalities, their political procedures and cultures through
which they organize relations between subjects, places and spaces. I suggest that the legitimacy
of municipal authorities arose out of their electoral strengths in areas where indigenous
electorates have a choice of candidates, but that the operation of political authority in office
remains difficult for indigenous male and female leaders, due to persistent cultural values around
politics and seniority.
In Latin America, it can be argued, citizenship no longer entails a direct – if highly
problematic and often nationalistic – engagement with a strongly centralized state . Rather,
meaningful political activism and representation occurs through local state administrations, local
and civil associations, and through engagement with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
and quasi-governmental agencies. These political institutions now oversee services, development
funds, education and other elements of civil life that previously fell under the remit of an uneven
central state (cf.. . Such re-scaling of politics owes much of the power of its rhetoric and practice
to transnational neo-liberal interventions and agendas. The current phase of neo-liberal
development places a heavy emphasis on participatory planning, while both neo-liberals and their
critics promote “social capital” as the missing ingredient in successful “good governance” or
participatory development. These themes can be examined and elaborated in light of the
emergence of “innovative municipalities” in Ecuador and Bolivia1.
Political cultures that exclude particular groups from decision-making and authority
positions are embedded in quotidian lives and so taken for granted that they are often implicit in
agenda setting and the formation of political constituencies. However, it is these political cultures
that must be taken into account in analyzing decentralized urban politics. Cases of indigenous and
female representation are examined here as windows onto prevailing political cultures.
Indigenous peoples have long been excluded from formal and informal criteria of
citizenship2 in much of Central and South America, so their emergence into the political life
challenges ideas of citizenship as well as the state ; . Bursting on to the political scene from the
1980s, particularly in the wake of the “500 years of resistance” campaign culminating in 1992,
indigenous peoples have offered an anti-colonial and democratizing imaginary and discourse3.
Indigenous people in many countries have organized politically on an unprecedented scale, and
have shifted the political agendas of their respective countries4. Not only have these subaltern
groups entered central state politics over recent years5, but they have also challenged exclusionary
political cultures, demanding spaces for autonomy, cultural renovation, and the reconstitution of
indigenous “nationalities” and “peoples”6. As Deborah Yashar notes, “ethnic movements, in
particular, have come increasingly to contest the foundations and contours of contemporary
democratic practices and secure political autonomy” . The indigenous movement has challenged
the formal articulation of citizenship and remit of the state, by building from a broad-based social
movement into a political movement. These factors necessarily entail profound implications for
previously marginal groups’ political participation, and the administration of development .
In the first section of the paper, I outline recent changes in neo-liberal development
theory and decentralization legislation in the Andean countries. This leads to a discussion of how
the agendas of social participation and neo-liberal development have been brought together in
Ecuador and Bolivia7. I focus on how municipalities have gained powers, political constituencies
and international connections that result in distinct – and in many ways, unprecedented – social
and spatial formations. In the third and fourth sections of the paper, I examine the patterns of
inclusion generated by legislative and constitutional change, before turning to the enduring
exclusionary cultural politics in the emerging political spaces. The conclusions address questions
of reconfigurations of urban political rules and cultures in light of the experience of Andean
The dynamics of interaction between political authorities – and between political
representatives and civil society – can demonstrate the complex politics of scale now underway,
as well as the emergence of new subjects of politics .
Illiterate populations (illiterate in Spanish that is) were excluded from franchise until
1979 in Peru and Ecuador. Moreover, they have long been excluded from the national imagined
community, comprising mestizos and ‘whites’ .
In Ecuador, political gains have included the election of indigenous Congress members in the
1996 and 1998 elections, the appointment of indigenous in key government positions, and their
contribution to the writing of the 1998 Constitution, see .
The literature on the indigenous movements of South America is vast and expanding
rapidly. For an overview, see , and . On reasons why Peru has not seen indigenous mobilization
on the scale of other countries, see and .
The material presented here results from an on-going research project entitled “ ‘We are
all Indians?’ Transnational political communities in Ecuador and Bolivia”, funded by the ESRC
(Economic and Social Research Council), from April 1999 to June 2001.
II Neoliberal development and decentralization: reconfiguring social capital and political
With return to formal electoral democracies and neo-liberal structural adjustment
measures in the 1980s, two notable effects were felt in social formations and urban politics. On
the one hand, more intensive rural-urban connections occurred8, while in legislative provision,
municipalization and decentralization were the buzz-words of the decade. Both contributed to the
blurring of lines around previously taken-for-granted political spaces and designated subjects.
Decentralization is the modish pattern of state reform in Latin America, where
throughout the region the number of municipalities has increased compared with a decline in
Europe. From 13,000 in the early 1990s, municipalities in the region now number around 16,000 .
Within the social development agenda, decentralization is promoted as a means of social
participation and efficiency9. While seeking to increase levels of transparency and participation,
decentralization fulfills international donor demands for accountability, although of course with
the necessary correlate of reductions of core state promotion of local and regional development .
Whether in terms of federalism, de-concentration or municipalities, decentralization represents a
key administrative plank of neo-liberal reforms. A World Bank director of such programmes
argues that the benefits of decentralization and democratization bring infrastructure and social
investment to remote councils and communities .
This has had a number of inter-related consequences for the nature of politics and
society-state interactions in Latin America. In the historically centralized Andean states, recent
policy emphases on municipalities and regionalization grant ostensibly greater degrees of local
autonomy . Arguably, historic rural-urban distinctions were minimized by the extension of
(urban) municipal models of representation, which led to a re-scaling of political activity and
decision-making, while re-casting constituencies and subjects. Nevertheless, national differences
in the design and operation of municipal decentralization reveal distinctive informal political
Rural-urban interaction intensified as service employment grew and rural livelihoods
increasingly depended upon urban incomes. Daily rural migrants working in the urban informal
sector contributed to growing rural-urban connections. In a survey carried out in the mid-1980s in
Quito, Ecuador, it was found that one third of workers traveled daily into Quito for employment,
mostly in the informal sector. Extrapolating from this, it was calculated that fully 10 per cent of
the Quito EAP migrates every day. Wage labourers travelling to the Chapare, Bolivia, circulate
on a constant basis between rural households and the “city”. Ecuadorian rural parishes survive by
combining urban work, rural production with a “relative ruralization” . Moreover, towns and
cities have become increasingly multicultural, as migration and settlement of indigenous and
Afro-Latin American populations have created large, culturally distinct interest groups. Bucking
national (elite) expectations that they would relinquish an ethnic identity upon incorporation into
urban economies and cultures, multicultural populations became adept at managing complex
cultural settings characterized by hybridity and “bricolage” . Consequently, the political interests
and rights of rural and ethnically-marked subjects are no longer tied exclusively to rural areas and
the “thin” modernist state that existed (Bengoa 1998). Whether in Quito, La Paz or Guayaquil,
ethnic “archipelagos” represent the tying together of rural/urban interests into the political
landscape, as do their rural counterpart organizations of comunas, cabildos or second-tier
organizations. Indigenous associations are now forming in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and
historically an area in which indigenous migrants hisorically disavowed indigenous identity, in
favour of national mestizo identity. See .
In the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank among others, formal
democratization is perceived as linked with a need for increased administrative transparency and
processes and cultures that shape the opportunities for marginal populations’ political
representation in these new urban polities.
Legislative provision for greater decentralization of government has been contextualized
by three additional factors,
• First, the roll-back of the central state and the “NGO-ization” of Andean society; and
• Second, the emergence of a “development with identity” paradigm to include indigenous
• Third, the engagement of international development theory and practice in social
development concerns and municipalities.
(1) With budget cutbacks, state activities have shifted to private and NGO sectors, arguably more
spatially uneven in distribution and take-up . Boundaries between state and non-state actors
shifted as states distributed functions to private sector providers. NGOs and foreign funding
organizations represent a strategic and highly significant ally in development policy and
implementation. Moreover, the creation of hybrid development institutions10 has brought in
diverse actors from radical anti-statist NGO employees, to international agencies through to
reformed government ministries .
(2) An additional significant factor contributing to the transformation of political spaces and
constituencies is the realignment of international development discourse to issues of social
capital, and specifically a focus on indigenous peoples in the emergent field of “development
with identity”. Viewing indigenous people contradictorily as embodying both social capital and
poverty , a focus on social difference has brought ethnic difference to the fore in multilateral and
bilateral agencies. Multilateral social development discourse highlights the need to moderate
extreme neo-liberalism, while acknowledging the contribution of anthropology and social science
in uncovering social exclusions and recuperating (and building on) social capital. The
realignment of development discourse around transversal themes of gender, ethnicity-race, age
and generation has gained wide currency within NGOs, multilaterals and states as a language and
practice through which to bring about greater participation. Drawing on NGO 1980s experience
of grassroots development activities, international agencies’ agenda was seen to be achieved by
“bottom-up” development with recognition of ethnicity, gender and generation. International and
multilateral agencies consequently offer technical and financial support to municipalities and
other urban authorities, engaging with diverse civil, political and development-related actors11. In
Ecuador, the indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian development project (Prodepine12) operates
through highly autonomous regional offices to recuperate and consolidate indigenous and black
populations’ social capital, in order to raise their standard of living .
In summary, the nature of politics and subject-state-space relations in Andean Latin
America has been profoundly transformed in the past decade. With “NGO-ization” and growing
The term “hybrid” highlights the mixing of different institutional histories and personnel.
Hybrid development institutions represent the coming-together of individual professionals, skills
and experiences from sectors that were previously separate, whether in the state (technocrats,
centralized bureaucracies), non-governmental organizations or popular organizations
(neighbourhood associations, peasant unions, indigenous communities organizations, etc.).
Through 1960-1990 most regional NGOs were hostile to or at least critical of state development
efforts. As institutional and political configurations change, staff, discourses and resources enter
into innovatory networks . For example, the National Secretariat of Popular Participation in
Bolivia, established under the Law of Popular Participation (1994) hired staff from independent
and left-wing research institutes and NGOs in a reconfigured Ministry of Human Development .
Multilaterals argue that they are not involved in politics per se, although there is
increasingly an acknowledgement of the need to take politics into account, see for example .
Proyecto de Desarrollo de los pueblos indígenas y negros del Ecuador, that is
Development Project for Indigenous and Black Peoples of Ecuador.
transnationalism, places and political subjects are constituted through rapidly changing circuits
and networks, generating new constituencies, interest groups and policy. Despite the
contradictory effects of neo-liberalism and state reform in the Andes (and its contestation), the
changes outlined introduce opportunities for social and political actors as well as closing them
down. Moreover, rather than being exclusively about macroeconomic reform and “globalization”,
neo-liberal development in the Andes has introduced an association between neo-liberal
development and local communities, however contradictory in its effects.
III Municipalities in Ecuador and Bolivia: Participation with neo-liberalism?
Numerous Andean countries have recently undergone constitutional reform. In all but
Peru, legislative reform placed decentralization and multicultural rights in a central and visible
position (see Figure 1). Municipal decentralization takes place within an inter-national exchange
of information, supported and financed by multilateral and bilateral development agencies. While
designing its decentralization policy in 1994, Bolivia’s neo-liberal government was informed by
previous experiences of municipal reform in Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Mexico. The
World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, the UN Development Program as well as
various European and North American bilateral programmes were involved in the formulation
and implementation of the 1995 reforms. Due to distinctive national histories and pacts between
power groups, Ecuador and Bolivia’s municipal reforms share many elements such as the goal of
increased participation, while differing on other counts. Put simply, the Bolivian reform was
highly directive and formal whereas the Ecuadorian experience was considerably more ad hoc,
leaving political spaces and opportunities for social actors.
In Bolivia, a robustly centralized state responded to “localist sentiment” introducing
reforms in local government finance, definition and management. When designing its “rural
municipalization” law in 1994, the neo-liberal government drew upon Latin American
experiences of municipal decentralization and direct assistance from multilaterals and bilaterals.
Despite considerable department-level and indigenous opposition, the Law of Popular
Participation created over 300 new municipalities, as well as distributing revenue from the central
state, to administer health, education and other local services. Of the 313 current municipalities,
just under two-thirds (183) had not received resources previously . Between 1990 and 1996,
municipal budgets jumped from $22 million to over $150 million , reaching 35% of public
investment in 1995 13. More monies were provided to Bolivian municipalities than their
Ecuadorian counterparts (20% of federal resources, compared with 15%) 14, and Bolivian
municipalities were more subject to government-defined structures. For example, provision for
the comités de vigilancia (oversight committees) was defined in the 1994 Bolivian legislation,
whereas equivalent Ecuadorian bodies were established on the initiative of indigenous municipal
officials15 . As part of wider neo-liberal reforms, the participatory impulse was more explicit in
Bolivian government rhetoric than Ecuador, aiming to bring about political participation and the
integration of previously excluded populations into decision-making from the top down.
The expansion of local government accelerated in Ecuador during the 1980s.
Decentralization and participation are propounded in the 1998 Ecuadorian Constitution as integral
to the character of the state . New cantons (administrative units, between provinces and parishes
in descending size) were created, and rural and urban populations incorporated into municipal
governments, giving a total of 218 municipalities for a population of some 12 million 16. A series
of laws through the mid- to late 1990s clarified the functions and management of sectional
However, only after three years did productive and social investment overtake cosmetic
Under the 1995 Ecuadorian “Ley de Regimen municipal y provincial” “autonomous
sectional” authorities including municipalities were allotted 15% of state revenues.
I am grateful to Robert Andolina for pointing this out to me.
authorities, most recently in 199817. Municipalities were awarded considerable freedom to work
in areas considered convenient or appropriate, such as rural development, natural resource
protection, production and so on . Flexibility in creating civilian oversight committees has already
Following a more general contrast between the two Andean countries, Ecuadorian social
movements have managed to carry through a pro-development agenda to a greater extent than in
Bolivia . Social development has been incorporated into municipal politics, perhaps to a greater
extent than in Bolivia, an aspect seized upon by Ecuadorian indigenous leaders plugged into
transnational development networks. Despite the incorporation of social development concerns,
Ecuadorian municipalities are constrained by limited reforms of central state administration and
lack of progress in introducing alternative territorial autonomous systems (I return to this in the
From the perspective of municipalities themselves, reforms reconfigure local politics in
unprecedented ways, permitting political inclusion. In the next section, I examine how inputs
from transnational agendas, social movements and free market principles have facilitated a
politics of inclusion of indigenous peoples into municipal politics over the past decade. My focus
is the processes giving rise to indigenous-led municipalities in Ecuador, and their rural
counterparts in Bolivia. Given the increased electoral presence of indigenous local government
representatives in Ecuador and Bolivia, what opportunities arise for incorporating indigenous
political demands into municipal agendas? To what extent do multilateral agencies’ construction
of – and policy-making for – indigenous populations constrain or enable indigenous agendas?
IV The politics of inclusion: Indigenous municipalities in Ecuador and Bolivia
Working with technical support from international and national NGOs, some 20
municipalities in Ecuador and a number in Bolivia18 have expanded their (historically restricted)
remit to include a goal of participatory, sustainable long-term development that rests upon the
interconnectivity of rural and urban areas. The resultant “wave of municipal renovation” refers to
rising numbers of better-funded local governments, as well as new goals of participatory
interaction with civil society in the formulation of development plans. The case of Ecuador
provides the bulk of information in this section, complemented by a brief comparison with
With the expansion of Ecuador’s cantonal government through the 1980s, that is before
decentralization reforms, rural and urban popular organizations – church, indigenous,
neighborhood or low-income associations and social movements – established representatives in
municipal governments as individual councillors. Through the 1990s however, after reforms,
base organizations increased their electoral gains, achieving overall control of municipal councils
and mayorships. The national indigenous confederation CONAIE steadily gained authority and a
voice in public opinion . The formation of a political party, MUPP-Nuevo Pais, – known as
Pachacutik – meant that indigenous from CONAIE and other popular organizations contested in
In an early anti-centralist impulse, the Association of Ecuadorian Municipalities (AME)
made moves to allow adaptations to local circumstances.
These legal provisions included the 1992 law for cities over 1 million inhabitants ; the
1993 “Law of state modernization, privatization and private sector provision of public services”.
The 1998 “Law of decentralization of the state and social participation” ratified the functions of
municipal and provincial councils, although arguably in a rather conservative fashion .
The number of indigenous controlled municipalities in Bolivia is not easily calculable,
due to peasant-indigenous designation of individuals, and the lack of an ‘indigenous party’.
Nevertheless, of the 311 municipalities studied in 1996, 210 had indigenous-peasant councillors
(concentrated in La Paz and Santa Cruz departments). Mayors are chosen by negotiation between
leading parties, and have short terms of office (Albó 1999).
elections on the basis of a shared agenda for the first time . Pachacutik contested congressional
and municipal elections in 1996, congressional elections in 1998, and the municipal elections in
May 2000 . The latest municipal elections represented a political victory for the indigenous-social
movement, because of its participation in the dismissal of President Jamil Mahuad on 21 January
2000. Pachacutik won 5 prefectures as well as 23 mayorships (of 215 in total), mostly
concentrated in the highland and Amazon areas19. The mayorships of Cotacachi (Imbambura
province) and Guamote (Chimborazo province) stayed in indigenous hands, while new
indigenous leaders emerged in Guaranda municipality, and the prefecture of Cotopaxi20 and other
indigenous representatives in various different local elections (see Figure 2, showing Pachacutik
gains by province).
In my argument, I suggest that four processes are key in shaping the emergence of an
inclusionary politics of municipal provincial government in Ecuador, namely the addition of
development agendas to local governments’ remit; transnational connections; multiculturalism;
and alliances between previously autonomous sectors. Although these issues overlap and are
mutually influential, I address them in turn.
a) Introduction of development agendas to municipal concerns: Historically, municipalities have
been concerned with social infrastructure and amenities, using meagre budgets. Ecuadorian
local government retains an open definition of its operation, an ambiguity that added local
development to municipal agendas. The historic chronic under-funding of provincial and
rural areas in previous “developmentalist” decades highlights the urgency of local
development in many rural and urban areas. The 1993 Ecuadorian municipal law gave local
governments the right to prepare development plans, although these were often biased
towards urban development . The Pachacutik party has long recommended an extension of
municipal concerns into the development field. The international agencies’ social
participation agenda thus dovetailed neatly with indigenous demands for a greater say in
development arenas from which they had long been excluded. Indigenous mayors and
municipalities often represent some of the poorest areas of the country, and find themselves
at the forefront of preparing local development policies. Consultative workshops with a wide
range of citizen groups are used to gain a picture of what is most urgently requested by
communities. On the basis of this, participatory diagnostic studies, as they are termed, are
converted into outline local development plans. For example, in Cotacachi province, the
indigenous mayor Auki Tituaña oversaw the conversion of a participatory diagnostic into a
development plan . In Guamote, an 18-month participatory workshop defined development
goals and means, led by the indigenous mayor but involving local associations and over 4,000
local people (Interview with Dávila, 2000). The goal of economic development has prompted
alternative development ideas . While certain areas have managed to capitalize on skills and
trading networks, others rely upon small-scale productive projects, “alternative tourism” (as
in Guamote), or cultural events (Interviews with Prodepine staff, 2000). Indigenous-
controlled regions largely remain outside circuits of international capital investment resulting
in problems of market access and commercialization, despite ambitious goals of linking up
with “globalized alternative circuits” . (eg. organic produce marketing, fair trade
opportunities). The Prodepine project, funded by the Ecuadorian government and the World
Bank, makes diagnostic studies a requirement in funding.
Information on the 2000 elections comes from the ICCI website, at
http://www.nativeweb.org/elecciones 2000/, accessed on 13 September 2000.
The ex-Vice President of the main indigenous confederation CONAIE, Arturo Yumbay,
became mayor in Guaranda, while Cesar Umaginga (leader of the provincial indigenous
federation MIC) became prefecto in Cotopaxi.
Implementation of development policies relies upon the mobilization of resources
from within and outside the local authority in order to put it into operation. Given their
histories of community activism and development sector of NGOs and agencies, mayors and
councillors often come into office having built up a range of contacts among sympathetic
NGOs, development agencies and “think tanks”. It is at this stage that municipalities look to
transnational networks and NGOs to assist in the execution of their development plans. Even
with 15% of state resources, municipalities wishing to practice “development with identity”
must look to various initiatives. The Quichua peoples confederation of Ecuador,
ECUARUNARI, made funding proposals to multilateral and NGO agencies, and has
facilitated exchange meetings with NGOs and their networks : 48), while the ECUARUNARI
women’s training college gained funds from UNIFEM (Interview with Chuma, 2000). In
Cotocachi, exchanges with the municipality of Pasto, Colombia, provided other set of
b) Transnational connections Indigenous (and some non-indigenous) municipalities in Ecuador
operate within a transnational space of policy-formulation, resource distribution, and
discourses around participatory democracy. One review of Ecuador’s local development
agenda identified at least 8 NGOs and bilateral agencies with a specific interest in the theme
. Northern European monies are often directly associated with municipal questions and local
democracies (perhaps reflecting the countries’ own experiences . Combining agendas of
capacity-building and institutional strengthening, international NGOs and bilateral
development agencies are in a good position to support municipal participatory planning and
local development. The types of funding programmes through which transnational actors
support the municipalities vary considerably, although their emphasis is largely focussed on
institutional strengthening and building social capital. Municipalities in Ecuador controlled
by the centre-left, and especially those associated with a strong indigenous presence, attract a
disproportionate amount of attention from international development agencies and
international NGOs. Signifying prestige and power, such relationships entrain applications
for development funds that extend and diversify municipalities’ actions.
For example, the internationally-funded NGO Terranova supported the creation of a
team of bilingual Quichua-Spanish promoters to work in workshops with groups of up to 200
local people in development plans for Saquisilí and Cotacachi (Interview with Dávila, 2000).
Completion of local development plans, especially involving high degrees of participatory
consultations is followed by offers of funding from international and national agencies,
raising expectations and causing problems of coordination between agencies (ibid.). The
RIAD (InterAmerican Network for Agriculture and Democracy) network of NGOs has
worked since 1996 on themes of indigenous organization and local authorities in Ecuador,
seeing a confluence between the decentralization perspective and citizenship participation in
local governments (Interview with Larrea, 2000). Similarly since 1981, the German bilateral
agency GTZ has been involved in municipal strengthening via the AME22, while the
Norwegian bilateral cooperation agency APN funds various Ecuadorian NGOs working with
municipal democracy and development (Interviews with IEE, GTZ, APN, 2000). The Danish
NGO IBIS works with the indigenous confederation CONAIE on its construction of a pluri-
national state, especially via local governments including Cotacachi and Suscal (Interview
with Cevallos, 2000). Such transnational connections result in increased policy options
The list included Inter-American Foundation, the Embassy of the Netherlands, Fundación
Esquel-Ecuador, Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), Swiss FOES, CARE, Plan
International, and Ayuda Popular Noruega (Norwegian Popular Aid).
GTZ 2000, Portfolio actual de la GTZ en el Ecuador (published Quito).
available to indigenous municipalities through greater exchanges of information23.
Transnational agency and NGO involvement in municipal affairs illustrates a wider process
of synergy between elements of a neo-liberal social participation theory and policy, together
with an indigenous affairs network.
c) Discourses and practices of multicultural politics: Municipalities controlled or influenced by
a popular social movement have been one of the few locations within which a multicultural
practice can be attempted. As part of the indigenous agenda to diversify citizenship,
multiculturalism and “interculturalism”24 have a relatively long trajectory in indigenous
politics in the Andes, challenging exclusionary national political cultures. Intercultural
policies reaffirm elements of popular and indigenous cultures not previously accorded official
recognition. In Cotocachi for example, a multicultural policy is followed, with funding of
diverse religious, indigenous and popular festivals associated with a number of different
ethnic groups . In other contexts, a more pro-indigenous policy is favored, in which
indigenous mayors use an “ethnic discourse aimed at an affirmation of belonging and local
identity” (ibid.). Cultural events and productions associated with indigenous culture have
been funded by indigenous-controlled municipalities25.
Interculturalism departs from a conception of multiethnic society working for “unity
in diversity”26. Municipal government in predominantly indigenous or multiracial areas
represents a test-bed for the practice of interculturalism, rather than as rhetoric. In a
presentation on interculturalism, the indigenous mayor of Guamote – himself a former
hacienda worker – argued that despite 500 years of oppression, there had to be a new
dialogue and new forms of development (Interview with Dávila, 2000). Participatory
methods of planning and municipal action can be one measure of intercultural practice, while
the introduction of bilingual consultations is another.
From the multilateral agencies’ viewpoint, successful intercultural relations enhance
social capital, and hence the building of other forms of capital . Transnational funders
attribute variations in indigenous municipalities’ success to the extent of intercultural
practice. In Cotocachi, interculturalism was perceived to be central, whereas in Suscal (a
community additionally with a shorter history of indigenous control), a lack of engagement
with mestizo residents contributed to more difficulties (Interview with Cevallos, 2000)27.
Moreover in urban centres with ethnic-racial tensions, the prestige of ties to external agencies
are ambivalent. The formerly dominant “white-mestizo” population often perceive
The flagship World Bank project in Ecuador for indigenous (and black) peoples,
Prodepine, aims to provide technical assistance for “development with identity” or ethno-
development . Prodepine works mostly with rural parish associations (OSGs), but now
additionally partners some 14 indigenous municipalities, as well as a handful of cantonal and
provincial governments .
Interculturalism itself is a discursive component of complex transnational connections
made by indigenous people in their movement’s agenda (Project notes, 2000).
The remit of municipal actions is thereby extended beyond the emphasis on social
infrastructure, and is seen to complement work on local development by enhancing social capital.
The definition of interculturalism given by Ecuarunari the major Quichua federation of
Ecuador is “finding imaginative solutions to changes in relations between different groups, from
a vision of respect for difference and for unity within diversity” (quoted in . The same document
goes on to make specific reference to municipal government, in which “it is necessary to
understand municipal management and local development in relation to a relation of respect and
dialogue between social groups and different actors” (ibid.).
The case of Saquisilí is similar to Suscal in this regard.
indigenous-ness to be an advantage in gaining funds to benefit only the indigenous section of
the population .
d) Alliances between sectors. Indigenous controlled municipalities have introduced new forms
of political organization in order to increase participation of civil society, to generate
innovative policy proposals and to galvanize labor resources and goodwill. Owing much of a
voluntary-aided participatory discourse, attempts to spread the costs of municipal workloads
have galvanized a mix of old (“traditional” communal labor arrangements) and new (talking
shops). Indigenous municipalities have been characterized by a high degree of coordination
with other social sectors. Departing from an aim of enlarging citizen association, local
governments have explicitly and deliberately attempted to move municipal-citizen relations
away from patronage, towards more open and participatory relations . Rather than treating
urban government as a fiefdom with clientelist potential, indigenous councillors and mayors
have worked in concert with other social actors . The organizations formed include cantonal
assemblies, indigenous and popular parliaments, coordinating workshops (mesas de
concertación), and amplified cabildos (rural community councils) 28. Communal labour
parties – mingas – provide much needed labor, although a market rationale has crept into
such historically reciprocal arrangements: “nothing is free in Guamote; everything has its
Galvanizing citizen contributions in combination with NGO and transnational
resources provides the municipality with resources while furthering its goal of local
development. Based on extensive networks, transnational groups in turn fund planning and
participatory activities, assisting the municipality in its work. Guamote’s local ‘Parliament’
was funded by three internationally connected organizations. These comprised the Instituto
de Estudios Ecuatorianos (IEE, Institute of Ecuadorian Studies, a national NGO funded by
the Norwegian Bilateral Cooperation APN), Terra Nova (for technical assistance and events),
and by the Latin America-wide Fondo Indígena for the systematization of experience .
Similarly in Saquisilí, a smorgasbord of NGOs and agencies became involved in funding
diverse elements of the municipal programme, after the election in 1996 of an indigenous
mayor, 2 councillors, and one provincial deputy29, a process of cooperation that has continued
in later years.
NGOs perceive such municipalities as agents and catalysts, able to practice
development and politics in innovative ways . Although originating with a concern in urban
democracy and citizenship, the NGOs were faced after the 1996 electoral gains by Pachacutik
with the possibility of work with smaller and more ‘rural’ municipalities (Interviews with
Larrea, Cevallos, 2000). As noted by a NGO representative,
“Now , it was directly people from social organizations who took on candidacy
and management responsibilities, so for us, these were important experiences that we
privilege in our assistance [acompañamiento]”
Departing from a clearly defined urban agenda, NGO concerns become bound up with
changing conceptions and organization of political spaces, “a more rural-urban problematic”
in the words of one NGO representative. NGOs also perceive a change in their role vis-à-vis
“beneficiaries”, as the municipal populations become active political subjects and NGOs their
Municipalities have also joined regional groupings in order to exchange experiences and
wider support. For example, the Mesa de Concertacion del Consorcio Carchi de la Cuenca del
rio El Angel, which also involved NGOs, and a development agency .
In the 1998 elections, the indigenous OSG won 1 consejal, and 1 deputy for Cotopaxi
province. At the municipal level, elected indigenous representatives included the mayor, 3
Pachacutik councillors; there were also 2 DP councillors and 2 PSC .
facilitators and trainers. NGOs provide pre-election training for political candidates, as do the
As in Ecuador, Bolivian legislative reforms introducing rural municipalization and popular
participation have resulted in a more inclusionary politics within rural and urban areas. Subjects
who previously would not consider themselves as political representatives - such as indigenous,
women and community leaders - could become political candidates, often for the first time .
Indigenous movement male representatives did well in the 1995 local elections. Under the 1994
legislation, there are two avenues to increase participation in municipal government that have
particularly encouraged indigenous representation. Popular Participation legislation permitted
populations to define their own socio-spatial administration on the basis of local associations,
ethnicity or territory. Indigenous institutions can gain legal recognition permitting them to
participate in municipal government (OTBs). Alternatively, indigenous settlements can form their
own sub-units of municipal local government through the creation of indigenous municipal
districts . The Indigenous Municipal Districts (DMIs, distritos municipales indígenas) are
considered a crucial basis for indigenous development, covering 310 potential DMIs in nine
departments (ibid.). Nevertheless, as the DMIs do not receive the full counterpart of municipal
funds, they turn to international charities and organizations in broader transnational alliances 30.
Moreover in some early cases, local mayors were unwilling to relinquish funds granted to
municipal districts to newly formed DMIs. In at least one lowland Bolivia case, central popular
participation government officials lobbied mayors in the Chaco district, persuading them to
accept indigenous districts.
In its consideration of wider structures of exclusion, the Popular Participation law brought in
issues of gender-neutral language, promotion of gender equity, and the promotion of women’s
participation in planning, at the insistence of feminist state officials . Combining gender, ethnic
and generational concerns in a governmental secretariat (SNAEGG), the Bolivian reform
addressed social divisions as transversal themes in order to introduce socio-cultural sensitivity
into development planning and administration, working with the German Technical Assistance
(GTZ) (Paulson, 2000).
Urban political reform legislation introduced by Andean neo-liberal regimes has
increased the opportunities for indigenous populations to challenge the nature of political
representation, drawing upon previous social movement experience and the resources brought to
the region by the transnational agencies for development. The emergence of social movement
politics around indigenous ethnic identity is consolidated by the convergence of neo-liberal social
capital paradigms in an international “development with identity field”, with decentralizing
moves undertaken by states. Development agendas and political participation are now embedded
within the municipal governments of Ecuador and Bolivia to an unprecedented degree, and owe
their emergence to a confluence of processes occurring at the international and national scales,
and at the urban-rural interface.
V The political cultures of exclusion: gender and ethnicity in municipalities
While the above section has emphasized the expansion of political spaces for previously
marginalized subjects to find representation, access to decision-making and funds, this is not the
whole story. Alongside the expansion of political opportunity lie exclusionary patterns of
structure and behavior that limit participation and full control over decentralization resources.
The Ecuadorian evidence (and preliminary Bolivian data) suggests that while decentralization has
permitted the insertion of formerly excluded citizens into decision-making institutions, political
cultures persist in making that access unequal and/or deny the specificity of subaltern groups. Just
as in the case of the inclusionary legislation and transnational context, these exclusionary political
Personal communication, Donna Lee Van Cott, University of London, March 2000.
cultures have their origins in the state and transnational contexts, as well as in the embodiments
of racial and gendered hierarchies. I start by considering the exclusionary structures embedded
within formal political rules and legislation by states and transnational actors; my concern is thus
not to criticize failures in implementation of reforms, but rather to address the persistent symbols
and values which shape legislation and its “blind spots”.
Funds and expertise flow according to the connections highlighted by the emerging
“development with identity” field. Although legislation exists in order for indigenous groups to
claim rights, access to such rights may depend upon the representations made of indigeneity. The
Bolivian political culture surrounding pro-indigenous measures is one that relies mostly upon
representations of indigenous-ness, rather than on established criteria, self-determination and/or
self-identification (despite international law to the contrary). For those claiming an ethnic
identity, international funds and assistance are forthcoming.
The relative isolation and poverty of the municipalities at times block wider coalitions. The
new municipalities often lack the necessary institutional infrastructure and human skills to
undertake the ambitious plans expected of them, while they are at times weighed down by
bureaucracy . Bolivian municipal development plans (planes de desarrollo municipal, PDMs)
have not matched indigenous requirements and methods of decision-making, resulting in a central
state proposal for a 10 year Indigenous Peoples Development Plan , thereby undercutting the
bottom-up rational of participatory development. There is also a tension around interculturalism,
in which NGO sectors attempt to engage indigenous communities in wider political questions on
the basis that their rights must be defended within these broader arenas. However, indigenous
leaders have rejected this in favor working more specifically for their ethnically-defined
constituencies and the priorities identified by these groups .
Efforts to include gender, ethnic and generational axes in the center of Bolivian
municipal reforms have been noted, reflecting not only the institutionalization of social-
difference paradigms into state infrastructures but also the problematic working out of contrasting
models of gender, ethnicity or age. Drawing on a transnational gender-and-development
paradigm, Bolivian feminist state officials managed to insert gender-neutral language, promotion
of gender equity, and women’s participation in development into legislation . However, lack of
coordination between the Sub-Secretariats of gender and ethnicity hampered efforts to synthesize
analysis, as modernist gender paradigms failed to mesh with the more ethnographic ethnic
approach . In practice, the gender Sub-Secretariat focussed on female subjects, ignoring the
complexities of masculinities , while indian subjects were conflated with ethnicity . Moreover,
lack of consultation with indigenous and peasant women meant that their concerns were not
highlighted in legislation.
Embodiments of gendered and ethnically marked values shape the outcomes of contests
over power and status. The interconnections of hierarchies of race-ethnicity, gender and class in
determining social status and social interactions is by now relatively well-documented in Andean
countries . Although lying outside official citizenship and rights, these cultural politics are deeply
embedded in Latin American cultures and the associated dynamics of political action,
constituencies and agendas . The persistent attribution of authority and legitimacy to subjects who
are male, white-mestizo, bourgeois and urban has historically excluded groups of citizens such as
women, indigenous, Afro-Latin Americans and others from candidature, election and decision-
In the Andes, male and female indigenous leaders face varying degrees of racism and
discrimination from urban and predominantly mestizo (mixed race) groups. Comments about
indigenous leaders make reference to their supposed primitiveness, ignorance and lack of hygiene
. In Ecuador, constructions of indigenous masculinity vis-à-vis mestizo men reduce their authority
through feminization of the indian, and the enhanced masculinization of other racial groups . The
legitimacy of male indigenous mayors is thereby affected, making them ethnically-marked and
gendered in comparison with other elected officials. National political cultures delegitimizing
male indigenous authority make subaltern local leaders less effective in galvanizing multi-ethnic
support when faced with skeptical white-mestizo populations. In the case of one central Sierra
mayor, the power of gendered ethnic political cultures forced a change in performance of mayoral
power. The indigenous male mayor turned in his ‘indian’ poncho in favour of a three-piece suit,
as well as the adoption of explicitly heterosexual masculine public behavior designed to associate
himself with mestizo men . The performance of a legitimate and authoritative masculinity led to
the re-embodiment of the mayor. In an example of what Diane Nelson terms “ethnic
transvestism” , the indigenous mayor became both more macho and more mestizo, in a public
display designed to overcome (mestizo) resistance in a divided community31.
Value-laden responses to gendered and racialized embodiments curtail women’s – and
particularly indigenous women’s – access to political power. Despite legislative provision to raise
levels of women’s candidacy for local political office, recurrent stereotyping and devaluation of
female subjects restricts their access to decentralized government. Current Ecuadorian electoral
law for local elections (ie. municipalities, Mayors, Provincial councils, and Rural Parochial
Councils, Juntas Parroquiales Rurales32) requires political parties’ candidate lists to include at
least 30 per cent women candidates. Law “2000-1” came into force for the first time in the May
2000 local elections, and in candidates lists 41.3 per cent were female (El Comercio
14.May.2000, A3). This represents a secular increase on previous elections during the 1970s and
1980s, when women represented between 6 and 14 per cent of mayoral candidates . In Andean
provinces with high concentrations of indigenous populations, the representation of female
candidates was even higher than the national average. In the southern province of Cañar, for
example, 52 per cent of provincial candidates, 49 per cent of municipal candidates and 39.9 per
cent of Rural Parochial council candidates were women. Similarly, in the central province of
Chimborazo, 50%, 50% and 40% of the provincial, municipal and JPR candidates respectively
were female (El Comercio, 14.May.2000, A3).
However, despite these historically high rates of female candidacy, the electoral results
were less than encouraging. Just under twenty-five per cent of those elected in the sectional
elections were women, including 8 female mayors but no female prefecturas (provincial leaders)
(El Comercio 29.June.2000; Hoy 25 July 2000). Indigenous women were among the victors:
graduates of ECUARUNARI’s indigenous women’s training programme took 6 urban seats, from
councils to Parochial Rural councils (JPRs) . Nevertheless, women tended to be elected as local
councillors and as JPR representatives, that is the lower ranking posts with less control over
budgets and management. The general lack of female mayorships (exceptions are shown on the
Map) indicates an underlying marginalization of female candidates, placing them in electable
positions in the least important posts. Such exclusion from winnable positions operates despite
the extensive experience of female candidates in political activity, whether in social movements
or community associations. One female candidate for concejal in Cotocachi for example had
traveled widely as a representative of the FENOCIN federation (Interview with FENOCIN
Women’s team, 2000).
Similar evidence of exclusionary political cultures is emerging from the Bolivian case,
particularly regarding the issue of femininity. The emergence of indigenous municipalities is
marked by the concerns of male indigenous leaders “to preserve [patriarchal] indigenous
In this highly ethnically charged municipality, interculturalism of gender was clearly off
the agenda; more research remains to be done on how masculinities are performed in more
According to the Pachacutik party, JPRs were established in the 1998 Constitution as
autonomous entities (separate from cabildo authorities), and hence require secondary legislation
in order to clarify their functions and role. Discussions have been held between the Congressional
commission on decentralization and the indigenous confederations CONAIE, FEINE and
FENOCIN, in order to formulate this secondary legislation (El Comercio 9.May.2000, A6).
communities vis-à-vis the modern state” , a pattern reinforced by the state’s unwillingness to
tackle gender issues in depth . In terms of formal representation, Bolivian women have seen a
worsening of their position, with a drop in number of female mayors from 19 in 1993, to only 11
in 1995. Despite their demographic majority in the country, peasant and indigenous women did
even worse, taking only 22 of a total of 135 female councillors’ seats in 1995 and 2 mayorships
(op.cit: 188). As municipal funds have increased, so too male candidates showed greater interest
in local elections and the monies associated with them, thereby displacing female candidates
(Interview with Arias, 1999). Even in the civil associations, women’s interests in Bolivian local
urban government have been marginalized through male-dominated organizations, despite valiant
efforts to the contrary .
Evidence from across Latin America would suggest that female candidates are
experienced activists in community and neighbourhood organizations. In a survey of Ecuador,
Bolivia and six other Latin American countries, the majority of elected local female politicians
had gained political recognition and support through previous “informal” political actions .
Despite such extensive political experience, however, cultural constructions of non-authoritative
and apolitical femininity combined with “non-professional” status limit women’s candidature and
election for the new municipalities in Ecuador and Bolivia.
In summary to this section, I have argued that persistent combinations of racialized and
gendered political cultures have restricted both the formulation of decentralizing legislation in the
Andes, and impeded its potentially empowering effect on its target populations. Transnational
agencies have worked with stereotypical images of indigenous peoples, while gender and
development paradigms often misrepresent indigenous and gender concerns. Clashing
representations of ethnic and gendered subjects obscure the underlying connections between race,
gender and nation in shaping political outcomes.
Transformations in the internal geopolitics and structure of Andean states, combined with
new subjects and constituencies of a decentralized neo-liberal system has resulted in the
emergence of a wave of municipal renovation, to quote Victor Hugo Torres . Transnational
connections, resulting in in-flows of resources, technical assistance and methods of organization,
interface with the expanded personnel, political clout and – in certain cases – discourses and
practice of democratic participatory planning, to form new spaces and subjects of indigenous and
provincial territoriality and identity. Economic poverty combined with marginalization from
commercial circuits and high-value production centres places development high on municipal
agendas, although it is arguable whether their mobilization of social capital and transnational
resources can mitigate these effects .
Going beyond an analysis of the formal urban political structures and their capture by
new subjects, the paper addresses the complex political cultures around such political institutions.
The cultural politics of local government rest upon social expectations about figures of authority,
and the ways in which those who command are associated with particular gender and ethnic
attributes. I suggest that the legitimacy of municipal authorities arose out of their electoral
strengths in areas where indigenous electorates have a choice of candidates, but that the operation
of political authority in office remains difficult for indigenous and female leaders, due to
persistent cultural values around politics and seniority. The cultural politics of legitimacy around
notions of gender and ethnic-racial hierarchy are crucial for understanding the political
implications of decentralization, and explain the limitations in such policies in bringing about
social participation. Although women and indigenous peoples have increased their candidacy and
– in the case of male indigenous - success in elections, their political authority often remains
denied even in small communities where they had gained political experience. Formal political
office still rests upon stereotypical attributes of political authority, relying on the embodiments
and performance of political actors, rather than on intrinsic abilities.
In a comparative study of Colombia and Bolivia, Donna Lee van Cott (2000b: 276)
argues that future experiments in indigenous autonomy are likely to be at the municipal level. I
would suggest that we could extend that to the Ecuadorian example. Proposals from the
Ecuadorian indigenous confederation CONAIE for a new law of indigenous communities, and the
creation of “indigenous territorial circumscriptions” (CTIs, circunscripciones territoriales
indigenas), both granting greater autonomy to indigenous peoples and settlements, are a key
plank of indigenous demands after the 1998 Constitution. However, constitutional promises of
new territorial rights for ethnic groups remain to be specified in (as yet unwritten) secondary
legislation . Currently, CONAIE and the other indigenous federations in Ecuador have before the
National Congress proposals concerned with the proposed law of communities (under Valerio
Grefa, Pachacutik), and the Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples law (CONAIE, 2000).
The political representation of urban – and also in the Andes, rural – populations have
been profoundly reshaped in structure, if not always in content, by recent neo-liberal reforms. In
practice, limits to decentralization in bringing about democratic governance and citizen
participation in policy-making and development are numerous and all too real. Although
successful decentralization requires a strong and solid state, Ecuador and Bolivia fall short of
fulfilling these conditions . Critics point out that decentralization could lead to further
marginalization of indigenous ethnic communities, whose lack of access to capital and state
resources leave them out of the circuits of capital and assistance that provide development
opportunities (ibid.). Rural and provincial areas remain under-resourced and more impoverished
than major towns. What is certainly true is that transnational networks of municipalities and civil
associations have become deeply embedded in the operations and discourses of urban politics,
foreshadowing a shift in local government accountability. The geographical variability of
development outcomes will increase as “successful” municipalities capture funds and others rely
upon relatively limited state inputs and/or their own limited tax base.
Drawing on recent evidence from Ecuador and Bolivia, my paper argues that municipal
politics engages with questions about representation and democracy in post-liberal states. Neo-
liberal agendas of decentralization have in practice initiated dynamic interactions between diverse
constituencies and actors (including indigenous organizations, political parties, hybrid
development agencies, and transnational agents). The political representation outcomes are
shaped by new formal provision, although constrained by informal political cultures whose
ramifications for local development agendas, multiculturalism and political reforms remain
understudied. In the making and remaking of urban spaces, a complex interplay of national,
international and local institutions are at work.
Sarah A. Radcliffe
This paper has gained immeasurably from my discussions with Nina Laurie, Robert Andolina,
and Donna Lee Van Cott, as well as the presenters and audience at the University of Berkeley
conference on “Urban informality in an era of liberalization: a transnational perspective”, January
Albó, X. et al. (1999) Ojotas en el poder local: cuatro años despues. CIPCA/PADER, La Paz.