Problems Establishing a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs in Ecuador

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM
River North Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Marc Becker, Truman State University
Politicians and political activists in Ecuador repeatedly sought to create a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, but their efforts continually met with mixed results. The most serious attempts emerged in the 1940s during a period when liberal politicians created a national branch of the Interamerican Indigenist Institute (III) that had been founded at Pátzcuaro, Mexico several years earlier. Unfortunately, the 1940s were also a period of extreme political flux in Ecuador. Frequent changes in government placed efforts to create a Board of Indigenous Issues and Department of Indigenous Affairs as a first step toward a full-fledged Ministry in an extremely precarious state. A central problem was that their existence was dependent on the political sentiments and interests of the government, and politicians were not always committed to dedicating the necessary resources to these projects. The debates around the formation of such a ministry are representative of the broader problems that indigenistas faced in Ecuador. Typically those most committed to the creation of such a ministry were not liberal politicians dedicated to the assimilation of Indigenous peoples into a mestizo culture, but rather political radicals who struggled for their rights and liberation. A more fundamental problem, however, was the failure of those who advocated for such a ministry to gain the support of those who were to be the beneficiaries of its efforts. As a result, the debates over the ministry highlight a much broader pattern of excluding subalterns from political debates.
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