Ecuador: Legal Status of Indigenous Peoples and key political issues facing communities

Posted on August 13, 2016 • Filed under: Ecuador, Latin America Indigenous Issues, Politics reported the Ecuadorean indigenous political party Pachakutik yesterday officially validated the results of its presidential primary, naming Lourdes Tiban as the party’s nominee for next year’s election. In an email interview, Manuela Picq, professor of international relations at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) in Ecuador, and currently a Loewenstein Fellow in the department of political science at Amherst College, discusses the legal, political and socio-economic status of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples.

WPR: What is the legal status of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples, and what are the key political and socio-economic issues facing indigenous communities?

Manuela Picq: Legally, Ecuador is a plurinational state that recognizes indigenous peoples’ collective rights, languages and traditional forms of justice. The constitution celebrates the contributions of indigenous peoples and guarantees rights to self-determination, including to ancestral territories.

However, legal recognition has not erased historical socio-economic marginalization. Indigenous peoples continued to be coerced into forced labor for large landholders until the early 1960s under a colonial system of exploitation called the “huasipungo.” This form of slavery was only abolished with the agrarian reform of 1963, long after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and indigenous peoples only received full citizenship with the right to vote in 1977.

Indigenous peoples still face the highest levels of poverty in Ecuador, with little access to health care, justice or education. This marginalization is accentuated by the expropriation of indigenous communities’ land for extractive industries, mirroring the colonial-era appropriation of indigenous territories, but now in the name of development and modernization. Indigenous lands are given in concession for oil drilling in the Amazon and for mining projects in the highlands. Communities that are not displaced face dangerous levels of environmental toxicity.

Self-determination is therefore a central concern. Indigenous peoples demand prior, free and informed consultation before the state develops extractive projects on their lands. The defense of the natural environment is vital to guarantee indigenous communities’ sustainability and political autonomy.

So while indigenous peoples have gained substantial legal rights, they are still treated as second-class citizens whose concerns are irrelevant in Ecuadorean politics.

WPR: How politically organized are Ecuador’s indigenous peoples, and what role do they play in the country’s society and politics? Read Full Article

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