State Formation in Modern Ecuador

Latin American Studies Association, Miami, Florida, March 16-18, 2000.

Session abstract: This panel explores the tensions underlying the formation of the Ecuadorian state in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Papers examine these issues from a variety of perspectives, including the relationship between state and nation formation and the development of inter-ethnic relations, the interplay between processes of exclusion and inclusion, and the efforts of subalterns to redefine the meanings and purpose of state structures in Ecuador.

Session organizers:

Marc Becker is an assistant professor of history at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. His research is on changes in class consciousness and ethnic identities in rural communities in the Ecuadorian highlands in the twentieth century.

A. Kim Clark is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. Her research is on processes and models of national incorporation in Ecuador since 1895, with particular emphasis on the position and responses of highland Indians in/to those processes.

Paper abstracts:

To Kill a Cacique: caciques, communities, state formation: Chimborazo, Ecuador. 1830-1845 (Aleeze Sattar, New School for Social Research)

This paper analyzes the relationship between tentative attempts at Ecuadorian state formation and the reconfiguration of Indian communities in the central highland province of Ecuador. I focus on the period between 1830, the year Ecuador declared independence from Gran Colombia, and 1845, when the Marcista Revolution felled the dictatorship of General Juan José Flores. In particular, I examine internal conflicts, social and economic differentiation within Indian communities, and their political engagement with state projects.

Assembling the "Empire of Morality": The Trials of State-Making in Catholic Ecuador, 1869-1875 (Derek Williams, SUNY Stony Brook)

This paper is a regional study of state formation during the centralizing and evangelical presidency of Garcia Moreno. Concretely, it examines the implementation of various national modernizing and civilizing projects initiated in Ecuador's northern sierra. I analyze the attempts of central government to harness local networks of church, hacienda and Indian community for national objectives, and the complex process by which state-centered agents, meanings and identities were engaged by various local social groups.

The Uses of the State: Indians, Law, and Government Discourse in Early Twentieth-Century Ecuador (Kim Clark, University of Western Ontario)

This paper examines the various ways that, in pursuing their own projects, highland Indians in Ecuador in the first half of this century were able to use law and government discourse to their own ends during local conflicts. In the process, they often stretched the meaning of law and discourse in unexpected ways, and in doing so were able to deal successfully with some of their most pressing everyday problems.

The Politics of Exclusion: Ecuador's Glorious May Revolution of 1944 (Marc Becker, Truman State University)

The "Glorious May Revolution" of 1944 and the subsequent constituent assembly which drafted a progressive constitution promised openings for popular organizations in Ecuador. Much like the recent January 21, 2000 coup, however, this "revolution" attempted and failed to force much needed changes in concepts of citizenship rights and state structures so that they would respond to the needs of the entire country. This essay addresses the question of why Ecuador's popular movement, although large and strong, continues to be frustrated in achieving its goals.

Peasant Struggle and the Formation of State and Capital in Ecuador's Coast, 1925-1955 (Steve Striffler, University of Arkansas)

How was a small peasant organization able to successfully invade land owned by the United Fruit Company? The answer, it is suggested, lies in the Ecuadorian state and the relationships that both United Fruit and the peasants were (and were not) able to form with various actors within its organizational terrain.

Pluricultural Ecuador: Redefining the Nation in the late Twentieth Century (Amalia Pallares, University of Illinois at Chicago)

This paper analyzes how the discourse and practice of pluricultural politics in Ecuador became a site of struggle between Indigenous activists and the state. I trace the origins of pluriculturalism as an ideology of nationalism and explain how it was redefined by Indian activists to challenge state policies and structures. I highlight how the pluriculturalism debate sheds light on provides on the intersecting roles of Indians as symbols of nation and as political actors.

Discussant: David L. Nugent, Colby College