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Indigenous Movements in the Eye of the Hurricane

Sat, April 29, 4:00 to 5:45pm, TBA


Sociologist Andrés Guerrero famously has examined how nineteenth-century liberal legislation in Ecuador created a “ventriloquist’s voice” that mediated Indigenous expressions of resistance to exclusionary governing structures. An oft-repeated assumption is that in political struggles Indigenous voices disappear, and what we are left with are the actions of intermediaries who purportedly spoke out in defense of subaltern rights but in reality only desired to advance their own political, social, and economic interests. In essence, this perspective alleges that these intermediaries added another layer of exploitation to an already marginalized and silenced population. Careful studies, however, reveal that Indigenous activists did advance their own agendas, both alone as well as in collaboration with sympathetic urban allies. Recovering subaltern voices, however, is complicated by a lack of written archival documentation. Often this lack of documentation is not so much the fault of local organic intellectuals, but rather the racist attitudes of a dominant class who did not find their thoughts and actions worthy of preservation. During the 1940s, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents conducted intelligence-gathering efforts against urban leftists in Latin America, but failed to do so on rural communities, thereby providing one stunning example of the historiographic consequences of such an omission. Despite the United States security apparatus’ stated concern for subversive movements in Ecuador, they missed what could be construed as some of the most significant political organizing efforts. The FBI failed to submit substantive reports on Indigenous movements, even as the Federación Ecuatoriana de Indios (FEI, Ecuadorian Federation of Indians) mobilized rural communities against historically exclusionary and repressive structures. The United States intelligence apparatus never placed much importance on gaining a strong understanding of rural organizing efforts, or attempting to counter the potential threat that they might represent. The absence of scrutiny of this Indigenous federation reveals as much about the narrow assumptions and nature of United States intelligence gathering endeavors as does a study of where they chose to focus their surveillance efforts. This essay examines the gap between the perception of both domestic and international surveillance operations and the realities of rural mobilizations.


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