In the 1980s and 1990s indigenous movements began to receive national attention throughout Latin America, particularly in the central Andes (Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador). Despite the similarities between these cases, the existing literature overwhelmingly agrees that indigenous groups in Ecuador are comparatively more mobilized and effective at advocating for their rights. Why is Ecuador able to claim a strong indigenous movement, supported by lowland (Amazonian) and highland ethnic groups when Peru and Bolivia, despite having larger indigenous populations and similar political and economic characteristics, struggle to form a unified national movement? In other words, why are appeals to indigenous identity more likely to become mobilized in some countries than in others? This project departs from the prevalent literature in political science by focusing on long-range historical trajectories. Through the use of process-tracing (the comparison of historical sequences) I explore how the structures of the Inca Empire and Spanish colonialism influenced the ways in which economic activities, political institutions and nation-building interacted with indigenous identities. Four months of fieldwork in Peru and Ecuador supplement historiographical data collection with a number of in-depth elite interviews and participant observation of protests and public expressions of indigenous identity, including the 2019 national strike led by the indigenous movement in Ecuador. I find that indigenous movements in Latin America are likely to be more cohesive on a national level in contexts where colonial exploitation was disorganized, allowing for ethnic articulation to remain relatively strong throughout the colonial and post-colonial periods.
Doctoral Candidate, University of Florida