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  You are in: Home > Latin American Studies > The Struggle for Indigenous Rights in Latin America  

The Struggle for Indigenous Rights in Latin America

Edited by Nancy Grey Postero and Leon Zamosc

Author text to follow


The “Indian question” has come to the forefront of political agendas in contemporary Latin America. In the process, indigenous movements have emerged as important social actors, raising a variety of demands on behalf of native peoples. Regardless of the situation of Indian groups as small minorities or significant sectors, many Latin American states have been forced to consider whether they should have the same status as all citizens or whether they should be granted special citizenship rights as Indians.

This book examines the struggle for indigenous rights in eight Latin American countries. Initial studies of indigenous movements celebrated the return of the Indians as relevant political actors, often approaching their struggles as expressions of a common, generic agenda. This collection moves the debate forward by acknowledging the extraordinary diversity among the movements’ composition, goals, and strategies. By focusing on the factors that shape this diversity, the authors offer a basis for understanding the specificities of converging and diverging patterns across different countries.

The case studies examine the ways in which the Indian question arises in each country, with reference to the protagonism of indigenous movements in the context of the threats and opportunities posed by neoliberal policies. The complexities posed by the varying demographic weight of indigenous populations, the interrelation of class and ethnicity, and the interplay between indigenous and popular struggles are discussed.


Preface and Acknowledgments

1 Indigenous Movements and the Indian Question in Latin America
Nancy Postero and Leon Zamosc

2 From Indigenismo to Zapatismo: The Struggle for a Multi-ethnic Mexican Society
Gunther Dietz

3 Beyond Victimization: Maya Movements in Post-war Guatemala
Edward Fischer

4 Indigenous Struggles in Colombia: Historical Changes and Perspectives
Theodor Rathgeber

5 The Indian Movement in Ecuador: From Politics of Influence to Politics of Power
Leon Zamosc

6 Un País Sin Indígenas?: Re-thinking Indigenous Politics in Peru
María Elena García and José Antonio Lucero

7 Articulations and Fragmentations: Indigenous Politics in Bolivia
Nancy Postero

8 Socialist Saudades: Lula’s Victory, Indigenous Movements, and the Latin American Left
Jonathan Warren

The Contributors

“Several recent edited volumes have explored contemporary issues in Latin America. This volume, which evolved from seminars at the University of California, San Diego and Cochabamba, Bolivia, improves on those in terms of the breadth of geographic and thematic coverage and the internal coherence of the essays. …The essays provide a quick historical context, but they are written at a sophisticated level and emphasize deeper issues, including indigenous challenges to neoliberal economic policies and participation in electoral politics. The volume argues that in places where indigenous peoples are in the majority, they are demanding equality and participation rather than just autonomy and recognition. The editors’ introduction provides valuable conceptual tools for understanding indigenous struggles, their diverse goals, and the ways in which their contexts are shaped by complex interactions between demographic factors, class consciousness, and ethnic identification. Recommended.” Choice

“As indigenous issues become increasingly salient in Latin America, this collection of eight essays explores recent pathways that the ‘Indian Question’ has taken…The result is a comprehensive yet distinct contribution to an expanding body of knowledge on indigenous politics in the region… It offers a strong challenge to any simple rendering of indigenous political identities, strategies, agendas or impact…Important lines of future inquiry are laid out, including investigating the importance of the demographics of indigenous people, the growing influence of the indigenous vote, the opportunities and constraints of neoliberal policies for indigenous movements, and the relative impact of cultural (strictly indigenous) versus popular indigenous/non-indigenous alliance) strategies of struggle. Given that indigenous peoples are now central political actors in Latin America, yet appear to be approaching the limits of the current model of official multiculturalism, we would do well to pursue such a research agenda.” Journal of Latin American Studies

“ Postero and Zamosc have produced a timely collection consisting of impressively focused and engaging chapters on the indigenous resurgence in Latin America, with special attention paid to indigenous organization within national political contexts. This volume does a wonderful job of bringing indigenous issues to the front and center of our field of vision… The collection is very consistent across each of its individual chapters in connecting ethnicity and class with citizenship and democratic transformation, given that indigenous movements pose a challenge of expanding participation to previously excluded groups. The framework for the volume is a state-centric one, as opposed to examining indigenous resurgence in terms of microlevel village transformations, personal biographies, or macro-level transnational indigenous organization. On the other hand, this does not preclude thorough discussions of the impact of neoliberalism… This is a remarkable volume, one that is very accessible to students and a wider, educated readership. It is ideal for courses on indigenous peoples of Latin America, from the vantage point of a number of disciplines. The historical overviews that begin most of the chapters could tie in well with a chronologically organized survey course.” Journal of Latin American Anthropology

“Anyone – and that includes specialists as well as general readers – who wants a solid, readable and challenging overview of the Latin American ‘Indian question’ in all its complexity will be well-served by this book. It certainly should be assigned reading for college students.” Delaware Review of Latin American Studies

“ [To take just one chapter out of the seven] Nancy Grey Postero discusses indigenous politics in Bolivia, a country that amended its constitution in the 1990s to declare itself both multiethnic and pluricultural. Initially the reforms were praised for the way in which they constructed an indigenous citizenship. However, by 2004 the situation did not look too promising, with frequent blockades of the country’s road system. The heart of the problem – as is the case with many other Latin American groups – is neoliberal reforms and their failure to deliver promises. Postero draws parallels with the Ecuadorian situation as outlined in Zamosc’s chapter, highlighting the need for an articulation of interests between indigenous people and other poor sectors of society… Whatever one’s speciality, there is something of interest in this book. Significantly, a Spanish version will soon be available, making the work accessible to an even wider audience, importantly including people from the countries discussed.” Cultural Survival

“Indigenous movements have become major social and political actors in Latin America, posing radical challenges to the extant model of the nation-state and notions of democracy and development. Bringing together in-depth studies of the Indian Question in seven Latin American countries, this book reveals the diversity of contexts in which indigenous movements emerge and develop their strategies. Highlighting this diversity through up-to-date analyses, it provides a welcome and timely contribution to the study of indigenous struggles, citizenship, democracy and development.” Willem Assies, Colegio de Michoacán, Mexico

“This work compares the ways in which indigenous peoples in Latin America have organized locally, regionally, and nationally to open up new political spaces since the 1980s. Avoiding the homogenisation of indigenous struggles, the book emphasizes the different paths to rights that indigenous peoples have found in different national contexts. At the same time, it analyzes common processes of ethnification, environmental and land struggles, indigenous involvement in national politics, and indigenous responses to neoliberal and multicultural state policies. What particularly distinguishes this book is its attention not only to indigenous ethnicity but also to the consequences of neoliberalism and the processes of class formation and reformation that have shaped the contexts for the flourishing of indigenous movements. A must read for anyone interested in Latin America and a very useful overview for students.” Lynn Stephen, Distinguished Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon

“This book makes important contributions to the literature on indigenous peoples and social movements…. It raises important questions about racism, class, and indigenous identity; democracy, inequality, and multiculturalism; and the political and economic impact of neoliberal reforms.” The Americas


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
September 2004
  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£55.00 / $67.50
Paperback Price:
£19.95 / £27.50

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