Cocalero (2007) — Bolivian and Ecuadorian Parallels

This weeks film Cocalero has brought us to the most present day representation of what indigenous organizing has brought to Bolivia. Evo Morales stepped up to the role of Presidency following the ousting of Goni. Winning by a true majority of over 50% (I think it was around 54%), Morales was strongly seated in his Presidential win and has since been re-elected for a second term. Cocalero shows how Evo Morales, and indigenous citizen of Bolivia, managed his campaign which constrasted starkly with last weeks showing of Our Brand is Crisis and Goni’s Amercian made campaign. The readings for this week demonstrate the parallels between Ecuador and Bolivia as the indigenous populas of both countries learn how to better organize in making historical strides toward national recognition and self-preservation.

Indigenous rebellions have been occuring since the 15oos when Spain first came to colonize South America and have reached new momentum in the last twenty years. The issues brought forth by the indigenous populations have not changed but the tactics for delivering their demands have evolved. The demands that date back 500 years and resonate today are mentioned in both Suzana Sawyer’s paper The 1992 Indian Mobilization in Lowland Ecuador and in Les Fields article Ecuador’s Pan-Indian Uprising in which the indigenous people of Ecuador demand their right to ancestral lands taken from them by the Spanish and now owned by the government of Ecuador, and revised constitutional rights that represent the diverse nationalities of the Ecuadorian majority. Suzana Sawyers notes that while these demands are not new, their protests gained new national interest in the realm of science in that “Environmental conservation was an important subtext to indigenous arguments and a key to crucial international economic and political support.”(71) 

Over the centuries, Ecuador, like many other Latin American countries has been expolited for whatever resources would make a profit. The current interest in Ecuador is the great quantity of petroleum lying under the Amazon Rain Forest, and secondly the interest in expanding ‘productive farming’ in the region. Both of these goals endanger the Amazon Rain Forest and the indigenous enclaves that live there. For instance, drawing from a quote in Sawyer’s paper””Often employing outmoded technologies, petroleum activities have contaminated surface and subterranean water and soil systems throughout the region (CESR,1994:Kimerling, 1993)””.(Sawyer 69) Secondly, scientific research supports that the Amazon soil is not suitable for long term farming dur to the poor soil quality and is abandoned after only a few years. The indigenous groups of the Amazon areas saw first hand the effects of oil drilling and production and large farming plans and in turn found that ”Self-organization seemed to them the best way to influence if not directly shape their future”.(Sawyer 69) The OPIP-Organization of Indigenous Peolple of Pastaza- and the CONAIE-Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador- united to form a strong resistance to further exploitation. 

This method of self-organization and application of a unified voice has given the indigenous groups in both Ecuador and in Bolivia the ability to put more pressure on the state to accomodate their demands. In Ecuador, though not an all out win, the 1992 march on Quito won them rights to 55% of their ancestral lands (Sawyer 72). In Bolivia, the coca growers association was also very successful with their ability to self-organize and largely helped Evo Morales to his seat as President of Bolivia.Though opposition still exists as Morales has had to endure attempts of assasination, and as Les Field states the Ecuadorian groups such as CONAIE still face government harrassment and brutal attacks that have led to deaths and imprisonments (43), these indigenous leaders continue to make waves in the political arena and are gaining growing public support.