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Political strategies during the national strike

While historical sociology, both in the case of Latin America (Assadourian, Quijano) and in the case of Ecuador in particular (Velasco; Guerrero) have realized how the exploitation of labor, alongside forms of servitude (i.e., paid but also forced work) - dating back to colonial context - acquired vigor at the postcolonial moment of capitalist development; coloniality in Ecuador is featured by the formulation of policies and the selective use of ethnocentric, essentialist, eugenic-hygienist, and exoticizing discourses that allow not only continuity but recreation, of forms of exploitation and inequality from the sub-alternation of subjects due to their race and ethnicity, geo-territorial identity (peasants, migrants), gender, or class. Such sub-alternation is imposed, although not exclusively, from patterns of representation of a colonial origin (Muratorio; León; Flores; O’Connor).

In Ecuador, coloniality operates through what Mezzadra and Neilson (159) call a “differentiated inclusion” that gives way to inclusion through illegalization (165). I see “differentiated inclusion” not only as a way to produce difference but to reproduce inequality in the same phase. Far from an essentialist culturalism, establishing the analysis of coloniality allows us to understand the logic by which inequality is made from a difference, that is, inequality by difference.

Since the foundation of the Ecuadorian republic, oligarchic pacts disputed the control of legal institutions, media, and the arts for their economic-political project (Carrasco et al.). However, such a dispute occurred precisely against the political blocs that promoted equality, not oligarchic but popular.16 Thus, if the analysis of coloniality allows us to understand inequality by difference, the study of the formation of anti-oligarchic political blocs during the twentieth century enables us to understand equality through the popular, that is, equality by the popular (Striffler; Coronel, La fragua de la voz; Coronel, Izquierdas, sindicatos y militares).

Failure to do this counterpoint would conceal how in Latin America, the different identity ascriptions, crossed by cleavages of race, class, and gender, have become politicized in the midst of the democratic struggle for the expansion of rights, with a conception of non-exclusive citizenship. These political struggles involved the ideological debate about real citizenship against anti-democratic citizenship promoted by elites in the 20th-century Latin America (Torres Santana).

In the 21st century, the debate on plebeian republicanism both in Latin America (Aboy Cariés; Rinessi; Coronel and Cadahia) and the United States (Kazin; Frank; Grattan) connects with such on populism. This connection goes against the widespread conception of populism as the exaltation of the charismatic leader, the direct (and irresponsible) distribution of public funds, the manipulation of the masses, and an anti-institutional vocation. Therefore, the analysis of equality by the popular connects with populism from a focus on the historical experiences where ethnic and class differences became politicized within social conflict confronting attempts to restrict citizenship to the private sense given by the rulers of the new national states. As Valeria Coronel states, populism is susceptible to analysis as “collective action that reactivated the language of popular sovereignty and gave new encouragement to the formation of the National State in Latin America in the framework of global crises” (Vásquez and Villegas 234).

Therefore, in confrontation with the anti-populist neoliberal pact, the language of popular sovereignty floated within the framework of the 2019 national strike. Although the protests claimed the repeal of Decree 883, the strike allowed the unification of diverse political forces in a bloc with social and popular demands against the neoliberal pact. However, such a unification manifested in contention with the political strategy of differentiation.

Patterns of inequality by difference took place the moment in which the neoliberal pact resorted to ‘Venezuelanization’ to block the configuration of the political conflict from the antagonism between the privileged and popular bloc. The neoliberal pact promoted an antagonism between the disfranchised Ecuadorian population and the immigrant population. The Moreno government assigned identifications framing an opposition between Ecuadorians (as a homogeneous and nonviolent subject) and Venezuelans who would have reached to ‘destabilize the country.’ Marked by the confluence of the migration crisis and the economic crisis, the neoliberal government pursued simultaneously to exclude immigrants and differentially include disfranchised. The government holds such discourse during the first five days of the strike.

On Tuesday, October 8, 2019, it was the sixth day of the national strike. Protesters blocked Quito, the capital city, and police and military forces had deployed security operations in many areas. On that day, Lenin Moreno left Quito and moved the Government headquarters to Guayaquil, where he received the support of the right-wing leaders Jaime Nebot (PSC) and Guillermo Lasso (CREO).

City Mayor Cynthia Viteri (PSC) and Nebot together oriented their speech on “defending the city of Guayaquil” from the “invaders” (i.e., members of the indigenous mobilization who announced their displacement to Guayaquil to demand the repeal of Decree 883). Once the media framing of "protecting Guayaquil” was

Bordering the crisis 205 socially installed, the PSC leader declared that Guayaquil has enough military force and local police threatening the indigenous protesters and asking them to “remain in the páramo.”17

The statements of the conservative politicians must be read from two forms of racialization that converged during the national strike. The first does not only have to do with the reduction of indigenous identity to a territorial character and the spatial delimitation of their political rights, but with the very fact of threatening the lives of indigenous people. The other racialization form has to do with the criminalization of foreigners.

Both forms, in the context of the national strike, respond to the production of difference amid the political conflict. At first, government spokesmen described indigenous organizations as manipulated by ‘the correistas,’18 then they reoriented to a more reconciling speech (i.e., “‘our indigenous fellows’ are peaceful people but there are ‘correistas’ infiltrated,” “indigenous people need agricultural bonus but not violence”). Finally, they regretted that among the protesters, there were ‘Chavistas’ (referring to Venezuelan immigrants) and ‘members of the FARC’.19

During the national strike, Ecuadorian people saw, perhaps for the first time, their government proposing deportation as one of the possible solutions to a political crisis. Both racialization forms were not only expressions of differential racism20 (Balibar 31-45) but also of an assignment of identities that “entails the construction of the ‘threatening other,' a category that operates as a legitimate stratification criterion” (Kessler 53).

Preventing protests from being conceived in terms of the fight for equality, the government combined violent repression with a discourse of racialization and xenophobia. Thus, Ecuadorian officials established distances either of an ideological type (to separate the ‘pacific Indigenous people’ from the ‘violent Chavistas’ or ‘vandals’ supposedly infiltrated) or of a moral type (demanding ‘our indigenous fellow’ to “condemn the Correistas”). While journalists and right-wing politicians asked indigenous leaders “to apply indigenous justice” to Correistas infiltrators21, the denunciation of Venezuelan infiltrators and Colombian ex-guerrillas worked discursively in favor of increasing police repression on the streets.

In other words, the neoliberal pact tried to manage the political crisis by distorting the antagonism between the two blocs, trying to move it into opposition within the different actors that made up the protest bloc in an ideological operation based on xenophobia and racial prejudices. Part of this was the case of the 19 Venezuelans detained at the Quito airport. On October 9, Minister Maria Paula Romo made an exclusive TV streaming where she pointed the Venezuelans as ‘conspirators.’ The next day, the Venezuelans citizens (who were taxi drivers but not conspirators) were released by the State Attorney General for lack of evidence.22

The imaginaiy about a confluence of economic and migration crisis set several months before the protests had moved to the scene of the political turmoil. The xenophobic statements accumulated since 2018, accompanied by restrictions on the mobility and regularization of migrants, presided over the denunciation of a “Venezuelan” and “populist leaders” conspiracy against Lenin Moreno.

The social and popular bloc insisted on the popular and anti-neoliberal character of the protest, and not exclusively as demands of the indigenous movement. For the power in office, indigenous people must respond only to the identity assigned from coloniality, or as Claudia Zapata points out:

the relationship between these long-standing representations and the question of power, is that the dominant society mobilizes them according to the current correlation of forces because it ends up being comfortable to accept or even celebrate (as with multiculturalism) the existence of these cultural differences while they are harmless, but the situation changes substantially when indigenous society is mobilized politically in order to transform that correlation of forces.

(Zapata 57-58)

Here we see a crucial element for the understanding of equality for the popular: the dynamic construction in which the established identification categories are transgressed and the political struggle is condensed. The government's speech sought to exalt the “características primigenias” (indigenous primigenial features) (Zapata 57) to create a distance between indigenous people and other political actors that were part of the same social and popular bloc.

On October 13, the United Nations mediated an agreement between the government and the indigenous movements. The government repealed Presidential Decree 883, and the indigenous movement declared that the national strike was over.

The Moreno government moved to the systematic persecution of political leaders,23 continuing to reproduce the discourse on the antagonism among ‘those from below,’ and insisting on the foreign threat. The possibility of consolidating the popular bloc by promoting the dynamic nature of citizenship, which manifests in the open struggle for its materialization, its translation into economic, social, and political equality, disputing the disposition of legal institutions, power structures, and the cultural field, remains as a crucial task for popular forces.

Concluding remarks

Borders could be more strongly anchored in the production of differences, and, in the context of political conflicts, differences occur to enable inequality policies as part of a neoliberal agenda. But the history of inequality by difference is also the story of its opposite. It is also the history of the refusal to remain within the subaltern condition that despotic power assigns - the history of those who put a brake on the fractionation or reduction of their condition as equals. Thus, the democratic community is built on the dispute to expand citizenship before the will to dispossess through difference.

Global South Regions are made up of peoples who share the experience of confronting the political violence of colonialism, internal colonialism, financial and military violence, and forms of subjedification from coloniality. Neitherthe market nor the State was entirely constituted in 19th-century Latin America. However, the construction of the State endured the bond between the colonial condition and the commodity. Thus, the political issue implies the replacement of the colonial bond with an articulating link between identities that goes beyond the administration of heterogeneous niches of neocolonial or neoliberal exploitation.

Indeed, it is also a history of class coalitions, but no social class is in itself anti-racist. Coalitions require inquiry around the configuration of racism at the local level and the elements of racialization in the establishment of class differences. Such question entails the need to understand the historical specificities in the race-capitalism articulation not only from the relationship between imperial states and colonial states, or from the core-States to the periphery, but the place of racialized groups in the conformation of the workforce subordinated to local, national, and global capital/neoliberalism. In this vein, the analysis of the political strategies during the Ecuadorian national strike gives a case to think about borders and crises from the racialized configuration of historical specificities to the social conflict that reactivates it, and the struggle it unleashes.


  • 1 For their comments on this paper I thank Liliam Fiallo, Thomas Corcoran, Franklin Ramirez, Aaron Yates, and Germán Chiriboga.
  • 2 Grimson (13) proposes the concept of ‘cultural configuration’ as “the specific (i.e., historical) way of making the constitutive heterogeneity of a social space intelligible.”
  • 3 According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the main destinations ofVenezuelans immigrants are Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. In April 2019, the Colombian government referred to 1.2 million Venezuelans in Colombia who intended to reside permanently. Peru estimated 800,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees. In Chile, the Department of Foreigners ensures the number of 400,000 Venezuelans. In Ecuador, during May 2019, the Ministry of Interior registered the entry of 87,828 Venezuelans (84,433 across the northern border) (UNICEF 2019b; 2019c, 2019d).
  • 4 These factors, isolated from their political genesis, as well as from the geopolitical framework, are named by both the Ecuadorian and international press as consequences of what they call “the Maduro regime” (referring to Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela since April 2013).
  • 5 This “right turn” refers to the triumph of right-wing political parties in countries that were part of the so-called Pink Tide from 2002 to 2015 approximately. Such a “turn” supposedly started with the electoral victory of neoliberal leader Mauricio Macri in 2015 in Argentina. Although the idea of a “right-turn” in the region can be challenged (from the 2018 Mexican elections and the 2019 Argentinian elections), it is true that currently the so-called “progressive governments” do not constitute a hegemonic force.
  • 6 Dictatorship in Ecuador was from 1972 to 1979. For the León Febres Cordero government (1984-1988), the Truth Comission registered 287 victims of crimes against humanity being the government with the highest record in Ecuador (Comisión de la Verdad 2010, 53).
  • 7 “La Defensoria del Pueblo presenta séptimo informe con resultados de la vulneración de derechos durante el estado de excepción”. Defensoria del Pueblo, 2019, “Sube a 10 fallecidos durante las protestas en Ecuador”, Pichincha comunicaciones, October 23, 2019
  • 8 The phrasing “un grupo de zánganos,” coined by President Moreno, refers to the Spanish connotation of the word “zángano” (i.e., drone, buzz) as idler people.
  • 9 The “Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation” (LK) is a street gang originally from the United States and introduced in Ecuador specially by deported immigrants. In 2009, during the Correa government, LK signed a peace agreement and became an association declaring the cessation of violent activities.
  • 10 The Official Decree of 1938 prohibited the entry of “crazy people, idiots, beggars, people with incurable or contagious diseases, prostitutes, people previously expelled from Ecuador or any other country, people who would compete with Ecuadorians for employment [...] gypsies, people who would make political propaganda” (Ackerman 52). Aliens Act of 1947, written according to the beginning of the Cold War, ratified the categorization of the ‘undesirable.’ It only modified its language in the 1970s. However, the difference between desirable and undesirable remained.
  • 11 In 2019, Ecuador experienced a severe decrease in consumption levels and increased unemployment, which effectively leaft a country marked by the economic crisis that opened with the recession from 2015. However, by 2018, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) forecasted a growth of 1.5%. Nevertheless, the debt payments to private corporations, as well as tax reforms that benefit economic and financial elites in the Moreno government, say of the political decision not to solve the fiscal crisis in another way than external indebtedness and the privatization of public services. Moreno's political decisions caused unemployment figures to increase in 2018 (Páez).
  • 12 “Venezuelanization” (“Venezolanización” in Spanish) is a pejorative term, used to indicate a supposed path that left-wing political projects would follow in case of winning the presidential elections in the second decade of the 21st century in Latin America. Thus, leftist leaders such as Gustavo Petro (Colombia), Fernando Haddad (Brazil), or Alberto Fernández (Argentina) were accused of pretending to turn their countries into a “Venezuelan version” of their own countries. This meaning of the term “Venezuelanization” is also used alongside countries with Venezuelan migrants to emphasize the “migration crisis.” For example, “Chilezuela” or “Peruzuela” (in Chile and Peru respectively), was used to indicate a harm caused by Venezuelan immigrants. In this second sense, “Venezuelanization” is a term used to mediately pressure rightwing govermnents to “reinforce the border” (i.e. to implement anti-migrant policies).
  • 13 Herrera and Cabezas Gálvez (126) esthnate that the immigration stock of Venezuelan people at the end of 2018 was 250,000. The calculation is made based on the migration balance raised by the Ministerio del Interior and the National Institute of Statistics and Census.
  • 14 To the extent that various actors in the political-ideological spectrum, through social movements, academic circles, and guilds, contribute to the legitimization of what the neoliberal pact points as ‘the cause’ and ‘the origin’ of the crisis, it blocks the analysis of factors such as the dismantling of participation mechanisms, the promotion of ‘entrepreneurship’ in the face of mass layoffs of public, or the media complot.
  • 15 I focus on the latter. Most of the research work on this subject focus on the period between the late 19th century and the middle of the 20th century. In this sense, my work represents an effort to connect this political tradition with current processes in a framework of a multiculturalism crisis (Zapata).
  • 16 Peter Wade (470) points out that in Latin America (from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century): “[...] citizens who felt excluded worked for an inclusion that evidenced, in various ways, problems of difference, while, on the other hand, elites actively produced the difference in their discourse and practice.”
  • 17 “Nebot se disculpa por lo de páramos...” Expectativa, October 22,2019. Paramo is the name of the treeless meadow in the rural mountain region in Ecuador. “Remain in the paramo!” is a derogatory expression and it was used as a racial slur by Nebot.
  • 18 “Correistas” refers to the people that support the ‘Citizen Revolution’ or would vote Rafael Correa. ‘Chavista’ refers to those people that identify themselves with the “Bolivarian Revolution” initiated by Hugo Chavez’s in 1999.
  • 19 “Lenin Moreno: protestas en Ecuador están infiltradas por FARC y chavistas”, Panamapost, October 11, 2019.
  • 20 “It is racism whose dominant theme is not biological heredity but the insurmountability of cultural differences, racism which, at first sight, does not postulate the superiority of certain groups or peoples about others but ‘only’ the harmfulness of abolishing frontiers, the incompatibility of life-styles and traditions” (Balibar 21).
  • 21 Ecuadorian press has played a key role in a type of multiculturalism that Fiallo (132) that reduces indigenous justice to a ritual of punislunent.
  • 22 “Extranjeros detenidos en aeropuerto de Quito tenían agenda presidencial, según ministra de Gobierno”, El Universo, October 10, 2019, and “En libertad y sin cargos: venezolanos detenidos con supuesta información sobre Lenín Moreno en Quito eran conductores de taxi”, RT, October 11,2019.
  • 23 Especially indigenous leaders like Leonidas Iza and Jaime Vargas from the National Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), as well as Paola Pabón and Virgilio Hernández, political characters of the Citizen Revolution.

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