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CWA # 340, 17 September 2020

GLOBAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS
Solve economic crisis: Indigenous movements in Latin America

  Harini Sha P

The Latin America that we are observing is the former colonies of Spanish and Portugal powers. The history of indigenous people is one of the longest struggles in Latin American history. It starts from the European invasion to the region and continues to date. But the reasons have changed across centuries. Indigenous peoples made significant social progress, experienced a reduction in poverty levels in several countries, and gained improved access to basic services during the boom of the first decade of the century, but they did not benefit to the same extent as the rest of Latin Americans, according to a new World Bank study.

Background

Latin America has witnessed an eruption of indigenous movements that reflected the growing discontent among the community. Historically the heterogeneous group of indigenous citizens lacked political representation which resulted in the cohesive efforts to change the political system through peaceful street protests, constitutional reforms, and electoral politics. The paper traces the emergence of the indigenous movements across nations in the Latin American region and the actors involved in these movements. The movement has gained momentum in the international arena through the involvement of more transnational actors. The paper examines the protest movements led by the indigenous people demanding an inclusive economic process. Indigenous movements prospect to expand beyond the region by inspiring various protesters on success techniques. This is analysed with reference to historical events of the region. The paper also identifies the issues with protests and the unclear demands by the various segments of the indigenous communities which act as an impediment in the protest movements. The indigenous movements cannot automatically be considered progressive or emancipator. They are just as often enacted in pursuit of backward-looking and even conservative objectives. The paper highlights the changing trends of the indigenous protest movements across the centuries. The structural barriers and the glass ceiling in the society impede the growth of indigenous communities. The paper assesses the subject with the relevant theories of international relations.

The Latin America that we are observing is the former colonies of Spanish and Portugal powers. The history of indigenous people is one of the longest struggles in Latin American history. It starts from the European invasion to the region and continues till date. But the reasons have changed across centuries. Indigenous peoples made significant social progress, experienced a reduction in poverty levels in several countries, and gained improved access to basic services during the boom of the first decade of the century, but they did not benefit to the same extent as the rest of Latin Americans, according to a new World Bank study. The poverty of indigenous households decreased in countries like Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador, while in others, such as Ecuador, Mexico, and Nicaragua, the educational gap that for decades excluded indigenous children was closed which evidently shows that a combination of economic growth and good social policies becomes the primary demand among the communities in the villages.

The World Bank estimates about 28.6 million Brazilians moved out of poverty between 2004 and 2014. But the bank estimates that from the start of 2016 to the end of this year, 2.5 million to 3.6 million will have fallen back below the poverty line of 140 Brazilian reais per month, about $44 at current exchange rates. A nationally representative survey conducted in the first decade of 21st century indicated that unemployment was 4 per cent and by the end of 2004 it rose to 13  per cent , but by the end of the decade, unemployment had jumped to almost 30 per cent. The growing unemployment and cut to various social welfares aggravates the economic crisis among the indigenous communities. However, the data for analysis clears the point that though the communities have gained significantly from the past conditions but still the gap keeps widening in the case of development among the entire population. They continue to be confronted with glass ceilings and structural barriers that limit their full social and economic inclusion. While indigenous peoples make up 8 per cent of the population in the region, they represent approximately 14 per cent of the poor and 17  per cent of the extremely poor in Latin America. Also while looking at the key aspect of increasingly globalized societies; they continue to face challenges to gain access to the basic services and the adoption of new technologies. This growing feeling of exasperation set off the supporters to organize as never before and using new, more open democracies to take on the traditional, light-skinned ruling classes whom they are blaming for keeping their countries mired in poverty and their people on the sidelines of power for decades together.

Click the PDF file to read the full essay. It was first published in the NIAS Quarterly on Contemporary World Affairs, Vol 2, Issues 2&3. 

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