Indigenous peoples, other projects and alternatives for Latin America: reflections on multiculturalism (what's behind it) and pluriculturalism (the re-construction of the State).

Indigenous peoples, other projects and alternatives for Latin America: reflections on multiculturalism (what's behind it) and pluriculturalism (the re-construction of the State).

By García Gualda, Suyai M.

In this essay he seeks to briefly illustrate what multiculturalism consists of, what are the hidden interests and which sectors they are representative of. "Faced with the disenchantment and failure of the Creole and Eurocentric politicking, it is time for the politics of the children of the earth, for the Mandar Obedeiendo and for spirituality and culture to reconnect with politics" (Wajxaqib Indigenous Ombudsman 'No' j; 2008: 38).


Abya Yala [as our native peoples called Latin America] is a region characterized by hosting an important ethnic and cultural diversity. However, it is known that more than 500 years ago with the [misnamed] "discovery" of America began the submission and forced silence of many of these identities.

At that time, capitalism was born at the world level, that is, the first international division of labor was developing, which meant poverty and structural dependence for this region of the globe. At the same time, in America the racial division of labor began (Quijano; 2000) within the framework of a process of racialization of socio-political life [access to public office and the collection of salaries were privileges of whites, while servile-quasi-slave labor was carried out by the natives].

We can clearly observe that the giant of capitalism was rising at that time and with it a series of socio-cultural practices that allow its continual maintenance and reproduction over time. At present, in the neoliberal-globalized phase, innumerable practices that reproduce the harassment, discrimination and exclusion of native peoples are still in force, always placing them in the place of the "others" [to whom a large number of identities or " otherness ”excluded from the parameters accepted by the current hegemonic system].

These others were the ones that the modernity project forced to abandon their political, cultural and religious practices to form part of a homogeneous Nation, which resulted in a unicultural State. However, despite [false] appearances, in recent years [characterized by the worsening of the devastating conditions of existence], the enraging voices of the condemned of the earth have emerged from the silence (F. Fannon; 1961).

Dark America stood up demonstrating that the banners of 1789 [freedom and equality] were never and are never a reality for this region. The indigenous peoples were constituted as political actors and without abandoning the resistance they set out to reach power. Some have opted for the institutional route, as has been the case in Bolivia, others have constituted social movements outside of the classical institutionality (i). Despite the existing differences, the vast majority agree on their main demands: territory, collective rights [based on collectivism] and the right to self-determination-autonomy-.

It is possible to affirm that they make up a disobedient body (Figari; 2008) that has managed to put in check the [modern] State, representative-liberal democracy and consequently the hegemonic classes. This hegemony lies in the predominance of certain classes or sectors over others, which is materialized through negation. For this reason, a specific strategy that the hegemonic classes have taken to maintain their dominance has been the well-known policies of recognition, which is summarized in a mere granting of rights. This tactical move is reflected in the speeches based on the notion of multiculturalism, clearly in vogue today in various fields, including academic ones.

However, the [cultural] colonialism that stifles Latin American thought has not triumphed, since the modern idea of ​​combining democracy with capitalism has begun to water. In this way, projects based on the idea of ​​multiculturalism resound in the mouths of others, which means the reconstruction of the State and with it a deep reflection on what democracy we want.

The cases of Bolivia and Ecuador are two clear examples of what it means to build plurinational states. While Argentina continues to be [unfortunately] the true reflection of multiculturalism.

In this essay we will seek to briefly illustrate what multiculturalism consists of, what are the covert interests and which sectors they are representative of. In the same way, we will inquire about pluriculturalism and plurinationality; reflecting and sustaining that the emancipatory alternative for Latin America will emerge from the ideas and struggles of those who have lived in it since time immemorial.

“From those original trunks, interspersed with subsequent immigration currents, Latin American underground social history will be processed in successive generations. Where the men and women of that "Deep America" ​​are transmitting to their children and grandchildren, the codes, values, speech, aspirations, the other ideas that are elaborated in the imaginary of the subordinate classes, in debate and confrontation with the visions of the world of European origin incorporated by the dominant Creole sectors (…). Processes that were feeding popular identities, structuring the new national and continental realities, expressed politically in decisive moments, in projects, leaderships, built around calls for the formation of national and social dignity ”(A. Argumedo, Los silencios y las Voices in Latin America, 2006, p: 25).

i. Native Peoples and Multiculturalism

“For them, our stories are myths. Our doctrines are legends.
Our science is magic. Our beliefs are superstitions.
Our art is crafts. Our games, dances and dresses are folklore.
Our government is anarchy. Our language is dialect.
Our love is sin and base. Our walk is crawling.
Our size is small. Our physique is ugly.
Our way is incomprehensible ”.


Latin America, Abya Yala, is a region where substantial diversities coexist under a smokescreen imposed from the powerful sectors, using an infallible tool: "violence." This violence of difference (Figari; 2008) is rooted in the affirmation of one existence: “European, white and civilized”, based on the denial of another: “indigenous, inferior and uncivilized” [barbarism]. Giving rise, then, to a dominant other and a subaltern other.

“The people of the Americans are not susceptible to any form of civilization. It does not have any stimulus, because it lacks affections and passions. Americans do not feel love, and that is why they are not fruitful. (…) Incapable of governing themselves, they are condemned to extinction ”(Kant 1775, quoted by Argumedo A. in the silences and voices in Latin America, 2006: 19).

This makes the cultural and ideological colonialism that for centuries and even today clearly continues. This Eurocentric trans-episteme (Argumedo; 2006) that cuts across Latin American thought and action is the one that has facilitated the implementation and adoption of the - modern - form of a unicultural [homogeneous] State. Justifying, among other things, the extermination of huge masses of indigenous people and / or their full submission to the Western [and Catholic] way of life.

In recent times, with the process of [re] structuring the capitalist system in its new neoliberal-globalized phase, a process that Zizek (1997) calls “self-colonization” has begun to develop. This new capitalist stage has come hand in hand with the multicultural discourse, which consists of a “respectful” Eurocentrism of local cultures. For this reason, the author maintains [and we adhere to the idea] that multiculturalism is a form of racism with distance, clearly visible in the rise of ethnic foods, indigenous handicrafts, and other issues related to local “folklore”.

"(...) multiculturalist respect for the specificity of the other is precisely the way to reaffirm one's own superiority" (Zizek; Multiculturalism or the cultural logic of multinational capitalism; 1997: 22).

This discourse imposed by the ruling classes, to maintain and reproduce their hegemony, has materialized in the region through a significant amount of legislation, which in fact has never been respected and / or applied correctly. In the Argentine case, this began with the incorporation of article 75, inc. 17 (iii) to the National Constitution in 1994.

Following Zizek (1997), it is possible to think that multiculturalism is racism with a distance, since if it were accepted that de facto racism exists, both in the discourses and practices of the dominant classes, its power would be undermined by an important axiological and economic crisis. ideological –by civil society-. What leads us to the mere granting of rights is a way to "legalize" racism. In this way deepening a process of integration of the others to the current system, disappearing and neutralizing them as political actors.

In addition, it is important to mention that said ideological-cultural colonialism does not stop reproducing false and erroneous representations about others, such as accusing the indigenous people of being vague, indecent, batterers, etc. By the way, in southern Argentina [this is the case of the province of Neuquén] it is very common to hear that the Mapuches have always been lazy, and that is their real problem, which is not at all different from what Kant maintained around 1775 "The Americans (…) don't care about anything and are lazy (…)". It is clear that racism and denial of ethnic-cultural diversity is still as present [more or less covert] as half a century ago.

All this forces us to come closer and know more acutely what the other project is about, what is a PLURICULTURAL and / or PLURINATIONAL State?

ii. Plurinational States, is another democracy possible?

We have already said that modern states were constituted as uni- nation states, since the liberal conception maintains that there is a coincidence between state and nation [that is why they are called nation-states]. Which is closely linked to a single culture understood as "the cultured", from an exclusive, homogenizing and elitist vision [when speaking of "the Argentine Nation" or "Argentine culture" emphasizing the singularity, it is reproduces this reductionist and hegemonic vision]. In this way the other subordinates go to exclusion through a process of institutionalized denial [even today in everyday and academic spheres it continues to be repeated that Argentina is a white country].

“The Indians, for power, were out of politics, out of the State, out of the Republic, out of the present and out of history. The order that is constructed excludes them de facto and de juris. To be a citizen it is necessary to be white-mestizo, it is necessary to have income, to know how to read and write. And it is an exclusion that was made from reason, which was justified and legitimized from that conceptual, theoretical, axiological and normative framework given by modernity ”(Dávalos; Indigenous movements in Latin America: the right to speak; 2006: 25) .

The Argentine NATION = Civilization (Vr. Barbarie = Other = indigenous) = mestizo- white

All of this was built on the basis of modern reason and materialized in what is called modern constitutionalism. Faced with this, from the '80s and' 90s with the resurgence of neoliberal policies, indigenous peoples emerged as political actors, questioning the aforementioned modern constitutionalism.

Their [ancestral] socio-political and cultural practices, as well as their years of resistance and struggle, make them today bearers of a new way of understanding the State [even democracy]. This reconstruction of the State on the basis of the recognition of diversity implies a new constitutionalism characterized by plurinationality, multiculturalism, multiethnicity, interculturality and intraculturality.

ii.a. Plurinationality starts from a non-liberal conception of the nation, a community vision that does not find its limits in the State. This way of conceiving the nation carries the idea of ​​self-determination (iv) [not independence].

The National Assembly of indigenous, peasant and colonizers organizations of Bolivia (2006) defines the Plurinational State as follows:

"Model of political organization for the decolonization of our nations and peoples, reaffirming, recovering and strengthening our territorial autonomy, to achieve a full life, to live well and with a vision of solidarity (...)".

This decolonization implies a cognitive and historical justice (Sousa Santos, 2007), which translates on the one hand in the recognition of non-scientific –ancestral- knowledge. Far from belittling scientific knowledge and recognizing its importance and contributions, it is necessary to “re-hierarchize” other knowledge. On the other hand, it means recognizing, in addition to individual rights, collective and community rights [communal territory, collective work, etc.] to native peoples.

Intimately linked to this we can locate interculturality and multiculturalism. There are conflicting positions on the origin and objective [hidden] of the concept of interculturality, we share that plurinationality implies cultural diversity -pluriculturality-. From there, it is necessary to recognize that to achieve interculturality it is necessary that there be intraculturality, that is, a shared culture. Which one? the one that brings them together in a plurinational project in a specific way and different from other experiences (Sousa Santos; 2007).

ii.b. The reinvention of the State [maintaining unity but not homogeneity] implies rethinking and redefining [to re-make] democracy. In the first place, we must ask ourselves if we are facing capitalist democracies or democratic capitalisms. Returning to an old discussion, is it possible that democracy and liberalism coexist? It is true that the answer was given many years ago with the well-known Demoliberal Vulgate. However, today these pseudo democracies have begun to make noise, given that the demos [people] are a constant victim of capitalist miseries.

A "democracy" that becomes the fire shield of genocide and terrorism [like the American case with Iraq], is it democracy? No. Precisely because of all this and other factors such as the crisis of political representation [crisis of parties and party system], the urgency of this debate arises.

Some of us think that this "other" democracy should be characterized by emanating from below - from the other subordinates - and being the guarantor of the right to voice [the right to be taken into account, to be heard] and of respect for diversity of all kinds. Sustaining itself mainly in the obedience of the leaders to the decisions and demands of the constituents. Recovering in this way popular sovereignty that has been ignored for so long by political officials [the representatives have long been emancipated from those represented].

"Faced with the disenchantment and failure of the Creole and Eurocentric politicking, it is time for the politics of the children of the earth, for the Mandar Obedeiendo and for spirituality and culture to reconnect with politics" (Wajxaqib Indigenous Ombudsman 'No' j; 2008: 38).

In this way a new discussion about “citizenship” is opened. What do we understand today by citizen? Is civil, political and social rights enough to configure “citizenship”? What does citizenship imply in a participatory democracy - high intensity? Would another citizenship imply changes in the current political culture? Which?

It is necessary to recognize that the level of depth and analysis that an issue such as democracy implies is impossible to address in this essay, but it should be mentioned and taken into account. That is why we leave open the possibility of continuing to deepen and reflect on the subject.

Finally, we want to reaffirm that a high intensity democracy is necessary to begin to build a different future, a new Abya Yala.

iii. Some ideas in conclusion form

In the first place, it is valuable to recognize the existence of alternative and promising discourses for Latin America. As well, it is also necessary to bring such debates to the academic field, in order to contribute to change from there. Since the decolonization of Latin American thought is not an easy task and involves numerous actors.

It is essential to continue reflecting on what sectors and interests are hidden behind multiculturalism. Only by being attentive and knowing what it is about is it possible to visualize how certain practices are actually “tolerated” and others criminalized, labeling them “terrorists”, “rebels”, etc. A true reflection of this was the highly violent events that took place in Chile in 2008.

In this way, we will also be able to understand the reason for the silence of some governments in power in the face of indigenous problems, such as Argentina. Although the “K” governments [referring to the previous administration of Néstor Kirchner and the current one of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner] have directed their speeches and actions towards important historical debts thirsty for justice, they never mentioned those from our country.

This leads us to think that even certain “progressive” sectors of national politics are still tied up and imprisoned by [Eurocentric] cultural colonialism. Still in Argentina, the indigenous people are still not finished thinking and included in an emancipatory and overcoming project, they continue to be denied and excluded as political actors. Precisely for this reason, at the beginning of this essay we affirm that Argentina is a clear and concrete example of multiculturalism.

The construction of the other State is an important challenge and the way to do it awakens and will continue to awaken intrigues, fears, loves and hatred.

Is the institutional, partisan way, the way to carry out "the" change? Is the "revolution" a possible alternative today? Are the autonomies and original knowledge a democratic possibility for our America? Is the plurinational state a plausible reality? Is a secular state necessary for there to be multiculturalism?

These are just some of the questions that arise when we think about building a new state and a new democracy. Without a doubt, it is a great advance that the great disobedient body (v) that makes up the historically exploited class –indigenous-, is committed to achieving power [which has been denied and prohibited for years].

We know that by including voices, discussing ideas, and constructing facts, we may be able to twist our story. From there, the great challenge begins, and that is what it is all about. It is time for us to start looking at our present with Latin American and not European eyes, only in that way will we be the true owners of our future.


* ARGUMEDO A., Silences and voices in Latin America, ed. From the National Thought, Buenos Aires, 2006.

* BORÓN Atilio, The crisis of democracies and social movements in Latin America: notes for a discussion, in Revista Rebelión, 2006.

* BORÓN Atilio, The Truth About Capitalist Democracy, in Socialist Register, Buenos Aires, CLACSO.

* DÁVALOS, Pablo, Indigenous Movements in Latin America: the right to speak in Pablo Dávalos, (org.), Indigenous peoples, state and democracy, Buenos Aires, CLACSO, 2006.

* DE SOUSA SANTOS B., The reinvention of the State and the Plurinational State, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, 2007.

* Dictionary (virtual) of Latin American Philosophy, Thought and culture of our America, UNAM, 2009.

* Class material provided by the professors of the course Diversity and Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, Aula 602, CLACSO, 2008.

* QUIJANO, Aníbal, Modernity, identity and utopia in Latin America, Lima, Sociedad y Política Ediciones, 1998.

* ZIZEK Slavoj, Multiculturalism or the cultural logic of multinational capitalism, in Jameson, Fredric and Slavoj Zizek, Multiculturalism Studies. Buenos Aires, ed. Paidos, 1997.


(i) Also called “New social movements”.

(ii) Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

(iii) “Recognize the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of the Argentine indigenous peoples. Guarantee respect for their identity and the right to a bilingual and intercultural education; recognize the legal status of their communities, and the community possession and ownership of the lands they traditionally occupy; and regulate the delivery of other suitable and sufficient for human development; none of them will be alienable, transferable or susceptible to liens or seizures. Ensure their participation in the management of their natural resources and the other interests that affect them. The provinces can exercise these powers concurrently ”(Art. 75, inc. 17).

(iv) Right of nationalities to choose their political and legal system as well as their model of economic, social, scientific, cultural development within a territory / Autonomy (CONAIE).

(v) They are in fact a disobedient body, evident when we read that they “assassinate” a Mapuche in Chile, or repress or harass Zapatista communities in Chiapas. They put their bodies ahead, resisting and fighting, for 500 years.

Video: Indigenous Latin America in the 21st Century: Achievements and Gaps (May 2021).