The significance of democratic elections in 2020 for indigenous peoples go beyond electoral results. Wavering between the need for sovereignty/self-determination and democratic participation, indigenous people are finding themselves in places of power denied to them historically. After hundreds of years of noncitizenry, indigenous plurinational states are now shaping democracy.
Below we summarize some of the most significant elections in the later part of 2020, with a particular focus on indigenous movements:
In Bolivia, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) won the election overwhelmingly by more than 20% of the votes, despite illegal attempts by the de facto regime to disqualify the MAS party electorally. It cost Bolivians blood, arrests, and millions to restore the democratic process that was violently interrupted by an orthodox conservative right-wing. In less than a year, the coup that deposed Evo Morales was defeated.
However, the struggle of indigenous peoples in Bolivia has merely begun. Although most organizations and activists managed to maintain unity to defeat the coup plotters, the struggle to promote a sovereign economy continues to pit movements and political actors against each other. The fight against racism and systematic exclusion of indigenous peoples will undoubtedly be a constant for indigenous organizations and this government. At Awasqa, however, we have been trying to follow the steps of those organizations committed to anti-extractivist policies towards climate justice.
For example, a national alliance of social organizations, including the National Confederation of Indigenous Women of Bolivia, hope that President Luis Arce and Vice President David Choquehuanca go beyond an economic proposal based on the nationalization of natural resources. This means breaking with the oligarchy that holds strong alliances with extractivist transnationals. GMO monoculture, for example, was a policy launched by Morales in 2019 and expanded by the ousted regime.
The fires that this year hit the Chiquitanía, Chaco, and Bolivian Amazon regions are an example of the application of development policies that benefit a few to the detriment of the majority, causing irreversible damage to Mother Earth, the Indigenous peoples, and populations – Commitments to the Climate Bolivia.
Climate change is without a doubt a concern of most Bolivians, particularly for a country with limited access to water sources and the rapid melting of highland glaciers. In their statement, the climate justice coalition urges the new government to develop a clean and sustainable energy policy and agroecological policies. Their struggle in a combative political environment looks uphill.
The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) has managed to create and promote a platform to elect candidates for mayors for the November 15 elections. With the support of Mídia Ninja and a network of alternative media, the support for indigenous candidates has been made possible. In the last election in 2016, of the nearly 497,000 candidates across the country, only 1,700 were indigenous. The plan is to train and prepare many more candidates this year.
One of the objectives is to achieve popular support for the candidates that goes beyond party-politics but is based on support for autonomous mechanisms of organizations, collective decision-making spaces, large assemblies, plenary sessions, and congresses. In the process of democratic participation and education, local alliances are being promoted to have a better chance of winning.
Indigenous peoples have suffered incalculable dispossession under the Bolsonaro regime. Yet, it is a struggle they have waged for years under different governments and multiple waves of abuse by large landowners. This includes, for example, the fight they have been leading since 2017 against the concept of a “marco temporal” that, if approved by the Supreme Court, would take away their sovereign land rights. The Court postponed a decision that was to take place on October 28 and hasn’t offered a new date, but it’s an issue at the core of indigenous peoples right now:
The time frame is illegitimate. It damages the Federal Constitution itself and our rights as peoples of that land. If some peoples were not or could not be in their territories after that date in 1988, it was not because they did not want to, but because they were removed, expelled, and evicted by the Government to give rise to some type of company. The state itself removed them from their traditional territories. So, it is the State itself that must return them–Nara Baré.
With a victory of almost 77% of the vote on October 25, the Chilean people gave way to a new democratic Constitution and Constituent Assembly process. The painful and slow transition to democracy after Pinochet had been ineffective since all governments, left- and right-wing, were merely administering an authoritarian Constitution inherited from the dictatorship.
In the ongoing negotiations for a new Constituent Assembly there is still no agreement in Congress on the inclusion of reserved seats for indigenous peoples. The ruling party offers eight seats, and the organizations demand 25, which would be a fair representation of indigenous people based on the last census. Their representation is the only way to guarantee their demands will be taken into consideration in the process of building a new Constitution.
One of the most important changes is to reverse Article 5 of the current Chilean Constitutions that declares the nation-state as “mono-ethnic,” which has been used to promote forced assimilation and usurped territories. The Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Studies (CIIR) in Chile affirms that a new Constitution must guarantee indigenous rights to protect the ten existing Nations, such as the right to a plurinational state, to bilingual education, to the protection and dissemination of indigenous knowledge, indigenous justice, the right to previous consultation on the exploitation of natural resources in indigenous territories, and the restitution of stolen land.
In the case of the Mapuche people, according to 2019 figures, most of the lands claimed are in the hands of forestry companies, which own more than 280 thousand hectares of the 435 thousand hectares that exist in the region .– CIIR
Although the presidential election won’t take place until February 2021, electoral campaigns have begun and include a strong political presence of indigenous peoples. The Plurinational Movement Pachakutik is considered to be the political arm of most indigenous organizations and movements. However, indigenous leaders were not able to reach a consensus on the presidential candidacy this time around, which has spurred deep internal strains. Pachacutik chose to nominate the indigenous perfect Yaku Pérez Guartambel, while leaders of the largest indigenous organizations called for an internal process to define candidates.
Nevertheless, Pérez Guartambel is an indigenous candidate with high chances of winning Ecuador’s presidency due to his successful administration and control of the coronavirus pandemic as governor of Azuay. He has seen a slow wave of support from other leftist organizations and movements, including various indigenous Nations, and has but a few months to promote unity and cohesion.
In a politically charged environment, Native Americans are facing open and covert processes of vote suppression during the 2020 presidential election. Nevertheless, their voting power could tip the balance of the so-called “swing states.”
In general, indigenous issues remain invisible in the bipartisan electoral debate, except when used to embarrass an opponent. Yet this year there is at least one candidate for president, Mark Charles who although will only appear on Colorado state’s ballot, has been able to uplift indigenous issues as part of the national discourse. With a clear anti-colonial agenda, Charles represents the future of national Native politics.
As in Brazil, the greater relevance and electoral incidence of Native American peoples, however, has been through local elections. There is a significant number of indigenous candidates running for state congresses, as well as six candidates for lieutenant governors and 12 candidates (the figure highest record) to the US Congress. The participation of women in 2020 is particularly inspiring. As far as politics, most candidacies are from the Democratic party, but there are also a few Republicans. In New Mexico, for example, a Cherokee Republican candidate, Yvette Herrell, is vying for a congressional seat against a Mexican-American Democratic candidate Xochitl Torres Small.