By Martin Edwin Andersen
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Martin Edwin Andersen is an Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs in the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University. His most recent book is Peoples of the Earth: Ethnonationalism, Democracy, and the Indigenous Challenge in "Latin" America (Lexington Books, 2010).
In "Latin" America, a new dynamism has emerged in the relationship between indigenous communities, representing at least 40 million people, and national governments, particularly in terms of Indian peoples' belated incorporation into the region's putative democracies as full citizens and their integration. From the time of the Spanish Conquest, this relationship has largely been through the military due to the physical and cultural remoteness of state capital cities vis-à-vis the Native American communities and the lack of a real state presence, except for the military and other security forces (although historically the axis of contact with non-Indian society also included the Catholic Church and more recently the school system). Commonly used as a conduit for integrating indigenous peoples (already facing both the promise and threat of social mobility and consumerism in urban areas) into the national polity, the relationship with the armed forces came at a high cost to the Indians. Military leadership, like the rest of the nations' elites, have with few exceptions been white or mestizo with an urban orientation or outlook, so the integration was one-way: Indians were incorporated into the military, forced or persuaded to give up their cultures and language, and become mestizo citizens.
Currently, this dynamic is in rapid flux, as Native American demands for long-overdue political representation, as well as the active nation-state protection of their cultures and access to land and other resources, surge to visible prominence. Those in power—looking across great divides of culture, language, geography, and history— feel menaced by an indigenous assertiveness that in the best of circumstances seeks to destabilize the traditional status quo. As the deepening of democracy has included indigenous communities more actively asserting their demands, the traditional roles of the military vis-à-vis the indigenous communities have to be carefully reexamined, as the outcome has far-reaching implications for positive resolution of issues ranging from internal security and national defense to regional hegemony.
Contemporary indigenous challenges reach into the heart of democracy itself. A visible few manifest themselves as allies of populist leaders who threaten democratic institutions or who have admiration and support from extracontinental extremists, such as Iran and Islamist groups. In mid-2009, political scientists Mitchell Seligson and John Booth examined a year of polling in the region and found that, after Honduras and Haiti—the latter the hemisphere's perennial "sick man"—the next countries whose democratic political stability was threatened by the citizens' low perception of political legitimacy were Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador. They pointed out that each, with large Indian populations, was characterized by "low consolidation of democratic norms and high dissatisfaction with government performance and institutions." The polling data revealed that each had "larger proportions of antidemocratic, institutionally disloyal, and economic performance-frustrated populations." Having large populations of disgruntled citizens may encourage elites to risk antidemocratic adventures, Seligson and Booth noted, which is the most common challenge to democratic rule. Only historically coup-prone Bolivia, the country with the largest percentage of indigenous populations in the Americas, seemed likely to escape such a fate, in part for reasons explained below.
In a book published 4 years earlier, Armed Actors: Organised Violence and State Failure in Latin America, University of Utrecht professors Dirk Kruijt and Kees Kooning noted that the proliferation of "armed actors" in the region is due in part to ethnic tensions in various countries, particularly in the central Andean region of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.1 It is in that context that the warnings of political scientists Joshua Goldstein and Jon Pevehouse become increasingly urgent; when conflicts take on an ethnic cast, they become harder to resolve "because they are not about 'who gets what' but about 'I don't like you.' . . . Almost all the means of leverage used in such conflicts are negative, and bargains are very hard to reach. So ethnic conflicts tend to drag on without resolution for generations."2
The ways state policies put force in the hands of security custodians are key to both democracy and security, and include questions about the trustworthiness, steadfastness, and definitions of citizenship of those uniformed guardians. Issues regarding ethnicity, armed forces, and police have erupted at times, particularly along the spine of the Andes, where Indians comprise either the majority or significant minorities in lands where their ancestors lived before the Spanish Conquest. At issue there and elsewhere is not only whether the national elites in charge of security and defense policies trust their indigenous countrymen enough to include them inside the governance circle, but also whether the indigenes trust their police and military to serve, protect, and defend their own interests. Current and pending clashes are more intractable because they are based not only on material interests, but also, as Goldstein and Pevehouse point out, on psychological and emotional factors.
For example, militant Chilean Mapuche Indian organizations have been placed on the U.S. Department of State's terrorism list, while that country's militarized, largely nonindigenous national police act as the point of the lance for state policies that allow non- Indian national and foreign corporations to develop on native peoples' ancestral lands. To some, the gathering confrontation appears to foreshadow the dire threats to the nation-state itself postulated a decade ago by Chilean military theorists. In October 2008, even before the latest round of violence and indigenous community organization, the president of the powerful Confederation of Production and Commerce (Confederación de la Produccion y el Comercio) called on the government to employ a heavy hand in dealing with violence linked to the Mapuche question: "The acts of violence are not 'isolated incidents.' The citizenry has been witness to the level of complexity, organization, and increase in scale that has recently become worse. This is part of a long-term plan with ideological connotations of a terrorist kind."3
In Bolivia—a country that since independence has been synonymous with armed coups d'etat, and where Indians have until recently been disenfranchised although they make up a solid majority—self-declared Marxist-Leninist and indigenous President Evo Morales has remodeled the armed forces (by all accounts successfully) under his control along the lines of his ethnic refoundation of the republic. Key to his appeal is his call for a new military-peasant pact, this time led not by a general or a fractious colonel, but rather by indigenous peoples themselves.
Meanwhile, Ecuador's left-wing populist President Rafael Correa, mindful of the overthrow of two of his predecessors by Indian-led unrest (in one instance in tandem with ambitious senior army officers), can be seen to constantly look over his shoulder to avoid their fate. As recently as October 2009, the government, reelected in a landslide, nonetheless had to backtrack after a national faceoff with protesting Ecuadoran indigenous groups. As anthropologist Brian Selmeski has noted, the overthrow of elected President Jamil Mahuad in 2000 by a military-indigenous coalition marked the debut of a new power combination on the turbulent Ecuadoran scene, as it was the first time the key factions of the armed forces—which for the preceding decade had jettisoned the promotion of mestizaje, or integration through acculturation, in favor of "multicultural nationalism"—and important indigenous groups allied themselves so openly and collaborated so closely.4 Today, even Correa must rein in political bravura while wondering if past is prologue.
And in Peru, contending national forces conduct their arm wrestling in the arena of ethnic politics, a development that has already claimed the lives of scores of poor Indians and underresourced police, two communities that share a common status-gap with their country's ruling elite. The case of Peru is significantly unlike that found in neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador, as the armed forces in the former embarked on a herculean but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to radically restructure the country so as to prevent a violent revolution from below. There, military government and movements, not by elected democracy, have historically ushered in measurable progress for indigenous peoples, although with varying degrees of respect for their indigeneity.
In Central America, the entire eastern region of Nicaragua has been declared an independent state by a majority of that country's indigenous peoples, many veterans of the anti-Sandinista struggles of the 1980s, with a call for a new ethnic armed force.
Ethnicities and Militaries
Ethnicity and the roles played by military and security forces thus have obtained a relevance that belies the paucity of contemporary scholarship on them. Three decades ago, before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the resurgence of nationalities in the former Soviet empire, before the emergence of Native Americans as a political force in a broad swath of Latin American countries, and before the latticework of extra-hemispheric ethnic revivals ranging from Greenland to western China, a small but important body of academic literature emerged on the intersection between ethnicity and the military in the developing world. U.S. political scientist Cynthia Enloe produced two of the most indispensable of these pioneering studies, Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in Divided Societies and Police, Military, Ethnicity: Foundations of State Power. Together, these works defined and highlighted the importance of military policy in determining ethnic frontiers and their prominence in governance of unstable multiethnic societies.
Enloe examined the extent to which military and security policies represented elite manipulation of ethnicity. She assayed the impact of ethnic strategies that formed part of the personnel policies of national security establishments, including how they were organized to ensure both ethnic group allegiance and national service. She looked at the historical and contemporary outcomes that influence class, religion, and ethnicity and their effect on the loyalty of the military and the police. Showing the extent to which ethnic identification served to limit national security planning, Enloe presented a working model for analysis about the role played by the military in the operation of the security core of the state vis-à-vis ethnic issues. The differentiation between the army on one hand, and the navy and air force on the other, formed part of her analysis, as well as the role played by the police and the impact that the relative gap in uniformed status suffered by law enforcement had on the calculations of security establishments.
Enloe offered what she called an "ethnic state security map" of elite expectations of various ethnic groups as well as their perceived political dependability. This, she found, offered the possibility to predict political postures vis-à-vis the state, "often an ideal design matching expectations to strategic formulas." She observed that mapping is the mental calculation by which nation-state elites find an optimal way of securing the state by means of interethnic architecture. The most important were:
In Latin America, a number of nationstates meet two or more of these criteria with regard to indigenous peoples, with the combinations suggesting in several cases the potential for geostrategic hecatomb. None, however, except for Bolivia, are represented in the last category.5
The relevance of the work of Enloe and a few more recent researchers such as the late political scientist Donna Lee Van Cott earlier in her career, historian Cecilia Méndez G., and Selmeski take on new brio as conventional elite assumptions about the armed forces' archetypal national and integrative functions are challenged by facts on the ground south of the Rio Grande. In Latin America, the military still plays an integral role in institutionally defending the state against external foes while assuring its domination over the national population. And as Méndez points out, the armed forces not only play a political role, but also have an impact on daily life that helps define national character. In many countries in the region, the military and the police remain a primary point of contact between rural indigenous peoples and the nation-state, with their interface extending to questions of education and social mobility.
As ethnic unrest continues to build in underperforming democratic states, key issues are the social composition and elite direction of the legal forces arrayed to repress unrest among those groups where such instability is most likely. In addition, against shibboleths about the military as a catalyst for modernization and the creation of primary group identities around the nation-state, this emerging literature may fill in the blanks about the enduring appeal and relevance of ethnicity. Perceptions of a nation-state elite, and who they are, can be key in determining military-ethnic relations. As Enloe shows, the equation includes questions such as whether a particular group can be trusted based on their position on a continuum of ethnic/national identification, whether consensus or political fragmentation is a better political strategy to pursue, and the degree to which the state can forgo additional military manpower from conscription of "unreliable" ethnic groups.6
In countries where ethnicity is not necessarily determinative alone in creating security challenges within the ranks of the military and the police, it nevertheless arises when paired with the social, economic, and political fault lines that modernization and market economies pose to communal societies. Perhaps for that reason, when violence erupts, as it did in the Peruvian Amazon in June 2009 over the national government's failure to consult native peoples before allotting vast tracts of their ancestral homeland to national and foreign companies, the non-Indian elite in Lima needed to question whether it could count on the loyalty of the military, the lower ranks of which were made up largely of people from the rebellious region, to loyally restore order.7 In the month before the violence, police officials repeatedly warned of the increasing numbers of Indians pouring into the area, their reports including the amount and kinds of armaments the protestors were carrying and the fact that many were veterans of Peru's brief border war with Ecuador in 1995.8 The Peruvian General Intelligence Directorate reportedly informed the national law enforcement ministry 2 weeks earlier that police efforts to remove the roadblocks thrown up by protestors would cause a violent confrontation. Later, government officials publicly contradicted each other as to whether they had advanced knowledge of their indigenous adversaries, while privately suggesting the indigenous communities did have useful intelligence about the government's own plans—by means of a network of lower ranking military and police officials sympathetic to the imprisoned former military officer Antauro Humala, spokesperson for an ultranationalist Indian ideology.9
The case of Peru, where more than 45 percent of the population is Indian and an additional 37 percent is mestizo, is particularly worthy of greater examination, in part because of the stark contrast between events there and those in neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador. Radical mestizo, or mixed-race, former military officers Antauro Humala and his brother Ollanta (the latter the winner of some 45 percent of the votes in a 2006 presidential contest) are the products of exclusive private schools. Although they lead two separate ultranationalist political parties, the ultimate aim of their ethnocacerist movement is to reunite "the three Inca republics, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru," while seeking not "a change of government, of people or of a face, but of the state"— in other words, the very foundation upon which Peru's government rests. The manner in which these and other ethnocacerists engage in a nationalist historiography calls to mind the dictum of historian of nationalism Elie Kedourie— that "nationalists make use of the past in order to subvert the present."10
In some ways reminiscent of the regime of left-wing nationalist General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968–1975), ethnocacerism, as observed by Cecilia Méndez G., projected itself as:
the flag carrier of Peruvian peasants and Indians and especially of the thousands of [military] reservists of overwhelmingly Andean origin who fought against Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path guerrillas], and in less proportion against Ecuador [during a 1995 border conflict], and who the State and the political parties seemed to have abandoned. . . . In effect, it was the first postvelasquista political movement that took an openly critical posture regarding anti-indigenous racism and neo-liberal policies, which were in other parts of the continent already being questioned.
Different from the example of Ecuador, Bolivia, and other countries where Indian activism emerged from civilian popular and union movements, "in Peru, the pro-indigenous movement that would have the greatest impact had military roots, bases and ideology." That ethnocacerism appealed largely to low-ranking personnel with the military and police suggested not only the ethnic glass ceiling that is an unwritten rule in those institutions, but also the inability of Peru's national defense and public safety institutions to serve as a channel for the emergence of a Native American middle class.11
The case of Bolivia represents another, diametrically different example of the phenomenon offered by Enloe. There, amid great social tension, Morales appears able to count on the continued support of the military in what is still remembered as Latin America's most coup-prone nation. By accepting indigenous peoples in their senior officer ranks, the military and state have helped themselves to be seen as more legitimate by the majority Native American population. Upon assuming the presidency, Morales—an important antagonist of the security forces from his time as the coca growers' leader in the semitropical Chapare—worked hard to recreate the military according to his own needs. The membership of the officer corps was drastically remodeled, with several classes of senior officers forced from their posts—particularly those Morales considered disloyal or critical of his international allies. At the same time, Morales created an atmosphere in which officers could, and were encouraged to, serve as peoples of indigenous origin.
Morales's efforts had effects extending beyond the officer ranks. As Selmeski has observed, the day after Morales visited the Presidential Guard's garrison for lunch, declaring himself "still 'a reserve soldier' despite holding the position of 'Captain General,' hundreds of Indian youth presented themselves voluntarily for service," in the process overcoming a "general distain [sic] for conscription [that] is particularly true for Indians." Military service, Selmeski noted, can be viewed as a win-win situation, as it "provides opportunities for indigenas to accept or challenge the stateidea (and concomitant notions of nation and citizenship), and the Army to resist or accommodate the contentious process of indigenous self-identification, organization, and action." With an Indian commander in chief, it also offered the armed forces the opportunity to redefine (and redeem) its relationship to the country's chief executive. Morales, too, went further to win uniformed hearts and minds, adopting a "nationbuilding" model for the military promoted by his mentor, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, which involved the armed forces in development projects—road building and other infrastructure development, health care, and education—that were once the fiefdoms of civilian cabinet ministries. When the Constituent Assembly met in August 2006, 32 indigenous nations that had been previously trained by the armed forces paraded in front of the president at his request.12
Over time, Morales's actions suggested that he understood, in the words of Cecilia Méndez G., the continuing cardinal importance of the military in Latin American society—not only in terms of their muchremarked political impact, but also in daily life and socialization, where the pace of national identity itself is set by martial parades during patriotic holidays, national hymns, and flag ceremonies, and public monuments are dedicated to wars and military heroes sometimes with greater frequency than those that recall civilians. In calling for a fundamental refoundation of Bolivian society, Morales issued his own call for a new military-peasant pact, one that this time would be led by indigenous people and not uniformed populist caudillos.13 Few are betting, in the short run at least, that he will not continue to be successful.
The potential for ethnic conflict in "Latin" America is likely to remain a significant security question in the region for generations, all the more so given the growing expression of indigenous demands through the prism of ethnic nationalism. Key to the successful resolution of these real and potential conflicts is the role played by the police and military—the latter in particular traditionally a potent collective symbol of nationalism. The questions posed by Enloe three decades ago and only partially addressed in recent scholarship remain central to unraveling the Gordian knot of how to make democracy real for millions of people in Latin America still outside the arc of its benefits and who look to non-Western ideas for answers to issues such as land tenure, the administration of justice, and interethnic relations. Answers to these questions will also achieve the unfinished hemispheric business of decolonization— including that necessarily needing to be carried out within nation-state bureaucracies, particularly within its security and defense establishments. Only by doing so will a broad assurance be offered that the clock will not be turned back on the progress of indigenous peoples seeking to regain full citizenship in lands once ruled by their ancestors.JFQ
Kees Kooning and Dirk Kruijt, eds., Armed
Actors: Organised Violence and State Failure in
Latin America (London: MacMillan, 2005).
2 Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations, 9th ed. (New York: Pearson, Longman, 2009), 163, 174.
3 Captain Paula Videla del Real, "El Conflicto Mapuche y su Impacto en la Seguridad Nacional," available at www.mapuche.info/fakta/cesim1999.html; Ivan Fredes, "Empresarios piden al Gobierno aplicar 'mano dura' por los atentados mapuches en el sur," El Mercurio (Valparaíso and Santiago), October 22, 2008.
4 Brian R. Selmeski, "Multicultural Citizens, Monocultural Men: Indigineity, Masculinity, and Conscription in Ecuador," Ph.D. diss., Syracuse University, 2007, 2–3.
5 Cynthia H. Enloe, Ethnic Soldiers (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980), 15, 17.
6 Cecilia Méndez G., "Populismo militar y etnicidad en los Andes," Iconos, Revista de Ciencias Sociales No. 26, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (Flacso), Sede Quito, September 2006, 14.
7 Author interview with Peruvian defense and security expert Luis Giacoma Macchiavello.
8 Raúl Sohr, "Peru and the Law of the Jungle," The Santiago Times, June 18, 2009; Rocio Otoya, "Disturbios en la Amazonía revelan fractura social en Perú," Efe Spanish News Agency, June 6, 2009; Paola Ugaz, "Indígenas peruanos, en guardia contra Alan García," Terra Magazine, May 12, 2009, available at www.ar.terra.com/terramagazine/interna/0,,EI8867-OI3760404,00.html; Kristina Aiello, "Peru's Cold War against Indigenous People," Worldpress.org, July 19, 2009; "Inteligencia para ciegos," Instituto de Defensa Legal, August 26, 2009, available at www.seguridadidl.org.pe/.../26.../inteligencia-para-ciegos.htm.
9 Sohr; "García's development plans trigger bloody clashes in Peru's Amazon," Latin News .com Weekly Report, June 11, 2009 (WR–09–23); Doris Aguirre, "¿Quién dio la orden de desalojar a indígenas sin prevenir represalias?" LaRepublica .pe, June 12, 2009, available at www.larepublica.pe/bagua-masacre/12/06/2009/quien-dio-la-ordende-desalojar-indigenas-sin-prevenir-represalias; "Editorial: Renuncia, diálogo y pacificación nacional," ElComercio.com.pe, June 8, 2009, available at www.elcomercio.com.pe/impresa/notas/renunciadialogo-pacificacion-nacional/20090608/297631. Information about the use of the Antauro Humala network to spy on the government was obtained in confidential interviews with the author.
10 Elie Kedourie, Nationalism, 4th ed., expanded (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 70.
11 Méndez G., "Populismo militar," 13–14; Manuel Piqueras Luna, "Etnicidad, Ejército y Policia en el Perú: Una aproximación," undated, available at
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