The Latin American and the Caribbean region is advancing towards breaking free from colonial mentality and recognizing nationalities of the Indigenous people and their cultural heritage. In recent years, various progressive leaders across the region have presented in their election campaigns proposals for a plurinational state to work towards eliminating perceptions of ethnic and cultural inferiority and a form of internalized racial oppression.
In practice this means the shift from the colonial one nation, one culture and one language state model to the plurinational state model, which recognizes different nations with their own languages, cultures and identities that were historically neglected, within a polity.
Those who have taken office, have already taken steps and/or are working towards achieving true decolonization, while those who have lost in elections, have vowed to continue pushing for change.
Ecuador and Bolivia led the way
Ecuador and Bolivia were the first countries in the region to formally recognize the multi-ethnic nature of the countries and strengthen rights of Indigenous peoples under new constitutions.
In September 2008, former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, as promised during his election campaign, oversaw the introduction of a new and inclusive constitution, which established Ecuador as a united “Plurinational and Intercultural State,” recognising equality along with ethnic diversity. It recognized 11 Indigenous nationalities and cultures, extended the plurinational dimension of public policies, such as education, health and housing, and facilitated the entry of Indigenous communities into the state and public institutions. “Plurinationalism means admitting that several different nationalities co-exist within the larger Ecuadorian state, which is obvious in this country and need not scare anyone. Everyone should have the same opportunities,” said Correa at that time, the leader who transformed the economic and social reality of Ecuador during his rule from 2007 to 2017 through his political and socio-economic project called Citizens’ Revolution.
Last year, Correa’s protégé Andrés Arauz, who lost the elections to conservative Guillermo Lasso, vowed to consolidate the plurinational and intercultural character of the state which suffered setbacks under the mandate of former president Lenín Moreno. He promised to promote intercultural and bilingual education in schools and the recognition of collective rights and ancestral practices of Indigenous communities in all aspects of society.
In January 2009, former Bolivian president Evo Morales, fulfilling a campaign promise to write a new constitution aimed at identifying the plurality of nations within a single state, made it a reality. The new constitution recognized in statute the multicultural nature of Bolivia and the inclusion of the Indigenous people of 36 cultural nationalities. It defined Bolivia as a unitary plurinational and secular state rather than a Catholic state as before. It also changed the official name of the country from the Republic of Bolivia to the Plurinational State of Bolivia in order to clearly highlight the diversity of Indigenous people that make up Bolivia. During Morales rule from 2006 to 2019, Indigenous people were incorporated into the governing apparatus, making possible the much-needed social changes and long-lasting organization of Indigenous people.
The current president Luis Arce has restored the respect for the plurinational spirit of the country, which suffered racist attacks during the coup-installed regime of Jeanine Áñez (2019-2020).
New Chile on road to plurinationalism
Last month, on January 28, the Political System Commission of the Constitutional Convention, a body responsible for writing Chile’s new constitution, approved, in general, an act that declares Chile a Plurinational and Intercultural State. The proposal was supported by the independents from different social movements, trade unions and other popular organizations, who emerged during the social uprising of October 2019, and left-wing leaders, which dominate the convention. The measure ensures that Indigenous communities have the right to autonomy and self-government. It also recognizes the territories, heritage, language, culture, institutions and jurisdictions, among other aspects, of the eleven Indigenous nations.
It states that the State must guarantee the effective participation of Indigenous peoples in the exercise and distribution of power, incorporating their representation in the structure of the State, its organs and institutions, as well as their political representation in popularly elected bodies. It orders that the exercise of public functions must be carried out guaranteeing intercultural dialogue and recognizing cultural diversity.
Last year, Peruvian president Pedro Castillo, during his election campaign, also pledged to rewrite the country’s current unequal constitution, drafted under the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori (1999-2000). He promised the construction of a Plurinational State, which recognizes Indigenous peoples and Peru’s cultural diversity. In his inauguration speech, Castillo indicated that he sought to draft a new constitution during his tenure “within the framework of the law and with the legal instruments that the current Constitution itself provides.” He said that the current constitution did not authorize the president to call a referendum and that a constitutional reform was possible only by the decision of the Congress.
Since August 2021, the ruling left-wing Free Peru party has been organizing and collecting citizens’ signatures in order to oblige the Congress, controlled by the opposition right-wing parties, to hold a referendum asking Peruvians if they wish to change the current constitution. Free Peru is also promoting the formation of a constituent assembly to write it.
In the 2019 general elections in Guatemala, the Indigenous candidate Thelma Cabrera of the Movement for the Liberation of People (MPL) party, who secured fourth position and received just 3.5% of votes less than the current right-wing president Alejandro Giammattei in the first round, throughout her electoral campaign, stressed on the need to make Guatemala a plurinational state, to combat the profound ethnic inequalities.
The issue of profound ethnic inequalities will be predominant in the upcoming elections in Colombia and Brazil. In both countries, the Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations face socio-economic and political exclusion.
In the majority of regional countries, except Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela that have progressive constitutions, Afro and Indigenous movements are combating diverse forms of discrimination and demanding respect for their cultural identities. They have emphasized that changes in the legal and constitutional frameworks, adopting a multicultural stance, is the need of the hour.
In December 2021, the first ‘Meeting of Peoples and Organizations of Abya Yala towards the Construction of a Plurinational America’ was held in Bolivia. Around 1,200 representatives of several Indigenous organizations, social movements and trade unions from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela took part in the meeting, and agreed to make efforts to change from uninational state model to the plurinational state model.