I arrived in Ecuador for the first time in June 1990, a week after a massive
Indigenous uprising had shaken the consciousness of the country’s elite
classes. I was interested in leftist revolutionary movements and searching for
new research material, and I had come to the country’s capital city Quito as
a participant in a study abroad program with Oregon State University.
Earlier that spring, the Sandinistas had lost the elections in Nicaragua, an act
that seemed to have stopped the possibilities of further popular uprisings in
Latin America. Still, here in the South American Andes a historically mar-
ginalized group had risen up to challenge their exclusion from power, and
this act stimulated the imagination of young idealists and political activists
such as myself. Rather than using guerrilla warfare, the Indians in Ecuador
used armas de razón; it was a battle of reason—a political and largely non-
violent struggle. The protests I witnessed in the streets together with mate-
rial I studied in anthropology classes under Marleen Haboud’s direction at
the Universidad Católica challenged my understandings of revolutionary
movements and cast them in a new light. In emphasizing ethnic identities
rather than a class consciousness, Indigenous peoples placed themselves at
the center of a political struggle for control over their own destinies and
identities. My intellectual interests were caught up in the euphoria of the
potential of rural, Indigenous sectors in society redressing five hundred
years of oppression and exploitation.
When I returned three years later to continue my research, John and
Ligia Simmons, friends from Kansas, put me in contact with Ligia’s brother
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