4. The Right to Be Different: Indigenous Struggles in Ecuador

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the struggles for water justice taking place in indigenous territories in Ecuador.
  • Analyze the diverse conflict dimensions of multi-dimensionality if water conflicts.
  • Apply the conceptual building blocks of political ecology and water justice to a specific case.

Key Concepts

Water rights, equity, equality, legality, legitimacy, politics of recognition

1. “The Right to Be Different”

This submodule will focus on the struggle for water rights of indigenous peasant communities in Ecuador. The module is build around the case study of the Licto area where water rights practices of indigenous peasant communities clash with those of white (Mestizo) farmers and regulations imposed by state institutions. Besides a struggle for water rights as such, it is also about self-determination, belief systems and different forms of past and current colonization of indigenous territories. Here we present the 30 minute documentary “The Right to Be Different”. You might want to check the assignment questions (see next section, 2.1) first and take some notes while watching accordingly. Enjoy!

Produced by Agrapen and Wageningen University in 2003, the video is about the yearlong water struggles of a community in Licto, Ecuador. The story is told by Inés Chapi who came a long way from being oppressed and discriminated to becoming a most respected irrigation organizer and peasant leader. The case of Inés’ community allows to see the different dimensions of water struggles: besides resources, the struggles are about rules and norms, authority and decision-making, and discourses.

Key Readings

Key Readings

Discussions Questions

Discussion Questions

  • What is the differentiation between being ‘legal’ and ‘legitimate’?
  • Could being ‘legal’ not be sufficient to secure water rights for the Licto indigenous peasants vis-à-vis state institutions?
  • How have Andean governments often dealt with political, cultural and social diversity in their respective nation states?
  • Explain the concept of ‘politics of recognition’ as described in the paper in your own words.
  • In the case of Licto, how does the ‘politics of recognition’ operate?
  • Why do the authors of the article argue that private ownership regimes are often beneficial for extractive industries? What does that mean for many indigenous communities?
  • What different conflicts can you identify in the documentary? What are they about and who are the parties to the conflicts? When (chronologically) do the conflicts take place?
  • What different kinds of conceptualizations of water rights are mentioned in the documentary?
  • In how far do they clash, leading to struggles over legitimate water rights systems?
  • About the conflict between the indigenous peasants and the mayor of Riobamba: – What arguments and images of the indigenous population does the mayor of Riobamba use in order to justify his position and devalue that of the peasants? – What different valuations of territory do you see reflected in the mayor's and the community’s position?
  • How (through which outlets) do the peasants of Licto struggle for their water rights?

Further Readings

Further Readings
To further deepen the issues and debates surrounding the tensions between official state law and local and indigenous water rights in the Andean region in general, the article by Boelens, Guevara-Gil and Panfichi (2010) will help.

Boelens, Rutgerd, Armando Guevara-Gil, and Aldo Panfichi. "Indigenous water rights in the Andes: struggles over resources and legitimacy." Journal of Water Law 20.5-6 (2009): 268-277.

Topics discussed in detail include the existing legal pluralism in Andean societies and consequently arising confrontations, defense and mobilization against encroachment in indigenous territories and the political construction of 'ecological terrorism'.

Other Related International Waters Lessons


Next submodule: Transboundary Water Conflicts

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