Indigenous organizations in Latin America emerged as key political players during the last quarter of the twentieth century. The rise of these organizations both fueled and resulted from the politics of identity that have become increasingly prevalent in Latin America. These organizations represent a population that has suffered a history of exclusion and that is generally poorer than the average in Latin America. Indigenous grassroots organizations have mobilized to gain political recognition for cultural rights and access to land and economic resources.
The constitutions of many major Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, were rewritten in the early 1990s to include indigenous cultural rights, reflecting indigenous organizations' varying degrees of success in political mobilization. The political strength and impact of these organizations in each Latin American country was not necessarily related to the indigenous group's relative demographic presence. In Peru, where the indigenous population represents 40 percent of the total population, indigenous organizations have had a minimal impact in gaining political recognition and greater access to economic wealth for their people. In contrast, in Colombia, where the indigenous population represents only 2 percent of the total population, indigenous organizations such as the Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC; Regional Indigenous Council of the Cauca) were instrumental in pressuring the national government to grant close to 25 percent of the national territory to indigenous communities.
For the most part, Latin American indigenous organizations emerged from a class-based mobilization in the 1970s. In a second stage, indigenous communities mobilized either according to geographical and ecological origin (lowland areas versus highland) or by political region. For instance, in Bolivia, the lowland Confederation of Indigenous People of Bolivia (CIDOB) organized indigenous communities from the lowlands in the early 1980s. A third stage usually consisted of indigenous organizations acquiring national clout by joining other indigenous organizations and morphing into a national organization. International organizations such as the United Nations and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also played a crucial role in giving indigenous organizations greater political legitimacy in recent decades. Undoubtedly indigenous organizations will evolve, reflecting the changing demands of indigenous communities, but they are now an integral part of the Latin American political landscape.
Garcia, Maria Elena. Making Indigenous Citizens: Identities, Education, and Multicultural Development in Peru. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.
Lucero, José Antonio. "Representing 'Real Indians': The Challenges of Indigenous Authenticity and Strategic Constructivism in Ecuador and Bolivia." Latin American Research Review 41, no. 2 (2006): 31-56.
Rappaport, Joanne. Intercultural Utopias: Public Intellectuals, Cultural Experimentation, and Ethnic Pluralism in Colombia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.
Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. Oppressed but Not Defeated: Peasant Struggles amongst the Aymara and the Qhechwa in Bolivia, 1900–1980. Geneva: United Nations Institute Research for Social Development, 1987.
Van Cott, Donna. The Friendly Liquidation of the Past: The Politics of Diversity in Latin America. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press, 2000.