Does Multiculturalism Menace? Governance, Cultural Rights and the Politics of Identity in Guatemala

2002 Journal of Latin American Studies  
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more » ... ct. This article challenges the assumption that the underlying principles of state-endorsed 'multiculturalism' stand in tension with neoliberal politicaleconomic policies. Based on ethnographic research in Guatemala, it is argued that neoliberalism's cultural project entails pro-active recognition of a minimal package of cultural rights, and an equally vigorous rejection of the rest. The result is a dichotomy between recognised and recalcitrant indigenous subjects, which confronts the indigenous rights movement as a 'menace' even greater than the assimilationist policies of the previous era. It is suggested that the most effective response to this menace is probably not to engage in frontal opposition to neoliberal regimes, but rather to refuse the dichotomy altogether. I. Introduction We can now begin to look back on the i990s in Latin America as a decade of extraordinary mobilisation of indigenous peoples, and of considerable achievements, both in the realm of struggles over representations, and in the substantive expansion of their rights. Indian leaders and organisations dramatically made their presence known in the international arena during preparations for the Quincentenary celebrations, in the Nobel Peace Prize of 199z, in response to the public inauguration of NAFTA in January 1994, in the governmental crises of Ecuador at the decade's close. Less dramatically, but perhaps more substantively, during the same period a series of new national and international legal instruments came into being, Charles R. Hale is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Associate Director of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. * This article has gone through many permutations, and has benefited greatly from critical comments and suggestions along the way. It was first conceived for a conference in Cochabamba and La Paz, Bolivia, where I received helpful criticism from Jose Gordillo, Maria Lagos, Pamela Calla and Ricardo Calla. A later, very different, version was presented at the conference 'Agency in the Americas' organised by Doris Sommer. In these and other settings, those who provided helpful comments on subsequent drafts and presentations include: . I am also grateful for the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Latin American Studies. 486 Charles R. Hale which gave added power and legitimacy to the rights for which many of these organisations had long fought. By the end of the decade some ten Latin American states had signed on to the International Labour Organization's (ILO) convention I69; most had enacted constitutional reforms to effect what Donna Van Cott calls 'multicultural constitutionalism';1 and a few states, notably Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, had taken significant steps toward the recognition of collective indigenous rights to land. In November 2000, for the first time in its zo-year history, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IAHCR) of the Organization of American States (OAS), heard a case involving the violation of an indigenous community's collective rights. None of these achievements would have been possible without prior advances in the strength of indigenous organisation, both in the many areas where this builds on long-standing, continuous histories of struggle and, even more remarkably, where communities have engaged in processes of 're-Indianisation', recreating patterns of indigenous militancy anew.2 The decade of indigenous mobilisation and gains will also be remembered as the era of neoliberalism's ascendancy. In the shorthand of oppositional political rhetoric and much academic analysis, neoliberalism stands for a cluster of policies driven by the logic of transnational capitalism: unfettered world markets for goods and capital; pared down state responsibilities for social welfare of its citizens; opposition to conflictive and inefficient collective entitlements, epitomised by labour rights; resolution of social problems through the application of quasimarket principles revolving around the primacy of the individual, such as assessment based on individual merit, emphasis on individual responsibility and the exercise of individual choice.3 Although variations in neoliberal doctrine merit serious attention, and this definition itself requires greater subtlety, it will serve as a point of departure. With the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in i990, and the contradictory but unmistakable introduction of market capitalism in Cuba, no state-backed ideological alternative has been left standing. Key premises of the neoliberal doctrine now form part of the common sense of virtually every political party seriously in contention for state power in Latin America, and underlie all but the most peripheral of economic activities in the region. Debates over the consequences of neoliberal policies have been intense, and organised resistance to their consequences may well be on the rise, but these only serve to underline the general ascendancy of the doctrine. This article explores the relationship between these two developments of the previous decade, seeking to move beyond conventional wisdom on the topic. Most existing analysis assumes, explicitly or otherwise, that indigenous struggles and neoliberal ideologies stand fundamentally opposed to one another, that any convergences we might observe result either from unintended consequences of neoliberal reforms or from the prior achievements of indigenous resistance. The victories of indigenous cultural rights, in short, keep the devastating effects of neoliberalism at bay, as encapsulated in the Zapatista battle cry, i Basta! This assumption is incomplete and misleading, I contend, because it neglects a facet of the relationship that I will call 'neoliberal multiculturalism', whereby proponents of the neoliberal doctrine pro-actively endorse a substantive, if limited, version of indigenous cultural rights, as a means to resolve their own problems and advance their own political agendas. Conventional wisdom identifies the negative effects of neoliberal policies enacted and opportunities foreclosed as the greatest threat to indigenous peoples. This effort to probe neoliberal multiculturalism should be understood as an exploration of the 'menace' inherent in the political spaces that have been opened. The conventional wisdom was reflected in the words, deeds and reputation of a World Bank economist, task manager for an important project designed to promote 'agricultural modernisation' in Guatemala's hinterland. Despite warnings to the effect that this economist did not suffer anthropologists (fools or otherwise) gladly, I persisted, and eventually was granted a half-hour interview. She received me cordially and spoke frankly (though she stood up at the precise moment that a halfhour had passed, and walked out of the room leaving me in mid-sentence). We talked mainly about the question of indigenous rights to communal land, which the project was obliged to consider even though such rights are not fully recognised by the Guatemalan legal system. She expressed scathing criticism of those who assume, as a matter of principle, that communal land rights are a social good and a universal demand of indigenous peoples. According to her sources (confidential documents of course), the majority of indigenous people in the project area actually preferred individual titles. If a law to secure collective title were passed and widely applied, she contended, it would constitute an act of oppression.
doi:10.1017/s0022216x02006521 fatcat:kiypradzanarlgvmkuslclryka