Indigenous Mobilization and Decolonization in Latin America: Some Ideas for Discussion

Receipt: March 29, 2023

Acceptance: May 1, 2023


Drawing on several of the ideas contained in David Lehmann's text "Beyond Decoloniality: A Discussion of Some Key Concepts" (2023), in this paper I propose a different way of understanding the relationship between indigenous mobilization in Latin America in recent decades, decolonial studies and other forms of what I call "the colonial framework". The central argument develops around indigenous mobilization, which I see as changing and in a process of complexification, in which relations to ideas of decolonization are evident, but not the only ones informing its political action. By taking these two elements into account, the relationship between mobilization, decolonization and democracy is understood in a different way and with different consequences than those proposed by Lehmann.

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indigenous mobilization and decolonization in latin america: some ideas for discussion

Departing from some of the ideas in David Lehman's text, I propose a different way to understand the relationship between indigenous mobilization in recent decades in Latin America and decolonial studies and other research I labeled "colonial reason." I argue that this paradigm is broader than the "decolonial" one, and that aside from very interesting contributions, part of its limitations come from its own comprehensive intent. But the central argument is around indigenous mobilization, which I consider to be changing and in a process of increasing complexity, in which relationships with the ideas of decolonization are evident but are not the only ones that inform indigenous political action. Taking into account these two elements, the relationship between mobilization, decolonization, and democracy is seen in another way and with other consequences.

Keywords: indigenous peoples, decolonization, decolonial turnaround, indigenous mobilization, Guatemala.

David Lehmann gives us a provocative text in which he addresses several important issues for the debate on the mobilization of indigenous peoples in Latin America in these first decades of the century. xxi. He develops various arguments around them, but his two main ideas seem interesting to me and in principle I would share them: that indigenous mobilizations produce contributions for democracy beyond the benefits obtained by the indigenous themselves and that the proposal of decoloniality has ended up generating a simplified way of understanding the complex ethno-racial reality of this continent. However, the articulation he proposes between both ideas, as well as other assertions of the text, can be discussed and I will do so through some comments within a different proposal of how to understand indigenous mobilization and the role of the decolonial proposal in it. I believe that both - indigenous mobilization and the ideas developed from what I will call the "colonial framework" - have influenced each other in the last decades, that they are broader than what Lehmann puts forward, and that indigenous mobilization in particular - which is the issue I am interested in - has democratizing effects on the whole of society not only in terms of the indigenous mobilization, but also in terms of the decolonial approach. notwithstanding of decolonial arguments -as Lehmann points out-, but rather precisely since The debate between universalist movements and "movements defined only by identity politics" must therefore be approached from a perspective that takes into account what it means to be indigenous in Latin America in the 21st century. For this reason, the debate between universalist movements and "movements defined only by identity politics" must be approached from a perspective that takes into account what it means to be indigenous in Latin America in the 21st century. xxi.

This reflection does not focus on the question of decoloniality, but on what I can contribute: the analysis of the political action of mobilized indigenous peoples.1 This is not intended to be a scholarly article, but rather, based on the reading of Lehmann's text, I would like to raise a series of ideas that may be useful for the discussion he invites us to have. Encartes. Given the variety and complexity of the topics, this will necessarily be an incomplete and partial gloss, in which I will fall into generalizations and simplifications, with constructs such as "decolonial approach", "indigenous peoples of Latin America" or "organized indigenous peoples" that hide the great diversity of its interior.

The "colonial framework", decolonization and decoloniality

Before entering into indigenous mobilization -which, I repeat, is the axis of this text-, it is necessary to dwell on the question of decoloniality, since, as it appears in Lehmann's title, it is his main concern. I will not go into a subject on which there is already a great production and heated debate (see De la Garza, 2021; Rufer, 2022; or the book by Lehmann himself, 2022; to cite recent production); I only want to raise some questions that in my opinion are necessary for the further development of the text.

A first observation to Lehmann's writing would be that the studies based on understanding the current situation of Latin America from a perspective that questions the Eurocentrism of the theoretical and ideological proposals that have governed its destinies and that do not take into account its original inhabitants and their knowledge (Quijano, 2000; Rufer, 2022), are broader than the self-styled decolonial ones.

Since the end of the last century, a series of political-academic proposals have been consolidating around what Mario Rufer calls "the field of de(s)colonial studies and postcolonial criticism" (2022: 11) and which in this article I will call "the colonial framework", to refer to those who propose their analyses from the idea-framework that the colonial situation generated in this continent since the 20th century has been the result of the colonial situation. xvi continues to be present as a "structuring condition of the present" (Rufer, 2022: 11), as an element central to understand the historical conformation and social dynamics of the region. That is to say, the core of the argument is placed in the way of understanding and ordering the world that the colonial experience generated and is still present, often hidden because our very way of analyzing societies is part of it.

There are many authors and schools that would fall within this framework. Within this range, the Colonality/Modernity Group, the Decolonial Studies Group or the "decolonial option" would be characterized by their approaches based on the denial epistemic of the original subjects as the basis of Western modernity, based on what Walter Mignolo has called the "matrix of colonial power", which affects all dimensions of social life, and which has been enriched by the proposals of Boaventura de Sousa Santos on the ecology of knowledge and the epistemologies of the South. It is perhaps the version of the studies included in the "colonial framework" that has achieved the greatest presence within the Latin American academic world, and it is therefore possible that Lehmann refers to it in isolation,2 but it is not the only version.

There is a diversity of proposals that have been developed and strengthened in these decades, such as the re-reading of ideas on internal colonialism formulated in Mexico by Pablo Gonzalez Casanova and Rodolfo Stavenhagen in the middle of the last century. There are also those arising from indigenous struggles, such as the contributions of Bolivian Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui who, seeing coloniality as the basis of Bolivian society, conceives of it as ch'ixiThe same is true of those made by the Mapuche History Community by historians such as Pablo Marimán or Héctor Nahuelpan; or the readings of colonialism understood from the perspective of open Marxism of the Seminar of Community Networks around Raquel Gutiérrez. These are ways in which the persistence of colonialism is not only understood as linked to forms of knowledge and epistemologies, but related to other aspects of historical and social reality.

By the third decade of the century xxiHowever, there is no denying the importance and impact of the contributions made from this "colonial framework" in the renewal and deepening of the analysis of the social realities of Latin America and how it has influenced schools such as feminism, Marxism or political ecology.

It is evident that the call for attention to the importance of the persistence of colonial schemes in social and ideological structures has allowed for a greater understanding of the historical evolution and social gaps in the region, by establishing an inescapable relationship with capitalism and assuming the feminist proposal of incorporating patriarchy into this framework of domination. Moreover, since the original proposal of Aníbal Quijano (2000), scholars of the colonial framework have joined other currents (Afro-American and diasporic studies, critical racism) so that by now racism, race and racialization form an inescapable part of social sciences that in this region had been reluctant to this framework of interpretation, thus enriching the ways of understanding our societies. It is important to understand that racism goes beyond the indigenous or Afro-descendant population and that the principle of differentiation by origin is at the basis of the very conception of all societies, marked by the effects of the colonial experience.

Perhaps most interesting is the deconstructive facet of these critiques, such as the questioning of academic forms of knowledge, which has forced an examination of our ways of researching and teaching, deepening the critique of hierarchical ways of understanding our work. In this way, by reinforcing proposals that were already in place -such as the "situated knowledge" of feminism (Haraway, 1995)-, the ways of conceiving and practicing the academy have been enriched. The vindication of indigenous knowledge as legitimate forms of knowledge has allowed the development of "indigenous research" based on their differentiated experience with respect to the issues that concern them as indigenous people. In the same way, the critique of reason as the basis of modern knowledge has opened research to ontologies and "sentipensares", different ways of knowing that enrich our work.

But the way in which these proposals are often handled proves Lehmann right when he accuses these approaches of simplifying reality. As Renée de la Torre (personal communication, 5/04/2023) puts it, the review postcolonial has generated speeches postcolonial proposals that do not meet the same expectations. It is a paradox that proposals that emerged from an approach of historical revision to give a place to a cultural diversity that had been denied by Western thought have ended up in a vision that, as Lehmann points out, is that of a "polarized system that has remained intact for almost 500 years".3 History has been frozen in a dichotomous way between a past in which there was no colonial domination and a 500-year-old "present" that remains anchored in that domination. A dichotomous vision of the world has also been generated, polarized between a modern, colonizing, capitalist, patriarchal and predatory North or West, and "Southern" cultures, defined by a relational ontology, a respect for nature and collective forms of organization - that is, everything opposed to the West - that seem similar to each other despite their historical and geographical diversity.

This vision of the "West" or the "North" is understandable because it is modernity and Europe that arrived in Latin America and shaped it as it is today, but it is a version that forgets centuries of history, not only pre-capitalist elements, but also pre-Christian elements very similar to "indigenous knowledge", which are also part of the social and cultural repertoires of European societies. In the simplification of "Western" thought, a single genealogy is created -excluding, patriarchal, racist- which is evident, but forgets traditions that are critical of that modernity or that have developed in parallel to it, some of which are nourished by the same studies that deny them.

On the contrary, it has ended up creating a "South" unified by that which opposes "the Western": a mythical South in which, despite this coloniality, horizontal social relations have survived, in which human beings treat nature as part of it, in which gender difference does not entail domination and in which diversity - cultural, sexual - is celebrated and not persecuted. If these practices are not so now, it is because modernity/capitalism/patriarchy/patriarchy/racism disappeared them. These arguments end up leading to a vision of societies in which the collectives inserted in colonial relations are understood as self-contained and self-excluding collectives, separated from each other and defined by "knowledges" that are also "their own", different and self-excluding, leaving aside several decades of understanding of the social and cultural dynamics in this continent.

Yet another paradox is that, in my view, these limitations of colonial reason stem from one of its greatest strengths: its claim to construct a new paradigm (Rufer, 2022) that questions, breaks and overcomes the thought from which it comes, a paradigm that contains political proposals from which society can be transformed. On the one hand, this pretension can lead to the simplification of the analysis - "everything is colonial", "only coloniality explains"- and to a negation of all other currents and explanatory frameworks considered as "colonialist", unless they make explicit their decolonizing conversion. It may lead to placing this thought in a victimized situation within the academy, despite its evident consolidation and even empowerment in some spaces. On the other hand, this pretension of refoundation has led to a militant version in which "colonial reason" is going from paradigm to doctrine for those who consider it as a unique truth and who measure the suitability of academic proposals by their proximity to the "decolonizing" nucleus and not by their analytical capacity.

It is a situation that in part resembles what happened with the academic Marxism that became hegemonic in certain spaces in the seventies of the last century: it is used to measure the political correctness of a "committed academia" that greatly simplifies the analysis, but which -they say- increases the political value of the studies. At that time, perhaps the richest versions are those that combine elements of this paradigm with those of others, thus exploiting its full potential instead of being locked into a single truth.

For this reason, proposals such as that of Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (2010) are reconstituting, provocative and suggestive.chixiThe "colonial" is not a "project of indigenous modernity" (p. 55), nor does it take up René Zavaleta to oppose the colonial, as Lehmann seems to argue, but it does so from the assumption of the need for a "decolonizing practice", and that it proposes history from the different "horizons" or historical moments of domination: the "colonial, the liberal, the populist" (p. 56) to propose a "project of indigenous modernity" (p. 55) in a Bolivia that starts from "the affirmation of an us, variegated and chixi" (p. 73).

Being indigenous in 21st century Latin America

Thus, when Lehmann questions the way in which decolonial studies conceive the indigenous reality as homogeneous and anchored between coloniality and resistance, in my opinion he raises a legitimate and necessary criticism. But the vision of the indigenous that he shows, not in an explicit and orderly way, but through loose comments, does not help to understand the current indigenous mobilization either, and is at the basis of what I want to raise in the following sections, so I will briefly dwell on this issue.

Lehmann expresses in his text a vision of what it means to be indigenous in Latin America today, based on an identity that he considers "fluid and changing", based on "subjective" elements and related to "the fluidity of racial boundaries" in "variegated" societies with "widespread miscegenation". This image, in which the racial-ethnic would not seem to be an important element in social shaping, is reinforced when "structural racism" is mentioned only once - in parentheses - and considers that "the racial and the ethnic carry an ambiguity" with respect to inequality, since, again, "borders are porous", "concerns disadvantages and ancestral wounds that continue to affect individual performance" and thinks that indigenous people "suffer from the psychological and social after-effects of racial prejudice and exclusion repeated from generation to generation".

Lehmann's understanding of the role of ethno-racial difference in the generation of inequalities in Latin America appears to be limited. It is not surprising, then, that he disagrees with decolonizing proposals and has a partial understanding of indigenous mobilization, since these are based on such structural inequality.4 He even sometimes falls into the stereotyped image of the indigenous that he attributes to both decolonial and indigenous: as, for example, when he says that the Zapatistas "were Indians but had lived more in a regime of servitude than in structured indigenous communities, and their leaders were impregnated with the rhetoric of liberation theology and socialism". The indigenous have only lived in structured communities and living in a regime of servitude makes it impossible for them to continue being indigenous, does knowing liberation theology and socialism "deindigenize", "de-ethnicize", delegitimize the demands as "indigenous"?

I believe that in order to understand indigenous mobilization in Latin America today and what it means to be indigenous in the 21st century, it is important to understand what it means to be indigenous. xxi a different approach is needed in this region. An approach based on the political economy, as Lehmann proposes, but one that of race and ethnic difference, not instead of An approach that, like that of colonial reason, places structural inequality at the center, but which - as Lehmann rightly points out - takes into account the changes introduced by history in the indigenous peoples and in Latin American societies themselves, both in internal diversity and in the emergence and development of their struggles. This is too broad a task for this paper, but it may be useful to propose some ideas in this regard -again with the danger of falling into generalizations and simplifications- in order to better understand the following sections.

We could begin by considering being indigenous as a social condition -similar to being a woman, a peasant or a German-, the product of a specific historical process, which implies a stereotypical -expected- position within the predominant ethnic-racial scale, which usually entails relations of subalternity -not dichotomy- with the other categories of this scale: whites-creoles, ladinos-mestizos and others that occur locally. In other words, indigenous people are the most visible manifestation of the construction of ethno-racial domination in practically all of Latin America, together with Afro-Americans in some countries and regions. 5

Being indigenous today is therefore as much related to multiple inequality as it is to cultural specificity. It is a category that was created to justify domination and exclusion, constructing an ideology - racism - that blames culture and "race" for the subalternity of those who suffer it (Bonfil, 1972; Quijano, 2000).6 In this way, an existing cultural difference is impacted by the valuations and the role given to it in this domination: in the evolution of native languages in recent centuries, we cannot fail to take into account their stigmatization and their function as ethnic markers and the "loans imposed" from the dominant sectors; but neither can we ignore the value given to them as symbols of specificity and resistance. We cannot deny its continuous changes, since the cultural and racial elements considered "indigenous" and the ideological justifications they entail are changing, without ceasing to be "proper" even if they are not "pure".

In this century xxiThe meanings and consequences of being considered indigenous are the product of a long history that has been changing and accumulating effects. The formation of a colonial regime based, among others, on the racialization of social structures and relations was fundamental in this process, but it is not the only moment, nor does this coloniality explain everything that has happened up to the present. For example, the ethnic dichotomy based on the categories "indigenous" and "ladino", which still governs many of the relations in Guatemala -and the same agglutinating figure of the ladino, different from the Mexican mestizo-, has a specific historicity: it arose at the end of the 20th century, when the "mestizo" was born. xix The economic model is related to the liberal reforms and the coffee agro-export economy (Taracena, 1997, 2004; Smith, 1990); it is associated with that specific period in Guatemala's history that lasts more or less the next one hundred years. Therefore, now that the economic model is changing, so are the categories and the ideological scheme that sustains them (Bastos, 2007). 7

Indigenous people have often been an integral and fundamental part of the societies that have been created since colonial times and that have become complex as they have been crossed by different dimensions of differentiation and hierarchy: gender, class, generation, rural-urban, in addition to the ethnic-racial category. The societies of the xxi are essentially complex, so that the ethnic-racial condition is not the only one that marks the experience of indigenous people: they are men, women, peasants, bricklayers or professionals, who live in villages, towns, cities or in other countries. They are, although always in deficit terms, Guatemalan men and women, Mexican men and women (in the construction of these national identities we have another historicity with very differentiated developments between both countries).

Thus, we must recognize the importance of the ethno-racial gap in most Latin American societies, but it is not useful to do so by understanding indigenous peoples as self-contained and self-excluding collectives, separated from the societies of which they are a part. Such dichotomous visions that deny such tangible realities result in simplified diagnoses of complex social and political realities.

Indigenous mobilization and decolonization (and democracy)

In his text, Lehmann argues that indigenous mobilization does not have "universalizing" objectives because it is basically "indigenocentric", blaming this view on decolonial postulates - as if they were the only source of indigenous thought - and proposes that, in spite of this, its effects are democratizing for the whole of society. I believe that the issue is more complex: mobilization has been changing and is very diverse, as is its relationship with the colonial framework.

Over the last five or six decades, indigenous mobilizations have gone through various phases, with rhythms specific to each country according to national contexts. In general, we can say that they began with actors such as the Catholic Church, peasant movements, leftist parties and revolutionary movements. There were processes of identification as indigenous and in the 1980s we already find dynamics of self-organization and ethnization of interpretation frameworks: in the peasant and liberation theology discourses, cultural demands against discrimination and some elements around self-determination that were being elaborated by the nascent indigenous intellectuals.

By the 1990s, when the dismemberment of the Soviet Union precipitated the end of real socialism and neoliberalism took hold, indigenous peoples were local actors who sought to be taken into account as such and demonstrated their strength and political capacity in actions such as the march to Quito in 1991, the Zapatista uprising in 1994 and the Mayan movement in Guatemala. Governments reacted with the wave of "multicultural constitutionalism" (Van Cott, 1995; Sieder, 2002), which entailed formal recognition of the existence of indigenous peoples and the implementation of some multicultural policies that were always limited and politically cosmetic.

An example would be the quota policies mentioned by Lehmann which, according to him, do not work "in the long run" because of the high number of identity "frauds" involved. Again, I would think that the issue is more complex. Without entering into debates more specific to this particular policy, there would be, on the one hand, what Stavenhagen (2007) very elegantly called "the implementation gap" to speak of the non-application of declared rights and established policies; on the other hand, even if these are fulfilled, these are actions that attack the effects and not the causes -like quotas-: they do not seek to touch the historical construction or resolve the structural causes of that inequality. However, they are used by indigenous actors to strengthen themselves and develop their legitimacy as peoples who, in addition to recognition of their cultural difference, seek self-determination.

With the turn of the century, the realpolitik of neoliberal capitalism was imposed in Latin America in the form of extractivist regimes (Svampa, 2019) that emerged from the reprimarization of economies. These policies fully affected popular economies and, among them, those of indigenous communities. In this context, due to the process of consolidation and the very disarticulation of other forms and actors based on class -such as unions and peasant organizations-, indigenous organizations become the axis actors of the anti-neoliberal mobilization within the so-called "eco-territorial turn" (Svampa, 2019).

From these positions, in some countries they put together true social coalitions that achieve electoral triumphs, while others focus on their territories in the face of the abandonment of interlocution with these States and others develop both at the same time. From both positions, there is a deepening of the "search for their own", the reconstitution as peoples and the creation-recovery of an indigenous thought (Burguete, 2010). Expressions such as "Abya Yala" or "el Buen Vivir" show the capacity to generate proposals from this own thinking, which are nourished by the struggles and allied discourses and become axes of action and elaborations beyond the indigenous mobilization.

This implies that the indigenous mobilizations of these years change their focus and that cultural rights become the "defense of the threatened territory", sharing the struggle with environmental, anti-neoliberal and feminist actors. An anti-capitalist discourse is generalized, which does not refer to class contents, but focuses on the predatory capacity of this system. In addition, as a reaction to the multicultural proposal, plurinational proposals are consolidated, which delve into self-determination and question more deeply the Latin American states in their colonial dimension.

Thus, for this third decade of the century xxi indigenous struggles have changed a lot. What in the seventies were the ideas of a few intellectuals, in the nineties was sweetened but also disseminated with the support of the States, and in the new century they were one of the bases of the anti-neoliberal protests. They do not resemble those actors who demanded cultural recognition policies in the 1990s, since their demands are broader and it is not "a few" - as Lehmann says - who have territorial claims.

In the same way, the attitude towards governments is very broad: from those who are part of broad fronts with a more or less indigenous base to those who oppose the increasingly authoritarian regimes head-on. But the important thing is that the indigenous demands and proposals for understanding these societies are consolidating beyond themselves. This is how in 2006, the plurinational formula is the most voted in the variegated Bolivia; or in Guatemala, since 2012, the proposal of a plurinational state is increasingly accepted among and outside the indigenous as a formula to get out of the crisis in which that society is inserted. 8

One of the unifying elements of this mobilization in which we are immersed has been the construction of the struggle, demands and rights from the idea of "peoples": that indigenous peoples form a series of collectives with a common history and culture that gives them the right to self-determination, to decide on their lives and future as such collectives. This figure has been filled with content as mobilization has progressed, with different emphases depending on the country: if in the 1970s it was a reference coming from the decolonizations of Asia and Africa, it has advanced towards clearly national contents that challenge the Latin American nation-states from within, always from a polysemy that is very useful for achieving joint efforts.

Thus, at present, "people" is a multivalent concept with diverse referents. On the one hand, it is understood as collective subject of rights constitutional and international legislation, such as Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO Convention No. 169).ilo) and the United Nations Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although they have hardly been applied by governments, they are an important instrument for the defense of rights and claims to self-determination, such as the use of the right to free, prior and informed consultation (clpi) in numerous lawsuits throughout the region (Sieder, Montoya and Bravo-Espinosa, 2022).

In addition, as I pointed out, there is a meaning of people as a nationThey are almost synonymous: both speak of a collective unified by history, identity and culture that claims some degree of political sovereignty. The very construction of the ideas of indigenous peoples in the multicultural context was based on the national (Bastos, 1998) and has been made explicit -in some countries more than others- in the proposals for the recovery of a self-determined past in the processes of reconstitution (Bastos, 2022). What is specific to these constructions as nations is that they do not claim -for now- a state-type sovereignty, but an "autonomy" within the states (Gros, 1999; Santos, 2010), either through the aforementioned plurinational states or communities seeking their autonomy. 9

Lastly, the idea of indigenous peoples has a clear decolonizing componentThis gives a special nuance to the national idea, since, in addition to self-determination, the aim is to reverse the colonial situation in which they conceive themselves to be. This situation implied the denial of their knowledge and their very existence, which have only been maintained -they maintain- by their attitude of historical resistance. By opposing their own knowledge to that imposed by the colonial relationship, the difference is reinforced through elements that are considered ancestral and ontologically differentiated from those of the West.

All of this leads us to consider that the constitution of indigenous peoples as political subjects is being done on the basis of their reconstitution, the recreation of pre-conquest elements, which supposedly defined them, from current codes and needs. I thus extend Araceli Burguete's (2010) proposal -which considers it a phase of the process of political affirmation- to a way of understanding the whole process of cultural recovery and consolidation as a political subject and complexization of the discourse that has been taking place since the 1970s (Bastos, 2022).

Thus, the construction of decolonizing proposals in the academic field and the constitution of indigenous peoples as political subjects have been developing in parallel and, especially since the beginning of this century, have been mutually nourishing each other. Thus, proposals from the colonial framework appear in the discourse and practice of indigenous mobilization in various forms.

To begin with, the very approach of a colonial situation still in force reinforces the need to close that cycle that began when Europeans cut off their development as autonomous and self-sufficient peoples and continued in the republics in the form of renewed racism. It is now necessary to put an end to this situation by achieving self-determination. Within the simplified versions of history and geopolitics, the proposal of a "West" is also assumed to be the general cause not only of oppression, exploitation and denial, but also the origin of the evils - machismo, alcoholism - that affect indigenous societies.

Decolonizing approaches also reinforce the idea of indigenous knowledge that goes beyond those "cultural" elements assigned by traditional anthropology and conforms an indigenous way of conceiving the world radically different from the dominant colonial one, which has been silenced and must now be recovered, decolonizing it, cleansing it of the imposed elements. In this way, "one's own" is conceived from an ontological differentiation with Western knowledge and the "liberation of the indigenous" - as it was said in the seventies - or self-determination - in more current terms - does not only imply the need to free themselves from the political and social structures that oppress, but also from the ideological and mental structures built to deny them as subjects.

Thus, some of the approaches that are shared with the developments of the colonial framework serve the indigenous actors for their internal reinforcement as a political subject with strength and raison d'être. And they do so in those aspects in which history is simplified and diversity, syncretisms and many elements present in the daily life of the indigenous people disappear, as Lehmann rightly states. In a clear operation of strategic essentialism (Spivak, 2003), which sometimes becomes ontological, it serves to reinforce identities that are always devalued and to emphasize what is proper, but also to generate barriers, lists of requirements, codes of conduct and "may parameters" to measure the purity of the proposals, as María Jacinta Xón Riquiac (2022) proposes for Guatemala.

The danger of these ideas is that they end up leading us to see societies as made up of these self-excluding collectives, like billiard balls -as Wolf said (quoted in Carrithers, 1995: 47)-, whose only possible relationship is the clash between them. This way of understanding societies as made up of nuclei defined by their self-referenced knowledge and cultures finally refers to Johann G. Herder's triad: space-culture-community in which each territory corresponds to a collective defined by a culture. 10

These aspects, which are at the basis of nationalisms, also end up being at the basis of colonial studies and indigenous proposals that simplify belonging and knowledge based on colonial reason. They do not allow us to take into account the complexity that occurs within and among these collectives, which are shaped by the ethnic-racial as one of the dimensions of social life. But in this sociability there are other dimensions through which all kinds of relationships have taken place. The historical conformation of ethnically marked collectives, the "peoples", has been based on an exchange -unequal, hierarchical, based on domination- that has been part of transformations that took place as societies themselves changed. This relationship between territory, culture and collective is far from being univocal.

This reconstitution is one of the facets of indigenous mobilization, a fundamental element of its internal action, of the strengthening of the actors and their consolidation as political subjects. I have highlighted it because it has clear relations with the arguments of decolonization, but it is not the only political action of the indigenous people; for this reason I would like to counter-argue here a couple of Lehmann's statements that seem to me important for what they imply.

First of all, I was very surprised by the statement "no matter how decolonial and anti-Westernist they claim to be [...] they become a democratizing force". Without entering into a debate on what we mean by "democracy", I do not think there is any reason to doubt the democratic credentials of those who claim to be decolonizers or of indigenous peoples. 11 Decolonization is democratizing since it seeks to dismantle power structures. It focuses almost exclusively on raciality and coloniality, but from a vision of the racial and the colonial that goes beyond the indigenous and considers that all Latin American society is founded entirely on these principles. Indigenous proposals reinforce democracy not only by demanding equal treatment and, therefore, the application of legality, but also by seeking rights beyond those established and options for participation that broaden the very democratic forms that currently exist.

The decolonizing vision is a framework that has allowed the joint action of indigenous actors with many others. Indigenous people have contributed much of their knowledge to environmental actions and proposals; likewise, many indigenous women are enriching anti-patriarchal demands and vice versa. By being part of forces that raise in one way or another the need for decolonization, indigenous actors go beyond their demands and seek a transformation of society in their own action and linked with other actors.

Therefore, when these anti-colonial positions that affect the whole of society are assumed and the indigenous put forward proposals for the whole of society, I consider that the debate between universal rights and specific rights has been overcome, and with it the distinctions that Lehmann makes between "universalism" and "indigenocentrism". This debate reached its peak when attempts were made to adapt the proposals of Charles Taylor (1993) and Will Kymlicka (1996) to the Latin American reality, at a time when indigenous actors were seeking to somehow "wrest" their rights from reluctant States and found useful the justifications of these thinkers on the need to broaden the concept of rights beyond "universalism".

But, at this moment, I consider that the debate is different and it is the other sectors that are supported by the proposals made by the indigenous people for the whole society. The demand in Guatemala for a Plurinational Popular Constituent Assembly, proposed by the People's Liberation Movement from "the peoples" and not from "the indigenous", seems to me a good example: the plurinational proposal is assumed by diverse sectors, beyond the indigenous, as a way out of a situation of crisis caused by a creole elite that seeks to maintain privileges based on authoritarian forms. Colonial reason is a framework that gives meaning to this situation that affects the whole of society and from which solutions such as plurinationality are proposed.

On the other hand, as I explained at the beginning of this text, indigenous people are subjects that form part of their societies and do so from multiple dimensions of that social life, not only the ethnic-racial one. They can act from gender as women, from class as peasants, from sexuality as homosexuals or from religion as evangelicals. When they act in politics as such, indigenous actors get involved because they are part of it and seek to change it; they get involved in peasant demands because they are also peasants and support women's demands because they are women.

Thus, when indigenous actors seek or achieve changes unrelated to their self-determination, we are not dealing with "collateral effects", as Lehmann would seem to suggest. For this reason, they not only fight for their own rights, but also for the general collective rights that they also need because they are part of those societies: "There is thus a complementarity between these two spheres that is not without conflict, which would show the conception of these subjects both as collectives in themselves, with a millenary history, but also as belonging to the national collectives that colonial history imposed on them" (Bastos, 2022: 26).

Conclusions: towards decolonization?

I believe that in order to understand the phenomena analyzed and discussed by Lehmann in his text it is useful to start from the premise that both the indigenous mobilization in Latin America for recognition and self-determination and the decolonial proposal are part of a broader process: the questioning of Western modernity that has been taking place for at least fifty years in various fields: cultural, political, academic, and that includes environmentalism, feminism and alterglobalization, but also postmodernism, religiosities, etc. new age or tourists in search of "pure cultures". This questioning has grown stronger as capitalism has moved towards ever more exclusionary and predatory forms, placing the planet in a situation of irreversible crisis, while at the same time it has managed to commodify practically all aspects of social life, including political ones. Within this process, women and indigenous peoples are possibly the most active political subjects who, by defending themselves against socially normalized aggressions, question the very foundations of that modernity that has reduced them to actors without rights.

Thus, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the counter-hegemonic struggle in general, which proposes new ways of understanding social relations and historical processes in order to put an end to the forms of oppression inherited from a history marked by colonial reason (Pineda, 2023).

In this sense, decolonizing our societies and our thinking is a proposal that can have very profound effects when seeking to dismantle the power structures in which both societies and mentalities are organized. Stripping itself of the arrogance of those who consider themselves apostles of a single truth, the scrutinizing and deconstructive will of the ethos decolonizing is an element that helps to dismantle the assumptions and mechanisms in which this phase of capitalism is organized.

Decolonizing proposals seek to dissolve the power structures that exist in our societies, organized through race and other mechanisms of the colonial matrix of power. If the insistence is placed on these causesIn other words, in power relations, it is possible to generate proposals for more horizontal societies in which ethnicity would not be the basis of hierarchical social relations, but just another dimension of relationships.

However, the subjects that consider themselves actors of this transformation, the indigenous peoples, in addition to many other actions, are reinforcing their otherness in a way that in my opinion can be dangerous: on the one hand, the questioning of national states based on plurinational proposals does not object but rather reinforces the figure of "the nation", when the nation is one of the pillars of the political and identity order of this Western modernity that is being questioned. In this phase of supposedly global capitalism, in which "the nation" is finding a resurgence in increasingly supremacist and exclusionary forms, to what extent can the nation be a vehicle of liberation?

On the other hand, these nation-peoples imply the consolidation of the categories of otherness created for colonial domination. In this sense, basing political action on them, instead of questioning them, could also entail the consolidation of the colonial order that created them, by giving the ethnic-racial criterion the role of governing political organization and social relations, as Aníbal Quijano (2000) proposed. No matter how much one seeks to de-hierarchize these relations, in the end what one does is to generate micro-societies based on identities created for domination.

This issue was raised by John and Jean Comaroff some time ago, when they warned that "ethnicity becomes a maturing factor of a colonial and postcolonial capitalist order characterized by marked asymmetries" (2006 [1992]: 130). As long as it is thought that ethnic-racial categories are those that govern social relations and the solution to social hierarchization is sought without questioning this social order, we are not dissolving the ideology, but rather we are trying to transform society from the same rules created by coloniality.

For this reason, we must be alert, because this paradigm shift -which is evidently underway- can allow us to advance towards overcoming this modernity, but it can also be absorbed by capital and end up having different results from those proposed, as once happened with democracy. I am not saying that it has to happen, but this change may not be liberating for the peoples and may end up being part of the maturation of a devouring capitalism that is now phagocytizing the diversity that it tried to deny for so long.


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Santiago Bastos He has a degree in Contemporary History from the Autonomous University of Madrid and a doctorate in Social Anthropology from the ciesas. He was a researcher for flacso-Guatemala from 1988 to 2008. He is a research professor at ciesas Southeast, while in Guatemala he is part of the Communication and Analysis Team El Colibrí Zurdo. His research is now focused on the effects that the dynamics of globalization are having on indigenous communities in Guatemala and Mexico. His latest publications include the compilation The recreated ethnicity. Difference, inequality and mobility in global Latin America (2019) and the monograph Mezcala, comunidad coca. Rearticulación comunitaria y recreación étnica ante el despojo (2021), both published by CIESAS.

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