Making Space: Community Organization, Agrarian Change, and the Politics of Scale in the Ecuadorian Amazon
|Publication:||Latin American Perspectives, 30(1), pp. 96-121|
At the western edge of the Ecuadorian Amazon, 20 kilometers north of the town of Tena, is the centro matriz, or administrative center, of Mondayacu, a Quichua community of about 1,200 people. The concentration of houses and other buildings along the highway represents the first line of defense against the incursions of colonists from the highlands or coast and the first stage in the long process of obtaining legal title to the community’s land claims. Away from the road, clearings in the forest for cattle pasture and cash crops are further evidence of land occupation, serving to solidify the community’s presence. Mondayacu’s community association, the Asociación de Trabajadores Indígenas Agropecuarios de Mondayacu (Association of Indigenous Agricultural Workers of Mondayacu—ATIAM), was established in the mid- 1970s in order to gain legal title to the community’s land claims, threatened by the influx of colonists into the Amazon region, or Oriente. These processes of community formation and land titling have involved a spatial restructuring of settlement and have been facilitated by the forging of institutional relationships that link Mondayacu’s residents to a variety of extralocal organizations: regional and national indigenous federations, state agencies, national and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These relationships have allowed residents of Mondayacu to “jump scales,” that is, to gain political and financial support for their claims from actors with broader institutional reach and at the same time to link their concerns to struggles at the regional and national scales. Because the lived realities of community residents are fundamentally different from those of national-level indigenous political leaders, a focus on community-scale processes is crucial to gaining a fuller understanding of indigenous politics in Ecuador. In this article, I focus on the role of communitybased organizations and the multiscalar networks of which they are a part in mediating processes of regional development. I begin this discussion with a consideration of space, scale, and network formation and the role that these have played in shaping and reshaping Mondayacu. I then outline the history of the community, highlighting changes in patterns of social and spatial organization and in agricultural strategies and development projects.