Ilustración de Demián Morassi
Demián Morassi

Reply to the open letter of Boaventura de Sousa Santos to two young Indigenous Ecuadorians


In aliis linguis

(Originally published in Spanish at Translation by Steven Johnson, reviewed by Mark H. Burton and Manuel Casal. Preface and Further readings sections have been added, as well as images with illustration purposes for publication at 15/15\15.)


The current elections in Ecuador are provoking intense national and international debate, as deep divisions concerning the content, objectives, and strategies of left politics come to the fore. Two rival “left” visions are becoming more sharply defined. One is represented by Andrés Arauz, the candidate supported by the leftist former president Rafael Correa and who won the most votes in the first round of voting on February 7, 2021. The other is represented by Yaku Pérez, an Indigenous leader, opponent of mines and water privatization, and former prefect of Azuay Province, who was very narrowly defeated (though this has been contested on grounds of alleged fraud) by corporate and banking executive Guillermo Lasso for the number two position needed to face Arauz in the runoff election on April 11. A major question at issue is whether left governments must promote ecologically destructive extractive projects, as Correa did, as a strategy to improve people’s material conditions, at least in the short run, or whether there is a more sustainable, just, and ecologically harmonious alternative that can achieve justice and genuine buen vivir (living well).

It is widely thought that Arauz, if faced by Lasso in the runoff, will win handily, due to widespread discontent with the neoliberal policies of the current president, Lenín Moreno. But the prospect of Pérez proceeding to the runoff raised hopes among his supporters, not only that he would defeat Arauz, but also that their alternative ecological and anti-extractivist left vision, informed by Indigenous values, would gain support as the clear and genuine alternative to neoliberalism.

In response to noted Portuguese left intellectual Boaventura de Sousa’s “Open Letter to Two Young Indigenous Ecuadorians“, Ecuadorian Indigenist scholar Atawallpa Oviedo Freire underscores, in his article below, the profoundly destructive character of both Correist progressivism and right-wing neoliberalism as offshoots of essentially the same planet-devouring Western paradigm, and celebrates a resurgent Indigenous movement that is resisting pressures to function as a co-opted and subservient arm of an anti-ecological Western progressive political formation, and is engaged in a trans-civilizational struggle for a genuine political, social, and ontological alternative.

Dear Boaventura,

I’ve read several times, with great sadness, your “Open Letter to Two Young Indigenous Ecuadorians“, in which, once again, you end up supporting progressivism. This, despite the fact that you say you are critical of it and do not want to provide advice. Like other decolonial thinkers, such as Dussel and Grosfoguel, who have also supported Latin American progressivism and who remain Eurocentrics, even though they say they are not or say that they question it.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos en 2010
Photo: Renato Araújo / Agência Brasil. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The hegemony of Western perspectives, in their right-wing and left-wing (especially the left-wing self-named progressive) manifestations are resistant to losing their conceptual and factual privileges. The progressive faction has fought against us [the Indigenous movement] more aggressively than the right, supposedly the antagonist side. Progressive people in Latin America have persecuted, criminalized, and assassinated us, and you are asking our people to be masochists and vote for them so they can continue to subjugate us. Neither the right wing, nor the monarchists before, managed to divide the Indigenous movement in these 500 years as have the exponents of Socialism of the 21st Century, and you tell us that the progressives are our allies. Ironically, under the right-wing governments we were stronger and more unified, until a putatively progressive but essentially right-wing government came to power to divide us and destroy our structures, and you are asking us to repeat this history.

You reminded us in your letter what the Stalinists did to all who questioned them, under the argument that they had to defend the revolution in spite of its mistakes. And you saw how that turned out, so as to recognize that it was a mistake to support the Stalinists. This is the same case now, but you are asking us to forget what happened in all of the worldwide history of the left, with its persecutions against those who disagreed with their dogmas, under the argument that the right wing’s neoliberal faction and imperialism are the real danger. Yet, for us, both sides are dangerous. It is not so crucial which of the two is the most dangerous – both are immensely destructive, not only for humanity but for life as a whole, because the extractivist model is maintained and reproduced regardless of whether the left or the right hold power.

In the end, it seems that you have signed up to the line of worldwide progressivism, echoing the same Stalinist discourse. You say that Yaku Pérez supported the coup in Bolivia. You only did not add that Yaku was in agreement with Janine Añez and that he supported the deaths of Senakaba and Senkata, which is the full narrative of the Correist discourse that you have accepted uncritically. You should have substantiated your claims, proving that Yaku supported the coup. So far nobody I have challenged has been able to prove it. Yaku, just like Mallku Quishpe, and many of the Indigenous and social movements’ leaders, and even in a way Choquehuanca himself, criticized Evo Morales for his eagerness to stay in power forever and for rejecting the results of the referendum in which the Bolivian people, including those in the MAS political party, told him that he should make way for someone else.

Evo Morales y Rafael Correa
Evo Morales and Rafael Correa at a joint press meeting at Quito, Ecuador, October 13th, 2010. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Are we to suppose that the rejection of the referendum was not also a coup against democracy? Who began to do coups? Did you criticize that coup? Did you criticize blocking the alternation of power that Indigenous philosophy demands? This is something that, after Añez’s coup, Morales himself recognized, that he erred in his idea of perpetuating himself in power. And, given that it appeared that he won that election by fraud, something that has not been demonstrated that it did not occur, the victory of MAS in the last elections does not necessarily confirm that there was no fraud. Yaku criticized all of this, but you are repeating what the Correists are saying.

In the whole letter you criticize Yaku, and the only thing you left out was to say that he is part of the right wing, even though you indeed say that Pachakutik supported the right-wing’s neoliberal Lenin Moreno regime. Prove that, too. Indeed, there were a few members of Ecuador’s legislature who supported certain projects, but they were questioned and criticized by Pachakutik. But you are repeating the Correist narrative that Pachakutik was allied with Moreno, and in doing that you are joining an international network of progressives in the dirty campaign against the Indigenous movement and, in particular, against Yaku, as Salvador Schavelzon has demonstrated.

Protestas de trabajadores e indígenas contra el gobierno de Rafael Correa
Workers and indigenous people protesting agains politics of Rafael Correa’s government (Quito, Ecuador, june 18th, 2015). Foto: Agencia de Noticias ANDES. Source: Wikimedia Comons.
We in the Indigenous movement and the left fought for several years against the corruption of the Correist progressives, much more than did the right, and now you are buying into the story of lawfare. And what do you think of what Correism did when it interfered with the judicial process, as Correa himself said? Is that not also lawfare? You cite Alberto Acosta in your letter. Well maybe you should read all that he has written about Correism, and also the three great books by several intellectuals who wrote about it, of which Acosta was one of the editors. These are in addition to the number of books that we have produced individually about the implications of Correism, which are not about the great advances that you highlight. Furthermore, the right-wing governments of Colombia, Panama, and Paraguay reduced poverty much more than Correa.

When you were in Quito, six years ago, and you personally met with several intellectuals, we explained to you the situation that we were going through, but this did not have a substantial effect. Since that encounter, I felt that you did not completely understand our struggle. Time has confirmed that, as you have always ended up aligning with the side of progressivism. The letter I am responding to here makes clear what your position is and confirms once more that we are on different paths.

Lenín Moreno
President of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, in 2017. Foto: Agencia ANDES. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
We are on different paths because we have two different ways of understanding reality and how to live. I am part of those who function with the ancient collective rationalities and pensasientos [thought-feelings], which remain alive and latent in the majority of the planet, in spite of the epistemicide that Eurocentrism has tried to accomplish but has not succeeded, not even in Europe where the Indigenous Celtic movement is undergoing a renaissance. I don’t know if you know it, it would appear that you don’t know about it in detail, but what is certain is that you do not produce your reflections from the point of view of the Awen or Druidic philosophies of the land of your birth. This collective philosophy from Indigenous Europe is beyond the epistemologies of the South, and is consistent with Indigenous philosophies from all over the world, since there is no major difference between the Celtic philosophy and the Inca, Maya, Hindu, Chinese, Bantu, and other philosophies.

To not speak from the perspective of an ancient collectively-constructed philosophy is to speak from a Eurocentric vision, or more precisely a Hellenic one, which the Greeks systematized and called civilization. This is a paradigm that the Christianized Romans imposed on the Indigenous cultures of Europe, and which the civilized or indoctrinated Europeans have continued to reproduce, but which the Celtic movement is now challenging.

But the majority of European intellectuals of the left still have not taken them into account, as is also the case in the rest of the Western world and its satellites, in which all speak from a Eurocentric vision of the left or right. For this reason, right-wing and many left-wing movements criticize the Indigenous philosophies, or look down on them because they do not know them, and, above all, because they do not function from those ontologies and epistemes.

Primer Encuentro de los Pueblos y Nacionalidades Andinas por el Sumak Kawsay
First Meeting of the Andean Peoples and Nationalities for Sumak Kawsay. (27/09/2011). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
And hence, all over the world these left movements ridicule this ancestral knowledge, with labels of Pachamamism, Abyayalism, Essentialism, Ethnicism, Culturalism, Fundamentalism, and lately even Fascism. And in the present case, they also speak of movementism, suggesting that it has fallen into apoliticism, which makes clear that they do not know the Ecuadorian Indigenous movement very well. And it appears that they think the same of Zapatismo, that it is just a movementist action of the NGOs funded by the Global North.

So, we the Indigenous people of all colors from all of Mother Earth have risen up to reclaim sumak kawsay (Abya Yala), Ubuntu (Africa), Swaraj and Tanxia (Asia), Awen (Europe), to mention a few concepts, all of which could be translated into English as “everybody living in harmony under the sky,” as the ancient Chinese say. It is from the perspective of these ancient collective epistemologies that we speak and interpret our reality, and that is the difference with all the rest who speak from the perspective of the Eurocentric epistemologies of the South and North, some more and others less but all essentially Eurocentric, and I think some influences of Eurocentrism still remain in you.

They are Eurocentric because they do not make their criticism from the point of view of an epistemology that has been developed collectively by the peoples themselves, but from their individualist particularism formed in the Eurocentric paradigm and not from the serious study of the non-Western philosophies. That is to say, they have not taken a collective turn to speak from epistemologies and ontologies built over thousands of years, but speak from constructs shaped by individuals or by small groups created in the interior of the West.

Ultimately, progressivism is part of that, which is the postmodern expression of the media and academic sectors that seek to displace the social movements (especially the Indigenous movement) or co-opt them to be under their social-democratic or even Christian Democratic tutelage, under the heading of New Left. For that reason, the progressives have been confrontational towards us, because we are no longer following the Eurocentric path of Socialism of the 21st Century, but are contesting its conceptions and horizons. Because they want to keep having us only as a mass base or Indigenist, feminist, environmentalist or popular arm of their movement. And because we have taken up a struggle which is no longer only about class or morality (as they want it to be) but is an ontological and trans-civilizational struggle. This is what is behind one position and the other.

Further reading

Ilustración de Demián Morassi
Demián Morassi
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Author and coauthor of several books, he has also published articles in various print and digital media outlets. He writes essays, novels, and poetry, and has ventured into theater, journalism, and cartoons. Of diverse education, he holds titles as Doctor of Jurisprudence, Master of Sustainable Management, and lawyer, and has an undergraduate degree in Public and Social Science. He is self-taught in philosophy, transpersonal psychology, and alternative therapies. He has been a university professor at Central University of Ecuador, Army Polytechnic School, and Latin American Christian University. He is the founder of Movement Towards Global Buen Vivir, and is the director of the Advanced School of Alterity.

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