Comunas and Rural Community Organizations in Cayambe, Ecuador

Prepared for delivery at the 1997 joint meeting of the Midwest Association for Latin American Studies (MALAS) and Illinois Council of Latin Americanists (ICLAS), Edwardsville, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, October 30-November 1, 1997.


Indigenous and peasant pressure led the Ecuadorian legislature to pass the Ley de Organización y Régimen de Comunas (commonly called the Ley de Comunas or Law of Communes) in 1937. The law was intended to extend legal protection to rural communities in order to protect them from attacks and exploitation from outside forces. Although 338 communities legally organized themselves as comunas during the first three years that this new law was in effect, only one community in the northern canton of Cayambe chose this form of political organization. This is a perplexing problem because there were extensive rural organizing efforts in Cayambe at this same time. Despite the apparent advantages of legal recognition, Indigenous peoples eschewed this form of societal organization. Searching for an explanation for this anomaly can explain much about the nature of social organization in Cayambe and the basis which it provided for social protest. It also highlights the nature of peasant-state relations as they developed in the twentieth century, and also indicates the nature of the role which Indigenous peoples sought to define for themselves in the broader national culture.

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