Political Representation, Policy & Inclusion NINA AGRAWAL, RICHARD ANDRÉ, RYAN BERGER, AND WILDA ESCARFULLER
In Colombia, the national reserved
seats have tended to fragment the
Afro-Colombian vote, with up to 65
small parties competing for the two
reserved seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In addition, as the seats have
created a separate channel for representation of Afro-Colombian interests, traditional or national parties
now have even less incentive to court
Afro-Colombian votes. The net result
has been the legislative marginalization of the caucus in both houses.
Colombian Indigenous representatives—with only one seat in
the Chamber and two in the Senate—have fared only slightly better,
electing one representative from a
non-Indigenous party and enjoying
greater consistency across elections
in terms of the parties placing candidates for elections.
Nonetheless—and not coincidentally—Indigenous and Afro-descendant representatives in Colombia
have the lowest bill approval rate
(though the highest attempt rate)
among the four countries studied.
Given the hyper-presidentialism
that has characterized contemporary Latin American democracy, it
is impossible to discuss substantive representation—or any kind of
legislative representation for that
matter—without bringing in executive–legislative relations. Indeed, in
all four cases, the success of the Indigenous or Afro-descendant agendas
in congress remains highly contingent on the political interests, discretion and agenda of the president
and his cabinet.
In Bolivia, the president’s power
over legislative activity weighs particularly heavily. President Morales’
party held a majority in the constituent assembly and currently enjoys a
106 Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012
supermajority in both houses. Consequently, insofar as MAS identifies
itself as an Indigenous party representing Indigenous issues, the executive will continue to drive the
agenda, irrespective of the individual interests and activities of Indigenous legislators.
In Colombia, the executive—either
the president or his ministers—has
had a hand in each of the laws relating to either Indigenous or Afro-Colombian issues. The 2010 Law of
Native Languages was in large part
the result of the initiative of then-Minister of Culture Paula Marcela
Moreno, the first Afro-Colombian to
occupy a cabinet position in Colombia. Similarly, the 2011 Law of Anti-Discrimination finally came about
as a result of President Juan Manuel
In Ecuador under President Correa, the importance of the executive
is even more obvious and potentially detrimental to the Indigenous
agenda. As control of the Indigenous agenda has slipped away from
CONAIE/Pachakutik, and the political
rivalry between it and President Correa has increased, the legislature has
become paralyzed on a number of efforts necessary to protect Indigenous
rights. Two bills with serious ramifications for the Indigenous community (one on mining and one on
water) have been proposed by the executive branch (the former approved).
Both would violate territorial rights
and essentially skip the process of
Further evidence of the importance
of executive support for Indigenous
and Afro-descendant rights comes
from the two constitutional reform
processes in Bolivia and Ecuador.
While these constitutions and the
processes that created them have
generated considerable criticism, in
both cases the constituent assem-
blies at the time were a high-water
mark for Afro-descendant and Indig-
enous representation in the political
process—and both were convened at
the initiative of the executive.
Nina Agrawal, Richard André
and Ryan Berger are policy
associates at Americas Society
and Council of the Americas
(AS/COA). Wilda Escarfuller is
a policy assistant at AS/COA.
FOR SOURCE CI TATIONS SEE: