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Indigenous movements have become increasingly powerful in the last couple of decades and they are now important political actors in some South American countries, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and, to a lesser extent, Peru and Chile. The rise of indigenous movements has provoked concern among U.S. policymakers and other observers who have feared that these movements will exacerbate ethnic polarization, undermine democracy, and jeopardize U.S. interests in the region. This paper argues that concern over the rise of indigenous movements is greatly exaggerated. It maintains that the rise of indigenous movements has not brought about a market increase in ethnic polarization in the region because most indigenous organizations have been ethnically inclusive and have eschewed violence. Although the indigenous movements have at times demonstrated a lack of regard for democratic institutions and procedures, they have also helped deepen democracy in the Andean region by promoting greater political inclusion and participation and by aggressively combating ethnic discrimination and inequality. Finally, this study suggests that the indigenous population has opposed some U.S. –sponsored initiatives, such as coca eradication and market reform, for legitimate reasons. Such policies have had some negative environmental, cultural, and economic consequences for indigenous people, which U.S. policymakers should try to address. The conclusion provides some specific policy recommendations on how to go about this.


"The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this report (paper) are those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, policy or decision unless so designated by the official documentation.

Funded by the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment (NDCEE), ID W91WAW-09-D-0022, delivery order number 0616."

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