Although the word as such is new to us, we have practiced democracy for a long time. Our communities have traditionally enjoyed participation and equality. However, democracy as imposed by the state breaks down the norms of community life and encourages paternalism, patronage and political manipulation. To counter this, we reaffirm the need to return to community life.
We are taking part in the political processes of the capitalist system. We must now seek to make it more open, to change it. Capitalist democracy has certain limits. It tolerates improvement, but not if the privileges of the powerful are threatened.
Can democracy be improved? Native participation in the democratic process has given us a chance to gain some space in local government and Parliament. We must continue to work to strengthen our presence in decisions of national import.
Our only weapon in destroying neoliberalism and opening up new territory is our organization. In our countries, democracy is limited by racist attitudes. In urban areas of Ecuador, organization is insufficient. In the countryside, we seek to revitalize community democracy.
The transition to neoliberalism has been an essentially authoritarian, non-participatory process. Rather than expand democracy, its practitioners speak of making our nations governable. They make no mention of diversity.
We must fight for a new type of democracy, a new human paradigm, a new type of civilization. Native organizations sometimes assimilate the evils of formal democracy, including authoritarian and corrupt attitudes. We must strive to become more self-critical.
We must rebuild our traditional institutions, including our system of justice, our laws, and our democracy. This is essential if we are to discuss the type of participation we seek with the representatives of the state. Native peoples hold no elections. Voting is competitive, and competition is foreign to our traditions. Lest we leap headlong into political and legal subservience, we must radically rethink the form of participation we want so that it does not run counter to our sensitivity. We must rebuild democracy from the perspective of the reaffirmation of our culture.
The neoliberal model
The neoliberal model espouses economic, political, ideological and cultural change on a global scale. Neoliberalism proposes privatization, a free-market economy, and producing for the export market. To impose its set of values, it destroys the family and reduces grassroots organization to a minimum. Neoliberalism is a strategy of capitalism.
Our new political alternative
We are taking part in formal democracy. It is high time, however, to put together a political alternative of our own. We cannot afford to listen to populist promises instead of concentrating on our own alternative.
We must build a power base within our communities and organizations. We must strengthen the native nations and their traditional way of life. To regain our self-worth, we must be reborn. We must retake the initiative and reclaim from the neoliberals the idea of change. The political alternative advanced by the native peoples is profoundly humanizing because it includes all and excludes no one. We must regain our sense of identity as native peoples: who we are, what our cultural and historical values are, what we can and must show the world.
The process of renewal extends beyond the native communities. It is also taking place among other peoples -the mestizo- and in other regions, such as the urban centres. To properly build our alternative, we must become more universal and learn to use technology to advantage.
The need for a new theory
We must originate a new Andean theory, as well as build the power to support it. In it, democracy must be construed as the right to participate and decide on all issues of concern to us.
We must build bridges between the mestizo and the native communities. We must be open to debate new methods of learning. We must open up to other cultures, raise the spiritual worth of all beings, and reaffirm our ancestral values. We must also practice democracy within the family and in our gender and inter-ethnic relationships. We must rediscover the spiritual strength of our ancestors and restore the identity of the peoples of Abya Yala.
Do we want a communitarian or a socialist society? As we seek profound change, we must be able to come up with a global alternative.
We cannot stop at comparing formal and native forms of democracy: we must actively seek to democratize society from the bottom up. We must question society, without necessarily seeking to become the vanguard.
We must create broad-based alliances. We must work to create a culture of democracy and ensure that our own organizations are truly democratic. We must encourage the rise of strong, yet profoundly democratic social players. This can only be possible within the rules of democracy: we must build on diversity.
Civil society must be strengthened. We must rethink policymaking methods so that society at large can take on its rightful role in the formulation of public policy.
We must learn from experience and refrain from an all-or-nothing attitude. Its is possible, for example, to educate our children as the leaders of the future who will take up whatever positions of power we may achieve within formal democracy.
We must also understand our own diversity. Participating in the state can lead to co-optation, bureaucratic distortion, and the loss of accountability.