By: Dr. Juan E. Romero J. / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / October 12, 2016
The idea of resistance was used by the Spanish invaders to express the opposition of indigenous peoples to control in the cultural, political, social and economic areas. Spaniards created an imagery where indigenous communities were labeled as “barbarian”, “uncivilized”, “backwards”, and “inhumane”, which was convenient to ease the task of plundering and imposition of the doctrines of the Western-European world.
Thus, the Spaniard’s idea of “resistance” described the unwillingness of these societies to adapt to the Western order. This was vital to achieve their goal of plundering. In the philosophy of European right, the first place is taken up by the basis of private property. On that principle, the whole system of property and social hierarchy was built, which supported the worldview and the workings of the modern European society. The violent contact imposed ethic and juridical difficulties: the human groups that were established in the territory that we now calle America had been there, without a doubt, since long before the Europeans arrived. That is, they were the “first owners” of the territory and its riches, according to European law. So Europeans, according to their own legal system, were forbidden to control those lands and resources. But this would have been a disaster for their enterprise —because their interest was, first and foremost, of a commercial nature. So how could they bypass this obstacle? Easy: they declared indigenous peoples non-human. That was enough for them to feel entitled to grab their riches. There were tales about the monstrosity of these beings: creatures without heads, with eyes in their chests, who ate one another, like animals. The Church contributed the theological explanation: the world, and everything in it, is a work of God, and He gave it to those who believe in him —not to the infidels.
Indigenous peoples were not only non-human, but also “children of the devil” himself, and it was a “Christian duty” to reclaim those territories from the influence of evil. The result was a premeditated plundering, accompanied by murders and extraordinary displacements. Exactly what we would now call a “crime against humanity”. Nevertheless, they concealed and justified their atrocities —with the notable exception of Bartolomé de las Casas.
In the beginning (that is, from late 15th century to mid-16th century), indigenous resistance was thoroughly crushed. The technological superiority of the invaders, thanks to their use fo gunpowder and horses, was crucial.
The resistance was heroic but ineffective, but in the 16th century it became an organized action to fight for rights (albeit limited) and participate in areas of society (also limited). There was a transition from resistance to subversion.
What is subversion? It’s a praxis that reflects the internal incongruences of a social order, and points to new goals. After resisting without results, indigenous groups turned to subversion, and used their historic knowledge, their “expertise” (lessons and values forged over centuries of social relations) to begin a new path in organized struggle, which progressively evolved to the form it has today.
Indigenous resistance became a subversive social movement, whose essential nucleus is the defense of the environment, which is a consequence of their vital experience. This form of subversive social movement has three characteristics that make it special in their relation with National States.
1. Indigenous culture is a counter-culture, which permanently criticizes the forms and logics of capitalism and the official history of those National States.
2. They usually demand autonomy in the management of their territories, to make up for the theft they were victims of
3. They strive to preserve their social, economic and environmental practices, which sometimes are in conflict with the practices of the national states, which are usually focused on the profit-oriented exploitation of nature.
Colonialist views on indigenous societies as backwards, without future, submissive and obedient have been substituted by the New Latin American Constitutionalism, particularly in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, for movements of resistance against globalization and capitalism. The Zapatista movement in Mexico is one example of this view, and also the indigenous movements against Chevron in Ecuador, or the organizations in Bolivia, or the resistance against the Mining Area in Venezuela.
We must also discuss history and historiography, because we’re still commemorating October 12, the date on which America was discovered by Europeans —even though we have changed the name and tone from “Day of the Discovery” to “Day of Respect to all Races” or “Day of Indigenous Resistance”. We must stop using the landmarks of European modernity and create our own narrative.
The fact that this date is still commemorated is another form of subordination and cultural dominance. Colonialism is still present in out culture, and at the basis for the social and economic inequalities that greatly harm Latin America. In order to become decolonized, we must stop using European historic and cultural interpretations and build our own on the grounds of our anti-capitalist, anti-globalization and environmentalist movements.