Journal of Politics in Latin America

State Responses to Autonomy Demands: Indigenous Movements and Regional Threats in Bolivia and Ecuador


Carla Alberti

Shannan Mattiace


In this paper, we examine the political factors that explain state responses to demands for indigenous territorial autonomy in Ecuador and Bolivia. Specifically, we aim to explain why the 2009 Bolivian constitution limited indigenous territorial autonomy to the departmental level, not allowing indigenous peoples to establish autonomous regions that lay beyond a single departmental jurisdiction, whereas the 2008 Ecuadorian constitution allows indigenous jurisdictions to exceed provincial boundaries. We argue that, in Bolivia, a strong conservative autonomy movement led by the country’s eastern departments forced state officials to negotiate with regional elites, thus limiting the window of opportunity for indigenous movements and their allies to demand territorial autonomy. In the absence of a strong territorialized threat in Ecuador, indigenous movements and their allies had larger windows of opportunity to press their claims for territorial autonomy. This study contributes to comparative research on how states have simultaneously affirmed and limited indigenous autonomy.