Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa. AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa. All rights reserved.
According to Macchiavelli, staying in power is the essential goal in politics. To this end, the Prince can act above the law, break pacts and break his word, because what is at stake is the preservation of his rule. If, at any moment, the interest of the nation requires betrayal or manipulation, it is carried out regardless of the contradictions, especially if the ruler counts on media support.
In Ecuador, the recent social, environmental and territorial conflicts caused by mining in Nankints-Morona Santiago have triggered a propaganda campaign by the government. Its aim is to play down the social and environmental impact on the communities and indigenous peoples affected by the mining concessions and to generate a favourable opinion towards the government’s extractivist policies. It is a discursive tactic that emphasizes polarization and promotes a negative image of Them (the violent ones) as opposed to a positive image of Us (the civilized ones who defend progress).
The critical analysis of this type of discourse by Teun van Dijk (author of Racism and Critical Analysis of the Media) and of the way in which racism operates in the symbolic dimension of journalistic communication, has shown that prejudice is an effective form of social domination, by contributing to build negative mental models about the Others - in this case, the dissidents of extractivism.
The government of Ecuador feels threatened by the opposition of indigenous sectors to its extractivist policies. The need for building and maintaining social consensus around the idea of development and "responsible mining" is therefore crucial. In terms of governance, what official propaganda tries to do is to deny the conflict. From an official point of view, mining is not a problem for the country, the nuisance is to be attributed to the Others, who do not understand that "Ecuador has changed" – and so, their demands have no legitimacy.
“They are different”
The Ecuadorian government is constantly appealing to "reject violence, wherever it comes from," as a way of cohering public opinion. Rejection of violence is a socially shared value, an unquestionable tacit agreement that is used politically to impose a dominant opinion - the official truth - and the delegitimizing of the Others, who are presented as being less rational than Us.
According to Van Dijk, emphasizing the difference is one of the main features of racist discourse. The Others are categorised as "exotic", though with identical behaviour patterns – they are those whom Correa calls "the usual lot who always oppose everything" -, while emphasis is put on their difference to Us - that is, "the lucid mind". The message from the government is clear enough: anyone who is compatible with peace and civilized coexistence cannot support the "barbaric" actions of those who oppose development.
“They are evil”
Another form of social control is to highlight "the wickedness of the Others’ behaviour, which leads them to break our norms and not abide by our rules".
While the private media simply keep on recording events, public media – which are aligned with government propaganda -, far from fostering public deliberation, are responsible for building a biased view that reaffirms negative stereotypes. They qualify the indigenous Shuar as "invaders," "violent for no reason," "destabilizers," disrespectful of authority and private property. The officialism's message is obvious: they have to be disciplined and adapt our norms. This is the reason why their causes cannot be welcomed by society nor can they be perceived as a way of defending their rights - thus shutting any possibility of dialogue and debate.
“They are a danger”
The State is the main promoter of mining, and for this reason its discourse qualifies any act of resistance by the native Shuar population as a danger. The official message states: They are a danger because they drive off foreign investment, because they deny development, because they threaten democratic stability.
It is clear that this is not just a land conflict and a case of "primitive" opposition by groups who do not share our vision of "progress", as official propaganda intends to make believe. What is at stake is the preservation of life and democracy, which are put at risk by new forms of domination and the attempts to establish a dictatorship based on media consensus as a control mechanism.
Hence other problems arise regarding the effects on audiences of official censorship. The most immediate reaction of the spectator-citizens, often oblivious to the reality of the Amazonian peoples, is to take the government's discourse at face value. Apathy is another way of building consensus from power - what Giovanni Sartori calls "consensus without consent", that is: indifference generated as a conformity mechanism which is reflected in the confusion, indifference and abstention of the population before a problem that it is assumed is alien.
When the legitimacy of the Other is not recognized on the basis of the value of his or her difference, the reason of State and a single frame of mind for understanding events is established. It is a hegemonic representation that silences the adversary and is capable of influencing the readings and attitudes of people in the face of conflicts. We accept the rules of the power game when we start valuing official consensus more than democratic dissent.
While propaganda justifies the violent intervention of the police and the armed forces in the Nankints evictions, of those who represent "difference, evil and danger" to society, the Shuar indigenous population remains deeply isolated. This isolation is not only a territorial one: they are excluded by word and from collective imagination, they are invalidated as dialogue partners through discourse, the consolidation of the “violent” stigma, and the colonialist readings which contribute to the subtle reproduction of racism as a form of ethnic domination still in force in the 21st century.
Their participation in the destiny of the country – ours too, for that matter - is just not possible in an economic structure built from interests which are alien to the indigenous worldview, the vision of all the peoples and communities does not fit into it, least of all the vision of those who defend the rights of nature over the petty interests of accumulation.
This article was published previously by Lalineadefuego.