SHAPING ALTERNATIVES TO DEVELOPMENT: SOLIDARITY AND RECIPROCITY IN THE ANDES DURING COVID-19

Discussions on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Andean region highlight authoritarian visions and economic interests taking advantage of the pandemic to profit and to reorganize dynamics of exploitation and accumulation. Less visible are the grassroots, organizational initiatives based on reciprocity that emerged across the region in response to the health crisis and in the context of national lockdowns. The pandemic has deepened the danger of famine among the most vulnerable in rural and urban areas. In response, grassroots organizations using reciprocal practices are mobilizing resources to provide food and to prevent and manage the disease. We ask two questions: What reciprocity-based practices are grassroots organizations in the Andes able to marshal  in support of basic provisioning during the COVID-19 pandemic? And what is the potential of these practices to shape alternatives to development post-COVID-19? We analyze reciprocity practices as hybrid spaces that combine Andean worldviews, market and non-market motivations and political claims against the state. Based on the case studies of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council in Colombia (CRIC) and The National Campesino Movement (FECAOL) in Ecuador, this paper develops three arguments. First, as a socio-natural actor, the pandemic forces Andean communities and their organizations to coordinate their efforts to mantain life. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzes  long-standing recognition of grassroots processes and claims in the Colombian and Ecuadorian Andes. The revitalization by the CRIC of reciprocity-based practices such as barters and local markets strongly links self-provisioning with the mobilization of its Indigenous identity and struggles for autonomy. These practices also forge a horizontal ‘solidarity’ with other social movements, consolidating a common framework of self-protection against the neoliberal state. For example, FECAOL does politics and builds coalitions through reciprocity-based action as an expression of its desire to engage with the state at different scales. Fair markets and agroecological baskets are combined with barter and gifts to provide for populations in need and to shift oppressive power-relations in the agro-chain and towards a holistic, bottom-up construction of the ‘public’ to address societal needs. Finally, studied grassroots organizations build coalitions and present their visions of a diverse or mixed economy to the society at large to erode the dominance of capitalism. To become a ‘counter-movement’ post-COVID-19, we conclude, they need to scale up to broader levels of society.

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