Ecuadorian constitution makes Quechua and Shuar official in “intercultural relations”

Spanish will retain its status as the official language of the republic · The remaining native languages will have official use for the peoples who speak them · The magna carta establishes that Ecuador is a “plurinational state” and provides for the creation of autonomous governments with legislative and executive powers

Two indigenous languages, Quechua and Shuar, will be official languages of Ecuador along with Spanish. This was decided by the Constituent Assembly of the Andean country, which defined itself as an “intercultural state” and “plurinational.” The reform of the magna carta was one of the initiatives launched by the current leader of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, after taking power at the end of 2006.

The new constitution, which was approved on July 24 and which will be submitted to a public referendum in September, lays out three categories of languages in Ecuador. In the first, Spanish will continue to be categorized as “the official language of Ecuador." Nonetheless, the state will have three "intercultural languages," which will be Spanish, Quechua and Shuar. In the third place, the new magna carta states that "the other ancestral languages [some twelve are spoken in Ecuador] are to be used officially by indigenous peoples in the areas they inhabit and as stipulated by the law."

Until now, the current constitution, which dates from 1998, established that Quechua, Shuar and the other native languages were official only for indigenous peoples. Now this limitation is overcome for Quechua and Shuar, although not for the other indigenous languages.

Last minute recognition

The article on languages of Ecuador was practically the last that the Constituent Assembly approved. At first, it was expected that the only official language would be Spanish and that the rest of the languages would have their use restricted to the peoples that speak them. According to the newspaper El Comercio, President Correa was against the recognition of Quechua and Shuar, but a considerable bloc from his party, Acuerdo País, forced him to reconsider.

Rights of indigenous peoples

The brand-new constitution protects, among other things, the rights of native peoples to “the inextinguishable ownership of their community lands”, to "previous consultation on plans and programs related to prospecting, exploiting and commercializing non-renewable resources" and to "not being displaced from their ancestral lands" and to "develop a bilingual intercultural educational system."

On the matter of decentralization, the text establishes that in Ecuador governments will be created with “political, administrative and financial autonomy,” although it is made explicit that "in no way" will "succession” be permitted. These governments will have legislative and executive powers. The door is also opened for the creation of autonomous districts for indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians.

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