Interculturalidad y Buen Vivir as National Rebranding in Ecuador

October 19, 2016

Since the 1990s the concept of interculturalidad [interculturality] has taken hold in Latin American politics. In Ecuador, it has been a tenant of indigenous movements and NGOs in the struggle to recognize cultural diversity and eliminate socioeconomic inequalities. The current government, under President Rafael Correa, has adopted interculturalidad as a paradigm shift against the state’s neoliberal past. The rhetoric of interculturality has been employed within formal political frameworks and national marketing campaigns to present the image of a “new” Ecuador that is inclusive, stable, progressive, neo-socialist, etc. to both domestic and international audiences. Furthermore, the epistemological and historical roots of interculturality have also emphasized the legacy of indigenous uprisings in Ecuadorian politics.

Nations and Branding

The formation of allegiances to national identities can be understood through the process of branding (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2009, p. 18) as it “creates an affective attachment to a named product, to both its object-form and to the idea of an association with it”(18). The Comaroffs claim the most successful ‘identity’ brands are those that effectively essentialize their own culture. While this may be true for the ethnic groups they studied it does not apply well to national Ecuadorian politics. The focus is not on the uniqueness of one ethnic identity, but rather the ‘harmonious’ coexistence of diverse ethnicities in a plurinational state.

Therefore, I adopt De Chernatony and McDonald’s definition of a successful brand, as ‘an identifiable product, service, person or place, augmented in such a way that the buyer or user perceives relevant unique added values which match their needs most closely’ (Skinner, 2007, p. 310). Thus, we can understand the “unique added values” of a national brand to be the affective attachments it creates. Furthermore, national brands should not be considered “product brands” but rather “corporate brands” concerned with the affective ties to the producer as much as to the product itself (Skinner, 2007).

In other examples of national brands, such as Scottish branded tartan cloth or national tourism advertisements, they establish an  “exploitable collective self” as the product being sold (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2009). This argument applies well to cases where nations/ethnic groups are explicitly selling materialized experience. However, this understanding of culture-as-product downplays the complex issues of why a national brand is created in the first place, and what its purpose is in relation to an internal and external national identity. Certainly, the effects of branding must be more complex than essentialization and commodification of an idyllic national identity. The free market driven by neoliberal economics cannot be the only reason national brands form.

Therefore, we must contextualize Ecuador’s national brand within the political goals of the state by recognizing it as a ‘corporate brand.’ This approach recognizes that “an organisation’s identity reflects its philosophy and emphasises the characteristics it wishes most to be associated with” which helps explain why nations may wish to develop a stronger corporate identity than an actual product for consumption (Skinner, 2007, p. 312). Examples of this in marketing literature include the rebranding of post Soviet bloc states, post-colonial African states, and countries whose reality no longer fits its stereotype, such as Ireland (Dinnie, 2002; Skinner, 2007). This is the idea Martinez Novo’s refers to (even though she was unaware of the concept) when she proposed that we “understand the [2008] Constitution [of Ecuador] as a discourse or presentation of the government’s self for international and national consumption” (2010, p. 3).

Therefore, a country in the process of dramatic social change, such as Ecuador, constructs a national brand to not only increase the GDP, but to also express a new national corporate identity,  a new image, for itself and the world. In this way we can understand the implementation of legal reforms and marketing campaigns as as part of the broader Ecuadorian rebranding project. Within this context the national products of bio/ethnic diversity are embroiled in (and actually a consequence of) the more value laden products of interculturalidad and Buen Vivir which are, in turn, expressions of Correa’s neo socialist agenda.

 A Tumultuous Past

The history of Ecuador is best described as unstable. The colonial pattern of resource extraction persisted through several boom-and-bust export economies. Markets bottomed out on the near monocultures of cacao in the 1940s, then bananas in the 1950s-1960s, and finally oil in the mid 1980s. During this time the country was led by successive populist governments and dictatorships, largely as a result of competing military factions. While the country avoided the brutality experienced elsewhere in the region, it suffered from political volatility. Including interim presidents and members of military juntas, Ecuador had 34 heads of state from 1931 to 1981. Through the 1980s and 1990s the public was angered over corruption scandals and false promises to improve the lives of the poor. The economy suffered from low international oil prices and extreme inflation, leading to dollarization in 2000. From 1992 to 2007 the country had 10 heads of state, with three elected presidents forcibly removed from office due to public protests.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s the indigenous groups of Ecuador had established themselves as a formidable political power. Indigenous politics gained a new dimension with the formation of CONAIE [Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador*] and Pachakutik, a mostly indigenous political party fighting for plurinationalism. Through the mid 1990s to the present, these groups (and other indigenous, campesino, and Afro-Ecuadorian groups) have fought against neoliberal/neo colonial policies and pushed for recognition as a plurinational state. The indigenous movement in Ecuador has been recognized as the most powerful in Latin America due to the success of mostly peaceful uprisings in 1992 and 1994 that paralyzed major transportation routes in the country. It also played a key role in removing presidents Abdalá Bucaram and Jamil Mahoud from office in 1997 and 2000, respectively. As a result of the uprisings a new constitution was created in 1998 granting new rights to indigenous groups, and CONAIE and ECUARUNARI[1] were given control of national intercultural bilingual education. In 2007, current President Rafael Correa Delgado was elected, marking a comparatively long period of political stability. He was re-elected in 2013, becoming the first president to hold office longer than four years since Eloy Alfaro. Correa is eligible for re-election in 2017.  Despite Correa’s longevity, and popularity, his administration still faces the challenge of fostering trust in a populous that has had little reason to believe in the government. In one of the few opinion polls of its kind, in 2010 Ecuadorians demonstrated more confidence in the Catholic Church (avg. rating 5.12) than in the national government (avg. rating 4.40) in a scale where 7 represents highest confidence (Curvale, 2013).

Legacies of the Indigenous Movement

A major legacy of the indigenous movement has been the normative principle, and political discourse, of interculturality. As several academics have stated, interculturalidad should be understood as two separate concepts: as a fact of life, and as a normative principle (Fuller, 2002; Menéndez, 2006). The former refers to the everyday occurrence of interacting with people from a different cultural background, in other words, cross-cultural encounters. The latter is instead an ideology of social difference as well as a behavioral model, often compared to multiculturalism. It is the second meaning to which I refer when I use interculturalidad. However, the ethical and political principles contained in this ideology are hard to define. Intercultural rhetoric has been employed by religious groups, indigenous movements, NGOs, and governments in diverse applications with radically different motives, creating what Mateos calls a “discursive clash” (Mateos, 2011).

Carmen Martínez Novo argues that the foundations for interculturalidad were laid in the 1970s, when indigenous groups aligned with the Catholic Church to fight for indigenous rights under the banners of Liberation and ‘Interculturation’ Theologies (2010, p. 4).[2] At the time, these groups fought for agrarian land reform, inclusion in education, and cultural rights. In contrast, Laura Cortes Mateos traces Latin American interculturality to European assimilationist education policies that were transplanted to Ecuador and other countries by German NGOs (2011). Regardless of the origins, interculturality quickly took hold in the Ecuadorian indigenous movement. For these groups interculturalidad is a pillar of a truly plurinational state:

The principle of interculturalidad respects the diversity of indigenous towns and nationalities as well as other Ecuadorian social sectors. However, it also demands the unity of these groups in economic, social, cultural, and political issues in the interests of transforming current structures into a new plurinational State. It is a framework of equal rights, mutual respect, peace, and harmony between nations*. (CONAIE 2010, originally published 1997)

This iteration of interculturalidad aims to create a participative democracy under the banner of “unity through diversity”*, which focuses on community rights of autonomy in issues of education, environmental resources, and cultural knowledge/traditions (CONAIE 2010). It has been defined as a “radical” form which seeks to subvert historical structures of power against marginalized groups (Walsh 2002; Martínez Novo 2010; Viaña 2012; CONAIE 1997) and create a platform for indigenous self-determination (Walsh 2002).

NGOs and various government institutions have tended to utilize a “conservative” or “cosmetic” form interculturalidad focused on mutually respectful dialogue between actors to promote the sharing of knowledge and accommodation of cultural preferences (Fernandez-Juárez, 2010; Hermida, 2010; Menéndez, 2006; Walsh, 2002). This has been heavily criticized as way to pacify indigenous groups without having to change neoliberal policies (Walsh 2002, p.  122) or address fundamental issues of racism (Fernandez-Juárez, 2010, p. 29). This issue came to a head in 2002 after Pachakutik and CONAIE helped elect President Lucio Gutierrez. Although several indigenous leaders were given ministerial positions. it quickly became clear Gutierrez intended to continue previous neoliberal policies (Lalander, 2010, p. 507; Martínez Novo, 2010, p. 2). After six months the partnership was ended, and in 2005 Gutierrez was forced out of office after extensive public protests.[3]

As demonstrated in the campaign of Gutierrez and other Latin American leaders such as Trujillo in Peru and Morales in Bolivia, indigenous symbolism had become cogent political strategy. In 2006 Correa was elected president under the political party Alianza-PAIS (Alliance for a Proud and Sovereign Fatherland*). Leading up to the election Correa tried to foster a partnership between Alianza-PAIS and Pachakutik, as well as other indigenous organizations. He wore traditional embroidered shirts and gave speeches in Kichwa, broadening the support he had already garnered as a socially conscious finance minister under President Alfredo Palacio (2005-2007).[4] Formal partnerships fell through, however, because factions within the movement disagreed on whether they should support an indigenous candidate or take another risk with a popular outsider (Becker, 2011, p. 105; Lalander, 2010; Martínez Novo, 2010, p. 3). Despite mixed official support from indigenous organizations, Correa’s government dramatically incorporated platforms and rhetoric from the indigenous movement into national policies. One effect of this appropriation has been to rebrand the current administration as a stable, inclusive, and progressive state.

Rebranding Through Policy

In 2007 Correa’s government pushed for a new constitution, which was ratified by voters in 2008. This constitution was the first to incorporate most of the platforms of the indigenous movement including rights for the protection of Pachamama (Kichwa for Mother Earth), the right to health guaranteed by the state, and a declaration of Ecuador as a plurinational and intercultural state (Constitution of Ecuador, art. 1, 2008). The constitution affords the right to intercultural approaches in medicine, education, democratic participation and territorial autonomy. However, the constitution does not provide a definition of interculturalidad, instead linking it to the concept of El Buen Vivir, taken from the Andean philosophy Sumak Kawsay[5]. [1] Meaning “The Good Life” in both Spanish and Kichwa, it is an epistemology whereby quality of life is fostered through harmonious relations on a macro community scale (with nature, ancestors, gods, and other people) as well as a micro individual scale (with spirituality, emotions, mental state, and physical health) (Cachiguango, 2010).

In 2009 the National Secretary of Planning and Development* (SENPLADES) published the National Plan for el Buen Vivir 2009-2013 which solidified the government’s application of interculturalidad in national policy. According to the document, el Buen Vivir: relies on social equality and justice, and gives importance to dialogue with – and acknowledgement and value of - diverse peoples, cultures, forms of knowledge and ways of life… Our concept of Buen Vivir compels us to rebuild the public sphere in order to recognize, understand and value ourselves as diverse but equal individuals, and in order to advance reciprocity and mutual recognition, enable self-advancement, and build a shared social future. (SENPLADES, 2009, p. 6)

Clearly, the state construction of Buen Vivir draws upon the principles of interculturalidad. It incorporates not only the focus on mutual dialogue, but also the radical goal of rebuilding the sociopolitical structure based on what Correa calls “socialism for the 21st century.”

This long-term plan, along with the 5 revolutions outlined earlier, marks a ‘conceptual rupture’ from Ecuador(‘)s past and proposes the ideal Ecuador, the ideal state. The new ‘image’ of Ecuador is that of a government, and society, that places quality of life as its highest priority, through the rhetoric of Buen Vivir:

Development as modernization and economic growth tends to be measured through the variations of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP.) Industrial development is what society should expect in the culmination of the modernization process. Underdevelopment is attributed to the backwardness of society which ignores the importance of external factors and the nature of the capitalist accumulation process. In contrast, the concept of “human development” defends the idea of development based on human beings, and not merely on markets or production. What must be measured, therefore, is not GDP but the living standards of people through indicators related to the satisfaction of their human needs. (SENPLADES, 2009, p. 17) [Emphasis Mine]

The National Plan and the constitution regard el Buen Vivir as the ultimate indicator of quality of life, as it incorporates all factors impacting human well being including health, education, environmental protection, community participation; all to be achieved through the principles of interculturality (SENPLADES, 2009, p. 18).

Central to the government of Correa and Alianza PIAS’s rhetoric of the “new” Ecuador has been La Revolución Ciudadana [Citizen’s Revolution]. Used as an organizational principle for the Plan Nacional del Buen Vivir, the Citizen’s Revolution is founded on five areas of reform. 1) A Constitutional and Democratic Revolution to establish a reflective, fair, plurinational and intercultural society. 2) An Ethical Revolution to establish a transparent and accountable government. 3) An Economic, Productive, and Agrarian Revolution to undo neoliberal and colonial exclusionary economic policies. 4) A Social Revolution where the state guarantees the rights of individuals, communities, and peoples. 5) A Revolution in Defense of Latin American Dignity, Sovereignty and Integration to reinforce relationships with neighboring countries, and to “insert Ecuador strategically in the world community” (SENPLADES, 2009, p. 5).

These “revolutions” have been backed by legislation nationalizing natural resource industries (particularly oil and mining), increasing government expenditure on health and education (World Bank, 2010), and auditing the entire national debt (Faiola, 2008; Salmon, 2009). On the other hand, CONAIE has held demonstrations against changes that removed indigenous control of bilingual education and water distribution, Amazonian groups have fought against government oil contracts with China, the general population has questioned 4,000 forced resignations ordered by Executive Decree 813, and national and international groups critique Presidential Decree 16 as a Machiavellian control over civil society [6].  Needless to say, operationally the Citizen’s Revolution has had mixed results. However, the discourse of a revolutionary government based on principles of transparency, interculturality and freedom is extremely prominent.

Rebranding Campaigns

A cursory look at Ecuador as national brand reveals, well, the official national brand[7]: Ecuador- Ama La Vida [Love Life]. Unveiled in 2010 by the Ministry of Tourism, the slogan and accompanying logo (see Appendix 1) have been used internationally in tourism advertisements and to identifying products made in the country. The creators of the brand have been very explicit about what collective self they wish to exploit. The Love Life brand presents Ecuador as exceptionally diverse, both ecologically and ethnically. As the Minister of Tourism, Freddy Ehlers, states, Ecuador is the most ecologically biodiverse country in the world is the only country in Latin America with a notable proportion of the four principal ethnic groups (EFE, 2011; Ministry of Tourism, 2010); both hyperbolic, but generally true, observations. In addition, the Love Life brand also proposes a ‘tourism of conscience’ where tourists and the tourism industry acknowledge and prevent damage to the environment. It goes beyond sustainable tourism to encourage “a human exchange of life, of who we are, of culture” between visitors and hosts (EFE, 2011; Ehlers, 2011).         

Therefore, Ecuador’s commercial products are ecological and cultural diversity. The first invokes an affective attachment to the beauty of mother nature, as well as a romanticized ‘one with nature’ relationship between the consumer and the product. The second draws on the ethno-tourism trend, an experience of the ‘other’, a feeling of shared humanity. The Ecuadorian government is quite openly essentializing and commodifying its bio and ethnic diversity. Notable examples include hanging cutouts of three toed sloths from stoplights and featuring mannequins dressed in traditional highland Kichwa clothing at international tourism fairs (Ministry of Tourism, 2010).

At the most superficial level, the Love Life campaign incorporates diluted versions of interculturalidad  and el Buen Vivir. The “human exchange” to which Ehlers refers echoes the ‘cosmetic’ version interculturality. The focus on the place of man in nature’s diversity touches on the responsibility of man to take care of Pachamama within the epistemology of Sumak Kawsay, from which el Buen Vivir evolved. Even the logo has incorporated various aspects of indigenous culture. For one, the rainbow pattern strongly resembles the wiphala,  the international symbol of Andean indigenous solidarity (see Appendix 1). Additionally, Ehlers described counter-clockwise rotation of the colors in the logo as mimicking the Kichwa construction of the future being situated at our backs (Ministry of Tourism, 2010).[8]

At a deeper level lies much stronger ties to national policy. First, was Correa’s strategic hiring of Freddy Ehlers as the Minister of Tourism. In 1996 and again in 1998 Pachakutik supported Ehler’s bid for the presidency, and eventually combined with his political party Citizen’s for a New Country* to form the current incarnation of Pachakutik -Movement for Plurinational Unity*(Becker, 2011, pp. 52-53).  Second, Ecuador-Ama La Vida is the vehicle through which the state will achieve its ultimate goal of becoming an “‘eco-touristic biopolis’ [sic] in the context of a post-petroleum economic model aimed at generating and redistributing wealth for el Buen Vivir” (SENPLADES, 2009, p. 7), as stated in the Plan Nacional del Buen Vivir.

This ‘new Ecuador’ is marketed in several ways. New government buildings ranging from Ministry offices to public amphitheaters feature the Love Life logo, tying the brand to community and economic development. One television ad states “[Ecuador], where even nature has rights”, referencing not only the image of a harmonious relationship with nature, but also constitutional protections for Pachamama resulting from the indigenous rights movement. The logo is also prominently featured on President Correa’s clothing.

The related ad campaign for the Citizen’s Revolution is even more explicit. It explicitly features El Buen Vivir, focusing on more concrete indicators of improved quality of life in the nation. One commercial features an elderly woman, declaring “finally, money does not make the difference in achieving dignified health…health is a right, for which they cannot charge money…this is the Citizen’s Revolution*” ("Spot Salud Pública," 2009). Another popular advertisement features musicians representing different regions and ethnic groups. Together they sing to the tune of Hey Jude:

“Today we are all the revolution that will live in your [Ecuador’s] heart forever/Stand up Ecuador and continue to fight for this new homeland/ Although they want to stop us, they will find a group united like brothers/ Our country is already living a new era of hope/ we dream of un buen vivir, free at last…* ("Himno Revolución Ciudadana," 2009)

Therefore, these ads construct an image of an Ecuadorian state that not only provides necessary services, but also protects the environment and intercultural principles. Citizens are encouraged to “fight for this new homeland” that promises the Good Life. Each of these Citizen’s Revolution ads is followed by a final shot of the words, “La Patria Ya es de todos” [The homeland is now everyone’s*]. This phrase is echoed in billboards alongside infrastructure projects proclaiming, “ya tenemos un aeropuertos seguros, ya tenemos patria” [Now we have secure airports, now we have a homeland*]. In this way the marketing strategies of the Citizen’s Revolution and more recently Love Life portray a new identity for the nation founded upon both ideals of inclusion and development that did not exist before, or were denied to many.

Reactions to the national brand

As noted before, the actual implementation (or lack thereof) of various aspects of the Citizen’s Revolution has rendered both positive and negative reactions. However, I do not wish to discuss the effects of specific national policies as they are more representative of complex realities than an idealized national brand (Martinez Novo 2010).

The nation has garnered attention from governments and intellectuals around the world. Certainly, the improvements in virtually all national development indicators has drawn the most attention. However, several politicians and intellectuals have lauded the success of the country’s efforts to rebrand itself. As journalist Ignacio Ramonet describes the Citizen’s Revolution, “[it is] a recasting of the country, a reconstruction not only of its politics, but its economy, society and culture as well, which has been of great interest on the international stage*”. French sociologist Edgar Morin hails Ecuador as model for the rest of the world because the ‘national culture of el Buen Vivir’ incorporates the best aspects of all the ethnicities that live there. Guido Girardi, the President of the Chilean Senate comments that the Citizen’s Revolution has started a global revolution whereby people are now asking for fundamental rights to a dignified life (En El Ojo Films", 2012). Within the country, however, the national brand has had several unexpected results.

The indigenous movement has been especially affected by the Citizen’s Revolution. On the one hand, some indigenous activists have been critical of the government’s co-optation of their cultural frameworks (Sumak Kawsay/ Buen Vivir) and political platforms (interculturalidad) (Becker, 2011; Caselli, 2011). They appear to be just as upset by how these concepts have been transformed and manipulated into the national political rhetoric as they are by its implicit usurpation of indigenous political power. This latter reaction to the Citizen’s Revolution has been compounded by divisions within the indigenous movement that had existed well before Correa was elected. The ‘intercultural dilemma’ has been the major point of contention between indigenous factions: should interculturalidad be a platform to promote indigenous rights only? Or should it be used in conjunction with governmental structures for the benefit of indígenas and mestizos alike (Lalander, 2010, p. 506)? The new national brand based on the concepts of interculturalidad and Buen Vivir has created what Lalander calls “the Correa Effect, where the government has weakened indigenous solidarity even further by co-opting indigenous activists and groups struggling with the intercultural dilemma ” (ibid. 509).  These co-opted activists, then, represent the indigenous factions that have supported and even helped create the new Ecuador.


The current government of Ecuador presents an atypical case study for our current understanding of national brands. It has presented itself to the world as a diverse, plurinational and intercultural state, which values quality of life over economic wealth. This constructed identity challenges the previous neoliberal and exclusionist governments of the past; and provides a footing within the national social climate to produce sweeping political change. Dramatic political change necessitates “more than just a set of technical changes: instead, it involves the re-definition of almost the entire fabric of everyday life” (Young & Light, 2001). In this sense, national branding can be seen as a necessary component of national paradigm shifts.

This approach is apparent when looking at the reforms of the Citizen’s Revolution and the 2008 constitution which not only attempt to create legal policies of resource management and universal healthcare, but also attempt to use interculturalidad to eliminate discrimination in interpersonal communication (which is nearly impossible to control through legislation). It is also demonstrated through the broad applications of interculturality and Buen Vivir in highly visible ad campaigns. By rebranding itself in policies and advertisements, President Correa and Alianza PAIS are attempting to enact both the technical and social changes necessary to change domestic and international imaginings of Ecuador. 

Appendix 1


The logo for the national brand of Ecuador, designed by the Ministry of Tourism



The wiphala of Qulla Suyu and one of the official flags of Bolivia

The wiphala of Pachakutik, the Ecuadorian indigenous political party



* Asterisks mark any term or text that I have translated from Spanish to English

[1] The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, and the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality, respectively.

[2] Interculturation Theology appears to be Martínez Novo’s own term to refer to the Church’s practice of using native languages in missionary efforts.

[3] Throughout 2004 indigenous groups attempted to mobilize mass protests against Gutierrez, but were generally unsuccessful due to factional divisions. He was instead ousted by a general movement against him. See (Becker, 2011, ch. 5) for more information.

[4] As finance minister Correa had the highest approval rating of any government official. He infamously resigned his post after only 4 months in office after refusing to concede to the conditions of a loan put forth by the World Bank.

5“El buen vivir requires that people, communities, towns/tribes, and nationalities effectively enjoy their rights and exercise their responsibilities under the frameworks of interculturality, respect for diversity, and harmonious coexistence with nature (Constitution of Ecuador, art. 275, 2008)*”

[6] Amazonian groups accuse the government of ignoring policies for environmental protection consultation with native communities before extraction. Executive Decree 813 was a move by the President in 2011 to remove “corrupt, lazy, and delinquent” public service employees criticized as an attempt to eliminate political dissidents. Decree 16 gives the government full authority to close NGOs at any time.

[7] On April 1st, 2014 Ecuador is unveiling a new tourism campaign titled “All you need is Ecuador”.  The Love Life campaign will continue as the general national brand.

[8] In the Kichwa language ‘past’ is indicated by the word ‘in front’ because we can see what has already occurred, whereas ‘behind’ refers to the unknown course of the future.




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Additional Resources:

Discussion of the national brand in an Ecuadorian Blog

Spanish Language Ama La Vida advertisement from 2013


About Author(s)

Trisha Netsch Lopez's picture
Trisha Netsch Lopez
Trisha is a doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology and a masters student in Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation research examines intercultural health care in Ecuador. She has also worked with Cultural Competency programs and Spanish medical interpreters in the USA health care system.