Speaking to Congress in September 1856, Ecuador’s President José María Urvina called for the passage of legislation to protect Indian pueblos from water-source appropriations.1 Ecuador’s indígenas, he lamented, were too often a casualty of exploitation—their resources divested and extorted by a class of “feudal lords.” Citing firsthand grievances collected while traveling in the sierra north of Quito, Urvina denounced the country’s deplorable history of halfhearted state protection of the indigenous class and affirmed his commitment to guaranteeing “community rights” against powerful serrano landlord interests. Sympathizing with the plight of pueblos that were being “squeezed dry,” he suggested that a violent Indian uprising against aggressive landlords, were it to happen, “might be excusable.” The president forcefully laid bare the potentially tumultuous consequences for the rural oligarchy should its advocates in Congress fail to intervene on behalf of the indígenas: “Now, I ask...

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