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Building Democracy or Reproducing ‘Ecuadoreanness’? A Transnational Exploration of Ecuadorean Migrants' External Voting

  • PAOLO BOCCAGNI and JACQUES RAMÍREZ
Abstract

Ecuador has emerged as a good case study of the interactions between diasporas and their countries of origin. The recent enactment of external voting rights has mirrored a novel political discourse which emphasises the positive contribution of ‘emigrant brothers’ and their unbroken allegiance to their homeland. Expatriate reactions to these new political developments are at the core of our article, which heuristically reconstructs the social roots and meanings of expatriate participation in the constitutional referendum held in 2008. Questionnaires were simultaneously administered to Ecuadorean voters in nine cities in seven countries. Based on this innovative convenience sample, the expectations and motivations underlying people's electoral involvement and civic participation are explored against the background of transnational connections and attachments. An understanding of voters' involvement on a terrain of symbolic patriotism, identity reassertion and ‘home re-evocation’ – rather than in strictly electoral terms – is advanced. External voting – whatever its impact on domestic politics – should be appreciated as an institutional opportunity for migrants' national identification and belonging to be represented.

Ecuador ha surgido como un buen caso de estudio sobre la interacción entre las diásporas y sus países de origen. La reciente aprobación del derecho al voto desde el exterior ha reflejado un discurso político novedoso que pone el énfasis en la contribución positiva de los ‘hermanos migrantes’ y su sólida alianza hacia la madre patria. Las reacciones de quienes se encuentran en el exterior hacia estos nuevos desarrollos políticos constituyen el núcleo de nuestro artículo, el cual reconstruye heurísticamente las raíces sociales y significados de la participación de los migrantes en el referéndum constitucional llevado a cabo en 2008. Los cuestionarios fueron aplicados simultáneamente a votantes ecuatorianos en nueve ciudades y siete países. Basado en este innovador muestreo por conveniencia, las expectativas y motivaciones debajo del involucramiento electoral y la participación cívica popular son exploradas en el contexto de las conexiones transnacionales y sus lealtades nacionales. Se busca entender el involucramiento de los votantes en un terreno de patriotismo simbólico, afirmación identitaria y ‘re-evocación del hogar’ en vez de hacerlo estrictamente en términos electorales. Más allá del impacto en la política doméstica, el voto externo debe ser apreciado como una oportunidad institucional para hacer visible la identificación y pertenencia nacional de los migrantes.

O Equador emergiu como um bom estudo de caso das interações entre diásporas e seus países de origem. A recente entrada em vigor dos direitos ao voto para os cidadãos fora do país reflete um novo discurso político que enfatiza a contribuição positiva dos ‘irmãos emigrantes’ e sua intacta lealdade à terra natal. As reações dos expatriados a esses novos desdobramentos políticos formam o núcleo de nosso artigo, que resgata, de forma heurística, as raízes e significados da participação de expatriados no referendo constitucional ocorrido em 2008. Questionários foram fornecidos simultaneamente a eleitores equatorianos em nove cidades de sete países. Com base nesta inovadora amostra de conveniência, as expectativas e motivações por trás do envolvimento eleitoral e da participação cívica são exploradas tendo em mente as conexões e pertencimentos transnacionais. Ao invés de enfocar os aspectos estritamente eleitorais, propomos um entendimento do envolvimento dos eleitores através do patriotismo simbólico, da reafirmação identitária e da ‘re-evocação da terra natal’. O voto no estrangeiro, quaisquer que seja seus impactos nas políticas domésticas, deveria ser reconhecido como uma oportunidade institucional para que a identificação nacional e sentimento de pertencimento dos emigrantes tenham representatividade.

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1 Information from Spanish press coverage of the event (www.elpais.com), as well as from the authors' personal contacts.

2 See Levitt, Peggy and de la Dehesa, Rafael, ‘Transnational Migration and the Redefinition of the State’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 26: 4 (2003), pp. 587611; and Østergaard-Nielsen, Eva (ed.), International Migration and Sending Countries (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

3 Gamlen, Alan, ‘The Emigration State and the Modern Geopolitical Imagination’, Political Geography, 27: 8 (2008), pp. 840–56.

4 See IDEA, Voting from Abroad (Mexico City: IDEA–IFE Joint Report, 2007); and Michael Collyer and Zana Vathi, ‘Patterns of Extra-Territorial Voting’, Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty, Working Paper T22, 2007. On Latin America, see Calderón, Leticia, Votar en la distancia (Mexico City: Instituto Mora, 2003); Escobar, Cristina, ‘Extraterritorial Political Rights and Dual Citizenship in Latin America’, Latin American Research Review, 42: 3 (2007), pp. 4375; and Araujo, Lorena, ‘Estado y voto migrante: una radiografía de la Región Andina’, AndinaMigrante, 7 (2010), pp. 210.

5 López-Guerra, Claudio, ‘Should Expatriates Vote?’, Journal of Political Philosophy, 13: 2 (2005), pp. 216–34; Barry, Kim, ‘Home and Away: The Construction of Citizenship in an Emigration Context’, New York University Law Review, 81: 11 (2006), pp. 1159; Rubio-Marín, Ruth, ‘Transnational Politics and the Democratic Nation-State’, New York University Law Review, 81: 1 (2006), pp. 117–47; Bauböck, Rainer, ‘Stakeholder Citizenship and Transnational Political Participation’, Fordham Law Review, 75 (2007), pp. 2393–447.

6 Exceptions to this dearth of empirical analyses include case studies on emigration from Mexico: see Smith, Robert C., ‘Contradictions of Diasporic Institutionalization in Mexican Politics’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31: 4 (2008), pp. 708–41; from the Dominican Republic: see Itzigsohn, José and Villacrés, Daniela, ‘Migrant Political Transnationalism and the Practice of Democracy’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31: 4 (2008), pp. 664–86; from Peru: see Escrivá, Angeles, Cruz, Ursula Santa and Bermúdez, Anastasia, ‘Migration, Gender and Politics: The 2006 Peruvian Elections Abroad’, Latin American Perspectives, 37: 5 (2010), pp. 106–30; and from Ecuador: see Boccagni, Paolo, ‘Reminiscences, Patriotism, Participation: Approaching External Voting in Ecuadorian Immigration to Italy’, International Migration, 49: 3 (2011), pp. 7698.

7 Østergaard-Nielsen, International Migration and Sending Countries; Tager, Michael, ‘Expatriates and Elections’, Diaspora, 15: 1 (2006), pp. 3560.

8 Boccagni, Paolo and Lagomarsino, Francesca, ‘Migration and the Global Crisis: New Prospects for Return?’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 30: 3 (2011), pp. 282–97.

9 Ramírez, Franklin and Ramírez, Jacques, La estampida migratoria Ecuatoriana (Quito: Abya Yala, 2005).

10 Boccagni, ‘Reminiscences, Patriotism, Participation’; Bauböck, Rainer, ‘Toward a Political Theory of Migrant Transnationalism’, International Migration Review, 37: 3 (2003), pp. 700–23; Green, Nancy and Weil, François (eds.), Citizenship and Those Who Leave (Chicago, IL: Illinois University Press, 2007).

11 Berg, Ulla and Tamagno, Carla, ‘“El Quinto Suyo” from Above and from Below’, Latino Studies, 4 (2006), pp. 258–81.

12 Conaghan, Catherine and de la Torre, Carlos, ‘The Permanent Campaign of Rafael Correa’, International Journal of Press/Politics, 13: 3 (2008), pp. 267–84.

13 FLACSO, Ecuador: las cifras de las migraciones internacionales (Quito: UNFPA–FLACSO, 2008).

14 State investment in external voting is considerable. The Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council, CNE) estimated the cost of overseas voting for the 2009 presidential elections at over US $2.9 million, or about half the annual budget of SENAMI.

15 In the first ballot of the 2006 elections there were about 86,000 Ecuadorean emigrant voters. Many of them were apparently driven by a supposed voting obligation which in fact applies only to citizens residing in Ecuador. In subsequent years, however, emigrants' turnout halved before it increased again, to about 79,000, for the 2009 elections, which benefited from better organisational arrangements. Altogether, registered emigrants' abstention rates were double those of their non-migrant co-nationals.

16 Weisbrot, Mark and Sandoval, Luis, Update on the Ecuadorian Economy, policy brief (Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2009).

17 CNE, Informe Proceso Electoral 2009 (Dirección del Voto en el Exterior, official report, 2009).

18 There has been some debate as to whether electoral registers should be kept permanently open, but even this option would make little difference to turnout unless means were found – for example, postal and e-votes – to facilitate emigrant participation or at least make it less expensive.

19 Seats allocated to ‘foreign provinces’ are not weighted by population size. In the 2009 elections for the national Congress and in 2007 for the Constitutional Assembly, six seats (out of 130 overall) were allocated to representatives of the ‘foreign provinces’ – two for each of Europe, the United States/Canada, and Latin America.

20 FLACSO, Ecuador.

21 Ramírez and Ramírez, La estampida migratoria Ecuatoriana; Gómez, Emilio, Tornos, Andrés and Colectivo IOÉ, Ecuatorianos en España, no. 15 (Madrid: Observatorio Permanente de la Inmigración, 2008).

22 Ramírez, Jacques and Boccagni, Paolo, ‘Construyendo la Quinta Región: voto a la distancia y participación política de los ecuatorianos en el exterior’, in Ramírez, Jacques (ed.), Con o sin pasaporte: análisis socio-antropológico sobre la migración ecuatoriana (Quito: IAEN, 2010), pp. 227–53.

23 Jacques Ramírez and Gabriela Quezada, ‘Política migratoria y avances en movilidad humana en la nueva Constitución del Ecuador’, in Ramírez, Con o sin pasaporte, pp. 209–26.

24 All the voting-related figures have been provided by the CNE; see its website at www.cne.gob.ec, along with CNE, Informe Proceso Electoral 2009, for developments in the electoral participation of the Ecuadorean ‘Fifth Region’, particularly with regard to the 2009 presidential elections.

25 More specifically, questionnaires were collected at polling stations in Milan, Genoa, Madrid, Barcelona, London, New York City, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Santiago.

26 FLACSO, Ecuador.

27 The distribution of the 572 voters we interviewed by country of settlement did not, regrettably, reflect the Ecuadoreans' distribution worldwide. The distribution of questionnaires by country was as follows: Italy, 38.1 per cent; Spain, 35 per cent; United Kingdom, 6.5 per cent; United States, 5.9 per cent; Chile, Mexico and Argentina combined, 14.5 per cent. The sample corresponds to 1.25 per cent of the total number of emigrant voters at the referendum.

28 Boccagni, ‘Reminiscences, Patriotism, Participation’.

29 Boccagni, Paolo and Lagomarsino, Francesca, ‘Celebrare da cittadini, vivere da immigrati: una giornata elettorale in un cortile di Milano, “come se fosse in Ecuador”’, Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa, 2: 3 (2009), pp. 441–64.

30 Levitt, Peggy, The Transnational Villagers (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2001). See also Pallares, Amalia, ‘Ecuadorian Immigrants and Symbolic Nationalism in Chicago’, Latino Studies, 3 (2005), pp. 347–71.

31 For an overview, see Levy, Mark, ‘The Methodology and Performance of Election Day Polls’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 47 (1982), pp. 5467. See also, with specific respect to immigrant minorities, Bird, Karen, Saalfeld, Thomas and Wust, Andreas, ‘Voter Turnout among Immigrants and Visible Minorities in Comparative Perspective’, in Bird, , Saalfeld, and Wust, (eds.), The Political Representation of Immigrants and Minorities (London: Routledge, 2011).

32 Some common observations were that (1) women being together with their partners tended to be relatively more reluctant to accept one-to-one interviews; (2) younger male interviewees sometimes showed less favourable attitudes to interviewers than the rest of their co-nationals; (3) against our expectations, the need to present our effort as ‘scientific’ and politically neutral proved unnecessary – most respondents showed no suspicions (or interest) in that respect, once interviewers demonstrated an empathic and respectful attitude towards them; and more remarkably, (4) while every interview was expected to be individual, some of them resulted in a collective effort as respondents would spontaneously exchange opinions with the relatives or friends standing beside them.

33 The areas of concern covered by our questionnaire were: social and demographic characteristics; electoral involvement; ways of civic participation; family relationships; economic investments; help and friendship networks; personal identifications; and constructions and representations of Ecuador. The questionnaire included 37 close-ended questions. It was administered in the same version (in Spanish) across all the research sites, using one communal interview protocol. Interviews lasted, on average, 12 to 15 minutes. Most questionnaires were filled by the interviewers together with each respondent, rather than by the latter alone. In principle this face-to-face option may be less advisable than a self-administered ‘secret ballot’ (see Bishop, George and Fisher, Bonnie, ‘Secret Ballots and Self-Reports in an Exit-Poll Experiment’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 59 (1995), pp. 568–88). However, since the bulk of the questionnaire did not involve the electoral event per se, we have reason to believe this approach did not significantly affect interviewees' responses.

34 Ramírez and Ramírez, La estampida migratoria Ecuatoriana. An 8–10 per cent undocumented rate can be found across the sample (with a significant over-representation in the United States), and the number of those who have never returned home – understandably high for newcomers – is above 10 per cent, even for those living overseas for more than a decade.

35 FLACSO, Ecuador.

36 See, among others, Guarnizo, Luis, Portes, Alejandro and Haller, William, ‘Assimilation and Transnationalism: Determinants of Transnational Political Action among Contemporary Migrants’, American Journal of Sociology, 108: 6 (2003), pp. 1211–48.

37 For construction, see Pajares, Miguel, Inmigración y mercado del trabajo: informe 2010, Documentos del Observatorio Permanente de la Inmigración, no. 25 (Madrid, 2010). For the service sector, see Gratton, Brian, ‘Ecuadorians in the United States and Spain’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 33: 4 (2007), pp. 581–99.

38 López, Adrián and Celis, Paula, ‘Análisis del referendum constitucional 2009 en Ecuador’, Íconos, 33 (2009), pp. 1320.

39 Cf. Estévez, Silvia Mejía, ‘Is Nostalgia Becoming Digital? Ecuadorian Diaspora in the Age of Global Capitalism’, Social Identities, 15: 3 (2009), pp. 393410.

40 See World Bank, Ecuador: Development Policy Review, Report no. 27443 (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2004); Burbano, Felipe, ‘Deinstitutionalized Democracy’, in De la Torre, Carlos and Striffler, Steve (eds.), The Ecuador Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), pp. 271–5; Serrano, Santiago, Pachano, Simón and Acosta, Andrés Mejía, ‘La democracia inconclusa’, Revista de Ciencia Política, 30: 1 (2010), pp. 6585; and Bowen, James, ‘Countries at the Crossroads 2011: Ecuador’, in Freedom House, Countries at the Crossroads 2011 (Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012).

41 Brubaker, Rogers, ‘In the Name of the Nation’, Citizenship Studies, 8: 2 (2004), pp. 115–27.

42 For a wider framework of analysis, whereby external voting is only one of the relevant indicators of migrant political transnationalism, see Portes, Guarnizo and Haller, , ‘Assimilation and Transnationalism’; and Marco Martiniello and Jean-Michel Lafleur, ‘Transnational Politics from a Transatlantic Perspective’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31: 4 (2008), pp. 645–63.

43 See Fennema, Meindert and Tillie, Jean, ‘Civic Community, Political Participation and Political Trust of Ethnic Groups’, Connections, 24 (2001), pp. 2641; Jacobs, Dirk and Tillie, Jean, ‘Introduction: Social Capital and Political Integration of Migrants’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 30 (2004), pp. 419–27; and on Ecuadoreans, Morales, Laura and Pilati, Katia, ‘The Political Transnationalism of Ecuadorians in Barcelona, Madrid and Milan’, Global Networks, 12 Feb. 2013.

44 A recent survey of the Ecuadorean labour market estimated that no more than 3 per cent of Ecuadoreans overseas are affiliated to a civil society organisation. See ENEMDU, Encuesta nacional de empleo y desempleo 2005–2007 (Quito: INEC, 2007).

45 Most forms of associational involvement overseas seem related to length of stay in the country of immigration and gender. Male voters tend to report higher levels of associative participation – whether overseas or in Ecuador – than their female counterparts. No significant association emerges between education and associational membership, in general terms; better-educated interviewees participated more often in Ecuadorean politics-related initiatives, but active involvement remains marginal.

46 INEC–SENPLADES, I encuesta nacional sobre participación ciudadana en el Ecuador (Quito: INEC–SENPLADES, 2008).

47 See, among others, Herrera, Gioconda (ed.), La migración de los que se quedan: organización social de los cuidados y desigualdad social en Ecuador (Quito: INSTRAW–FLACSO, 2010).

48 As Table 4 shows, about 40 per cent of respondents have one or more child (still) at home, with a significant but not drastic decrease for those living abroad for more than a decade (24.4 per cent). While the commonsense view of migration – including that of most migrant parents – assumes transnational parenthood as a provisional condition, available data suggest that, in aggregate terms, such condition is far from ephemeral.

49 See Goldring, Luin, ‘Family and Collective Remittances to Mexico’, Development and Change, 35: 4 (2004), pp. 799840.

50 Guarnizo, Portes and Haller, ‘Assimilation and Transnationalism’. However, for a critical revisit of the same data set – arguing that politics-related donations were almost non-existent among the interviewees that had been selected on a random basis – see Waldinger, Roger, ‘Engaging from Abroad: The Sociology of Emigrant Politics”, Migration Studies, 24 August 2013.

51 See FLACSO, Ecuador.

52 Martin, Philip, ‘Recession and Migration’, International Migration Review, 43: 3 (2009), pp. 671–91.

53 Wimmer, Andreas, ‘Elementary Strategies of Ethnic Boundary Making’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31: 6 (2008), pp. 1025–55.

54 Pallares, ‘Ecuadorian Immigrants and Symbolic Nationalism in Chicago’; Mejía Estévez, ‘Is Nostalgia Becoming Digital?’; Barry, , ‘Home and Away’; Paolo Boccagni, ‘Public, Private or Both?’, in Bauböck, Rainer and Faist, Thomas (eds.), Diaspora and Transnationalism (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010), pp. 185205.

55 Sayad, Abdelmalek, The Suffering of the Immigrant (Cambridge: Polity, 2004).

56 See, for instance, King, Russell, ‘Generalizations from the History of Return Migration’, in Gosh, Bimal (ed.), Return Migration (Geneva: IOM, 1999), pp. 755; and Boccagni, Paolo, ‘The Framing of Return from Above and Below in Ecuadorian Migration’, Global Networks, 11: 4 (2011), pp. 461–80.

57 The literature on diaspora-building and state-led nationalism includes Itzigsohn, José, ‘Immigration and the Boundaries of Citizenship’, International Migration Review, 34: 4 (2000), pp. 1126–54; Østergaard-Nielsen, International Migration and Sending Countries; Gamlen, , ‘The Emigration State and the Modern Geopolitical Imagination’; and Mandaville, Peter and Lyons, Terrence (eds.), Politics from Afar (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

58 Martiniello, and Lafleur, , ‘Transnational Politics from a Transatlantic Perspective’; Terrence Lyons and Peter Mandaville, ‘Think Locally, Act Globally’, International Political Sociology, 4: 2 (2010), pp. 124–41.

59 Boccagni, ‘Public, Private or Both?’.

60 For example, Roger Waldinger, ‘Immigrant Transnationalism’, Sociopedia.isa, 2011.

61 López and Celis, ‘Análisis del referendum constitucional 2009 en Ecuador’.

62 The flamboyant graffiti in the streets around the ballot venue in Barcelona, appealing to migrants to support the new Constitution, were in striking contrast to the lack of references to the electoral stakes in Milan, and even more so in Queens, New York. In the latter, despite (or indeed, due to) a far earlier settlement of Ecuadorean immigrants than in Europe, the electoral turnout was low, and the public celebration of expatriates' national loyalty and belonging prevailed over any political concern.

63 Pallares, ‘Ecuadorian Immigrants and Symbolic Nationalism’.

64 Brubaker, Rogers, ‘Migration, Membership and the Modern Nation-State’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 41: 1 (2010), pp. 6178.

65 Boccagni, ‘Public, Private or Both?’; on the idea of ‘fields’, see Levitt, Peggy and Glick-Schiller, Nina, ‘Conceptualizing Simultaneity: A Transnational Social Field Perspective on Society’, International Migration Review, 37: 3 (2004), pp. 1002–39.

66 See Itzigsohn and Villacrés, ‘Migrant Political Transnationalism and the Practice of Democracy’.

67 Bauböck, ‘Toward a Political Theory of Migrant Transnationalism’.

* We are highly indebted to several colleagues who contributed to the administration of questionnaires in Italy (Francesca Lagomarsino, Vincenza Pellegrino, Lidia Manzo, Federica Besana, Maria Grazia Mei, Martina Terenzoni), Spain (Luca Giliberti, Alice Cavaglià, Paula Castello, Elisa Brey, Diana Plaza, D. Pérez, P. Pinta, J. Avalos), the United Kingdom (Diana Codesal, Olivia Sheringham, Cristen Davalos), the United States (Cristina Escobar, Victoria Stone, Orlando Trujillo), Mexico (Veronica Silva), Chile (Gabriela Quezada) and Argentina (Silvia Starkof). As important was the support of Giovanni Semi and Andrea Torre in Italy, and of Tanja Bastia in the United Kingdom. Earlier drafts of the paper were discussed at the annual IMISCOE conference in Stockholm and at the Spanish Congress of Sociology of Migration in Coruña (2009). Valuable comments were provided, at different stages, by Rainer Bauböck, Anastasia Bermudez, Leticia Calderón, Angeles Escrivá, Ralph Grillo and Eva Østergaard-Nielsen. Last, special thanks go to Roger Waldinger and to the four anonymous reviewers of the JLAS.

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