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Abstract and Figures

Migration within the Global South is increasing. While conflict and xenophobia occurs, Latin America has been relatively welcoming of recent large-scale flows of forced migrants from Colombia and Venezuela, as well as other smaller flows from different countries migrating for economic or political reasons. Ecuador has a reputation for having progressive institutions protecting migrants, but translating these formal institutions into effective rights guarantees and political inclusion in practice is uneven. Migrants' ability to integrate successfully into their host society and achieve rights, security, and livelihood is influenced by intersecting structures of identity and by their networked linkages with state, non-state, and informal institutions. While these factors often impose social sanctions on migrants who attempt to participate actively in political decisions that affect them, the expectation of 'political invisibility' varies by nationality, race, class, and dominant societal narrative across migrant populations. This paper seeks to explore how these characteristics drive differential attitudes about democracy and politics and different levels of political engagement across diverse migrant groups by surveying 720 migrants in Quito, and comparing six populations: Colombians, Venezuelans, Cubans, Chinese, Haitians, and returned Ecuadorian emigrants. This study contributes one of the first systematic comparisons of migrant populations in Ecuador that vary across language, class, race, and societal narrative to examine how these different factors impede or facilitate access to rights, political participation, and protection.
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Comparing Migrant Populations in Ecuador
Luis Jiménez & Jeffrey D. Pugh, University of Massachusetts Boston
Working paper in progress: Draft version. Comments are welcome:,
Migration within the Global South is increasing. While conflict and xenophobia occurs,
Latin America has been relatively welcoming of recent large-scale flows of forced migrants from
Colombia and Venezuela, as well as other smaller flows from different countries migrating for
economic or political reasons. Ecuador has a reputation for having progressive institutions
protecting migrants, but translating these formal institutions into effective rights guarantees and
political inclusion in practice is uneven. Migrants’ ability to integrate successfully into their host
society and achieve rights, security, and livelihood is influenced by intersecting structures of
identity and by their networked linkages with state, non-state, and informal institutions. While
these factors often impose social sanctions on migrants who attempt to participate actively in
political decisions that affect them, the expectation of ‘political invisibility’ varies by nationality,
race, class, and dominant societal narrative across migrant populations. This paper seeks to
explore how these characteristics drive differential attitudes about democracy and politics and
different levels of political engagement across diverse migrant groups by surveying 720 migrants
in Quito, and comparing six populations: Colombians, Venezuelans, Cubans, Chinese, Haitians,
and returned Ecuadorian emigrants. This study contributes one of the first systematic comparisons
of migrant populations in Ecuador that vary across language, class, race, and societal narrative to
examine how these different factors impede or facilitate access to rights, political participation,
and protection.
Migrant political engagement, activism, and belonging
As migration results in displacement of persons to new countries that may last years or
even a lifetime, it is unsurprising that some migrants seek ways to participate in the decisions that
affect them in their new homes, including becoming involved in political activity and activism.
However, their status as migrants complicate their ability to advocate and make demands and rights
claims on the state. As we will further develop below, the state in a democratic country has a
political incentive to respond to and protect native citizens (who vote), not necessarily migrants
and refugees (who often do not). In fact, sometimes states find advantage in scapegoating migrants,
allowing them to be blamed and persecuted as the cause of various ills in society as a way of
deflecting blame away from the government itself. The literature on migrant activism and political
participation has shown that migrants are capable of exercising agency, contesting oppressive
systems, and caring both about politics in their country of origin and their host country, but that
more visible and contentious forms of activism can backfire and trigger xenophobic backlash
(Zepeda-Millan 2017, Das Gupta 2006, Nyers & Rygiel 2012). Especially when confronted with
the language of rights, host societies are often reluctant to concede that migrants have inherent
rights by virtue of being human (Voss et al 2019).
As Bridget Anderson (2013) argues, host countries construct a ‘community of value’ in
which various groups are seen as deserving to belong (or not) in the country and have an accepted
role in decision-making. Different migrant groups must ‘perform’ good citizenship through
exemplary behavior, non-criminality, and service to the community in order to move closer to this
community of value. They may also strategically frame different categories of migrants as more
or less deserving in order to position their own category (whether this is refugees, or documented
migrants, or employed migrants, or those who have lived in the country for a long time, or those
with families, etc.) as more desirable, less threatening, and thus more centered in the community
of value than other kinds of migrants.
Some migrants seek to formalize their political participation in multiple national spaces
through dual citizenship, voting from the exterior, and engagement in hometown associations.
States sometimes encourage these behaviors in order to expand electoral constituencies and
increase potential remittances, but other states are suspicious of ‘dual loyalties’ or seek to force
migrants to choose a single polity to belong to as a political actor. Furthermore, Luicy Pedroza
argues that the enfranchisement of ‘denizens’, or migrants that are long-time residents who
contribute in many ways to society but are denied electoral rights, depends in large part on how
political elites frame the issue and the deservingness of migrant denizens (Pedroza 2019). Noora
Lori (2019) takes this a step further to describe a scenario of outsourcing citizenship in which
migrants exercise certain types of political agency and seek inclusion even while they exist in a
liminal status, with their rights in permanent limbo.
The political activity of migrants is influenced as well by their identities, and the
negotiation of belonging between migrant and native citizen populations. Massey & Sanchez
(2010) argue that host populations create ‘brokered boundaries’ that tie migrant identity to their
access to political participation and social belonging as a way of increasing control over the lives,
politics, and bodies of foreigners in their midst.
The displacement experience also has an effect on the political identities and engagement
of migrants not only in their host countries, but also upon their return back to their countries of
origin. Comparing returned emigrants in Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico, Jimenez (2018) shows
that people who have emigrated abroad to countries with well-developed democracies often bring
back the new political identities and norms into which they became socialized abroad, causing
them to engage more deeply in political activity when they returned to their country of origin.
Katrina Burgess (2016) finds that migrants abroad contribute most to more effective and
accountable local governance in their countries of origin when they have strong translocal
networks with local residents. Indeed, strong networks and coalitions with diverse actors who are
not themselves migrants have been identified as key factors explaining the likelihood of migrants
in other country contexts to organize, advocate, and secure protections or services that benefit them
(de Graauw 2016; Landau & Duponchel 2011; Balyk & Pugh 2013).
One of the authors has proposed a framework for understanding why migrants may often
avoid overt political activity, or may choose alternative strategies that are less visible in order to
try to influence decisions that affect them. According to Pugh (2018; 2021), host populations often
tolerate the presence of migrants in their territory without actively seeking to persecute and deport
them when three key conditions are perceived to be satisfied: that the migrants contribute
economically or with some valued contribution, and that they remain politically and socially
invisible. In other words, this set of unwritten (but strongly enforced) expectations that Pugh calls
the ‘invisibility bargain’ demands migrants’ labor and contribution while denying them political
agency or the full expression of their social, religious, and racial differences. Visible differences
(in dress, accent/language, religious practices, etc.), when they seem to violate host-country
dominant norms, make anti-immigrant backlash more likely, and impede the ease with which a
migrant can access rights or participate in the decisions that affect them. This is what social
invisibility refers to. Political invisibility is the expectation that migrants should refrain from overt
claim-making or demands on the government, because like guests their status derives from the
invitation and generosity of the hosts, not because of any inherent rights of their own. Thus, a
logic of gratitude underlies the expectation that migrants who engage in public activism and
political contestation are ungrateful and do not have the right to protest. Based on this framework,
one would expect that migrants would employ coping strategies and political repertoires that rely
more on in-person relationships, coalition building, and networked brokering rather than on public
pressure, marches, campaigns, etc. Many are likely to disavow political activity altogether,
focusing their energies on economic accomplishment and daily survival. Based on these
expectations from the invisibility bargain argument and the broader literature on migrant
integration and political activism, we seek to examine the following two research questions:
RQ1: How do migration status and national identity affect political participation in host countries?
RQ2: How does social integration and societal expectations of migrants influence their likelihood
to participate politically and the strategies that they use?
In order to do so, the following section introduces the context of Ecuador, which is the location of
our empirical work, and then proceeds to lay out the data that we gathered on migrant political
engagement and democratic attitudes for six different migrant nationality populations in the capital
city of Quito, followed by analysis and discussion.
Context of Ecuador
Ecuador, a small country of 16 million people located in the Andean region of South
America between Colombia and Peru, has been both a sending and receiving country of
international migrants, particularly over the past two decades. An economic crisis in 1999 and
2000 led to a mass exodus of more than 10% of the population, most of whom emigrated to Spain,
Italy, and the United States in search of economic opportunities, and remittances soon became the
second largest source of income after oil. At the same time, the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia led
to an infusion of military assistance and foreign aid to the Colombian government, which resulted
in greater state capacity and willingness to expand military operations against the FARC guerrillas
and other illegal armed actors into remote rural areas of the country, which had previously been
under the de facto control of these groups. As a result, the number of violent clashes escalated
dramatically, displacing large numbers of campesinos as well as people in the cities who had earlier
been internally displaced and now sought refuge outside of Colombia. Beginning in 2000,
Colombian forced migration to Ecuador skyrocketed, with an 8400% increase between 2000 and
2007 in the number of registered refugees. During this period and over the following decade and
a half, more than 95% of asylum seekers and refugees in Ecuador were Colombian, and Ecuador
was the largest recipient of refugees and asylum seekers in the Americas, according to the UNHCR.
Ecuador has been recognized as one of the more progressive receiving countries, with
relatively few barriers to entry; for the first several years of the Colombian migration flow,
Colombians could enter the country with only a passport and no visa or other requirement. At
different points, additional requirements have been imposed, such as providing a certified police
record (which can be difficult for asylum seekers to attain when they must leave quickly, or when
they fear the very state agencies who supply these reports). The first six years of the large
displacement flows were met with somewhat ad hoc institutional responses in Ecuador, with the
church and the UNHCR playing major roles in filling in gaps in state capacity to register refugees
and provide services for them (Pugh 2016). The government tended to see refugees through a
national security lens. The election of President Rafael Correa in 2006 brought with it significant
changes, as he ran on a platform to counter the militarized Plan Colombia with his own Plan
Ecuador, which emphasized integral development and ‘universal citizenship’, with the assertion
that just as Ecuadorians in Europe deserved protection, rights, and economic opportunities, so too
should Ecuador provide these protections and opportunities for Colombian migrants (Pugh 2017).
In 2009 and 2010, UNHCR and the Ecuadorian state led an ‘Enhanced Registration’ initiative in
which mobile registration brigades traveled to locations throughout the northern border region,
offering expedited asylum status determination processes, and resulting in roughly doubling the
number of registered refugees in Ecuador within a year.
Because of the international attention generated by this initiative, as well as the perception
that Ecuador had progressive and welcoming migration reception policies (including a
Constitution that declared that no human is illegal, that discrimination based on migration status
is prohibited, and that refugees have the same basic rights as Ecuadorians), significant numbers of
migrants from other countries also began arriving. Notably, many of these migrants came from
Cuba and Haiti, some of which hoped to use Ecuador as a transit country from which to attempt to
migrate to final destinations in Brazil or the United States. The Haitian and Cuban migrant
population largely came for economic reasons, often seeking student visas, professional visas, or
family visas (visas de amparo) in cases where they had an Ecuadorian partner or family member.
Like Colombians before them, these populations met with a combination of progressive and
welcoming policies with social exclusion, and targeted state exclusionary practices. For example,
a group of more than 100 Cubans in 2015 were rounded up and taken to ‘Hotel Carrion’, a migrant
detention center in Quito, and then summarily deported without transparent due process (Picq
2016). In 2016, Cuba was added to the small list of countries requiring a visa to enter Ecuador (in
part as a result of diplomatic pressure from Costa Rica, which had noticed an increase in Cuban
migrants coming through Ecuador to settle in Costa Rica), and the cost of tourist visas increased,
making Ecuador’s one of the most expensive such visas in the region (Correa 2016). China was
another of the 11 countries included on the list that required visas to visit Ecuador, even for tourism
(everyone else could enter for up to 90 days with only their passport).
The escalating dysfunction in Venezuela resulting from disastrous economic policies as
well as the mismanagement, corruption, and repression of the Nicolas Maduro regime created
another stream of migrants, which quickly became the largest flow of foreign displaced persons in
Latin America’s recent history. Although Colombia has been the largest recipient of Venezuelan
migrants, followed by Peru and Chile, Ecuador has been a major recipient as well, with a large
portion of Venezuelans considering Ecuador as a transit country (Freier & Parent 2018). At a 2018
meeting of foreign ministers from the region in Quito, a commitment was made to seek collective
solutions for the humanitarian crisis to facilitate burden-sharing across the region in order to
increase protections for Venezuelans fleeing their country, while increasing cooperation among
countries who are already dealing with economic and political strains of their ownmost notably
in Colombia, which is just emerging from a 60-year internal conflict after the signing of a 2016
peace agreement.
Venezuelans have become a large and visible presence in Ecuador, especially in Quito and
in towns along the Panamerican highway, such as Ibarra (halfway between Quito and the northern
border with Colombia). The flow at times overwhelmed Ecuadorian border control capacities, and
Venezuelan migrants were sometimes forced to wait days at the Rumichaca bridge border crossing
to be processed and allowed to enter Ecuador. Compared to the Colombian migrant population
today, Venezuelans appear to be better organized in advocacy, humanitarian, and mutual assistance
organizations. They also reported in the responses of Venezuelans on our survey more trust in
Ecuadorian institutions and less willingness to engage in public protest compared to Colombians
(Pugh, Jimenez & Latuff 2020). When asked about the different roles they see these organizations
taking on, leaders we interviewed largely emphasized humanitarian assistance and to some extent
networking and providing a voice for Venezuelan migrants, but they were often eager to
disassociate their organizations from explicitly political activities.
There have been several incidents of migrant participation and activism over the years: in
2007, a group of Colombian campesinos crossed the Ecuadorian border and began to protest to
demand Ecuadorian government support to put pressure on the Colombian government to stop
aerial fumigation with glyphosate. Migrant groups testified before the Constituent Assembly
during the drafting of the 2007/8 Constitution, and ultimately saw many of their requests and
suggested language incorporated into the provisions of the final Constitution, which offered many
progressive protections for migrants and refugees (Pugh 2021). The Colombian association
ARCOE accompanied the Enhanced Registration mobile brigades in 2009, observing the process
of the expedited status determination processes in diverse geographic localities. The different
migrant associations formed a broad umbrella federation known as FENARE to help coordinate
efforts and political advocacy strategies. Finally, groups of Colombian asylum seekers in 2015
and 2019 camped out in front of the UNHCR building in Quito, demanding third-country
resettlement. Of these examples, the more visible and overt forms of contestation (like the marches
and camping in front of UNHCR) were met with resistance, backlash, and negative coverage from
the media and from political leaders. The examples in which migrants used person-to-person
coalition-building, negotiation, or empathy generation, however, including the consultations at the
Constituent Assembly, often happened behind closed doors, and relied on individual-level change
among key targeted decisionmakers.
The more visible the presence of migrants was in a particular locality or in national-level
discourse, there tended to be more contentious anti-immigrant sentiment expressed. As a result of
the highly visible provision of refugee visas during the Enhanced Registration (and hundreds of
asylum seekers gathered together in small towns throughout the northern border as they waited
their turn for a hearing), many in the state security and foreign affairs sectors and in society argued
that the process had been lax and that refugees represented a security/criminality threat, according
to interviews with these officials. It was in this context, and the electoral pressure leading toward
the 2013 presidential race, that President Correa issued Decree 1182 in late 2012, restricting the
criteria under which asylum can be granted, reducing to 15 days the time that asylum seekers can
submit a request for asylum after entering the country, and eliminating the more flexible Cartagena
Declaration criteria under which refugee status can be awarded. Later, as a FARC remnant cell
operated in the northern border region and kidnapped and killed a group of journalists, President
Lenin Moreno issued a state of emergency and threatened to restrict movement at the border even
as he militarized the territory around the border. In 2019, a Venezuelan man killed his pregnant
Ecuadorian girlfriend in the town of Ibarra, and President Moreno issued an angry nationalistic
statement on Twitter condemning Venezuelan migration as the cause of criminality and arguing
that he was considering closing the border or imposing restrictions on Venezuelan migrants (which
he did) and authorizing ‘brigades’ to patrol the streets. Groups of citizens later threatened and
chased away Venezuelans, burning their belongings as retribution. During this crisis of
xenophobic conflict, the various Venezuelan associations came together to issue a joint televised
press statement, in which they condemned both the violence and unfounded rumors of deaths, and
in which they called for empathy and solidarity. When interviewing the leaders of these
organizations, they claimed that this joint press conference was borne of necessity in a crisis in
order to project a common voice for the Venezuelan population, but that generally their
organizations were involved more in service provision, and not so much in taking visible, public
stances on political issues, especially when these represented an implicit criticism of the
In this context of a country that has been the largest recipient of refugees in the Americas
(mostly from Colombia), that is a major recipient of displaced Venezuelans and several other
nationality groups, and that sent many emigrants of its own to Europe and the United States, we
wanted to better understand factors impeding or promoting political participation and activism,
and to do so by comparing the political attitudes, experiences, and beliefs of different migrant
groups within one common geographic space. The next following sections describe our methods
for carrying out our survey and summarize the results.
Methods and Results
To explore some of the matters outlined above, this paper relies on survey dataours and
a supplementary one carried out by the Latin American Political Opinion Project. Our survey was
carried out between July 6 and July 22, 2019 by Opinión Publica Ecuador, a professional pollster.
It consists of 725 total respondents divided by 126 Colombians, 121 Chinese, 116 Cubans, 120
Haitians, 122 Venezuelans and 120 Return Ecuadorian Migrants. Our survey is not representative
of the country at largegiven the nature of the population, this would be extremely difficult to
measure accurately in any casethus it concentrates on Quito, the city where we know migrants
disproportionately live. LAPOP carries out yearly surveys of various Latin American nations. We
employed the 2017 Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti and Venezuela versions, all representative of the
country at large, each of which had 1563, 1572, 2221, 1558 respondents respectively.
In this paper we wanted to concentrate in particular on differences both across migrant
groups and with relationship to the country of origin. Unfortunately, this last task is somewhat
incomplete because LAPOP does not carry out work in Cuba and although data on China exists,
their question wording is too different to have any confidence on the validity of potential
comparisons. Nonetheless, we were still able to uncover some interesting patterns. To do that we
employed a number of statistical exercises from simple means tests to OLS regressions
Specifically, we chose to focus on three concrete dependent variables of interestinterest in
politics, democratic attitudes and political participation. Let us explore each of these in turn.
In the question of interest, we wanted to see whether there were any statistical differences
among groups and whether being a migrant politicized people relative to those that never left.
In order to see whether this was a statistical significance, we ran a Dunnett Pairwise Test, a simple
group means test that permits the comparison of multiple variables at once. As can be seen in the
first table, there are indeed statistically significant differences for multiple groups.
Table1. Dunn’s Pairwise Comparison of Level of Political Interest of Migrant Groups From:
Colombia Venezuela Cuba Haiti China
Venezuela -0.708
Cuba 1.827** 2.500*
0.034 0.006
Haiti 8.621*** 9.235*** 6.609***
.0000 0.000 0.000
China 6.495*** 7.131*** 4.530*** -2.114*
0.000 0.000 0.165 0.017
Return 2.099** 2.777** 0.245 -6.432*** -4.331***
Ecuadorians 0.018 0.002 0.403 0.000 0.000
This shows at the group mean, Haitians have less interest than everyone else, Chinese are only
higher compared to the Haitians, while Colombians and Venezuelans seem to care more about
politics on average than everyone elseand there appears to be no significant difference between
the two groups. On the other hand, return Ecuadorians appear to have higher enthusiasm than
Chinese or Haitians, but not Colombians and Venezuelansthe model did not yield statistical
significance between them and Cubans. Given that this is the mean measure, however, it cannot
predict any one individual, and if we only look at an isolated aspect of the scale, the opposite might
seem to be true.
We then compared these levels of interest to the country of origin. As can be seen, these
groups are statistically distinct from those that never left, but also seem to have lower interest in
Table 2. Kruskal-Wallis Test Between Individual Cases for Political Interest
Country Rank Sum Rank Sum
of Origin 2 Country of Origin Migrants
Colombian 15.317*** 1290000 125694
Migrants 0.000
Venezuelan 45.48*** 1250000 134618
Migrants 0.000
Haitian 50911*** 2330000 72896
Migrants .0000
Return 1.118 55011 22410
Ecuadorians 0.239
Colombians, Venezuelans and Haitians say they are less enthusiastic about politics when
contrasted with their compatriots at home. Return migrants, on the other hand, do not seem to be
particularly politicized compared to their co-nationals in Quito. It is hard to tell the extent to which
this is an actual measure of political interest or if the survey is picking up a discomfort on the part
of migrants to express their interest in something they could perceive as controversial. For instance,
if we dig further in the data and try to uncover the factors that might predict a person’s enthusiasm
for political matters, we find that the length of time has spent in Ecuador is directly related to the
interest variableevery additional year is positively associated with higher reported levels of
political engagement. If we include dummy variables, however, this relationship disappears,
suggesting that this is not associated with any particular group of migrants. Notice further that
neither having a positive view of one’s government, nor facing discrimination has a politicizing
effect. Indeed, people who say that they have experienced discrimination appear to have less
interest in politics, although this is not statistically significant one way or the other. This could
very well be because while some do become politicized, others become less so and others take the
lesson that is better to say that they do not care about politics.
Table 3. Factors Behind Lack of Political Interest
Variable of Interest Model 1 P Value Model 2 P Value Model 3 P Value
Time in Ecuador -.021** .028 .007 .400 .007 .400
Age .002 .678 -.001 .769 -.001 .769
Gender .238** .011 -.141 .100 -.141 .100
Education -.091*** .000 -.074** .002 -.074*** .002
Income .013 .811 .061** .230 .061 .230
Faced Discrimination .086 .361 .084 .346 .084 .346
Pos. View of Country Gov. -.044 .531 -.055 .424 -.054 424
Colombian Migrants .231* .091 -1.36*** .000
Venezuelan Migrants .440*** .001 -1.57*** .000
Cuban Migrants .113 .428 -1.24*** .000
Chinese Migrants -.792*** .000 .338*** .058
Haitian Migrants -1.13*** .000
Return Migrants -1.13*** .000
Constant 6.89*** .000 2.97*** .000 .000
R2 .0454 . .2237 .2237 .000
Number of Observations 725 725 725
Dependent variable: Political Interest (1-4) where 4 equals none.
All F Probability = 0000
Note: ***p < .01, **p < .05, *p < .10
On the matter of democratic support, unfortunately we cannot offer the reader any
comparative statistical tests. Although the query in questionDemocracy may have flaws, but it
is better than any other form of governmentwas identical in both surveys, LAPOP used a 1-7
scale, while we used a smaller 1-5 one. Still, we can directly compare percentages for levels of
democratic support, and although this cannot be definitive, it can serve as a starting data point. As
can be seen below, when we compare the groups that say they strongly agree with the value of
democracy as a type of government, all migrant groups have higher overall percentage than their
country of origin equivalents. Perhaps understandably, Venezuelans in Ecuador, are nearly
identical to their compatriots back in Venezuela, while return Ecuadorians have the largest gap in
support with nearly 25 points higher than their co-nationals who never left.
Fig. 1. Comparison Across Groups With Those Saying they Strongly Agree with Democracy as a Form of Government.
Still, part of the reason why this is far from conclusive is that we cannot ascertain the extent
to which there is a social favorability bias. For instance, if we look at similar chart (figure 2) that
looks only at those who opted not to respond, one sees that Chinese, Haitians and Cubans in
Ecuador have the largest levels of non-responsiveness, while return Ecuadorians have the lowest.
Figure 2. % No Answers to Democracy Question Across Groups
Presumably the true belief with some of those groups, especially that of Chinese, is that of
strong disagreement with democracy and that is part of the reason they do not feel comfortable
responding, but it could also simply be that they interpret it as impolite or inappropriate to give an
opinion on the matter. Thus, we cannot be certain that the strong support from return Ecuadorians
for democracy as a type of government compared to the other groups is a function of true belief or
measurement error based on individuals’ discomfort with the question. If we further compare the
various groups using a Dunnett Pairwise Test, the reader can corroborate that there are few
statistically significant differences except between Chinese and Return migrants.
Table 4. Dunn’s Pairwise Comparison of Level of Democratic Support of Migrant Groups:
Colombia Venezuela Cuba Haiti China
Venezuela -0.762
Cuba 0.626 1.362*
0.265 0.087
Haiti -0.027 9.235 6.609
0.489 0.234 0.260
China 7.910*** 8.585*** 7.098*** 7.826***
0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Return -2.359* -1.585* -2.919*** -2.300** -1.010***
Ecuadorians 0.092 0.057 0.002 0.011 0.000
In order to investigate this question further, we ran regressions to see what may explain
people’s democratic responses. As can be seen in Table 4, the most important explanatory factor
was an individual’s education. Having a positive view of one’s own government is also associated
with higher democratic support. This relationship evaporates, however, once we include the
various migrant groups in the model, probably because of the confounding character of the Chinese
migrant variable. Indeed, this becomes particularly apparent when we compare the positive view
that people have of their own government across countries. The Chinese are the only group that
dislike both democracy as a form of government and have an extremely negative view of their
government. The other groups have plenty of people that disapprove of their government but are
not statistically distinct. Still, the original model in Table 4 that has return Ecuadorian migrants as
the reference group shows that Cubans, Chinese and Haitian migrants have lower support for
democracy compared to Ecuadorians back in their home country with the Chinese having a
particularly large effect. This is certainly consistent with Jiménez (2018) but, again, it is difficult
to disentangle the exact underlying dynamics.
Table 5. Factors Behind Democratic Support Among Migrants in Ecuador
Variable of Interest Model 1 P Value Model 2 P Value Model 3 P Value
Time in Ecuador .005 .727 .033** .021 .033** .021
Age .001 .742 .003 .618 .003 .005
Gender -.020* .873 -.151* .186 -.151 .186
Education .160*** .000 .219*** .000 .219** .000
Income .075 .276 .130** .028 .130** .028
Faced Discrimination -.189** .141 -.092 .453 -.092 .453
Positive View of Country .221 .020 -.072 .394 -.072 .394
Colombian Migrants -.212 .276 .264 .221
Venezuelan Migrants .032 .874 .508** .029
Cuban Migrants -.788*** .000 -.312 .162
Chinese Migrants -2.41*** .000 -1.93 .000
Haitian Migrants -.476*** .026
Return Migrants .476** .026
Constant 1.38*** .001 1.67*** .000 1.43*** .001
R2 .0543 . .3182 .2618 .000
Number of Observations 725 725 725
Dependent variable: Response to the Question Democracy is Best Form of Government
All F Probability = 0000
Note: ***p < .01, **p < .05, *p < .10
Finally, we aimed to compare the various groups’ level of social participation. We created
an index and distinguished between explicitly political activities and those more accurately
described as being part of civil society. In the former, for instance, we included questions such as:
have you ever contacted government officials? Have you ever participated in a political party
meeting? The latter comprised questions such as whether someone had participated in a local
We also created a third variable which was a composite of the two just described.
The other two questions that were part of the political participation index were have you ever gone to a local
government meeting? and have you ever contacted the police? For the civil society index, in addition to the question
mentioned in the text we included whether someone had contacted the media, participated in a public information
campaign, and whether they had assisted to a religious organization or a parent-teacher meeting.
We first ran a Dunnett Pairwise Test similar to previous variables, but there were few
groups with statistical significance, so it is not reported here. Instead, we will concentrate on the
regressions that aim to unearth the factors underlying the reasons behind someone having a higher
or lower level of participation. In the first model of Table 6 we see that being younger, having
spent longer time in Ecuador, and having faced discrimination all make people more likely to
engage politically. Once we control for the specific migrant groups, we find that in the first model
where return Ecuadorians are the reference group, Cubans and Chinese migrants participate less
politically, but not Haitians. In fact, when we include Haitians as the reference category, the reader
can observe that they score statistically higher than every other group. So while Haitians in
Ecuador appear to be less interested in politics than those in their country of origin, they report
higher levels of political engagement than other migrant groups. How can we make sense of this
finding? There might be some undisclosed politicization, some sense of political entitlement or
efficacy that people actively choose to conceal, or simply a sense that being engaged in local
politicswhich is mostly what our index measuresis not recognized as a political activity, but
simply a necessary chore. Further research is needed.
Table 6. Factors Behind Political Participation
Variable of Interest Model 1 P Value Model 2 P Value Model 3 P Value
Time in Ecuador .026*** .003 017** .045 .017** .045
Age -.002 .584 .002 .623 .002 .623
Gender -.154* .090 -.141* .076 -.140* .076
Education .017 .486 048** .049 .048** .049
Lack of Pol. Interest -.250*** .000 -.134** .000 -.134*** .000
Income .075 .133 .101** .037 .102** .037
Faced Discrimination -.189** .035 -.081 .318 -.081 .318
Colombian Migrants -.036 .811 -1.35*** .000
Venezuelan Migrants .010 .950 -1.31*** .000
Cuban Migrants -.487*** .001 -1.80*** .000
Chinese Migrants -.528*** .002 -1.84*** .000
Haitian Migrants 1.46*** .000
Return Migrants -1.31*** .000
Constant 2.90*** .000 1.67 .000 .000
R2 .0362 . .3182 .000
Number of Observations 725 725 725
Dependent variable: Political Participation Index
All F Probability = 0000
Note: ***p < .01, **p < .05, *p < .10
Table 7 which examines the factors underlying the civil society index variable likewise
shows that the younger you are and the longer that person has lived in Ecuador the more likely the
levels of participation would be. Having faced discrimination, however, appears to make no
difference one way or the other. Presumably the experience of it compels people to engage in their
local politics but does not deter or inspire them from other types of participation. Meanwhile, once
we specify the various migrant groups, we can see that Ecuadorians who have returned continue
to have statistically significant differences in participation, but only with the Chinese and Haitians.
In contrast, Haitian migrants while very active politically do not appear very engaged in other
types of activities as only the Chinese and Cubans do less.
Table 7. Factors Behind Participation in Civil Society
Variable of Interest Model 1 P Value Model 2 P Value Model 3 P Value
Time in Ecuador .027** .079 .027** .047 .027** .047
Age -.017*** .006 -.014** .013 -.014** .013
Gender .071 .598 .047 .718 .047 .718
Education .007 .862 .052 .181 .052 .181
Lack of Pol. Interest -.249*** .000 -.286*** .000 -.286*** .000
Income .049 .497 .082 .247 .082 .247
Faced Discrimination .188 .176 .267** .050 .268** .050
Colombian Migrants .348 .150 .293 .246
Venezuelan Migrants .196 .411 .141 .571
Cuban Migrants -.735 .003 -.790*** .003
Chinese Migrants -.670 .003 -.725 .004
Haitian Migrants .055 .267
Return Migrants -.055 .836
Constant 6.89*** .000 2.78 .000 .000
R2 .0454 .0900 .0900 .000
Number of Observations 725 725 725
Dependent variable: Civil Society Participation Index
All F Probability = 0000
Note: ***p < .01, **p < .05, *p < .10
Finally, Table 8 explores an overall index that includes both measures. There is very little
change, although being younger becomes statistically weaker and income appears to become
significant as one of the determinants. Following the other two tables, the inclusion of the migrant
groups shows quite similar findings. The Chinese and Cubans participate less than return
Ecuadorians while Haitians do more. Shifting to the second model with Haitians as the reference
group, we see that their political participation is so strong that they present stronger levels of
engagement than any other group we surveyed.
Table 8. Factors Behind Overall Social Participation
Variable of Interest Model 1 P Value Model 2 P Value Model 3 P Value
Time in Ecuador .056*** .003 .053*** .008 .053*** .008
Age -.015* .062 -.008 .297 -.008 .297
Gender -.136 .478 -.139 -.140 .436 .718
Education .007 .900 .083 .137 .083 .137
Lack of Pol. Interest -.440*** .000 -.360*** .000 -.360*** .000
Income .249 .017 .325*** .001 .325 .001
Faced Discrimination .056 .773 .274 .131 .274** .131
Colombian Migrants .436 .196 -1.10*** .001
Venezuelan Migrants .414 .202 -1.12*** .000
Cuban Migrants -1.11*** .001 -2.64*** .000
Chinese Migrants -1.11*** .001 -2.65*** .000
Haitian Migrants 1.53*** .000
Return Migrants -.055 .836
Constant 5.04*** .000 3.55 .000 -1.53 .000
R2 .0764 .1912 .1912
Number of Observations 725 725 725
Dependent variable: Overall Social Participation Index
All F Probability = 0000
Note: ***p < .01, **p < .05, *p < .10
To sum up, then, we concentrated on three specific variablespolitical interest, democratic
attitudes and political participation. We found that political interest appears to be lower among
migrants when compared with their country of origin. Between the groups Colombians and
Venezuelans display disproportionate interest, while Haitians exhibit the lowest levels of interest.
On the democratic score, we cannot tell the extent to which migrants are different than their
country of origin counterparts although migrants that reported the highest level of support for
democracy do exhibit larger levels of support than their country of origin equivalent. Among the
groups, we find that time spent in Ecuador is positively associated with support for democracy
and that return migrants for the most part are the strongest democratic supporters while the Chinese
are the opposite. Finally, we uncover that despite Haitian reported disinterest in politics they are
the most likely to engage at the local level in relation to other groups, although not so much in
activities beyond the political.
Ecuador’s history as both an immigration and emigration country with a relatively
progressive record in welcoming migrants which has nonetheless had acute xenophobic junctures
more recently particularly against Venezuelans provides an interesting scenario to investigate how
and why migrants might become politicized, how and when they choose to engage in politics and
the extent to which this is distinct across groups. We chose groups that attempted to capture both
the diversity of the migrant community in the country and those that locals might be more likely
to perceive as different.
Our most important findings are that the act of migrating itself does appear to shape
people’s politics. For instance, although we find that Colombians, Venezuelans and Haitians have
statistically lower levels of interest in politics compared to their compatriots at home, the longer
they spend in Ecuador the more likely they are to report caring about politics. We also find some
evidence that Colombians, Venezuelans, Haitians and Return Ecuadorians are more supportive of
democracy as a type of government than their compatriots who never left. The second crucial
finding is that there are clear differences among the groups in how they engage in local politics.
Not surprisingly return migrants, who one would expect to feel more comfortable in Ecuador vis-
à-vis the other groups generally, are very involved at the local level, particularly with what we
termed civil society engagement. Remarkably though, it is the Haitians who exhibited the lowest
political interest that are the most likely to participate in local politics. We find some clues as to
why this is the case, but further research is need to ascertain the exact reasons and particularly how
they negotiate the invisibility bargain.
We are grateful to the DOFFFER Grant from the UMass Boston’s Dean’s office of the McCormack
Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies and to the Johns Hopkins University School of
Advanced International Studies (SAIS) for financial support to carry out this research. We are
also grateful to excellent research assistance and collaboration in Ecuador from Yifan Ren, Bettina
Latuff, Omar Rodriguez, Ana Oña and the entire team of Opinión Pública Ecuador.
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