Reconciling Debt: Microcredit and the Politics of Indigeneity in Argentina's Altiplano



Microcredit is a particularly popular economic development tool that seeks to empower poor people through easy access to credit. It has been deployed as a development tool globally, often with much-lauded results. In this article, I examine a case study based on lending practices of Warmi Sayasunqo, a self-consciously indigenous microcredit Nongovernment organization (NGO) based in the Andean altiplano of Argentina. This article focuses on the ways in which efforts to reconcile debts come to configure both the microcredit practices of Warmi as well as struggles over indigenous rights and recognition in Argentina. While Warmi leadership envisioned their obligation to borrowers in terms of identity recuperation and community strengthening, the Argentine state was concomitantly elaborating similar modalities of obligation to its indigenous people. I suggest that these two projects are in dialogue and, perhaps, mutually constitutive. I examine the ways in which microcredit and indigeneity are linked in the administrative practices of Warmi. Then I analyze Argentina's 1994 constitutional reform, and struggles by the constitutional commissioners and policymakers around Argentina's debts to its indigenous peoples. In these two separate modalities of reconciliation, debates about whether obligation is terminal or ongoing also speak very concretely to whether social relationships are themselves also terminal or ongoing. I suggest that reconciliation through lending keeps borrower and creditor on intimate terms, which serves as a valuable counterpoint to transaction-based audit processes that seek to fully characterize (and terminate) an economic or social relationship.