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Volume 51 / Social Sciences


JOSE Z. GARCIA, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University, Visiting Professor, United States Army School of the Americas, 1989-1990

I EXAMINED 271 ITEMS (books, documents, academic papers, pamphlets) on Central American government and politics received by the Library of Congress since my predecessor, Steve Ropp, submitted his last contribution to HLAS 49. Works on Nicaragua comprise 106 items or 39 percent; El Salvador was the subject of 37 books, followed by Costa Rica with 31, Guatemala with 19, Panama with 15, Honduras with 13, and Belize with two. Central America as a region was the topic of 24 works, and 24 more were on human rights. In addition I consulted dozens of articles from various journals on relevant topics.

Most books focused on specialized topics rather than on regional or country-specific overviews, a trend noted in the late 1980s and still evident in this Handbook. For example, there is now a growing genre of semiromantic "I was a guerrilla" or "I was with the guerrillas" type narrative, as journalists and guerrillas begin to publish their reminiscences. Among these are a Salvadoran version of M*A*S*H written by a medic (item bi 90009640); ex-guerrilla Mario Payeras' nostalgic second book about Guatemala (item bi 90009654); a book about a Contra who defects to the Sandinistas (item bi 89014052); and Claribel Alegría's No me agarran viva (item bi 90009632) an absorbing, feminist account of a woman leader in the early FMLN guerrilla struggle.

After a period of silence, the right began to publish their own works. These were financed in part by the well-funded Costa Rican-based publisher, Libro Libre (established ca. 1985), which specialized in anti-Sandinista books; other articles appeared in Análisis, an anti-FMLN imitation of the outstanding Salvadoran journal, Estudios Centroamericanos. Among the best are articles by Cruz and Velázquez in Nicaragua: regresión en la revolución (item bi 88003130).

Increasingly, Central American political writings are influenced by what might be called the Midwest political science approach. Rather than the theoretical, Marxist perspective that still dominates much of the political literature on Central America, the Midwest interpretation of the workings of democratic institutions in the region is empirical and matter of fact. This perspective is evident in works that examine the role of public opinion, elections, and the news media in Central America. Excellent examples of this approach are Booth and Seligson's Elections and democracy in Central America (item bi 90009592), Martín Baro's La opinión pública salvadoreña (item bi 90009639), and Seligson and Barrantes' article on elections in Costa Rica (item bi 89000049).

Many of the best overviews of specific countries are now written in the shorter coyuntura genre, which assumes the reader is at least vaguely familiar with the region, and in which the author tries to explain the dynamics of current political issues. The best of these appeared in vol. 6 of the serial Latin America and Caribbean Contemporary Record, from which three items were selected for annotation below (items bi 90009604, bi 90009637, and bi 90009644), but excellent examples can also be found in Latin American Perspectives and Current History. Richard Millett is the current master of this form.

Human rights organizations such as Americas Watch are improving and extending their coverage of Central America. And although their publications are extremely uneven in quality and scope and often devoid of historical context, they are necessary and important in that they compel governments to respond to their charges. Morna Macleod's GAM-Comadres (item bi 89005855) is an outstanding effort to compare the activities of two local human rights groups.

Major scholarly contributions are still few and far between and there is little building on previous work. US scholars have not sufficiently acknowledged the seminal influence of works already produced by Central Americans, who are too often ignored or footnoted in passing. Two works annotated below may help change this attitude. One is the translation of several essays by Edelberto Torres Rivas, the dean of Central Americanists. One hopes Repression and resistance: the struggle for democracy in Central America (item bi 89002952) will inspire efforts to submit his richly contextual theories to the cold light of scientific analysis. The second is the appearance of Dunkerly's Power in the isthmus: a political history of modern Central America (item bi 88003105), a serious effort to weave some of the best existing scholarship into a theoretical (albeit rickety) whole, and which may acquaint English-speaking readers more fully with that literature. Two other outstanding pan-Central American works are Brockett's Land, power, and poverty: agrarian transformation and political conflict in Central America (item bi 90009593), about the destabilizing consequences of agrarian changes in each country and Cerdas Cruz's La hoz y el machete: la Internacional Comunista, América Latina, y la revolución en Centroamérica (item bi 88003143), which argues with all the gusto of perestroika that International Communist congresses had a stifling effect on Central American revolutionary thought.

Outstanding contributions to our knowledge of post-Somoza Nicaragua can be found in: 1) Dennis Gilbert's Sandinistas: the party and the revolution (item bi 89005572), a careful study of the Sandinista party which illustrates the kind of contribution well-informed academic analysts might have made to rational discourse had US universities responded to events in Nicaragua with a less ideological and more academic approach; 2) Jiri Valenta's Conflict in Nicaragua (item bi 88003107), a work which implies that the Sandinistas exploited the conflicting stereotypes of them which prevailed in various countries; and 3) Gary Ruchwarger's People in power (item bi 88003109), a study of popular grassroots organizations and their relationship to the government. For El Salvador, the best English-language study of the origins, development, and depth of revolutionary sentiment in northern El Salvador is Jenny Pearce's Promised land (item bi 88003112), and the first serious history of the anti-guerrilla campaign is found in Manwaring's superb El Salvador at war: an oral history of the conflict (item bi 89005568). Finally a fine contribution to Costa Rica's labor movement is Donato and Rojas' Sindicatos, política, y economía, 1972-1986 (item bi 90009626).

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