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Volume 53 / Social Sciences


JOSE Z. GARCIA, Associate Professor of Political Science, New Mexico State University

MOST OF THE WORKS REVIEWED for this chapter and volume were written during a period of significant political change in much of the region. In Nicaragua, the Contra wars were winding down and elections ended Sandinista rule. In El Salvador, as the tides of war were turning against the guerrillas, the murder of several Jesuit priests by the armed forces heightened international pressures for the government to negotiate a settlement: both sides in the civil war thus were forced to confront the tricky issue of bargaining for peace. In Panama, an invasion ended the Noriega dictatorship. In Honduras, the lessening of regional hostilities modified domestic tensions brought about by the controversial use of Honduran territory for various actors engaged in the hostilities in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In Guatemala, elections ended Christian Democratic rule and negotiations with guerrillas began. Only in Belize and Costa Rica, relatively unaffected by the turmoil in the region, could political life be characterized as a continuation of the 1980s.

Although these political themes were treated in journals and books, they did not necessarily dominate the literature. For example, few works have appeared that deal with the latter part of the Contra experience; most, like Rooper's Fragile victory (item bi 92017635), deal with the early stages of the war, often from the Sandinista point of view. On the other hand, Nicaragua's 1990 elections and early aftermath have been covered extensively, often from a "what when wrong" (with the Sandinista revolution) perspective: among the best in this vein are Pérez's "The FSLN after the Debacle" (item bi 93001617), Stahler-Sholk's "Stabilization, Destabilization, and the Popular Classes in Nicaragua" (item bi 91006198), Vargas' Adónde va Nicaragua (item bi 92017646), Vilas, Vickers and O'Kane's "Nicaragua: Haunted by the Past" (item bi 91006451), and Velázquez's "El Desmantelamiento del Sector Privado en Nicaragua" (item bi 91005349).

Other research on Nicaragua was more evenly split than before, along the left-right faultlines that developed during the 1980s. For example, keen insight and disillusionment with the multiple forces and allies of the right can be gleaned from the superb memoirs of Arturo Cruz, Jr., who left the Sandinistas, joined the Contras, and worked with the CIA during the 1980s (item bi 91009576); on the left a parallel, but not as profound, disillusion can be seen in Vilas' excellent State, class, and ethnicity in Nicaragua (item bi 91009614), which places the ethnic troubles the Sandinistas faced on the Atlantic Coast in historical perspective.

In El Salvador, human rights abuses continued to receive more attention than, say, the peace process, although a few works began to appear dealing with the ending of the war. The most comprehensive work on human rights reviewed here was Goldston's A year of reckoning (item bi 92017672), written under the auspices of Human Rights Watch. The Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas' Human Rights Institute continued its valuable documentation each year, providing a consistent time series (item bi 91009625). The deaths of the Jesuit priests inspired several works, among the best of which are Rodolfo Cardenal's eloquent "Ser Jesuita Hoy en El Salvador" (item bi 91006213), and the moving article by theologian Jon Sobrino in Testigos de la verdad (item bi 92017676). One reason the early part of the politics of the Salvadoran peace process did not receive much analytical attention is that the persons most likely to have written about it at the time - Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín Baró, and Ignacio Ellacuría - were among the Jesuit priests murdered in late 1989, during a well-publicized guerrilla offensive perhaps most comprehensively covered in a coyuntura piece written by Preston in the NY Review of Books (item bi 91005168).

After the deaths of the Jesuits, the right dominated the coverage of the peace process, with several articles placed in a relatively new journal, Análisis. One of the best of these was Grande's "Estrategia de Diálogo-Negociación del FMLN" (item bi 93000591), while Sermeño's "La Guerra en el Segundo Año del Gobierno de ARENA" (item bi 92018727) in the Jesuit-run Estudios Centroamericanos is representative of a more leftist perspective.

Although many works about the Panama invasion itself (e.g., the role of the US Southern Command in Panama, the pro-Noriega and anti-Noriega political equation, the military operation, etc.) have not yet reached the shelf, the Noriega period inspired excellent works by journalists and novelists such as Koster and Sánchez (item bi 92017636), Buckley (item bi 92017637), and Guillermoprieto (item bi 93000872). These provide extraordinarily rich context and flavor to a subject that has not really been tackled by the academic community, except for Ropp's superb analysis of the reasons for Noriega's long survival in power (item bi 93001828).

In comparison with Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Panama, the other countries have received much less written attention. Three excellent works on Honduras help place the democratic transition there in perspective: Hernández's Solidarismo y sindicalismo en Honduras (item bi 92017664), Ochoa and Molina's "Crisis Política y Coyuntura Electoral en Honduras" (item bi 91006433), and Posas' Modalidades del proceso de democratización en Honduras (item bi 92017644). For Guatemala, by far the best English-language work reviewed here is Ebel's article, "When Indians Take Power" (item bi 92016702), a microstudy about a small village. In Spanish, Más de 100 años del movimiento obrero urbano en Guatemala (item bi 92017671) is a major contribution. Human rights and general works about the Vinicio Cerezo presidency round out the slim coverage on Guatemala, a country that has experienced a long guerrilla war that has yet to be carefully studied. Writing on Belize is improving, with very different overviews of the political system written by Fernández (item bi 92017661) and Shoman (item bi 92017662).
Costa Rica has been experiencing something of a renaissance of thought about just how democratic the country is, and major debate is being waged on whether the global trend toward neoliberal economic policy will threaten democracy there. Costa Rica: la democracia inconclusa (item bi 92017655), Mitos y realidades de la democracia en Costa Rica (item bi 92017649), and Porvenir de la democracia costarricense (item bi 92017640) are good examples of this literature. Important reinterpretations of the significance of the late 1940s for the current political system can be found in articles by Lehoucq (item bi 91006012) and Salom Echeverría (item bi 92017643).

Continuing a trend begun during the early 1980s, only a few works were truly comparative or covered the region as a whole. By far the best of these was Beverley and Zimmerman's Literature and politics in the Central American revolutions (item bi 91009612) which adds a new, more human, dimension to our understanding of the left in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and reminds us that in Central America, poetry and political rebellion have been intertwined for much of the century; contemporary poets/guerrillas continue a long tradition. Except for that volume, virtually no comparative studies of Central American countries were published, and of the edited volumes dealing with the region, few contain new insights or perspectives; most are mere updates.

As elections continue to gain respect in Central America, more scholarly and journalistic attention is being paid to political parties. Indeed, studies of parties can be found for each country among the works reviewed for this volume. Fine examples of these are Shoman's Party politics in Belize (item bi 92017662); Salom Echeverría's Los orígenes del Partido Liberación Nacional y la socialdemocracia for Costa Rica (item bi 92017643); Saballos' Mis preguntas: elecciones 90 for Nicaragua (item bi 92017660); Posas' Modalidades del proceso de democratización en Honduras (item bi 92017644); Materno Vásquez's "El Rol de los Partidos Políticos como Formadores de la Voluntad Popular" for Panama (item bi 92015763); ASIES' Los partidos políticos y la transición a la democracia for Guatemala (item bi 92017677); and Gaspar's El Salvador: el ascenso de la nueva derecha (item bi 92017682).

With the appearance of Más de 100 años del movimiento obrero urbano en Guatemala (item bi 92017671) and Phillipps Collazos' Labor and politics in Panama: the Torrijos years (item bi 91022137), there is now a literature on the development of labor unions in each country in Central America, making the comparative study of regional labor politics during the past two decades more feasible than before.

As first noted in HLAS 51, the right has continued to publish, and scholars are now beginning to tackle the emergence of the right in Central America as a phenomenon to be explained, analyzed, and monitored. By far the best two works on this subject were Gaspar's excellent El Salvador: el ascenso de la nueva derecha (item bi 92017682) and Mario Lungo's El Salvador en los 80: contrainsurgencia y revolución (item bi 92017653). Mitos y realidades (item bi 92017649) contains useful material for Costa Rica, and Héctor Castro's work on decentralization of the Guatemalan State under Cerezo (item bi 91006576), Hernández's Solidarismo y sindicalismo en Honduras (item bi 92017664), and Blakemore's Voices against the State: Nicaraguan opposition to the FSLN (item bi 91009619) are other works that deal with the right.

On the left, this biennium reflects a continuation of work in progress by some authors (e.g., see Posas' book on Honduras or Walker's edited book on Nicaragua), and a lull in publication by others, as writers sort out the significance of global and regional trends. The first postmodern critiques have appeared, such as Erbsen de Maldonado's "Tendencias del Desarrollo Político de América Latina en la Post-Modernidad: un Enfoque desde Centro América" (item bi 93002812) and an article in Rojas Bolaños' book on Costa Rica (item bi 92017655). It is unclear from the works under review what direction the left - which has dominated writings on government and politics in Central America for decades - will take in the future.

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