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Volume 53 / Social Sciences


PAUL H. LEWIS, Professor of Political Science, Tulane University

MILITARY REPRESSION AND THE FEAR of its recurrence loom large in recent literature from the Southern Cone. Many social scientists are concerned with the role of the armed forces in the new democracies and how to improve civil-military relations. Connected to this is a growing realization that these struggling democracies will have to succeed in their economic policies in order to survive.

In Argentina, the dramatic trials of former junta leaders produced a number of books, the best of which are those by Moncalvillo (item bi 90004679), Sancinetti (item bi 90004666), and the Rama Argentina de la Asociación Americana de Juristas (item bi 90004677). One frequent question is, how did Argentina, which always considered itself to be so civilized, fall under such a regime of terror? Answers are offered in a spate of books and articles that explore the country's culture and "psyche." Fraga's Ejército: del escarnio al poder (item bi 90010537) is absolutely essential for understanding the background to the 1976 coup and what followed, from the military's perspective. Hilb and Ollier, on the other hand, concentrate on the guerrilla movements (items bi 90004696 and HLAS 51:4988). Finally, on the subject of political culture, no observer is more original or insightful than Chafee (items bi 89003501 and bi 89004752).

Despite the terror, life went on under military rule. Groisman describes how the Supreme Court managed to function, albeit precariously (item bi 89001368); and Brunner shows how social scientists contrived to carry on their work under dangerous conditions (item bi 90004693). Both books deserve a thorough reading.

The transition to democracy is treated by several journalists, among whom Gabetta and Verbitsky (items bi 90010516, bi 90004674, and bi 90004680) stand out for sheer volume and pithy style. Manzetti and Dell'Aquila's study of the Austral Plan (item bi 89000724) portrays Alfonsín's Argentina in a gridlock of opposing pressure groups, while De Riz (item bi 90004655) and Dos Santos (item bi 90004652) show the futility of trying to achieve consensus. Labor unions have lost much of their former power (item bi 90010526), even under the peronist government of Carlos Menem, making him controversial even within his own party (items bi 90004671). By contrast, businessmen's pressure groups seem to have the upper hand. An excellent guide to them is provided by Acuña et al. (item bi 90012213).

Uruguay suffers from most of the same problems that Argentina does, but with a narrower economic base from which to tackle them. Uruguayans are just as fascinated and horrified by their recent military dictatorship: Caetano's Breve historia de la dictadura (item bi 90004683) and Uruguay: nunca más (item bi 90004663) are two good works for understanding that period. As in Argentina, the guerrillas must bear some of the blame for the institutional breakdown, but the Tupamaros are not penitent. Their proudly issued 1987 Actas Tupamaras describe their urban guerrilla tactics (item bi 90010525).

Uruguay also is more divided politically: in 1989 the conservative-nationalist Blanco Party won control of the national government while the leftist Frente Amplio took control of Montevideo's municipal government. Writers from both the right and left now see the traditional liberal welfare state, as well as the old two-party system of Blancos versus Colorados, as having run their respective courses. Neither side is optimistic about the future, however. Licio and Panizza agree that no government in the past 40 years has dared to really tackle the bureaucracy (item bi 91007436), and Torres Fierro considers the Frente Amplio's success in the capital as a sign of the urban classes' continued flight from reality (item bi 92013539). Pessimism seems to be in vogue in Uruguay.

By contrast, Paraguayans are enjoying more freedom than they have known in half a century. Thus, their recent literature is much more upbeat. Much of it attempts to analyze the process by which Gen. Stroessner's dictatorship broke down. The best acconts are those by Arditi (item bi 90012405), Carter (item bi 91007338), Lezcano (item bi 90004664), Masi (item bi 90004657), and Rivarola (item bi 91006063). There also is interest in tracing the roots of the stronato to the politics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Especially useful in that area are two scholarly articles by Abente (items bi 89002769 and bi 90010059) and a reprint of a two-volume work by Rogelio Urízar, a politician and cabinet minister of the early 1920s (item bi 90004670). To date, however, the politics of the post-Stroessner period still await a chronicler.

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