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Volume 55 / Social Sciences


JAN L. FLORA, Professor of Sociology, Iowa State University

THE CENTRAL AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL LITERATURE of the early 1990s focuses on: 1) changes resulting from the end of guerrilla insurgencies on the isthmus (although in Guatemala, negotiations drag on) and the return of formal democracy to all countries of the region; 2) the effects of structural adjustment and lack of resources for reconstruction, including problems in provision of social services (especially in Nicaragua and El Salvador); 3) the reduction in the role and efficacy of the State, amd the subsequent growth of social and/or protest movements, evangelical and charismatic movements, and the so-called "new" social movements, with the latter by-passing the State altogether, since they view it as irrelevant; 4) the massive displacement and immigration occurring in the 1980s, and the repatriation of refugees which accelerated in the 1990s; and 5) deterioration of the environment, a major - and growing - problem for the area.

In matters related to the transition to democracy, Torres Rivas (items bi 92001408 and bi 92020304) argues that the shift from military to civilian rule in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in the first half of the 1980s and the Central American peace accords near the end of that decade afford the popular classes political legitimacy and at least a limited opportunity to organize their own space (see items bi 94001968, bi 91002715, and bi 93009166). Numerous discussions of agrarian policies, repression, and shifting relations between the military and the oligarchy in those countries and Panama appeared. The defeat of the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections caused a spate of studies. Authors offered various reasons: overzealous expansion of the "social wage" in the early part of Sandinista rule (item bi 91004810); industrial pricing and accumulation policy (item bi 92018304); mass organizations lacking in autonomy and linked to a State which became less and less able to deliver economically (items bi 95017924 and bi 95017923); contradictions between electoral pluralism and a Leninist vanguard party (item bi 93022650); and the failure of the basic grains program to reduce food costs for the urban population (items bi 90011833 and bi 91200585). A particularly important and well documented study is that of Enríquez and Llanes (item bi 93025045) who conclude from fieldwork in the countryside that peasants given land in the latter half of the Sandinista government in order to reduce the political base of the Contras were transformed into peasant capitalists who came to define their interests as fundamentally distinct from those of the FSLN.

Structural adjustments, the new global economy, and social movements had different impacts in various countries. Costa Rica, the only welfare state in the region, was the first to feel the strong effects of structural adjustment (items bi 94000064, bi 94003150, and bi 94000622). Protest movements developed in that nation to petition the State for redress (items bi 95017928, bi 91008224, and bi 93002706). In Panama, female-headed households were particularly hard hit by the debt crisis and structural adjustment (item bi 93004645). There, non-political Urban Neighborhood Organizations (OBUs) - one example of a "new" social movement - sprang up to deal with deteriorating services (item bi 94005139), while indigenous groups established their own geographic spaces and linkages with an international indigenous movement (item bi 90014601). Neighborhood self-help groups also developed in Tegucigalpa, Honduras (item bi 93006518). Regarding social policy during Sandinista rule, which included an FSLN-initiated "structural adjustment" in the late 1980s, a number of useful works assess the pluses and minuses in education (item bi 91009781), health care (item bi 94003148), housing and urban land policy (item bi 91013773 and bi 92019217), and the status of children (item bi 94003120) and women (item bi 93002074).

The countries with insurgencies were somewhat insulated from the changes in the global economy occurring throughout the 1980s. Movements in those countries were focused on changing power configurations, rather than simply affecting the distribution of goods and services. Peasant organizations in Guatemala such as the Comité de Unidad Campesina (item bi 93002071) and the land movement of Father Girón (item bi 93002130) engaged the State directly. On the other hand, the global economy manifested itself in Guatemala through the growth of the maquila industry. See La maquila en Guatemala (item bi 94003110) for an excellent critique of the limited impacts this form of multinational corporate involvement has on a nation's development.

From the many articles and books on evangelical protestantism, especially Pentecostalism, it is clear that there is concern among Central American intellectuals and others about this growing movement. Several of the treatises assess evangelical groups from a doctrinal perspective, concluding that their impact is conservative. Another suggests a good deal of diversity among evangelical groups (item bi 93022659). The most useful paper on the subject is by Aguilar et al., since it contains hard data (item bi 95017922). Analyzing surveys conducted in 1988-89 by Father Martín-Baró, the authors conclude that Protestants in El Salvador do not differ markedly from their Catholic counterparts in either level of political activism or degree of conservatism. In contrast, it appears that there is a small but influential, politically engaged group of upper-class charismatic Pentecostals in Guatemala with a right-wing agenda (item bi 93010100). There continues to be a good deal of analysis of the Catholic Church - oriented toward understanding the shift away from the Church of the Poor and the consolidation of an institutionalized pastoral model.

The other movement about which much was written in the early 1990s was that of women in organizations, particularly in Nicaragua. Conclusions included the following: 1) AMNLAE, the Sandinista women's organization, was hampered in its goal of articulating a women's agenda by the need to defend the FSLN (item bi 95015241); 2) competition between reproductive and community roles created conflicts with husbands (item bi 94002609); 3) although the Sandinista period opened spaces for women, it did not transform patriarchal structures (item bi 94003144); and 4) as the war wound down, there was a resurgence of traditional values (item bi 93004587). Furthermore, the extent of the Chamorro government's commitment of resources to implement existing legal equality is questioned (item bi 92010798). The most significant contribution on this topic is a multi-regional study of Nicaraguan peasant women's subordination which documents widespread physical abuse by husbands, suggesting that the Sandinista Revolution did not make much headway in transforming peasant men's gender consciousness (item bi 92001403). On the other hand, case studies of politically involved Nicaraguan and Guatemalan women indicated that through their political work they also became aware of gender issues (items bi 94006449, bi 93002095, and bi 93010107).

There are a number of works on migration, population, and ecology that should be noted. According to one observer, the massive population movements of the 1980s within Central America and to Mexico and the US are due to global economic changes, economic crises, and political conflict (item bi 91008220), a phenomenon reflected in numerous articles on migration and refugees. Topics include: adjustment in the US (item bi 94003124); patterns of rural to urban migration (items bi 93002116 and bi 94003138); problems and successes in repatriation (items bi 94003132, bi 92018699, bi 21000862, and bi 94003130); informality and undocumented workers (items bi 94003133, bi 93003654, and bi 91006016); and, in Belize, increasing ethnic tensions resulting from the in-migration of Spanish speakers (item bi 91005155). Finally, population pressures and expansion of capitalist agriculture have contributed to environmental degradation (items bi 93006517, bi 95017925, bi 95017920, and bi 95017411).

In additon to works explicitly mentioned above as seminal, one should note two additional publications worthy of special attention. Efforts by the Jesuits in El Salvador to bring about a "third force" - which actually came to fruition after the murder of Father Ellacuria and five others - is documented in a collection of their writings (item bi 93002114). In another important document, also written by a Jesuit, Ricardo Falla carefully documents the Ixcan massacres under Gen. Ríos Montt in Guatemala through interviews with survivors in camps in Chiapas (item bi 94003128).

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