- Human Rights in Latin America: A Politics of Terror and Hope
The human rights record of Latin America is decidedly mixed. Plagued by high levels of poverty and inequality, legal impunity, weak democratic institutions, and strong militaries, Latin America has experienced severe levels of human rights abuse. Human rights violations in the region have included torture, extrajudicial killing, forced disappearance, and political imprisonment. Individually and in tandem, authoritarian regimes in Latin America have used repression and state-sponsored terrorism in the name of political stability and national security. Human rights abuse in Latin America, until recently, had been considered among the worst in the developing world.1 The regional experience of human rights has been one of significant political terror; but Latin America is also home to powerful human rights organizations and precedent-setting efforts to secure justice and accountability for government human rights abuse. Indeed, Latin America has displayed extraordinary leadership in the development and proliferation of international human rights norms and institutions. Latin American countries played an important role in securing human rights language in the United Nations Charter, developed and ratified the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in early 1948 (preceding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and were at the forefront of efforts to ensure state accountability for human rights violations through the development of new human rights standards (protection from forced disappearance, the right to an identity) and the use of transitional justice mechanisms. There is a regional trend toward embracing human rights norms which has been aptly described as a "human rights norms cascade" in Latin America.2 Sonia Cardenas effectively captures this nuanced and complicated history of human rights in a simple but substantively rich introductory text book, Human Rights in Latin America: A Politics of Terror and Hope. Cardenas' text is an attempt to complicate simple understandings of human rights in Latin America by introducing students to the terror of human rights abuse, the hope of human rights reform, and the challenge of accountability through an examination of regional trends and cross-national dynamics.
Cardenas has written her text with two audiences in mind: undergraduate students of human rights and undergraduate students of Latin America. She makes [End Page 1032] human rights concepts accessible for students by examining them within the historical and geographic experience of Latin American countries. This approach reflects a principal goal of the book: to introduce students to the systematic tools and methods for studying human rights while simultaneously introducing them to the lived experience of victims and survivors of human rights abuse. Cardenas invites her readers in "stepping back and getting up close— stepping back to identify key facts and trends, getting up close to hear personal experiences of abuse.3" As a result, the book combines quantitative analysis of human rights trends with qualitative research on the origins of abuse and the dynamics of political reform with personal narratives of survival and official documentation of repression and redress. Cardenas' text is a welcome effort at combining different literatures, analytical approaches and narrative styles, providing students with a rich and multilayered experience of human rights in both principle and practice. Cardenas achieves this by including "Up-Close" text boxes of first-hand accounts and primary documents that function as mini-case studies throughout her scholarly analysis.4
This dual approach cleverly introduces students to the broad content of human rights, perpetrators of abuse, and tools of human rights change. While the book necessarily focuses its analysis narrowly on the violation of physical integrity rights that have plagued Latin America (freedom from torture, extrajudicial execution, forced disappearance, and political imprisonment), it succeeds in introducing students to human rights issues that overlap, but push beyond these particular political and civil rights, hinting at the broad, interconnected, and interdependent character of all human rights. Using "up close" text boxes, Cardenas exposes her readers to diverse human rights issues including femicide, disability rights, sexual orientation rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, and the rights...