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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 165-167
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Reconstructing Criminality in Latin America
Reconstructing Criminality in Latin America. Edited by CARLOS A. AGUIRRE and ROBERT BUFFINGTON. Jaguar Books on Latin America, no. 19 . Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2000 . Notes. Bibliography. xix, 254 pp. Cloth, $55 .00 . Paper, $19 .95 .
This volume brings together an effectual and lively collection of articles on crime, criminality, and law enforcement in Latin America, with case studies set in five different nations from the late eighteenth century to contemporary times. While three of the ten broad-ranging essays have been previously published, most are original essays produced with the theme of "reconstructing criminality" in mind. Like most collections, cohesion around the controlling theme is a problem at times, but in this case, I feel the volume's eclecticism strengthens its appeal and utility.
Robert Buffington introduces the volume with a thought provoking comparison of Michel Foucault's and Jürgen Habermas's approaches to criminality and authority as a theoretical matrix in which he situates the approaches of different essays to bring more cohesion to the volume. The reader should not assume, however, that each author takes up a clear position in relation to these two theorists' ideas. Another way that one might situate the approaches of the contributors to this volume is the manner in which they envision the relation between the law, law enforcement, and political authority. Two essays in the volume explore how law and law enforcement practices came to define criminal behavior. Thomas Holloway and Laura Kalmanowiecki provide intriguing analyses of the development of policing practices in Brazil and Argentina respectively. Holloway emphasizes that law enforcement on the streets of Rio de Janeiro in the 1800 s punished both behaviors that were legally proscribed as well as those that the police considered unacceptable. Kalmanowieki stresses the political ties to incumbent parties that shaped what police defined as criminal in Buenos Aires. In both cases, the police often defined political opposition to incumbent leaders as criminal activity.
In a similar vein, but from a different angle, Ricardo Salvatore shows that the most commonly recorded crimes committed by rural Argentines in the Rosas era were not offenses against property or individuals, but against the state. The most prevalent rural crime in Buenos Aires province boiled down to resistance to military impressment. Salvatore convincingly argues that this evidence belies Unitarist characterizations of the inherently violent "nature" of the rustic Argentines, a view subsequently adopted by many historians of the Campaña. Instead, most recorded crime marked a dispute between authorities' views of an ordinary citizen's duty to the state and the campesinos' attempts to resist what they saw as abuses of their traditional rights by government officials and powerful ranchers. Likewise, Richard Warren demonstrates how Conservatives and Liberals in early Republican Mexico City exploited ill-defined vagrancy laws to demobilize and to punish poor [End Page 165] men with coercive military service in most instances. Thus, "criminals" ironically became agents of the state. Taken as a group, these four essays stress how authorities and powerful patriarchs used police forces and the military to defend the interests of incumbents and their supporters. Common citizens often came to see the police and criminal justice as partisan defenders of powerful interests instead of an impartial tool of normative law enforcement. These studies complement and provide an important historical prelude to Martha Huggins's Political Policing: The United States and Latin America (1998 ). Huggins's pathbreaking book examines how the expansion of U.S. security concerns in the form of "professional" police missions to Latin American governments came to encourage a style of law enforcement that defined most members of political opposition to an incumbent government as subversive "criminals." Like Warren and Salvatorre, Huggins points to the connections between police and military forces, a relationship that deserves more attention in the historical research on crime, policing, and state building.
Arguing against the grain of the essays noted above, Michael Scardaville asserts that Spanish lower court reforms in Bourbon Mexico City brought legitimacy to colonial authorities...