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The Americas 61.2 (2004) 280-281



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What Justice? Whose Justice? Fighting for Fairness in Latin America. Edited by Susan Eva Eckstein and Timothy P. Wickham-Crowley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Pp. xiv, 362. Tables. Notes. Bibliographies. Index. $60.00 cloth; $24.95 paper.

This edited volume is a case where reading each chapter separately may provide more intellectual benefit than trying to fit all chapters into a common framework. Susan Eckstein and Timothy Wickam-Crowley try to do this in Chapter 1, but even this chapter is better read independently. Thus, readers will find well-written chapters that: critically evaluate the application of T. H. Marshall theory of rights evolution to Latin America; question the role of the judiciary in Chile's democratization; compare Latin American impeachment crises of the 1990s; criticize neoliberalism for contributing to the vicious cycle of inequality; discuss the conditions under which perpetrators' confessions advance the process of truth, justice, and reconciliation; explain Colombia's violence as caused by repeated pacts of impunity; analyze Porto Alegre's governance model of progressive pragmatism as an alternative to neoliberalism; explain how local communities in Ayacucho try to find their own solutions to meet basic needs and wants when government is unable or unwilling to do so; compare indigenous movements in Guatemala, Central Andes, and Chiapas in terms of the strategy of equality and the strategy of difference; and, finally, explore the forces that shape memory among the inhabitants of a remote village in the Ixcán region of Guatemala.

From the Preface and Chapter 1, a reader would expect an edited volume explaining how different groups perceive justice (their justice narratives) in Latin America, how such perceptions are transformed into political action, how their perceptions and political practices are affected by institutional factors, and the effects of justice-driven political mobilization. The volume's chapters, however, do not explicitly address these issues. It would have been helpful if Eckstein and Wickam-Crowley discussed the different conceptions of justice now driving political mobilization [End Page 280] in Latin America. The closest is John Peeler's discussion of the two types of social justice developed by indigenous peoples: social justice as equality among citizens and social justice as recognition of difference. However, even in Peeler's case it is not clear the extent to which indigenous peoples' mobilization was driven by cries for justice or by other motivations. For example, in the case of Peru, Peeler argues that the Shining Path was successful in mobilizing peasants because they "appeal to them as oppressed people" (p. 269). However, Peeler assumes a convergence of motivations between the Shining Path and the peasants that did not exist. The Shining Path was driven by ideology while peasants were more interested in practical matters (for example, protection and access to markets).

The editors assume that in Latin America the poor and weak are intensely active in the pursuit of (what they perceive to be) justice. The book as whole, however, leaves the opposite impression: structural injustice prevails. When people decide to mobilize politically they seem to have other motivations, stronger than justice. In cases where justice seems to be the driving motive, like in Argentina, Leigh Payne shows the contradictions between the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of truth. This chapter is helpful in showing different conceptions of justice (retributive justice and restorative justice), but in the end the author's assessment is not overly optimistic: "immunity facilitates truth while it precludes justice" (p. 178). Similarly, in Colombia, according to Marc Chernick, the cry for justice does not have too much appeal. There, people prefer the "regular granting of amnesties, without regard to larger questions of justice or historical accountability" (p. 187).

Although the editors promise "a better understanding of the concerns of the weak and the limits of current institutional politics" (p. xiii), the analysis is fundamentally deductive. In Latin America, one can assume highly active political mobilization because of its highly unequal economic, social, and political structures. However, an interesting question that would have fit nicely with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6247
Print ISSN
0003-1615
Pages
pp. 280-281
Launched on MUSE
2004-10-29
Open Access
No
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