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Latin American Research Review 40.1 (2005) 251-267

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Shades of Peace and Democracy:

Social Discontent and Reconciliation in Central America*

University of Southern Maine
Terror In the Countryside: Campesino Responses to Political Violence in Guatemala, 1954-1985. By Rachel May. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001. Pp. 234. $26.00 paper.)
Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution. By Matilde Zimmermann. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000. Pp. 288. $54.95 cloth, $18.95 paper.)
The Real Contra War: Highlander Peasant Resistance In Nicaragua. By Timothy C. Brown. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. Pp. 321. $29.95 cloth.)
Moral Victories: How Activists Provoke Multilateral Action. By Susan Burgerman. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001. Pp. 186. $29.95 cloth.)
Globalization On The Ground: Postbellum Guatemalan Democracy and Development. Edited by Christopher Chase-Dunn, Nelson Amaro, and Susanne Jonas. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001. Pp. 254. $72.00 cloth, $26.95 paper.)
Repression, Resistance, and Democratic Transition in Central America. Edited by Thomas W. Walker and Ariel C. Armony. (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2000. Pp. 301. $60.00 cloth, $22.95 paper.)

After traversing the twenty-kilometer road that leads from the Pan American highway up into the central highland town of San Juan Comalapa in Guatemala, one of the first breaks from the verdant scenery is a mural painted on the cemetery walls. In 2002, teachers, artists, students and other community members sketched and painted the history of their town and people; the result stands as a testament to Mayan resistance. For the recent past, it depicts Guatemala's civil war, the poverty [End Page 251] and racism that were among its causes, and Maya-Kaqchikel responses to violence and economic injustice. Because it would have elicited harsh and probably fatal retribution, a mural with such stark political and historical overtones in a Mayan community was unimaginable just ten years ago. Yet members of this community felt safe enough to engage in a public expression of the past and chart a course for a more peaceful and inclusive future. Like these Mayan activists, Western scholars also benefited from the cessation of state-sponsored (both domestic and foreign) violence and armed insurrection in Central America.

Since the 1970s, the diverse range of Central America's political processes—democracy, military rule (with varying degrees of repression), insurgency movements, genocide, revolution, foreign intervention and invasion—arguably has been unmatched by any other region in the world. Remarkably, by the 1990s, each nation's disparate experiences converged into democratic experiments and market-oriented economies. These monographs attempt to explain this shift with a particular focus on the potential for continued democratization and lasting peace in the region. The literature assessing the processes of social discontent and reconciliation in Central America continues to grow. Indeed, sparked by the 1979 victory of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN or Sandinistas), the Central American "crisis" garnered international attention in the 1980s and scholarly writing about the region exploded. The books under review here, which include chapters written by Central American experts who forged their reputations during the earlier period—Susanne Jonas, Thomas Walker, John Booth, Carlos Vilas, Kay Warren, Edelberto Torres-Rivas—build on that corpus of literature to deepen analysis of such topics as civil society, economic development, and democratization and pursue nascent research fields like human rights, transnational networks, and the peace processes of the 1990s. Their geographic focus is on the nations that held center stage in Central America's drama: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Rise of Insurgency

Ironically, the nation with perhaps the least "fertile soil for the proliferation of Left groups" (Zimmermann 2000, 166) was the only one where revolution prevailed. Matilde Zimmermann's Sandinista provides not just a thorough study of the FSLN's ideological and military leader Carlos Fonseca, but also (as all good biographies do) offers insight into the country's social and political history during her subject's lifetime. Zimmermann shows how Fonseca sought to channel and explain social discontent with the combination of two philosophies...


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