Latin American Research Review 40.1 (2005) 237-250
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Representation and Rights:
Recent Scholarship on Social Movements in Latin America
Shannan L. Mattiace
More than a decade ago in an edited volume on popular movements and political change in Mexico, Joe Foweraker argued that the social movement literature was dogged by definitional squabbles and overlooked the links between and among movements and state structure (Foweraker 1990, 3). While this was true of a previous generation of social movement scholarship, it cannot be said of the five works under review. These authors are centrally concerned with describing the interaction between and among movements and the state in the current context of neoliberalism and democracy in Latin America, leaving aside the definitional questions (e.g., old or new, class or identity-based) that preoccupied social movement scholars in the past. While dozens of countries across the continent formally made the transition to democracy and adopted neoliberal policy programs in the 1980s and 1990s, the quality of these democracies and the impact of the "reforms" differed [End Page 237] significantly from country to country and region to region. By examining social movements at a variety of levels (transnational, national, regional, and local), these authors challenge those who view "neoliberalism," "globalization," and "democracy" as undifferentiated and uniform phenomena. The works under review flesh out the different ways that "globalization" is shaping social movement activity. Examining these five books as a whole, two broad themes emerge: group choices about how to best represent themselves, and people's understanding of their rights.
All five of the works examine indigenous social movements and ethnic-based rights. Susan Eckstein and Timothy Wickham-Crowley's volume provides the broadest treatment of social movements and social rights, including chapters on subsistence, labor, gender, and ethnic and race-based rights. The other four works deal squarely with indigenous social movements. Both Amalia Pallares and Allen Gerlach focus exclusively on Ecuador. In David Maybury-Lewis's edited volume, authors examine indigenous movements throughout the continent, covering nine country cases in all. Kay Warren and Jean Jackson's volume includes chapters on Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil.
Certainly, Indian movements are not the only social movements of import in the continent, but they have become an important catalyst for social movement activity, often unifying a range of organizations around common goals. The national Indian movement in Ecuador, represented by the Confederation of Indian Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), is one of the best examples of this phenomenon. CONAIE was at the helm of nation-wide mobilizations in 1990, 1992, 1997, and 2000 that pressured the government to take action on a range of demands, including opposition to the privatization of public utilities, the increase in gasoline prices, and structural adjustment policies (e.g., dollarization of the economy in 2000). CONAIE's demands have struck a powerful chord among Indian and non-Indian progressive organizations in Ecuador. Similarly, in Mexico, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) has been at the forefront of that country's anti-globalization protests, providing a space where activists from different social movements (e.g., peasants, debtors, students, human rights activists, etc.) have come together in opposition to the North American...