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  • Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America
  • Mark Peceny
Kathryn Sikkink , Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004. Tables, figures, notes, index, 288 pp.; hardcover $29.95.

Few scholars have argued as persuasively for the power of principled ideas and global civil society in shaping world politics as Kathryn Sikkink (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Risse et al. 1999). This excellent book provides yet another sophisticated and cogent analysis of how global networks of principled individuals and groups have changed the world. It demonstrates convincingly that the human rights transnational advocacy network played a crucial role in changing the foreign policy of the world's most powerful state and the human rights practices of states throughout the Americas.

This book lays out a simple yet powerful ideational argument. Political actors embrace human rights norms "because they believe in them" (p. 15). This embrace reflects, in part, the liberal and civic identities of the United States and its partners in the Americas. Principled actors, usually found outside the core institutions of the region's states, play the key role in transforming the potential inherent in these national identities into an active and positive commitment to promote and protect human rights. [End Page 189]

Thus, chapter 2 argues that the inclusion of strong human rights provisions in the founding of the U.N. system reflected a "pincer motion of pressure on the U.S. government from below (the NGO consultants) and from outside (the Latin American governments and New Zealand and Australia)" (p. 34). These groups could not have succeeded without allies in the U.S. government; but by the same token, human rights advocates in the government proved incapable of winning bureaucratic battles without the assistance of participants in the nascent transnational human rights network.

Chapter 3, which chronicles the reemergence of human rights policies in the United States during the 1970s, points once again to a network of Latin American human rights advocates and nongovernmental human rights groups based in the United States as the critical actors pushing to make human rights a central element of U.S. policy toward the Americas. These groups worked in close cooperation with like-minded members of Congress, which passed landmark human rights legislation in the early and mid-1970s. These changes were consolidated during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who shared with the NGO advocates a principled commitment to the promotion of human rights and appointed strong human rights advocates to important positions in the State Department. Even here, however, Sikkink emphasizes the importance of nongovernmental actors and Congress. Carter embraced human rights as a central component of his foreign policy platform only when it became clear that it would appeal to a range of human rights activists in the Democratic Party (pp. 74–75). Elements of the State Department became champions of human rights only after Congress had created new institutions and practices in that institution designed to focus on human rights issues (pp. 69–70, 185–89).

Sikkink examines critical junctures in the experiences of four states in the region––Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, and El Salvador––to assess the impact of U.S. policy on the human rights practices of Latin American states. Although the provision or denial of material resources based on these states' human rights practices is clearly a central part of the story, Sikkink emphasizes the importance of the clarity of the messages sent by U.S. policymakers on the issue of human rights. Carter's human rights polices had their greatest impact in a country like Argentina because the President, the State Department, and most other branches of the U.S. government spoke with one voice in criticizing the human rights record of the Argentine military junta and insisting that it improve its record if it desired more cordial relations with the United States (pp. 130–37). Sikkink buttresses this point with a thoughtful counterfactual analysis of how the political struggles in the military junta might have turned out differently in the absence of this external pressure. [End Page 190]

Similarly, once the Reagan administration began to insist consistently that the Pinochet regime improve its...


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pp. 189-194
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Archived 2007
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