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  • The Politics of ImpunityThe Cold War, State Terror, Trauma, Trials and Reparations in Argentina and Chile
  • Silvia Borzutzky (bio)
The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas. By Lesley Gill . (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Pp. 304. $69.95 cloth, $19.95 paper.)
Políticas de Reparación: Chile 1990–2004. By Elizabeth Lira and Brian Loveman . (Santiago: LOM Ediciones, 2005. Pp. 550.)
Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina. By Antonius C. G. M. Robben . (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Pp. 480. $55.00 cloth.)
The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights. By Naomi Roht-Arriaza . (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Pp. 272. $55.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.)
Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America. By Kathryn Sikkink . (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004. Pp. 288. $29.95 cloth.)


I have had the pleasure of reading an outstanding set of books on a critically important topic. As a group, these books expand our notions of human rights because they deal with the political and ideological sources of human rights abuses, the consequences of the abuses for individuals and societies, and the progress made in the last decade as trials against abusers are finally taking place.

Latin American societies have been struggling with the establishment of democratic institutions and the protection of individual rights since they won their independence. It is clear that lack of democracy resulted in a persistent pattern of human rights abuses and that the Cold War created a set of circumstances that intensified that pattern of abuse. What is particularly disturbing is that human rights abuses were equally prevalent in countries that had already made substantial progress toward democracy as they were in countries that lacked a democratic tradition. [End Page 167]

The books reviewed here deal with human rights issues at three different analytical levels: the international system, domestic politics, and the individual. In the following pages, I frame the international-level analysis around how the Cold War contributed to the establishment of abusive regimes in Latin America. The notion of impunity provides the domestic analytical framework used to explain the behavior of the Latin American military. And finally, because repression is ultimately geared to transform the mind of a society, there is also a need to look at the psychological effects that these policies have had on the societies and individuals affected by the abuses. Here the critical issue is the effects of repression on the self.

U.S. Policies: Clear or Mixed Signals?

Lesley Gill's The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas is an ambitious book that provides the reader with a thorough analysis of the School of the Americas (SOA), and the effects of the SOA's training on the trainees and on two Andean communities. The book concludes with an analysis of the social movements that have called for the elimination of the school. The central themes of the book are imperialism and impunity; the SOA occupies a central place in the promotion of both because it is the place where one sees the empire in action. The SOA provides the stage on which the United States trains and molds the Latin American military, which in turn is in charge of promoting U.S. interests in the region.

Lesley Gill tells us how the United States trains and sets the agenda for the Latin American military, on whom it depends for the maintenance of the empire. She is also interested in finding out how the SOA's training influences the careers of Latin American officers and soldiers and how the United States influences their geopolitical understanding and their attitudes toward insurgency movements in their countries. Moreover, she discusses how the SOA's training, which is aimed at creating order, results in more disorder and more need for military training. Finally, she discusses the role U.S. social movements played in what the school does and teaches.

Like other imperial relations, the relationship between the United States and the foreign military is highly unequal, and the United States is able to propagate beliefs about professionalism, human rights, just wars, and...


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