- Left in Transformation: Uruguayan Exiles and the Latin American Human Rights Networks, 1967-1984
Vania Markarian argues that much of the literature on human rights ignores the politics of the individuals and organizations that made up this movement, just as it tends to overlook the role that individual exiles played in defining the politics of the human rights work. To correct this weakness, Markarian has written an absorbing study of the Uruguayan Left from the 1960s to the 1980s, focusing on its connections [End Page 687] to, interpretations of, and use of the language and networks of the human rights movements. Her book simultaneously offers the reader a cogent picture of recent Uruguayan history, an in-depth appraisal of the changing politics and experiences of the Uruguayan Left, and a clear description of the connections and contradictions between and among different Uruguayan leftists and the human rights movement.
Markarian's examination of a variety of writings by and interviews with members of the Uruguayan Left reveals that the relationship between the Left and the human rights movement was highly complex and evolving. The experience of dictatorship and the torture and repression that the military inflicted on thousands of Uruguayans, combined with the Left's recognition and internalization of its own political and military defeat and subsequent exile, had a profound impact on the Left's vision of itself and the importance it accorded to individual and personal liberty. Steeped in the Marxist tradition that prioritized the collective and an ethos of self-sacrifice, most of the Uruguayan Left had associated individual liberty with individualism and a bourgeois value system. Faced with the military's widespread use of torture and its attempt to destroy the individual, the Left initially responded with a politics of heroism based, in large part, on a masculine definition of resistance. However, as Markarian clearly shows, the exaltation of the heroic individual resisting barbaric torture for the good of the collective gradually gave way to a recognition of the need to denounce human rights violations and further the cause of individual rights. The weakness of the Left, contacts with the transnational human rights movement, and the changing politics of the Left on a global level engendered the transformation of the Uruguayan Left, which emerged from the period of dictatorship with an enhanced appreciation of human rights and deeper ties to the international human rights movement.
Markarian makes a point of focusing on the individual Uruguayan exiles who led the movement for human rights and restoration of democracy. This focus is both a strength and weakness of her study. Certainly, the work of individuals was instrumental in redefining the Uruguayan Left's politics and practice on the issue of human rights. And it is true that often the role played by these individuals is lost in more general discussions of organizations and institutions. At the same time, I would have liked a clearer sense of how the exile communities related to the work around human rights, what networks they built with each other and with other organizations, and what political work they engaged in on a local level. One other drawback is that Markarian's emphasis on the individual leader resulted in a discussion of what men did, since apparently the public face of the Uruguayan Left in exile and inside Uruguay was male. I wonder what women exiles did and thought, and how they contributed to the changing politics and human rights movement during this period.
My concerns should not overshadow the enormous strengths of this book. It provides an incisive description of recent Uruguayan history, a penetrating analysis of the changes that the Uruguayan Left underwent, and a provocative discussion of the [End Page 688] transnational human rights movement. Markarian writes a fascinating study of how the Uruguayan Left and the human rights movement worked together, drawing on specific and well-researched examples. For example, she shows, in just the right amount of detail, why members of the Uruguayan Left were able...