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Central America in the New Millennium

Central America in the New Millennium: Living Transition and Reimagining Democracy

Jennifer L. Burrell
Ellen Moodie
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Central America in the New Millennium
    Book Description:

    Most non-Central Americans think of the narrow neck between Mexico and Colombia in terms of dramatic past revolutions and lauded peace agreements, or sensational problems of gang violence and natural disasters. In this volume, the contributors examine regional circumstances within frames of democratization and neoliberalism, as they shape lived experiences of transition. The authors-anthropologists and social scientists from the United States, Europe, and Central America-argue that the process of regions and nations "disappearing" (being erased from geopolitical notice) is integral to upholding a new, post-Cold War world order-and that a new framework for examining political processes must be accessible, socially collaborative, and in dialogue with the lived processes of suffering and struggle engaged by people in Central America and the world in the name of democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-753-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. List of Figures, Maps, and Tables
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Introduction: Ethnographic Visions of Millennial Central America
    (pp. 1-30)
    Jennifer L. Burrell and Ellen Moodie

    It used to be that the isthmus between Mexico and Colombia was a place to watch. Some thirty years ago, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala regularly burst onto world headlines. Central America had become a space of urgent geopolitical consequence, much as Vietnam had formed a significant historical node more than a decade earlier, or as Afghanistan and Iraq became a critical global focus more than a decade later. Central American voices resisting what Salvadoran poet Claribel Alegría (1988) called the “crude realities” that inundate the region were part of the internationally massmediated everyday. In this book we return to...

  7. Part I: Imagining Democracy after the Cold War

    • 1 Contradiction and Struggle under the Leftist Phoenix: Rural Nicaragua at the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Revolution
      (pp. 33-48)
      Rosario Montoya

      After sixteen years of neoliberal rule, in January 2007 Daniel Ortega, head of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), took power as president of Nicaragua. Ortega’s return to office, vowing to enact the “second phase of the [Sandinista] revolution,” challenged Nicaragua’s disappearance from the global media as a site of struggle in the aftermath of the Sandinista Revolution (1979–1990). It also complicated images of the country peddled over the previous decade by Nicaraguan governments and the tourism industry as a modern liberal democracy, free of its atavistic revolutionary past, offering opportunities for investment, surf and adventure, and a...

    • 2 The Violence of Cold War Polarities and the Fostering of Hope: The 2009 Elections in Postwar El Salvador
      (pp. 49-63)
      Ainhoa Montoya

      Many Salvadorans do not vote. Abstention has been high since the late 1980s, with only the 1994 elections surpassing a 50 percent turnout (Artiga-González 2004). After the 1994 elections, popularly known as the “elections of the century” for inaugurating El Salvador’s democracy (Cruz 1998), voter turnout fell once again. This decreasing turnout has been interpreted as a symptom of disillusionment with the postwar era and lack of confidence in prospects for peace (Cruz 1998; 2001). The Chapultepec Peace Accords, and the “transition” that followed, focused on political and institutional reforms, neglecting the problems of economic inequality and human rights at...

    • 3 Daring to Hope in the Midst of Despair: The Agrarian Question within the Anti-Coup Resistance Movement in Honduras
      (pp. 64-79)
      Jefferson C. Boyer and Wilfredo Cardona Peñalva

      The military coup d’état that ousted President José Manuel Zelaya on 28 June 2009 has generated an unprecedented process of political discernment, polarization, and realignment among Hondurans. Protests and marches have involved thousands of citizens. Leaders and the members of the anti-coup resistance quickly began looking across occupational, class, and ethnic lines in ways that echoed the heady days of labor and peasant organizing of the era between the 1950s and 1970s. Coup supporters behind the interim government of Roberto Micheletti and the November 2009 election of conservative Por-firio Lobo have been forced to take public positions previously kept private....

    • 4 “My Heart Says NO”: Political Experiences of the Struggle against CAFTA-DR in Costa Rica
      (pp. 80-95)
      Ciska Raventós

      Thirty years ago, during the revolutionary crisis in Central America, Costa Rica managed to remain relatively unaffected by the popular insurgency that toppled the Somoza regime in Nicaragua and threatened the Salvadoran government. This does not mean that it emerged untouched, though the results were very different from its Central American neighbors.

      In June 1982, shortly after taking office, Costa Rica’s President Luis Alberto Monge traveled to Washington, DC, accompanied by a bipartisan committee, to meet with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Congressional Foreign Relations Committee. Motivated by the severity of the debt crisis that had led the country...

    • 5 Democracy, Disenchantment, and the Future in El Salvador
      (pp. 96-112)
      Ellen Moodie

      What happens to desires for democracy when violence and corruption continue after a war ends? By many counts violence increased in El Salvador after the 1992 Peace Accords. Within three years, the country’s murder rate placed El Salvador as the most violent in Latin America, globally second only to South Africa (Cruz and González 1997a).¹ The phrase “It’s worse than the war” circulated across the capital city of San Salvador throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.

      Just what “it” was was not clear. People’s fears overflowed quantifiable entities. They often focused on unseen dangers—on dread in daily navigation...

  8. Part II: Indigeneity, Race and Human Rights in the (Post) Multicultural Moment

    • 6 Cuando Nos Internacionalizamos: Human Rights and Other Universals at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
      (pp. 115-130)
      Baron Pineda

      Since World War II, human rights have emerged as a multi-faceted idiom of politics with particular resonance for indigenous activists and communities in Central America. The United Nations has been the main institutional patron for human rights declarations, treaties, and conventions, the most prominent among them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. In the last thirty years, indigenous peoples in Latin America have become increasingly active in this milieu, casting and recasting their struggles forreivindicación(redress of grievances) within human rights discourse. This trend has caught the attention of many scholars (Brysk...

    • 7 Acknowledging Racism and State Transformation in Postwar Guatemalan Society
      (pp. 131-145)
      Claudia Dary Fuentes

      During the last ten years several political events have forced Guatemalans to publicly discuss the nature of interethnic relations, discrimination, and racism. Not only has there been a discussion of racism, but also specific state bureaus have been opened to address cases of alleged racism and discrimination.¹ This was absolutely unthinkable ten or fifteen years ago. None of this would have been possible without the political spaces that were opened after signing the Peace Accords in 1996, and without the encouragement and observance of international organizations. Of course, Maya organizations and other civil society initiatives have also played an important...

    • 8 Ephemeral Rights and Securitized Lives: Migration, Mareros, and Power in Millennial Guatemala
      (pp. 146-160)
      Jennifer L. Burrell

      In early 1998, when the rain ceased and the brisk, cloudless winter sky of the Cuchumatanes mountain range in northwestern Guatemala lit up like a planetarium with its vast spectrum of stars, I was sitting on a rooftop, enchanted by the glorious display. I was living dangerously that night, hanging out with the so-calledmarero(gang member) Alfonso, a nephew of my landlords.¹ He was, at the time, public enemy number one in the town of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, having recently survived a lynching attempt provoked by the mayor. But, like me, he loved the stars on nights like this...

  9. Part III: Dominant, Residual, and Emergent Economic Strategies

    • 9 Honduras’s Smallholder Coffee Farmers, the Coffee Crisis, and Neoliberal Policy: Disjunctures in Knowledge and Conundrums for Development
      (pp. 163-180)
      Catherine Tucker

      When the coffee crisis sent prices plunging in late 1999, José Maldonado¹ was one of thousands of coffee producers in Honduras who had to make tough decisions as his main source of income declined precipitously. José had three children, his wife Eva was pregnant, and he was supporting his widowed mother. They lived in a two-room adobe house with a dirt floor. He had no debts, but no savings. Besides one hectare in coffee, he had a hectare to grow maize and beans for household consumption, and several hectares of forested land. During the coffee crisis, José cut back on...

    • 10 Maya Handicraft Vendors’ CAFTA-DR Discourses: “Free Trade Is Not for Everyone in Guatemala”
      (pp. 181-195)
      Walter E. Little

      Stephen Gudeman and Alberto Rivera (1990, 1) begin their monograph about peasant household economics stating, “Good conversations have no ending, and often no beginning. They have participants and listeners, but belong to no one, nor to history.” They note that they came to realize they had joined an ongoing conversation operating on multiple levels with diverse participants, and that it bridged both verbal and textual domains. In 1994, I joined such an economic conversation—not based in the household but, rather, in the marketplace—that revolved around issues of free trade. It is a conversation in which I continue to...

    • 11 “Here the Campesino Is Dead”: Can Central America’s Smallholders Be Saved?
      (pp. 196-211)
      Sarah Lyon

      Central American farmers are currently struggling for their survival. In the introduction to this volume Jennifer Burrell and Ellen Moodie suggest that Central America as a region has been systematically erased from geopolitical significance as a result of processes associated with neoliberal democratization. Similarly, Central American farmers are being “disappeared” from the agendas of international funders and agricultural support programs in the wake of trade liberalization and capitalist transformations. Emerging in the place of the international commodity agreements and technical and financial assistance, which characterized mid-to late-twentieth century rural development policies, are new market friendly approaches to development, such as...

    • 12 Certifying Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica: Environmental Governance and Accountability in a Transitional Era
      (pp. 212-226)
      Luis A. Vivanco

      At a medium-sized ecolodge just outside the village of Puerto Viejo on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, a typical visitor would spend the day hiking through rain forest, bird watching, wandering the beach, or visiting the nearby Bri Bri indigenous reserve. Visitors can also take a tour of the hotel’s environmentally sensitive facilities. But requests for it are unusual.

      Nevertheless, along with six others, I recently found myself evaluating the twenty-room ecolodge’s laundry facilities. We were conducting a mock sustainability audit, as participants in a workshop at the lodge on sustainable tourism certification and audits. Standards checklists in hand, we appreciated...

    • 13 Central America Comes to the “Cradle of Democracy”: Immigration and Neoliberalization in Williamsburg, Virginia
      (pp. 227-242)
      Jennifer Bickham Mendez

      It is 7:30 A.M. at the 7-Eleven®convenience store in historic Williamsburg, Virginia. The street is lined with motels, hotels, and chain restaurants that target the estimated four million tourists who visit the area each year. It is still early, but the convenience store has already been a site of bustling activity. Customers dressed in eighteenth century costumes compete with tourists sporting “patriot passes” clipped to their shirts to grab morning coffee before heading to Colonial Williamsburg where they will perform and observe a reenactment of the daily life of European “immigrants” in the colonial capital of Virginia. But others...

  10. Part IV: A Place on the Map:: Surviving on Pasts, Presents, and Futures

    • 14 Migration, Tourism, and Post-Insurgent Individuality in Northern Morazán, El Salvador
      (pp. 245-260)
      Leigh Binford

      This chapter analyzes social relations in northern Morazán, El Salvador, twenty years after Peace Accords ended a twelve-year-long civil war between the Salvadoran government (and its international allies) and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). I focus on the collective projects that arose during the war, products of an “insurgent individuality,” and go on to chronicle their demise in the postwar period of neoliberal political economy that leaves little space for progressive alternatives. Efforts on the part of former insurgents and their civilian supporters to establish agricultural collectives and organize production around local and regional needs collapsed as the...

    • 15 Intimate Encounters: Sex and Power in Nicaraguan Tourism
      (pp. 261-275)
      Florence E. Babb

      Central America has suffered historically from both overexposure and underexposure—by those set on influencing its economies and governance and by the global media. Nicaragua is a classic case, as a small nation that loomed large following the 1979 Sandinista revolutionary victory, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan viewed it as a threat in “our backyard.” Then the country fell out of international view after the U.S.-backed Contra War contributed to the 1990 Sandinista electoral loss. I first observed this mercurial global gaze in 1978, when as a graduate student I wrote a letter to my city paper decrying the media’s...

    • 16 Notes on Tourism, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Cultural Value in Honduras
      (pp. 276-292)
      Mark Anderson

      In 1999, World Bank president James Wolfonson asserted: “There are development dimensions of culture. Physical and expressive culture is an undervalued resource in developing countries. It can earn income, through tourism, crafts, and other cultural enterprises” (Yudice 2003, 13). This effort to promote culture as a source of value raises questions concerning neoliberalism and multiculturalism in contemporary Central America. Why does ethnic difference figure prominently in the marketing of nations as tourist destinations? How does tourism attempt to produce economic value out of culture and ethnicity? How do the bearers of valued “difference”—often indigenous or Afrodescendant peoples—engage the...

  11. References
    (pp. 293-314)
  12. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 315-318)
  13. Index
    (pp. 319-333)