Charles D. Brockett: Political Movements and Violence in Central America

By North, Liisa L. | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Charles D. Brockett: Political Movements and Violence in Central America


North, Liisa L., Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


Charles D. Brockett Political Movements and Violence in Central America New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, xxi + 379 pp.

Political Movements and Violence in Central America will become one of the classic works that all scholars of the region's politics during the second half of the 20th century will want to consult. The book focuses on El Salvador and Guatemala but sets these countries into the broader regional context with comparative sections that refer to contrasting or similar developments in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

In explaining the ups and downs of the emergence, growth, decline, and reappearance of peaceful and revolutionary social movements, Brockett deals systematically with the full repertory of theories that have been elaborated over the past two to three decades concerning the role of both long-standing and new grievances, political consciousness, political opportunities, and even the intensity of individual and group emotional commitment in spurring and sustaining protest activity. He also addresses the repression-protest paradox (that is, does repression incite or mute protest?) and introduces the notion of the protest cycle as an analytic tool for resolving that paradox. The work is divided into two parts. The first looks at the transformation from "Grievances to Contentious Movements" and the second examines the relationships among "Opportunity, Contention, and Repression." Both urban and rural settings and the conflicts within them are analyzed with regard to their different dynamics.

In addition to drawing on the Inforpress clipping file, the documents of various U.S. government agencies, and a very broad range of secondary sources, Brockett systematizes the great body of information on repression available from Guatemalan and Salvadorian human rights organizations (summarized on pp. 227-229 and 261-264) and the reports of the Peace Accord-mandated historical clarification commissions set up by the United Nations. Summary tables of evidence of protest activity, political movement formation, and repression are provided and deal with, for example, the number of demonstrations; the frequency of both worker and student strikes; trends in peaceful, illegal, and violent activities; land occupations; and numbers of deaths from repression, particularly in urban areas for which the data sets are most reliable. These data are presented by year, quarter, or month, depending on the question under consideration. The Guatemalan data stretch from the mid-1950s, that is, from the end of the "democratic spring" period of post-World War II social and political reform, to the mid 1980s, when the country's peace process got hesitantly underway. The Salvadorian data cover the period from the mid-1970s, when protest activity began to mount, to the early 1990s, when the U.N.-brokered Peace Accord was signed. …

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