When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror

When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror

When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror

When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror


"I have given chapters of this book to our clients- survivors of state-supported terror in Latin America- and watched as they nodded their heads in agreement and then asked variations of the question: 'how can academics understand so well what was going on in our countries?' This book uses the lens of rigorous scholarship to bring out of the shadows the particularities and common patterns that enabled state repression to operate so effectively in the United States' sphere of influence for more than two decades." - Sandra Coliver, Executive Director, Center for Justice & Accountability, San Francisco

"There are currently no volumes that do what When States Kill accomplishes. This extraordinarily important volume, edited by two superb scholars, will make an outstanding contribution to many fields." - Martha K. Huggins, Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations, Department of Sociology, Tulane University, and coauthor of Violence Workers: Torturers and Murderers Reconstruct Brazilian Atrocities

"This extraordinary collection of essays locates Latin American state terror within the context of the distinct and influential role of U. S. foreign and military policy in the region. This is a rare work, a 'must read' for academics from a range of disciplines as well as human rights and refugee advocates and lawyers." - Carolyn Patty Blum, Clinical Professor of Law Emeritus, Boalt Hall Law School, University of California at Berkeley

"This is an indispensable collection. Every chapter is a jewel! Given the importance of the topic, it should become a classic." - Hernán Vera, Professor of Sociology, University of Florida

Since the early twentieth century, technological transfers from the United States to Latin American countries have involved technologies of violence for social control. As the chapters in this book illustrate, these technological transfers have taken various forms, including the training of Latin American military personnel in surveillance and torture and the provision of political and logistic support for campaigns of state terror. The human cost for Latin America has been enormous- thousands of Latin Americans have been murdered, disappeared, or tortured, and whole communities have been terrorized into silence. Organized by region, the essays in this book address the topic of state-sponsored terrorism in a variety of ways. Most take the perspective that state-directed political violence is a modern development of a regional political structure in which U. S. political interests weigh heavily. Others acknowledge that Latin American states enthusiastically received U. S. support for their campaigns of terror. A few see local culture and history as key factors in the implementation of state campaigns of political violence. Together, all the essays exemplify how technologies of terror have been transferred among various Latin American countries, with particular attention to the role that the United States, as a "strong" state, has played in such transfers.


What causes the state-directed political violence that has characterized political culture in much of the Latin American region since the midtwentieth century? What motivated the campaigns of terror that “disappeared” thousands throughout the region? That practiced genocide of whole villages in Guatemala and El Salvador? That continued to repress indigenous peasants in Mexico? Is the source of this violence found in the Latin American psyche? Is it in Latin American culture?

Some observers view Latin American political violence as part of the heritage of the brutal European conquest of the region. Rosenberg (1991, 17), for example, answers the question of what underlies the growth of Latin American political violence as follows: “If I had to give just one answer, it would be: history. Most of Latin America was conquered and colonized through violence, setting up political and economic relationships based on power, not law. These relationships still exist today—indeed, in some countries they are stronger than ever.” From this perspective, Latin American political violence represents an atavism that harkens back to the origins of countries that today are ruled by law.

Most of the chapters in this book take an opposite perspective: that is, that state-directed political violence developed as a product of a regional political structure in which U.S. political interests have weighed heavily. According to this view, contemporary Latin American states have practiced different forms of terror, including torture and physical punishment, not in a primitive or “traditional” manner, but in a politically rational, calculated, modern fashion.

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