Democratic Transitions in Central America

Democratic Transitions in Central America

Democratic Transitions in Central America

Democratic Transitions in Central America


"In Latin American political studies the hottest theme of the moment is democratic transition.... This (book) collects under one cover the thoughts of Central American practitioners addressing the process in the four countries most characterized by violence.... A significant and original contribution". -- Fred Woerner, former commander-in-chief, U. S. Southern Command


Richard J. Bloomfield

In the late 1970s, Central America, which had been a backwater of international politics, exploded onto the front page. For the next decade, this small underdeveloped area, containing barely 22 million inhabitants, was the focus of the most acrimonious foreign policy debate that the United States had seen since the Vietnam War. For the Reagan administration, Central America was a major battleground in the contest with the Soviet Union and the defeat of Central American revolutionary movements was a top foreign policy priority. For the administration's critics, the revolutions were the result of age-old social injustice and political repression; unless those wrongs began to be righted, revolutions would be a permanent part of the landscape -- "inevitable," as one critic put it -- and attempts to repress them would be doomed to fail.

Surprisingly, given the distance between their starting positions, the two sides in the debate ultimately agreed on the solution to the problem of Central America. the way to cut the ground out from under the revolutionaries, said the Reaganites, was to defeat the communist insurgencies and create democracies in the region, which would offer the masses the possibility of a better future in a climate of freedom. Opponents of the Reagan administration had all along insisted that the cause of the upheavals in the region was the absence of democracy. Although they argued that democracy meant more than elections, the opponents could hardly disagree that democratic institutions were essential to enduring social and economic reform. Where the two sides continued to be at odds was on the way in which democracy could best be achieved in Central America. Moreover, the administration's opponents questioned its sincerity, charging that its newfound support for democracy was a cover for its unrelenting reliance on force to defeat the revolutionaries. If anything, the debate increased in vehemence as the decade wore on.

As a result, both sides advanced very different versions of what was happening in the area. the Reagan administration made exaggerated claims about the speed at which democracy was being achieved in most of the countries-

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