Demanding Democracy: Reform and Reaction in Costa Rica and Guatemala, 1870s-1950s

Demanding Democracy: Reform and Reaction in Costa Rica and Guatemala, 1870s-1950s

Demanding Democracy: Reform and Reaction in Costa Rica and Guatemala, 1870s-1950s

Demanding Democracy: Reform and Reaction in Costa Rica and Guatemala, 1870s-1950s

Synopsis

Demanding Democracy argues that the democratizing coalition's success in Costa Rica and its failure in Guatemala rested on its capacity to redistribute elite property early and exercise effective political control of the countryside. The book's distinct theoretical approach integrates an analysis of the conditions fostering democracy with an analysis of those conducive to its endurance. In doing so, it bridges arguments that focus on democratic transitions and those that focus on their consolidation. Moreover, it moves beyond debates about the role of structure and agency in these processes by focusing on the interaction between historical institutions that favor authoritarian rule and the political coalitions that work to remake those institutions in ways consonant with democracy.

Excerpt

Two Central Americans have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their attempts to replace authoritarian rule with democracy. Oscar Arias Sánchez, then president of Costa Rica, received the prize in 1987 for his diplomatic efforts to negotiate an end to the civil wars raging in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Rigoberta Menchú Tum, an indigenous Guatemala peasant leader, received the same award in 1992. Honored for her role in organizing peasants and promoting indigenous rights, she emerged as a symbol of the ongoing fight against political and economic violence in Guatemala.

Arias and Menchú are an unlikely pair. The former president and the indigenous peasant organizer highlighted diplomatic and grassroots efforts to secure a space for democracy. By demanding democracy, they gave voice to those seeking basic political, social, and economic freedoms denied to so many in the Central American isthmus. But in demanding democracy, this pair also highlighted the demands of democracy. For indeed, democracy demands, among other things, a military subordinated to civilian rule, universal respect for political rules and institutions, and the creation of spaces for effective and meaningful political participation. Through diplomacy and organizing, Arias and Menchú demanded institutional changes and met the challenge of effecting these changes in the face of authoritarian reactions.

If Arias's and Menchú's actions and words made clear the duality of demanding democracy, their countries of origin embodied the widely divergent types of experiences that could emerge in the process. Costa Rica . . .

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