Academic journal article MACLAS Latin American Essays

Latin America's Civil Wars: Conflict Resolution and Institutional Change

Academic journal article MACLAS Latin American Essays

Latin America's Civil Wars: Conflict Resolution and Institutional Change

Article excerpt

War is the formative experience for most important nations and many governing institutions. After doing their worst, humans frequently find in the ashes they have produced reasons to think differently about themselves and their neighbors. (1)

Latin America has been the site of fourteen civil wars during the post-World War II era, thirteen of which now have ended. Although not as civil war-prone as some other areas of the world, Latin America has endured some extremely violent and destabilizing intrastate conflicts. (2) The region's experiences with civil wars and their resolution thus may prove instructive for other parts of the world in which such conflicts continue to rage. By examining Latin America's civil wars in some depth not only might we better understand the circumstances under which such conflicts are ended but also the institutional outcomes to which they give rise. More specifically, this paper focuses on the following central questions regarding Latin America's civil wars: Has the resolution of these conflicts produced significant institutional change in the countries in which they were fought? What is the nature of the institutional change that has taken place in the wake of these civil wars? What are the factors that are responsible for shaping post-war institutional change?

The end of civil wars provides a laboratory of sorts for exploring theoretically interesting questions about institutional choice. After all, once an armed conflict is over, former combatants need to (re-)construct rules to replace the ones whose collapse led to the outbreak of the civil war. In this study of institutional change following Latin America's civil wars I focus on four institutions: (1) rules regarding political inclusion, (2) the extension of security guarantees to antagonists, (3) power-sharing, and (4) rules regarding distributive policy. Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list of types of institutional change. For example, in recent years increasing emphasis has been given to crafting rules that hold accountable those who commit human rights abuses during the course of civil wars. (3) However, I have chosen to focus on these four institutions for two reasons. First, it seems reasonable to suppose that those actors in a position to create rules following a civil war will seek to secure coordination on the issues seen as responsible for the outbreak of the conflict. In that sense, these institutions can be considered ones directly aimed at the management of conflict. In regions like Latin America characterized by instability, weak rule of law and the sense of uncertainty that stems from this, poverty, and inequity, those issues likely will be ones centering on security, participation, and control of resources. Second, the ability of actors to craft institutions of conflict management is important because these are likely to have an impact on post-war stability and thus on the functioning of other institutions actors may design. Generally speaking, it has been found that those conflict management institutions that seek to include former antagonists or accommodate their central concerns are most likely to produce post-war stability. (4)

In this paper I focus on a number of structural and strategic actor variables in an effort to explain post-civil war institutional change in Latin America. I find that the majority of civil wars in Latin America have been followed by significant institutional change, that this change generally has been of an inclusive or accommodative nature, and that one structural variable, the means by which a conflict is settled, is the one most significantly associated with post-conflict institutional change.

Conflict Resolution and Institutional Change

Are civil wars sources of significant institutional change? And are the institutional changes that follow civil wars likely to produce more positive relations among a people formerly at war as the quote at the beginning of this paper implies? …

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