Academic journal article Humanity

On the Poverty and Possibility of Human Rights in Latin American History

Academic journal article Humanity

On the Poverty and Possibility of Human Rights in Latin American History

Article excerpt

Human Rights and Transnational Solidarity in Cold War Latin America Jessica Stites Mor, ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013. x + 264 pp.

We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States James N. Green Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. xiv + 472 pp.

If the global history of human rights has expanded considerably in the past ten years, much of it still remains unwritten.1 This is especially the case when it comes to Latin America. Indeed, Latin America's absence from what is admittedly a very young field of human rights history is peculiar if one thinks of its prominence in so many of the twentieth century's landmark human rights events.2 Scholars in disciplines other than history have stressed the Latin American contribution to the normative codification of human rights ideas in the 1940s, whether in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.3 Yet too often this has taken the form of a celebration of a unified "Latin American tradition" of human rights, as if all countries spoke with one voice, or of a hagiography of standalone nationalist figures-the Chilean Hernán Santa Cruz or Cuban Guy Pérez Cisneros-rather than a meticulous inspection of (geo)political calculations.4 What did the idea of human rights mean for the Latin American statesmen who championed them in the 1940s? How were they reconciled with the region's historically robust protection of national sovereignty and the doctrine of nonintervention? Can one detect any popular expression of human rights in Latin America that might suggest that the 1940s "Latin American" voice was spoken outside of international diplomatic fora?

Since the late 1960s, Latin America has been at once the target of human rights advocacy and the site of a series of monumental developments in local, regional, national, and transnational human rights politics alike. Western activists from organizations like Amnesty International and later Americas Watch (the regional forerunner to Human Rights Watch) turned to Latin America to expose rampant state use of torture, summary executions, forced exile, and disappearances in a variety of countries that fell under military rule: Brazil after 1964, Chile and Uruguay after 1973, Argentina after 1976, and in Central American countries in the 1980s.5 At the same time, domestic human rights organizations, groups like the Vicaría de la Solidaridad in Chile and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, emerged as frontline defenders of human rights in domestic confrontations with repressive military dictatorships. The Catholic Church in Latin America especially stands out for its pioneering protection of human rights victims, starting first in the Southern Cone in the late 1960s and 1970s but also in Central America in the 1980s (Argentina is a notable exception).6 Yet, shockingly, scholars of human rights have paid very little attention to the transnational vectors of Catholic (and the broader Christian) engagement with human rights.7

Anthropologists and political scientists, not historians, have taken the lead in writing some of the first studies of human rights in Latin America. Kathryn Sikkink's trailblazing construction of transnational Latin American advocacy networks is perhaps the most significant, as well as her efforts alongside Margaret Keck to revolutionize international relations theory by providing a constructivist model for considering the role of nonstate actors in international politics.8 The anthropologists Sally Engle Merry, Peggy Levitt, and Winifred Tate sketched intimate portraits of human rights activism, either through showing how human rights concepts are translated or "vernacularized" into local idioms, in the case of Levitt and Merry, or in revealing the complex and convoluted ways that the language of human rights spread in Colombia, in the case of Tate-noteworthy in no small part because its multifaceted violencias failed to spark the flames of transnational advocacy networks to quite the same extent as those of its South American neighbors. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.