Human Rights in Latin America: A Politics of Terror and Hope

By Sonia Cardenas | Go to book overview

5
Human Rights Change

Across Latin America, endemic human rights abuses gave way to reform in the last two decades of the twentieth century. While violations continued to occur, human rights conditions also improved markedly by the new millennium. A thirty-year civil war ended in Guatemala and peace agreements were concluded in Central America. Further south, Uruguay went from having the highest per capita rate of political imprisonment anywhere in the world to one of the best human rights records in the developing world. In some cases, reforms have included truth commissions and human rights trials, discussed in the next chapter. Given the magnitude of these changes, the region is often held up as a model of how societies struggling with widespread killings and torture can undergo transformation.

Dramatic changes in human rights conditions can nonetheless be puzzling. It is unclear why state violators would initiate reform: transnational human rights pressures can be very intense, but they are rarely so burdensome as to make reform necessary. It is also perplexing why human rights practices, often applied for years, change when they do. Why does human rights pressure succeed when it does and to the extent that it does? And why do some human rights problems persist alongside reforms? As influential as transnational human rights networks can be, they cannot account entirely on their own for human rights change.

This chapter looks at case studies of human rights change across the region—from Latin America’s Southern Cone to Central America, the Andean region, and the Caribbean. We examine the role of transnational

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