Feb. 20, 2013 by Gabriel Rosenberg
Cynthia Arnson ’76 is the editor of the book, In The Wake of War: Democratization and Internal Armed Conflict, published by Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press in 2012. The book focuses on the relationship of internal armed conflict to postwar democratization in Latin America, centering on Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.
In those countries, Arnson writes, the dominant aspect of political life during and after the end of the Cold War was insurgency or counterinsurgency war, a product of political exclusion and reinforced by patterns of socio-economic marginalization. Through its case studies, the book looks at the differences between states in creating and resolving armed conflict, connected to the particular variances in duration, geographic reach, ethnicity, Cold War influence and involvement with the international community.
Introducing the book, Arnson comments that “human beings, not structures or institutions, make choices that have an impact on whether politics evolves in a democratic direction.” With a particular emphasis on how individual actors impact the state’s success in addressing chronic underlying problems, enacting reforms, and promoting reconciliation, the book reveals how the social, economic, and cultural conditions of countries cause uneven patterns of democratization.
Chapters discuss the connection between a weak state and the deterioration of political democracy in countries such as Columbia and Peru, the instability and economic issues of Haiti, and the post-conflict establishment of human rights norms in Guatemala. Various essays also find that public satisfaction with democracy was lower in conflict and postwar countries than in other Latin American countries, with human development indicators lower as well. The European Union’s engagement in the peace processes of Latin America is discussed at length, as the organization worked to accomplish its own multilateral strategy and increase its presence on the world stage.
Arnson is director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her work focuses on democratic governance, conflict resolution, international relations, and U.S. policy in the Western hemisphere, and for the Woodrow Wilson Center she has written and edited publications on Colombia and the Andean region, Central America, Argentina, Venezuela, China-Latin American relations, energy and organized crime.
The author of Crossroads: Congress, the President, and Central America, 1976–1993, Arnson also is the editor of Comparative Peace Processes in Latin America and co-editor of Rethinking the Economics of War: The Intersection of Need, Creed and Greed and the forthcoming Latin American Populism in the 21st Century.