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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Building Democracy in Latin America
John Peeler

(Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998) Distributed by The Eurospan Group.
240pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: £43.95; ISBN 1-55587-758-3.

Building Democracy in Latin America is an excellent work that synthesizes an extensive literature on democratic transitions in "early democracies," "later democracies," and "authoritarian regimes." Peeler focuses on how structural forces affect the choices, actions, and alliances of democratic transitions. He makes a strong case for social democracy as an ethical imperative in Latin America and is critical of neoliberalism and growing inequality. Though aware of current indigenous movements and of historical indigenous and black revolts as forms of popular resistance that contributed to democracy in Latin America, Peeler's discussion is very limited on issues of race and ethnic conflict. Indigenous groups are hardly mentioned in the incomplete transition to democracy in Paraguay, Guatemala or in Chiapas, Mexico. Although mentioned, there is no analysis of the program or organization of the indigenous Tupac Katari Revolutionary Liberation Movement in Bolivia.

There is even less attention given to race and democratic transitions. In describing the 1996 election in the Dominican Republic, Peeler omits any mention of how Francisco Peña Gomez was pejoratively labelled by his opponents as the son of Haitians to refer to both his blackness and to his not being really Dominican. Mention is made of the guaranteed representation accorded indigenous groups and blacks in the Constituent Assembly of Colombia elected in December of 1990. There is no analysis of the role these groups played in the Assembly. Race, ethnicity, and democratization in Brazil are not explored.

These omissions reflect the analytical focus on elites and elite pacts in democratic development. Nonetheless, that race and ethnicity play such limited roles in the political calculations of these elites speaks volumes about the marginality of indigenous peoples and blacks especially in Latin American countries where they are numerous.

José Miguel Vadi, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

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