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Costa Rica has historically faced many of the same challenges as its Central American neighbors, but to a less dramatic extent. This has put the country on a unique path of political and economic development. Even today, it outperforms its neighbors, often including its more developed neighbors, like the United States, in essential measurements of human development, happiness, lack of corruption, and economics. Many Costa Rican scholars have concluded that the nation benefitted from its time as a colonial outcast and from a lack of exploitable resources like gold and silver. The common misbelief that Costa Rica was settled without the destruction of natives, that the country gained a peaceful independence, and that it somehow avoided all the pitfalls of Latin American development is now met with resistance, and a better understanding of Costa Rican history has emerged. Although Costa Rican development has not been without its complications, issues, and bloody epochs, it has been far less extreme and far more open to change, democracy, and progress. Costa Rica was able to gain a semi-peaceful independence, form a strong republic, and endure the “lost decade” better than many other countries in the region. Since 2008, this tiny country has progressed rapidly. It joined CAFTA-DR, elected its first female president, ended 70 years of two-party dominance, survived national-level scandal, legalized gay marriage, and elected a progressive leftist president in 2018 despite a global shift to the right for political leaders. Yet along with progress comes continued struggles. Costa Rica faces new challenges in the 21st century. In the new millennium, it confronts issues of social injustice, rising crime rates, economic dependency on international monetary institutions, corruption, and human rights, to name a few.

Article

Anita Isaacs and Rachel A. Schwartz

Since the mid-20th century, the Guatemalan military has played a prominent role in the country’s political life. Yet, this was not always the case. During Guatemala’s first century of independence, the armed forces operated largely as the pawn of personalist rulers and oligarchic elites, utilizing coercion to quell labor unrest and impose order in the countryside. Developments during the Cold War era, however, transformed the Guatemalan military into a centralized source of political and economic power and the key protagonist in domestic politics. Following World War II and on the heels of popular uprising, nationalist junior army officers ushered in a series of popular reforms, which included land redistribution. A 1954 CIA-orchestrated coup supported by the Guatemalan oligarchy and reactionary military factions toppled Guatemala’s “Democratic Spring,” reversed the reforms, and paved the way for four decades of hardline military rule. The subsequent rise of a leftist insurgent movement and the outbreak of armed conflict (1960–1996) gave the armed forces a pretext to dramatically expand their power. They consolidated formal political control over the Guatemalan state and pursued a counterinsurgent campaign, which escalated into genocidal violence in the predominantly Mayan indigenous highlands. Pulled between the political protagonism of civil war and the subordination to civilian rule required in liberal democracy, the Guatemalan military struggled to redefine its institutional identity with the end of armed conflict. It lurched reluctantly toward peace and democracy following a split in its ranks between a moderate institutionalist faction and right-wing groups wary of ceding political control. Despite peace accord provisions to reduce the military’s size and budget and to confine its institutional activities to external defense, military officials, particularly those from intelligence, continued to wield extraordinary control in the postwar era. Challenging the strictures of peace and democracy, they have fought to maintain key interests, notably impunity for war crimes, political decision-making influence, and wartime sources of illicit enrichment.

Article

The situation of trans rights in Latin America varies greatly by country and region despite a binding 2017 opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) clarifying member states’ obligations to guarantee trans rights. While countries in the Southern Cone and Northern Andes have recently made great strides in protecting and supporting their trans citizens, Central America, the Caribbean, and several countries in South America continue to offer little or no legal support for trans rights. Some countries, such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay, have passed Gender Identity Laws that provide trans people with the ability to rectify their documents to reflect their names and gender identities. The current state of trans-specific policy in the region is explored by first framing it through an overview of the relevant parts of the IACHR ruling and then presenting the case for the depathologization of trans identities, one of the movement’s most pressing goals. Crucial to this discussion is the next section, which presents the current rights and limitations in trans-specific healthcare in the region. A discussion of the importance of gender identity as a basic human right, recognized in the IACHR ruling, follows, continuing on to an analysis of the place of children, adolescents, and their parents in relation to this right. Relatedly, the next section explores the prevalence and force of anti-discrimination laws in the region, which vary greatly in their specific protection of trans people. Finally, we attempt to look forward to what may be next in the fight for trans rights in the region, exemplifying cases such as that of Uruguay, which has recently begun to debate trans-specific reparations, and Argentina, which has begun to debate dedicated employment slots for trans people.

Article

The Honduran military has a long history of established roles oriented toward both external defense and internal security and civic action. Since the end of military rule in 1982, the military has remained a key political, economic, and social actor. Politically, the military retains a constitutional mandate as guarantor of the political system and enforcer of electoral rules. Economically, its officers direct state enterprises and manage a massive pension fund obscured from public audit. Socially, the military takes on numerous civic action tasks—building infrastructure, conserving forests, providing healthcare, and policing crime—that make the state appear to be useful to its people and bring the military into direct contact with the public almost daily. As a result, the military has ranked high in public trust in comparison with other institutions of the state. Most significantly, the military has retained the role of arbiter in the Honduran political system. This became brutally clear in the coup of 2009 that removed the elected president, Manuel Zelaya. Although new rules enhancing civilian control of the military had been instituted during the 1990s, the military’s authority in politics was restored through the coup that ousted Zelaya. As no civilian politician can succeed without support for and from the military, the missions of the armed forces have expanded substantially so that the military is an “all-purpose” institution within a remarkably weak and increasingly corrupt state.