The Friendly Liquidation of the Past: The Politics of Diversity in Latin America.

Author:Carlson, Kirsten Matoy

THE FRIENDLY LIQUIDATION OF THE PAST: THE POLITICS OF DIVERSITY IN LATIN AMERICA. By Donna Lee Van Cott. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. 2000. Pp. xvii, 340. Cloth, $50; paper, $24.95.

The late twentieth century ushered in a renewed interest in constitutional democracy as Latin American states revised earlier constitutions and post-Communist countries in Eastern Europe wrote new constitutions to reflect their democratic aspirations. Processes of constitution-making continued throughout the 1990s with new constitutions emerging in states throughout Africa, Latin America, and Europe. (1) The rejuvenation of constitution-making also renewed scholarly interest in comparative constitutionalism. (2) Scholars investigating constitution-making processes in Eastern Europe and Africa soon developed theories on how these processes and the contents of national constitutions changed in the late twentieth century. (3)

Donna Lee Van Cott (4) contributes to the new literature on comparative constitutionalism by focusing on the constitutional movement that swept through Latin America in the 1990s. Specifically, Van Cott suggests that Latin American countries contributed to the new era of constitutionalism by developing multicultural constitutions (p. 3). The basic aim of her project is to create a model to explain when states decide to create multicultural constitutions. She demonstrates the validity of her model by applying it to the most recent Colombian and Bolivian constitutions. (5) She argues that the convergence of crises of representation, participation, and legitimation prompts political elites to perceive constitutional revision as essential (p. 8). Then, political elites engage in constitutional transformations that split from the liberal tradition and produce multicultural constitutions. (6)

Van Cott highlights the importance of the recognition of indigenous peoples in new Latin American constitutions. Constitutional recognition of the autonomy of indigenous peoples reflects a change--albeit most likely only a symbolic one--in Latin American politics, which has historically either marginalized indigenous peoples or artificially tried to align them with campesino (7) groups. (8) Even if merely symbolic, recognition serves a crucial function in developing ideas of multiculturalism and the relations between states and indigenous peoples. (9) As political scientist Danielle LaVaque-Manty suggests, recognition opens the door to multiculturalism by fostering the idea that "`being an x' is a fine thing." (10) Although Van Cott does not expressly assert the importance of recognition to social and political equality, her focus on constitutional provisions recognizing indigenous peoples implicitly acknowledges this.

Van Cott does more than just highlight the constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples. Throughout her book, she not only applauds Latin American states for constitutionally recognizing indigenous peoples and their rights, she suggests that it benefits the state. The recognition of indigenous peoples, according to Van Cott, forces the state to contend with a value system inherently different from the liberal principles of the Western constitutional tradition (p. 9). While capitalistic society focuses on individual property rights, indigenous groups assert the importance of collective property rights and the good of the community over the good of the individual (pp. 9-10). Van Cott suggests that the ability of indigenous groups to raise these concerns indicates the benefits that indigenous peoples bring to the state.

The intersection of law and politics--particularly that of constitutional law, political development, and the politics of democratization--underlies the relations between indigenous peoples and the state in constitutional politics in Latin America. Rather than just limit her book to a detailed account of constitutional politics and negotiations between factions, Van Cott demonstrates how different political theories--those traditionally espoused by political elites as part of the liberal nation-state and those held by indigenous groups--interact to construct a legal system that affects democratization in Latin America.

Van Cott's model explaining the creation of multicultural constitutions in Latin America is admirable and compelling. But the evidence on which Van Cott relies raises questions about whether Latin American political elites have actually broken from the exclusionary politics of the past. This Notice argues that Van Cott's view of the development of multicultural constitutions may be overly optimistic because of tensions between the multiculturalism that Van Cott suggests is embedded in the new Latin American constitutions and the history of exclusionary politics in that region. Part I describes Van Cott's model for constitutional transformation in detail. It applauds Van Cott for demonstrating how legal processes affect ideas of multiculturalism and democratization and notes that she significantly contributes to the literature on identity politics by illustrating the importance of recognition issues. Part II argues that Van Cott fails to provide a clear definition of multiculturalism; it also argues that without fully considering the effects of implementation, Van Cott's assertion that the new Latin American constitutions are multicultural is premature.


    Regime change and constitutional revision historically plague Latin American politics and often stymie attempts at democratic consolidation (11) in that region. (12) Thus, despite several attempts at democratization, most Latin American states are still transitioning to democracy. Scholars have attributed these failures to reach the democratic goal to both formalistic and normative issues (pp. 4-5). According to Van Cott, constitutional transformation could solve these transition problems by facilitating democratic consolidation in the region. (13)

    Constitutional transformation occurs when the constitution-making process considers values traditionally excluded from the polity, such as indigenous values. (14) The process opens to the inclusion of indigenous values after the polity--especially political elites--have faced a political crisis and need to increase their political legitimacy (p. 6). Political elites realize that they cannot reach consensus through traditional political means and that they have to depart from politics as usual and engage in radical politics to achieve their goals and reestablish state legitimacy (p. 7). Thus, the political crisis convinces the political elites that they have more to gain by listening to and incorporating the demands of marginalized groups--in Van Cott's model, indigenous peoples--than by ignoring them. (15) In this way, elites engage in radical politics and gain access to a new source of legitimacy, namely that based on international norms and indigenous traditional culture by recognizing indigenous peoples and their claims. (16) Based on this theory that in certain post-crisis moments, the polity opens for a short period of time and allows for the inclusion of marginalized interests in the creation of a new constitution, Van Cott builds a model for constitutional transformation.

    Van Cott's model includes three overlapping phases: constitutional conjuncture, transformation ("the creative phase"), and implementation (pp. 21-23 and fig. 1). The first phase of constitutional transformation, constitutional conjuncture, occurs when the crises of representation, participation, and legitimation converge, usually leading to some catalytic event, which prompts the election of presidential leadership with an electoral mandate to implement a reform agenda (pp. 25-27). This catalytic event also opens the political system momentarily to outsiders, such as ethnic minorities (p. 28). Ethnic organizations mobilize and become capable of expressing their constitutional claims at the national or regional level (p. 28).

    The second phase of constitutional transformation, which Van Cott calls the creative phase, builds upon the first phase and focuses on the constitutional dialogue occurring between political elites and ethnic organizations (pp. 29-30). Van Cott contends that this phase only occurs if it is not unnecessarily delayed and if the ethnic organizations can effectively link their constitutional claims to the concerns of political elites (p. 31). She identifies six conditions necessary for the success of the creative phase: (1) continuation of presidential leadership, (2) implementation in the first two years of the president's term, (3) preservation of the neoliberal economic model, (4) acceptance of the procedural and substantive legitimacy of the project, (5) connection between ethnic rights and elites' goals, and (6) relevant international conventions are signed (p. 26 and fig. 2). If all six conditions are met, then political elites engage in constitutional dialogues with ethnic organizations during the creative phase (p. 29).

    The final phase of constitutional transformation, the implementation phase, occurs when the political community accepts the constitution as legitimate (pp. 34-35). Additionally, an institutional guardian of the constitution, such as an ombudsman or constitutional tribunal, emerges as a viable protector of constitutional rights (p. 26 and fig. 2). To further ensure constitutional implementation, civil society organizations mobilize to defend and demand the implementation of new rights (p. 26).

    Van Cott highlights the legal aspects of democratization by showing how representation and participation relate to legal frameworks. She contends that application of her model of constitutional transformation shows a shift in the political scene in Latin America as Latin American states recognize the importance of representation and participation in sustaining a consolidated democracy. Fledgling Latin...

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