In This Review

The Friendly Liquidation of the Past: The Politics of Diversity in Latin America
The Friendly Liquidation of the Past: The Politics of Diversity in Latin America
By Donna Lee Van Cott
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000, 328 pp.

A sophisticated analysis of the push to recognize indigenous rights in Bolivia and Colombia. Until the 1990s, both countries had political systems that excluded economically marginalized groups, especially minorities. Recent constitutional reforms have tried to correct this by improving parties' accountability and incorporating excluded sectors of the population. But as the reformers decentralized politics, their high expectations and vague language actually helped stimulate conflict rather than mitigate it -- especially between communities with totally divergent concepts of property rights. Other Latin American countries have similar problems, but Colombia and Bolivia face an especially complex cultural mosaic and onerous historical burdens. In Colombia, for example, constitutional recognition of the indigenous population was later expanded to include the country's large population of African ancestry. Placing her analysis in a broad comparative framework, Van Cott makes clear that these issues resonate profoundly wherever the traditional model of a culturally homogenous nation-state is under challenge.