Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America

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Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America

By Kathryn Sikkink
Cornell University Press, 2004
288 pp. $29.95
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Sikkink adds to her important work on nongovernmental organizations and advocacy networks with this illuminating account of how persistent policy entrepreneurs armed with fresh ideas inserted and then institutionalized human rights promotion into inter-American relations. The stakes in their 60-year-long struggle have been high, in terms of both American self-identity and Latin American lives, and Sikkink supplements recently released U.S. government documents with interviews of lower-level officials to condemn Henry Kissinger for signaling "green lights" to vicious repression in Chile and Argentina and Ronald Reagan and Jeanne Kirkpatrick for their careless embrace of bloody Central American dictators. She bashes old-fashioned realists as well as the cynics and structuralists who dismiss human rights rhetoric as camouflage for imperial designs. Indeed, new statistics from truth commissions--in Chile, for example, there were 62 deaths and disappearances during the Carter administration versus 1,828 during the Nixon and Ford administrations and 371 during the Reagan administration--suggest that U.S. policy can make a big difference. And although she is concerned that the current campaign against terrorism could eclipse human rights concerns, Sikkink celebrates the institutions now devoted to her cause.