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Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía (RIB)
Número: 1-4
Título: 1997
Sección: Reseñas Informativas / Informative Reviews

Rachel SIEDER, ed. Impunity in Latin America. London, United Kingdom: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1995. v, 81p.

During the last decade and a half, Latin America has experienced a decisive shift from military dictatorship to liberal democracy. However, the problem of impunity has affected the transition to democratic rule in both South and Central America, and continues to condition the nature of democracy in the region today.

Impunity in Latin America explores the phenomenon of impunity—its nature and the mechanisms used to secure it—and assesses its impact on contemporary politics in Latin America. The individual cases presented here cover a wide span of regime types, ranging from established democracies (Colombia); to authoritarian, presidentialist democracies (Peru); and “democracy by imposition” (Haiti).

In the different articles, the authors address two main issues: 1) the debate surrounding impunity and democratic transition, and 2) the limits impunity places on the existence and functioning of democracy in Latin America. Impunity appears not as a peripheral issue to the process of democratization but as its intrinsic and most fundamental aspect because the existence of impunity compromises the principal of universality of rights and threatens the transition from authoritarian rule to democratic governments in Latin America. The concept has been divided into two aspects: first a lack of responsibility, the certainty that actions will not be investigated and secondly, the certainty of the perpetrators that they will not be brought to justice and therefore not prosecuted or punished for their actions.

The book is divided into eight chapters that give a general idea of the problems faced by the young democracies when challenged with their past. In the first chapter, the reader is confronted with the topic of impunity and its consequences in the new democracies. In chapter two, the concept of accountability is added to the discussion. Both terms are explored and explained, particularly the different types and implications of impunity as well as its intrinsic relation to accountability. The third chapter offers a case study of Peru since Fujimori came into power. The fourth deals with the case of Colombia where the armed forces and the paramilitary have killed thousands of peoples in the last six years. The killings have taken place in the context of the war against the guerrillas and drug barons but has also affected members of the opposition and non-combat civilians.

In the fifth chapter, the reader can find information about the Haitian crisis. The author highlights the responsibility of the international community to promote a model of transition based on impunity. In the sixth chapter, two clear positions are outlined between impunity and democracy as illustrated by the Chilean experience. Chapter seven addresses the psychological effects of impunity experienced by Indians and more particularly Indian war widows in the Guatemalan Highlands. The last chapter stresses that the right to truth is a permanent and inalienable necessity for all societies: the right to truth and the right to justice being complementary to build a democracy.

This work is the result of a workshop held at the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London, that brought together academics and human rights practitioners to assess and analyze the impact of impunity on contemporary politics in Latin America.


1. Estas reseñas fueron preparadas por las sugientes funcionarias de la Secretaría Ejecutiva para el Desarrollo Integral/These reviews were prepared by the following staff members of the Exeuctive Secretariat for Integral Development: María del Carmen Barreneche, María de Icaza, María Teresa Mellenkamp, y Rosario Villanueva Popovici.