Donna Lee Van Cott has written a thought-provoking book on constitutional reforms and ethnic politics in the 1990s. Drawing on original fieldwork in Colombia and Bolivia, she compares constitutional reforms in each country that articulated a commitment to more local, participatory, and multicultural institutions. Her work pays particular attention to how ethnic movements in each case differentially set the stage for and responded to these reforms. This informative empirical discussion of key developments in Colombia and Bolivia is framed by an important set of theoretical questions about the terms, stages, and depth of the democracy in the region.
Constitutional reform has been one of the most significant aspects of democratization in late twentieth century Latin America. In The Friendly Liquidation of the Past—one of the first texts to examine this issue comprehensively —Van Cott focuses on the efforts of Bolivia and Colombia to incorporate ethnic rights into their fragile democracies. In the1990s, political leaders and social movements in Bolivia and Colombia expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of democracy–its exclusionary nature, the distance and illegitimacy of the state, and the empty promise of citizenship. The highly symbolic act of constitution making elevated a public struggle for rights to the level of a discussion on the meaning of democracy and the nature of the state. Based on interviews with more than 100 participants in the reforms, Van Cott demonstrates how issues promoted by social movements—recognizing ethnic diversity, expanding political participation and improving representation, and creating spheres of cultural and territorial autonomy—were placed on the constitutional reform agenda and transformed through strategic interaction with political power-brokers into the nation’s highest law. The analysis follows each reform through five years of implementation to assess the early results of what Van Cott suggests is an emerging regional model of multicultural constitutionalism. The Friendly Liquidation of the Past fills an important gap in the study of ethnic politics and constitutional reform in the Andes, linking the literature on institutions and political reform to work in political theory on participatory democracy and multiculturalism.
This carefully researched and well-written study is a pioneering contribution to the debate over and comparative analysis of the prospects, dilemmas and impasses of Latin America's emerging multiculturalist constitutionalism. Taking the perspective of democratic transformation it draws attention to the problems of consolidation once formal democratization has been achieved and seeks to highlight the normative aspects of the effort to shore up state legitimacy.
A sophisticated analysis of the push to recognize indigenous rights in Bolivia and Colombia . . . 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.
The book offers a rare and valuable insight into the complexities of democratization in countries whose national political institutions were predicated on ethnic exclusion. It is of considerable interest not only to those who are trying to understand ethnic resurgence but also to students of Latin America's democracies and democratization.
With this ambitious book, Van Cott firmly establishes herself as one of the foremost authorities on constitutional change and indigenous politics in Latin America. . . . The volume fairly bursts with important empirical detail and carefully crafted analytical considerations. It is at once one of the best English-language accounts of the pathbreaking reforms undertaken by Colombia and Bolivia in the early 1990s and one of the most thought-provoking recent analyses of the content, course, and outcomes of the latest wave of constitution building in Latin America.
. . . a refreshing contribution to the literature on democratization and indigenous rights.
Donna Lee Van Cott is assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She was previously director of the Project on Indigenous Peoples at the Inter-American Dialogue, where she edited a volume of essays, Indigenous Peoples and Democracy in Latin America. The dissertation upon which this book is based won Georgetown University’s Harold N. Glassman award for the best dissertation in the social sciences.