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I have always been deeply interested in the challenges of democratization and peace building, both theoretically and within Latin America. In my research on Ecuador I asked why a relatively successful, reformist military regime would voluntarily surrender power and what the legacies of its success meant for sustaining democracy over the longer term. In the course of my interviews with military officers and members of Guatemalan civil society, I discovered the ways in which the exercise of political power divides a military institution and just how effective civilian opposition can be in weakening army rule. I also understood how military regime success could generate nostalgia for authoritarian rule that makes it difficult for subsequent civilian regimes to establish durable democratic governance.

My research on US-Latin American relations has focused on the capacity of the United States to promote democracy in the region. It confirms a prevailing view that international actors play a secondary role in democratization while also noting the pitfalls of the best kind of democracy promotion work -- assistance to civil society. These programs can create dependent relationships in which civic organizations tend to shape their work to reflect donor interests that are not always consistent with the democratic priorities of their constituents.

Postwar Transitional Justice in Guatemala

Anita Isaacs interviews widow Carmen Cumez

For the past ten years, I have been working on the challenges of building peace and democracy in postwar Guatemala. Transitional justice is my main research interest, however, and it is the focus of my current book project. Between 1960-1996 Guatemala witnessed a brutal armed internal conflict that the country’s truth commission concluded constituted genocide against the country’s majority indigenous population. I am interested in understanding how processes of truth seeking, justice and reparations become politicized as well as the connections between transitional justice and peace, democracy and reconciliation in Guatemala. My research has been mainly ethnographic, that is to say I have focused on interviewing victim-survivors of the conflict, as well as guerilla and army perpetrators, politicians, civil society activists so as to put their voices in dialogue with each other and with the theoretical literature on transitional justice.

More information about Anita Isaacs's recent publications on Guatemala can be found on the Publications page