New & Noteworthy

October 31, 2008

Waves of Protest: Popular Struggles in El Salvador, 1925–2005 by Paul D. Almeida, University of Minnesota Press, 2008, 298 pp., $25 (paperback)

Paul D. Almeida, a sociologist at Texas A&M, contextualizes his history of El Salvador’s popular struggles in an analysis of social movements. He is interested in the standard questions of social movement research: Why do people rebel? Why, and under what circumstances, do social movements emerge? When do oppressed and/or dissatisfied communities challenge the status quo, and when are they more likely to accommodate themselves to the dominant social structures?

Almeida tries to move away from well-worked foci of recent social movement literature—protest in the world’s “new democracies,” pan-Islamic movements, and the “cyber-coordinated social justice movement”—and takes this project into less studied territory: the emergence of “waves of protest in the global South.” The past 80 years of Salvadoran social movements serves as the source material for his analysis.

To simplify the story, he finds that over the past three quarters of a century, authoritarian governments have stifled popular mobilization; liberalization has allowed for the founding and expansion of dissenting social movements; and the reversal of such liberalization has frequently radicalized those movements. Finally, in the current era, globalization has linked the country’s popular struggles with those of the poor and excluded of other countries of the Global South.

Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants by David Bacon, Beacon Press, 2008, 261 pp., $25.95 (hardcover)

David Bacon reports from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border in this fascinating treatment of the economic conditions that drive the process of South-North migration. He documents the disappearance of decent jobs in Mexico along with the labor-market driven process of the movement of workers to better jobs across the border.
He then recounts the reaction to this migration on the U.S. side of the border as xenophobes and others with, perhaps, more rational motives try to keep the migrants out—or at least make them more desperate in their new homes. The very word illegal, used to describe these migrants, represents a small victory for a small but determined group of nativists who want to keep migrants out of the United States—or at least very insecure if they manage to get in.

He describes the anti-NAFTA and union struggles in Mexico and the immigrant-rights struggles in the United States. And he describes them not so much like a dispassionate observer, but as a passionate protagonist. The book has a political agenda and reads like it. It is a long and very useful polemic for those who wish to protect the basic human rights of people looking to survive and support their families and communities.

Cocaine Trafficking in Latin America: EU and US Policy Responses by Sayaka Fukumi, Ashgate Publishing Company, 2008, 283 pp., $99.95 (hardcover)

This book is one of a growing number of works that take as their starting point the transformation of criminal activity into threats to domestic and international security. Its broader focus is on the ways in which economic globalization has created a framework within which illegal economic activities have been able to expand at the global level. International criminal networks, Sakaya Fukumi argues, interwoven with the “legitimate” economy, now allow for the worldwide distribution of a wide variety of illicit commodities. This is the global basis for the drug trade.

Looking for ways to confront this phenomenon, Fukumi contrasts the policy responses of the European Union and the United States. Both favor the current regime of drug prohibition, but within that agreement, there are basic disagreements, which can be modeled as follows:

The United States sees the global drug trade as a national security threat, much like a foreign invasion, while the European Union sees the phenomenon as a societal security threat, a threat to the social fabric and to moral values. Accordingly, U.S. anti-drug policy seeks to repel the invasion via a supply-reduction strategy—the drug war—whereas EU policy seeks to stem the threat to the social fabric by means of a demand-reduction strategy.


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