Without a commitment to democracy and human rights, national economic development and hemispheric integration will fall short and not be sustainable. Popular resistance and the courageous activism of human rights activists, combined with the waning of the Cold War, spurred a process of democratization and respect for human rights in Latin America. The rise of new political parties, nontraditional political actors such as indigenous leaders and women, nongovernmental organizations, and powerful social movements are auspicious signs that the regional democratization process is steadily moving forward.

But the progress of democracy and human rights is far from inevitable. While some Latin American countries have made strides in investigating crimes of past dictatorships and ending impunity, others have seen a rise in human rights violations, in the context of the drug war, the “war on terrorism,” or assuring internal stability.

For democracy to sustain broad support, governments must respond to the pressing needs of the poor majority and break allegiances with the economic elites or risk disillusionment with the electoral process. Social movements foster democratization since they hold governments accountable and demand responses to the needs of the poor and marginalized. While elections are fundamental, nonviolent protests by social movements and human rights groups help ensure that citizen voices are heard by the public and political leaders.

This series contains texts from writers across the hemisphere on the strides made by social movements, the role of gender equity and women’s rights, and the stumbling advances and the steps backwards in guaranteeing respect for human rights. It also contains a sub-series on the self-organized movement in Oaxaca, Mexico that startled the world by taking over the city in 2006 and running it for several months.

Articles in the series:

To Speak and Be Heard: Making Rights a Reality in the 2006 Oaxaca Social Movement (#4)
By Lynn Stephen

Notes on the Conjuncture: Mexico, 2008 (#3)
By Fred Rosen

Convergences and Complicities: Local-National Interactions in the 2006 Movement of the APPO (#2)
By Kristin Norget

The Global Impact of Local Events: Civil Unrest and Migration in Oaxaca, Mexico (#1)
By Jeffrey H. Cohen, PhD

Other Oaxaca Analysis:

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Building a Future in the Mixteca

Resistance and Repression in Oaxaca

Oaxaca Fights Back