Ethnic Rights on Rise in Latin America

KNOXVILLE — The wave of democratic reform sweeping across Latin America is giving native populations more standing in their governments, a University of Tennessee political scientist writes in her new book.

Dr. Donna Lee Van Cott found that Colombia and Bolivia have written ethnic rights into their constitutions for the first time, after centuries of efforts to create national identities that minimized the rights and cultures of the region’s indigenous population.

“In both countries, there have been dramatic increases in political representation,” Van Cott said. “Native minorities have been mobilized to participate in government and win public office for the first time.”

Van Cott’s book, “The Friendly Liquidation of the Past: The Politics of Diversity in Latin America,” has just been published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in its Latin American series.

Since colonial times, Europeans have dominated the social and governmental structures of most South American countries, leaving native peoples without rights or political standing.

Other countries are following the reforms in Bolivia and Colombia, she said, because the constitutional recognition of diversity increases the public legitimacy of weak regimes. The constitutional reforms are also the result of political pressures applied by the ethnic populations.

Van Cott, who earned the Ph.D. at Georgetown University, received research support from UT’s Cordell Hull Fund and the J. William Fulbright Scholarship Board.