Ecuador, with Colombia and Peru, has been negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement for the Andes countries with the United States since 2004. While draft texts are secret, Ecuadorian civil society groups have been particularly concerned about a clause on intellectual property rights, which could block access to cheap generic drugs. In July 2004, the president tried to smooth the negotiations with a decree on intellectual property that would have the same effect. The Centro de Derechos Economicos y Sociales (CDES), an offshoot of CESR in New York, wrote to the government, citing pronouncements by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to demonstrate that the decree was contrary to the right to health. Within two weeks, Ecuador’s head negotiator wrote back, agreeing that the draft decree was unconstitutional and in violation of the right to health, endangering access to affordable medicine. The decree was not passed, and Ecuador’s trade team has begun using human rights language in the negotiations, which at the time of writing are ongoing (‘Ecuador’ 2004; CDES URL).
The need to explore the relationship between masculinity, femininity and violence has arisen from my field research in violent contexts of Latin America and also more recently in Bradford, UK, where I was part of a research team looking at the riots that took place in that city in 2001 and in which the overwhelming number of participants were young males of Pakistani origin. In Latin America, my experiences have taken me from the state terror and dictatorships of the Southern Cone in the 1970s to the civil wars of cold war Central America and Colombia in the 1980s, the multiple complex violences of post-cold war Colombia, to the persistent and complex violences in indigenous communities of southern Mexico and to the post-war contexts of Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. It is worth noting that this personal research trajectory through three decades of violence in Latin America mirrors a great deal the pathway of others who have tried to argue for linkages between everyday violences and other kinds of violence, for example, Koonings and Kruijt (1999), Moser and Clark (2001), Moser and Winton (2002), Moser and McIlwaine (2003), and Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2004). This is partly because Latin Americanists with this trajectory are acutely aware that the way we looked at violence in the 1970s and 1980s, a period characterised by state terror and state-promoted private violence, did not prepare us for the explosion of social violences in the course of the 1990s, both in countries which had suffered civil war and in those which had not. In El Salvador, an example of the former, an average of 6,250 people per year died from direct political violence during the 1980s, compared with 8,700 to 11,000 killed every year by criminal violence in the 1990s (Bourgeois 2004: 432; PNUD 2002). But in Brazil, which did not go through civil war, violent deaths of young men were among the highest in the world in the 1990s, with a homicide rate of 18,400 for males aged 15–29 and 10,352 for males aged 30–44 in 1995 (WHO 2002: 308).
In Latin America, the concept of communication rights provides an important source of inspiration and impetus for the revival of community radio (outlined above), concepts shaped by civil society and academia. At the same time, the recent establishment by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of Telesur in Venezuela, the ‘new television station of the South’ represents a clear challenge to the dominance of private media on the continent and, with an advisory board comprised of intellectuals and academics, is often described as an attempt to realise communication rights. Many of the same tensions that characterised the NWICO debate are re-emerging around the Chavez’s attempts to ’rebalance’ the media (not least in the government’s withdrawal of the licence to RCTV and perhaps other commercial television stations that are accused of inciting rebellion in the country).
A decade ago, with some exceptions (for example in large parts of Latin America, and in South Africa), television was largely the preserve of industrialised countries and the rich in developing countries. Today, satellite dishes are a prime consumer item in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of the world, particularly the Middle East, where the new channels (most famously al-Jazeera), have profoundly impacted the public sphere in the Arab world, providing spaces for people to gain insight into political and state actions, and engage in debates around them. Educational soap operas, such as South Africa’s award winning Soul City, are broadcast to townships where television ownership is common. In Asia, even among the poor, television ownership is rising exponentially; and in many regions of the world it provides the main source of information for people, particularly in industrialised countries. While there remains a gap in television ownership between rich and poor, and urban and rural, these gaps – at least in terms of access – are shrinking rapidly.
Twenty years after the transition from military dictatorship to the rule of law, democracy is in crisis in Latin America. This crisis is also raising questions and forcing a reappraisal of the role played by civil society in strengthening democracy in the region. The manifestations and causes of this crisis, as well as how to deepen democracy in order to safeguard it, are the focus of this chapter.