Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America

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Overview

In the revolutionary decade between 1979 and 1992, it would have been difficult to find three political systems as different as death-squad-dominated El Salvador, peaceful social-democratic Costa Rica, and revolutionary Sandinista Nicaragua. Yet when the fighting was finally ended by a peace plan initiated by Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias, all three had found a common destination in democracy and free markets. To explain this extraordinary turn of events is the task of this landmark book, which fuses political economy and cultural analysis.

Both the divergent political histories and their convergent outcome were shaped by a single commodity that has dominated these export economies from the nineteenth century to the present--coffee. Jeffery Paige shows that the crises of the 1980s had their roots in the economic and political crises of the 1930s, when the revolutionary left challenged the ruling coffee elites of all three countries. He interweaves and compares the history, economics, and class structures of the three countries, thus clarifying the course of recent struggles. The heart of the book is his conversations with sixty-two leaders of fifty-eight elite dynasties, who for the first time tell their own stories of the experience of Central American revolution.

Paige's analysis challenges not only Barrington Moore's influential theory of dictatorship and democracy but also contemporary approaches to "transitions to democracy." It also shows that a focus on either political economy or culture alone cannot account for the transformation of elite ideology, and that revolution in Central America is deeply rooted in the personal, familial, and class histories of the coffee elites.

"Extraordinary wealth and variety of historiographical, interview, and statistical data undergird a critical application of Barrington Moore's theses on revolution and democracy to the cases of Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Three different class-and-state structures, largely generated by their coffee economies, are analyzed by dividing the upper classes into (purely) agrarian elites and their agroindustrial (processor/exporter) counterparts. A deepening split between them paved the recent path toward democratization in both El Salvador and Nicaragua. Costa Rica's earlier, smoother democratization is accounted for by the processor-grower social pact of the 1930s. Yet all three arrived arrived at more democratic, though flawed, neoliberal systems by the 1990s"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 57.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
A sweeping historical analysis of the encouraging yet still fragile emergence of democracy in Central America...Through exhaustive historical research and enterprising interviews, [the author] penetrates the worlds of the most powerful families of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica...Paige has illuminated a path for comprehending countries whose histories have often been caricatured by polemicists and ignored by policy makers.
— Thomas Carothers
British Bulletin of Publications on Latin America
A detailed, comprehensive work on the complex relationship between coffee and political and financial might in this region...Coffee is evidently not the sole influence propelling these nations along the democratic path, but this volume demonstrates how ideologies and crises are interrelated, an important factor for a region with such an uncertain political future.
Agriculture and Human Values
The main lesson from this thoughtful, well-written book: if coffee is grown with less repression, with social welfare programs, with more owned by small-holders, then the poor are less likely to join revolutions...[Paige's conclusions] are reasonable and it is important to have them documented in this fair, well-researched book. This book will appeal to people interested in the history of Central America, to students of peace and war, to scholars of coffee economics and politics, and to political ecologists.
— Jeffery W. Bentley
American Anthropologist
Coffee and Power makes an important contribution to the literature on transitions to democracy. Paige notes with irony that the establishment of parliamentary democracies may represent the most important achievement of the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan Left of the 1980s, as it was for the Costa Rican Left of the 1930s and 1940s.
— Laurie Medina
New York Times Book Review - Thomas Carothers
A sweeping historical analysis of the encouraging yet still fragile emergence of democracy in Central America...Through exhaustive historical research and enterprising interviews, [the author] penetrates the worlds of the most powerful families of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica...Paige has illuminated a path for comprehending countries whose histories have often been caricatured by polemicists and ignored by policy makers.
Agriculture and Human Values - Jeffery W. Bentley
The main lesson from this thoughtful, well-written book: if coffee is grown with less repression, with social welfare programs, with more owned by small-holders, then the poor are less likely to join revolutions...[Paige's conclusions] are reasonable and it is important to have them documented in this fair, well-researched book. This book will appeal to people interested in the history of Central America, to students of peace and war, to scholars of coffee economics and politics, and to political ecologists.
American Anthropologist - Laurie Medina
Coffee and Power makes an important contribution to the literature on transitions to democracy. Paige notes with irony that the establishment of parliamentary democracies may represent the most important achievement of the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan Left of the 1980s, as it was for the Costa Rican Left of the 1930s and 1940s.
New York Times Book Review

A sweeping historical analysis of the encouraging yet still fragile emergence of democracy in Central America...Through exhaustive historical research and enterprising interviews, [the author] penetrates the worlds of the most powerful families of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica...Paige has illuminated a path for comprehending countries whose histories have often been caricatured by polemicists and ignored by policy makers.
— Thomas Carothers

American Anthropologist

Coffee and Power makes an important contribution to the literature on transitions to democracy. Paige notes with irony that the establishment of parliamentary democracies may represent the most important achievement of the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan Left of the 1980s, as it was for the Costa Rican Left of the 1930s and 1940s.
— Laurie Medina

Agriculture and Human Values

The main lesson from this thoughtful, well-written book: if coffee is grown with less repression, with social welfare programs, with more owned by small-holders, then the poor are less likely to join revolutions...[Paige's conclusions] are reasonable and it is important to have them documented in this fair, well-researched book. This book will appeal to people interested in the history of Central America, to students of peace and war, to scholars of coffee economics and politics, and to political ecologists.
— Jeffery W. Bentley

Thomas Carothers
A sweeping historical analysis of the encouraging yet still fragile emergence of democracy in Central America...Through exhaustive historical research and enterprising interviews, [the author] penetrates the worlds of the most powerful families of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica...He has illuminated a path for comprehending countries whose histories have often been caricatured by polemicists and ignored by policy makers. -- Thomas Carothers, "The New York Times Book Review"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674136496
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/13/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 452
  • Sales rank: 1,077,579
  • Product dimensions: 0.91 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffery M. Paige is Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
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Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction

PART 1: SOCIAL ORIGINS OF THE CENTRAL AMERICAN CRISIS

1. Revolution and the Coffee Elite

2. Class and Class Relations

PART 2: HISTORY AND MEMORY: THE CRISIS OF THE 1930S

3. Farabundo Martí and the Failure of Revolutionary Socialism

4. Manuel Mora and the Rise of Euro-Communism

5. Augusto César Sandino and the Failure of Revolutionary Nationalism

PART 3: NARRITIVES OF CLASS: THE CRISIS OF THE 1980S

6. Agro-Industrialists versus Agrarians in El Salvador

7. Democracy and Anti-Communism in Costa Rica

8. Neo-Liberalism and Agro-Industry in Costa Rica

9. Liberty and the Contra in Nicaragua

PART 4: SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION AND ELITE NARRITIVES, 1979-1992

10. Democracy and Revolution

11. From Liberalism to Neo-Liberalism

Appendix A: Marriages and Descendents of Children of James Hill and Dolores Bernal Nájera

Appendix B: Selection of the Interview Population

Notes

Index

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