High risk collective action defending human rights in chile uruguay and argentina
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“High-Risk Collective Action: Defending Human Rights in Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina.”. Mara Loveman. Introduction. Core Research Question: Why do some people put their lives at risk to oppose repressive states/regimes? Research Design: Comparative Analysis

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High risk collective action defending human rights in chile uruguay and argentina

“High-Risk Collective Action: Defending Human Rights in Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina.”

Mara Loveman



Core Research Question:

Why do some people put their lives at risk to oppose repressive states/regimes?

Research Design: Comparative Analysis

To address this question, Loveman conducts a competitive analysis of Human Rights Orgs (HROs) in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina.



Explaining Collective Action

Repression is supposed to depress mobilization. These cases reveal that repression can stimulate collective action.

Factors That Can Influence: High Risk Situations

Factors that can influence collective action in high risk situations are the following:

1) Relationship between strategies of repression

and embedded social networks

2) Dense inter-personal networks are embedded within

broader national and international networks



Military Governments and Human Rights:

In each of the countries examined, HROs emerged in response to systematic violations of human rights by military governments.

Research Questions:

1) Why and how did individuals resist in the face of repression?

2) How we account for variations in the scope and strength of HROs in he countries under investigation?



Core Argument:

We need a synthetic approach that focuses on:

1) Interpersonal links

2) Embedded social and political networks

3) Resource Mobilization capacity

4) Identity Construction

5) Political Opportunity

…that is, focuses on everything



Two Main Research Questions:

1) Under what conditions do high risk SM occur?

2) Why do people participate in such movements?



Social Movement Theory and High Risk Collective Action

The SM literature offers different answers to these two questions.

Social movement theory

Social Movement Theory

Social Movement Theory (480)

1) Micro-Level Approaches: Motivational Accounts

a. Rational Choice Theory

2) Constructivist Approaches (Role of Identity)

3) Social Networks

4) Resource Mobilization (Organizational Analysis)

5) Political Opportunity Structure

Social movement theory1

Social Movement Theory

Micro-Level Approaches: Motivational Accounts (480)

Rational Choice Theory:

Individual cost/benefit analysis, rational calculations

explains why do and do not participate in SM. Focuses

material benefits, and often ignores or reduces solidary or

purposive benefits.

Collective Action Problem: The Free-Rider

Social movement theory2

Social Movement Theory

Rational Choice: Limitations

RC theories work best in situations where the costs and benefits of participation are clear, or where the risks are low. In high risks situations, the costs and benefits of participation are rarely clear.

Also, RC cannot explain non-material motivations for participating, that is, were “meaning: matters more than “material” benefits. (480)

Social movement theory3

Social Movement Theory

Theories of Participation:

Material: “tangible rewards that are easily converted into money” or status.

Solidary: “intangible rewards that stem from social interaction, like status, deference, and friendship.”

Purposive: Being involved in a worthy cause.*

Political Participation in High Risk Situations

In high risk situations, solidary and purposive often outweigh material incentives. (481)

*Source: Rosenstone and Hansen

Social movement theory4

Social Movement Theory

Constructivist Approaches: (482)

Motivational theories fail to take into account the social processes through which collective action occurs.

Role of Identity:

Identity may help explain why someone participates, it may also be reshaped by participation. In either case, it may compel someone to participate regardless of the risk.

Social movement theory5

Social Movement Theory

Social Network Theory (483)

Examines “macro-mobilization” processes: the types of social networks potential participants are embedded in can impact mobilization efforts.

Example: McAdam, Freedom Summer, Mississippi

Participants in the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi were encouraged to go by friends and family, and by the pre-existing networks of social activists in which they were situated.

Social movement theory6

Social Movement Theory

Resource Mobilization Theory: (483)

In addition to social ties, connections to certain types of organizations, or the existence (or absence) of existing organizations may explain why people and do not participate.

The Importance of Organization

The right attitude, personality or social network is not enough. What generally determines the level of participation is the scope and strength of available organizations.

Social movement theory7

Social Movement Theory

Organizations and High Risk Settings

The presence or absence of organizations may help explain the scope and strength of SMs (HROs) in repressive states.

HROs and Resources: (484)

HROs need access to resources to sustain mobilization.

Institutional Links to:

1) Unions

2) Religious Organizations

3) Universities

4) NGOs, Parties

Social movement theory8

Social Movement Theory

Political Opportunity Structure (484)

Neither resources, nor networks/organizations help explain the timing of social movement activity. To understand when SM occur, you need to consider the political opportunity structure.

Timing of Social Movement Activity

Do SM emerge when the state liberalizes, or becomes more repressive?



Emergence of HROs in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina (485)

Though separate and unique countries, they each experienced military dictatorships in 1970s and 1980s, as well as movements that sought to resist government sanctioned human rights violations.

Historical Overview:

Chile: Military Coup in 1973, ended a period of civilian rule

Uruguay: Military Coup in 1973, ended a period of civilian rule

Argentina: Coup in 1976,military intervention more common

In each, military saw itself as a defender of the public against “subversives.”



Core Research Goal:

Each country studied saw the development of HROs that opposed a military government, but they varied both in terms of scope and strength.

In what ways does the SM literature help us explain this variation?

Chile human rights organization

Chile: Human Rights Organization

Human Rights Organization in Chile

During the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1973-1989), HRO emerged immediately and functioned even during the heightof the repression.

Waves of HRO Opposition

Organized human rights opposition took place in three waves:

1) Religious Organizations

2) Family of Victims

3) Opposition political parties

Chile human rights organization1

Chile: Human Rights Organization

Waves of HRO Opposition

1) Religious Organizations

The first groups, networks and individual to challenge the Pinochet dictatorship were primarily religious organizations.


COPACHI: Comite de Cooperacion para la Paz en Chile

(Committee of Cooperation for Peace in Chile)

Chile human rights organization2

Chile: Human Rights Organization

Waves of HRO Opposition

2) Family of Victims

The activity of the religious organizations provided an

example and an opening for family of victims of the regime to begin mobilizing againstPinochet.

Chile human rights organization3

Chile: Human Rights Organization

Waves of HRO Opposition

3) Opposition political parties

After the regime loosened some of its controls in 1977, a

number of secular HROs emerged.

Chile human rights organization4

Chile: Human Rights Organization

Understanding these Trends

Why did HROs emerge during the height of the repression?

Political Opportunity: (489)

Does the proliferation of HROs after 1977, when the regime relaxed its political controls confirm the idea that movements emerge when state repression declines?

Chile human rights organization5

Chile: Human Rights Organization

Understanding these Trends

Social Networks

What role did preexisting social, political and professional networks play in the organized resistance to the Pinochet dictatorship?

Chile human rights organization6

Chile: Human Rights Organization

Chilean Case:

The church, as well as existing national and international networks that tied together students, labor unions, opposition political leaders and other professionals provided the organizational cover and space, as well as legitimacy for early HR resistance to the regime.

Chile human rights organization7

Chile: Human Rights Organization

Understanding HRO activity at the Individual Level (492)

What compelled individuals to risk arrest or death to participation in HRO against the government?

The “Sense of Self”

For many of the early activists, HRO work was not only political and ethical, it was also very personal.

A commitment to the cause, and specifically to those victimized by the state becomes “pro-social” and begins to outweigh individual concerns and calculations.



Uruguay: Absence of HRO during Repression (498)

The situation in Uruguay was very different from Chile: the coup took place in 1973, but sustained HRO activity did not emerge until 1981.

Research Question:

Why did HROs not develop at the same pace in Uruguay as in Chile, despite clear similarities between the cases?



Chile and Uruguay: Many Political and Cultural Similarities

The absence of HRO activity in Uruguay is even more perplexing given the cultural and political similarities between the cases.


1) Highly developed political system

2) History of electoral government

3) Large labor unions

4) Large urban population

5) Strong educational systems



Chile and Uruguay: Key Difference

Chile is a highly religious country, while Uruguay is more secular. As such, the church in Uruguay was unable to provide either the moral or institutional cover/space that it did for HROs in Chile.

Church and State in Uruguay: Lacked Influence

In Uruguay, the church lacked the cultural and political power it had in Chile. Though mostly silent in the face of human rights offences, the church was nonetheless targeted by the regime for its lack of open support for the government.



Uruguay: Weak Personal Networks

The type of cross-sectional personal networks –between the church, universities, unions -- that supported HRO activity in Chile was comparative weak in Uruguay.

Example: Political Left in Uruguay

The political left was historical weak in the Uruguay, and had few links to other institutions, like the church.

The lack of such interconnections was decisive.



Uruguay: Strategies of Repression: Mass Arrests (506)

Rather than use mass killings, the regime favored mass arrest for anyone thought to be hostile to the government. Huge numbers of people were detained, even lawyers defending the accused were subject to arbitrary arrest.

Outcome: Culture of Fear

The result was a culture of fear: anyone could be detained, at anytime, for any reason.



Uruguay: Political Opportunity Structure (506)

Only after the military government pursued constitutional reforms in 1980, did the first HRO (Servicio Paz y Justicia SERPAJ (Peace and Justice Service Organization) emerge.

Conclusion: (507)

Uruguay confirms the idea that repression depresses mobilization. The church, in particular, was unable provide the moral and institutional cover necessary to promote HRO activity. And, in Uruguay, without the church, there was essentially no space for the formation of HROs.



Argentina: An Intermediate Case (507)

HRO emerged after the 1976 military coup, even though the church supported the government. As such, there was not the type of dense cross-sectional networks, between the church and other potentially oppositional institutions that activists could rely on.

HRO Development: Non-Institutional Channels (509)



Argentina: HRO Development: Non-Institutional Channels

With the doors to the church closed, and few other spaces for opposition, HRO in Argentina to rely on:

- Existing communist/left groups

- An existing chapter of SERPAJ (Peace and Justice Service Organization)

Each had become active in opposition to government abuses before the 1976 military coup.



Argentina: “Dirty War”

A key strategy of repression after the coup was a policy of so-called “disappearances.” The result had was a “culture of fear” similar to what happened in Uruguay.

Response: Relatives of the Disappeared

The disappearances resulted in the development of several

groups of relatives of the disappeared who challenged military


Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of May Square

(Las Madres))

Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo

Familiares de Desaparecidos (Families of the




Response: Relatives of the Disappeared

The disappearances resulted in the development of several groups of relatives of the disappeared who challenged military rule through public marches/demonstrations.

Madres de Plaza de Mayo

(Mothers of the May Plaza) (Las Madres)

Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo

(Grandmothers of the May Plaza)

Familiares de Desaparecidos

(Families of the Missing)



Argentina: Relatives of the Disappeared (513)

How do we explain the emergence of these groups? Was it a political opportunity question? Did the demonstrators possess moral authority as parents, mothers?

Problems with Analysis:

Many of the original demonstrators were detained, and subsequently disappeared. Moreover, many parents who lost children did not protest.

Links to International HR Community

International attention helped the Las Madres, but were they nonetheless unable to achieve their goals.




Overall, HROs in Argentina lacked the social networks, and thus organizational strength necessary for sustained opposition to the regime.



Social Movements and High Risk Situations

Though the prevailing wisdom in the SM literature is that heightened state repression depresses SM activity, the cases reviewed here suggest state violence may in certain circumstances (given certain conditions) stimulate opposition to the military government.



Comparative Analysis of HRO in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina

What a study of these cases suggests is that SM activity in high risk situations depends upon particular types of pre-existing, cross-sectional, and dense personal networks linked to broader international support systems.

Such networks provide not only moral and institutional support, they are often tied into a preexisting social identity that encourages opposition at the individual level.

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