In his book A History of Political Murder in Latin America: Killing the Messengers of Change, John Green analyzes political murder in Latin America. Generally, Latin America can hardly be called a politically stable region. In the past century, this region was involved in revolutions, coup d’états, massacres and other events, which prevented Latin American countries from establishing a firm economic and political situation. Even though some consider it to become a thing of the past, the author suggests that the use of political murder “shows no signs of abating in the early twenty-first century” (Green, 2015, p. 1). In particular, the author views the phenomena of political murder as the tool to eliminate not simple political opponents, but those political figures that are able to ruin regime, and change the system, and whom the author calls the messengers of change.
Undoubtedly, it might prove difficult to reshape the society after several decades of revolutionary terror against the civil population and bloody regimes of the right-wing junta. Political murder was a common means of protecting the power from pretenders at that time in Latin America. The author claims that “elites have also skillfully used homicide as a mechanism of domination” (Green, 2015, p. 2), thus hegemony and political murder became very tightly related in Latin America. In this case, political murder appears to be the most effective and, surprisingly, not the most violent method of strengthening the hegemony of the regime. It excludes the mass killing and terror against the civilian population, but helps to avoid revolutions or coup d’états, which always cause great casualties. At the same time, political murder is still an act of violence that cannot be easily justified, even by active guerrilla movements.
Political murder is not necessarily a sign of totalitarianism because violence and democracy are incompatible with each other; however, the author has the opposite opinion about it. Green (2015) argues that “all Latin American states have used political murder from time to time, not just military dictatorships, but also democracies” (p. 4). At the same time, the author tries to see the role of political murders in Latin America not through their relation to the state, but through their relation to aristocracy. He concludes that Latin American state may remain democratic, but its highest ranks are ready to take any measures to hold the reign, in other words, they are still apt to use political murder as a means of protecting the power. J. Green properly applies the theory of the power elites of C. Wright Mills, who developed the theory of identification of high-level militaries, economic tycoons and politicians.
In the first part of the book, the writer analyzes the culture of political murder in Latin America. He reviews numbers of assassinations, lists the names of victims and tries to find the reason for their physical elimination by power elites. The author comes to a conclusion that even though Latin American states have different cultural and political traditions, most of them are similar in their use of political murder and in the choice of victims. Furthermore, it can be clearly observed that without the ideology of the regime and government system, elites accomplish the killing of people who share similar features. Green (2015) states that they are mostly “government opponents, members of ethnic and religious groups,” but, generally, they can be called “anybody with an idea in his head” (p. 18). Political activity, which goes against the course of government, may be a serious reason to brand a person as dangerous to the state. Without regard to the role of these persons in revolutionary activity, they are mostly eliminated for being a possible threat to the status quo. Accordingly, preserving the such status on the political arena appears to be the primary target of political murders in Latin America. Such political tradition as a murder includes the penetration of people who are able to change something within the government, resulting in political stagnation in Latin America.
On the one hand, the murder of such people is difficult to understand, on the other hand, the reason of mass killing of revolutionaries and guerrillas is considered obvious. The only similar feature between them and people who simply seek for reformation of power is their desire for changes. The definition of messengers of change, which the author uses for these people, very accurately fits them in terms of political stagnation in Latin America. Politicians and activists, who gain popularity among people, are immediately eliminated. John Green uses the examples of Francisco Madero and Zapata in Mexico, Sandino in Nicaragua and others, who became leaders of the revolution in their respective countries. Even though the tradition of political murder is shared almost by all Latin American countries, the author suggests that the style of murder and its mechanics are different in all countries, whereas the target and the purpose always remain the same in all cases of political murder. Additionally, the writer analyzes what happens afterwards. In many cases, victims of assassination became the symbols of revolution and only encourage revolutionaries to continue their struggle with greater efforts. The graves of the murdered leaders may become symbolic places for their followers. Nevertheless, power elites make all efforts to blacken the reputation of the victims after death or lessen their contribution to the revolutionary movement.
The second part of A History of Political Murder in Latin America: Killing the Messengers of Change is the author’s analysis of justification of political murder. Green explores the way Latin American highest ranks try to excuse the murder of political opponents and the extent of their reason. First of all, John Green investigates whether it is possible to find moral justification of a political murder. On the one hand, it may seem that killing aggressive and radical guerrillas is reasonable and even moral. Assuming that their revolutionary activity may lead to hundreds and thousands of deaths, killing them may appear the easiest way to eliminate the threat. Nevertheless, power elites are not motivated by reducing casualties among the civilian population, but rather by preserving power and avoiding political unrests. Additionally, the author considers that one of the main problems of struggle against political murder is the overall pride about it among practitioners of such political violence. This not only makes difficult to eradicate murder as a part of political activity, but also makes it usual and appropriate tradition in Latin America.
Another chapter of the book assesses the role of the United States in forming of aforementioned political tradition in Latin America, which seems to be crucial. Green (2015) states that in the early 1980s, the United States greatly contributed to bringing out and allowing to flourish some of the region’s worst tendencies”, but Americans “did not create the use of political murder, they did readily facilitate it” (p. 145). The United States is often blamed for staging coup d’états, providing financial aid to revolutionaries and training guerrillas who destabilize the political situation in Latin America. For this reason, advocates of political murder in Latin America consider eliminating foreign agents as a moral action. Moreover, it allows them to brand any political leader who acts against government as a foreign agent. There is no need to argue about damage to the system of justice in countries where political murder is treated as a usual method of political struggle. The main problem is that there can be no political competition, and thus, no motivation for authorities to improve the lives of citizens. Undoubtedly, the United States can be blamed for the interference in the domestic affairs of some Latin American states during the Cold War, but it is not enough, as the justification for such murders was laid by the Spanish and the Portuguese colonists (Green, 2015, p. 6). Finally, the author concludes with the review of current political murders in the region and the role that civil rights organizations play in their attempts to stop such political tradition as political murder.
All things considered, this book provides a comprehensive analysis of the phenomena of a political murder in Latin America. In the states, which were framed by mass bloodstained revolutions, such political tool as murder does not seem surprising. Still, the author insists that political murder is not a remnant of the past in Latin America. His main point is about the similar features of these political murders, which are aimed at not simply killing political opponents, but messengers of change. These messengers, who try to break the status quo on the political arena become the main targets. John Green also considers that political murder does not necessarily mean that the state is totalitarian, rather states the overwhelming desire of elites to preserve their power. All in all, a political murder is often justified as the only way to political stability even in democratic states of Latin America; however, instead it brings them to the establishment of the dictatorship and the usurpation of power.