The Pacification of Central America by James Dunkerley, Verso, £10.95
THE 1980s WERE A decade of unrelenting strife and suffering in Central America. Civil wars, counter-insurgency and terrorism claimed as many as 160,000 lives and displaced two million people. It was also a period of intense political inspiration. Left-wing guerrilla campaigns in El Salvador and Guatemala, the embattled Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the heroism and martyrdom of radical Catholic activists attracted solidarity and admiration from around the world.
In the 1990s the guerrillas have mostly put down their arms. Elections have replaced insurrection and an uneasy truce seems to be holding in most of Central America.
For some observers, writes Dunkerley, it has been hard to confront "the disappointment when combat ceases and haggling pragmatism sets in". The passion and commitment of the 1980s seem long past.
Dunkerley's lucid account of the region's "pacification" looks at the political and economic forces which forced the ceasefire. The Sandinistas' historic electoral defeat in 1990 and the Panama invasion two months earlier are clearly key moments in the process.
But Dunkerley also stresses the role of diplomacy and negotiation, pointing to complex and shifting peace talks.
But "pacification", the book emphasises, is hardly synonymous with peace. The social inequalities which have sparked conflict for most of the century still exist, exacerbated by economic malaise.
As the commoditydependent economies of Nicaragua and El Salvador deteriorate still further, the prospects for long-term stability are anything but certain.