Our short list for the Juan E. Mendez Award for Human Rights in Latin America has been released! The winner will be announced at the end of January 2021. Descriptions and purchasing links for each book are below:

 

Ballestero, Andrea. A Future History of Water. Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2019. Based on fieldwork among state officials, NGOs, politicians, and activists in Costa Rica and Brazil, the book traces the unspectacular work necessary to make water access a human right and a human right something different from a commodity. Andrea Ballestero shows how these ephemeral distinctions are made through four technolegal devices—formula, index, list and pact. She argues that what is at stake in these devices is not the making of a distinct future but what counts as the future in the first place. A Future History of Water is an ethnographically rich and conceptually charged journey into ant-filled water meters, fantastical water taxonomies, promises captured on slips of paper, and statistical maneuvers that dissolve the human of human rights. Ultimately, Ballestero demonstrates what happens when instead of trying to fix its meaning, we make water’s changing form the precondition of our analyses.

 

Keeley, Theresa. Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America. Ithaca New York: Cornell University Press, 2020. Keeley analyzes the role of intra-Catholic conflict within the framework of U.S. foreign policy formulation and execution during the Reagan administration. She challenges the preponderance of scholarship on the administration that stresses the influence of evangelical Protestants on foreign policy toward Latin America. Especially in the case of U.S. engagement in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Keeley argues, the bitter debate between U.S. and Central American Catholics over the direction of the Catholic Church shaped President Reagan’s foreign policy. The flash point for these intra-Catholic disputes was the December 1980 political murder of four American Catholic missionaries in El Salvador. Liberal Catholics described nuns and priests in Central America who worked to combat structural inequality as human rights advocates living out the Gospel’s spirit. Conservative Catholics saw them as agents of class conflict who furthered the so-called Gospel according to Karl Marx. The debate was an old one among Catholics, but, as Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns contends, it intensified as conservative, anticommunist Catholics played instrumental roles in crafting U.S. policy to fund the Salvadoran government and the Nicaraguan Contras. The book describes the religious actors as human rights advocates and, against prevailing understandings of the fundamentally secular activism related to human rights, highlights religion-inspired activism during the Cold War. In charting the rightward development of American Catholicism, Keeley provides a new chapter in the history of U.S. diplomacy and shows how domestic issues such as contraception and abortion joined with foreign policy matters to shift Catholic laity toward Republican principles at home and abroad.

 

Miles, Steven H. The Torture Doctors: Human Rights Crimes and the Road to Justice. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2020. Torture doctors administer and invent techniques to inflict pain and suffering without leaving scars. Their knowledge of the body and its breaking points and their credible authority over death certificates and medical records make them powerful and elusive perpetrators of the crime of torture. In The Torture Doctors, Steven H. Miles fearlessly explores who these physicians are, what they do, how they escape justice, and what can be done to hold them accountable.At least one hundred countries employ torture doctors, including both dictatorships and democracies. While torture doctors mostly act with impunity ― protected by governments, medical associations, and licensing boards ― Miles shows that a movement has begun to hold these doctors accountable and to return them to their proper role as promoters of health and human rights. Miles’s groundbreaking portrayal exposes the thinking and psychology of these doctors, and his investigation points to how the international human rights community and the medical community can come together to end these atrocities.

 

Roekel, Eva van. Phenomenal Justice: Violence and Morality in Argentina. News Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2020. How do victims and perpetrators of political violence caught up in a complicated legal battle experience justice on their own terms? Phenomenal Justice is a compelling ethnography about the reopened trials for crimes against humanity committed during the brutal military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983. Grounded in phenomenological anthropology and the anthropology of emotion, this book establishes a new theoretical basis that is faithful to the uncertainties of justice and truth in the aftermath of human rights violations. The ethnographic observations and the first-person stories about torture, survival, disappearance, and death reveal the enduring trauma, heartfelt guilt, happiness, battered pride, and scratchy shame that demonstrate the unreserved complexities of truth and justice in post-conflict societies. Phenomenal Justice will be an indispensable contribution to a better understanding of the military dictatorship in Argentina and its aftermath.

 

Werb, Dan. City of Omens: A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019. For decades, American hungers sustained Tijuana. In this scientific detective story, a public health expert reveals what happens when a border city’s lifeline is brutally severed. Despite its reputation as a carnival of vice, Tijuana was, until recently, no more or less violent than neighboring San Diego, its sister city across the border wall. But then something changed. Over the past ten years, Mexico’s third-largest city became one of the world’s most dangerous. Tijuana’s murder rate skyrocketed and produced a staggering number of female victims. Hundreds of women are now found dead in the city each year, or bound and mutilated along the highway that lines the Baja coast. When Dan Werb began to study these murders in 2013, rather than viewing them in isolation, he discovered that they could only be understood as one symptom among many. Environmental toxins, drug overdoses, HIV transmission: all were killing women at overwhelming rates. As an epidemiologist, trained to track epidemics by mining data, Werb sensed the presence of a deeper contagion targeting Tijuana’s women. Not a virus, but some awful wrong buried in the city’s social order, cutting down its most vulnerable inhabitants from multiple directions. Werb’s search for the ultimate causes of Tijuana’s femicide casts new light on immigration, human trafficking, addiction, and the true cost of American empire-building. It leads Werb all the way from factory slums to drug dens to the corridors of police corruption, as he follows a thread that ultimately leads to a surprising turn back over the border, looking northward.