Explain the role played by external actors (government, NGOs, political parties) in the emergence, spread, and decline of the rondas campesinas, employing Tarrow’s concepts of political opportunities and constraints, frames, repertoires of contention, and mobilizing structures as appropriate.
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The role played by external actors such as the government, non-government organizations, and political parties in the emergence, spread, and decline of the rondas campesinas, employing Tarrow’s concepts of political opportunities and constraints, frames, repertoires of contention, and mobilizing structures shall be discussed in this essay.
“Ronda Campesina” or Peasant Round, is an autonomous peasant patrol in rural Peru especially active during the early 1980s in northern Peru and during the insurgency by the Maoist group “Sendero Luminoso” or Shining Path and by the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.
Originally, the rondas were formed as a protection force against small crimes such as theft, specifically cattle rustling but has evolved into a full-blown private justice system, complete with courts that soon provoked the ire of the Peruvian state (Helmke and Levitsky, 2004).
“Shining Path” leader Abimael Guzmán launched the insurgency against the government in 1980 but the Peruvian armed forces generally ignored the threat at the very outset. The very core of the movement was land redistribution and the insurgency was confined to rural areas in the Andean regions inhabited by indigenous and Amerindian groups, and hardly reachable by the government. However, peasants who did not support the revolutionary movement created “rondas campesinas” (Helmke and Levitsky, 2004). The people’s war begun with small guerrilla units with a broad vision of Maoist strategy and tactics. By1982, the army intervened directly to combat the insurgency but prior to this, the police have been conducting the war. The PCP responded with an army of its own: the People’s Guerrilla Army (Brooke, 1991).
Using the strategic stage of the defensive, the People’s Army enlarged its operations in the Andean states of Ayacucho, Huancavelica, and Apurimac. In 1980, 219 attacks were carried out and by mid-1986, a total of more than 30,000 attacks already occurred. By the 1990s, increasing numbers of battles have been fought in the three regions of Peru: the coast, the sierra, and the jungle while Lima and its nearby areas had the PCP announce in word and deed that a new strategic level has been achieved. The strategic equilibrium characterized by larger and more heavily armed guerrilla formations assaulting more fortified government positions and attacks in the cities defined the situation (Brooke, 1991).
It had been noted that it was only in 1982 the Peruvian government began to take action in response to the situation. Military rule was established in 9 provinces after a state of emergency was declared in December of that year. Likewise, the Rondas Campesinas were employed by the military but soon, the military and their auxiliaries the Rondas Campesinas committed human rights atrocities against their enemies while the Maoists also used attacks against the civilian population.
In many contexts, it could be understood that informal institutions ranging from bureaucratic and legislative norms to clientelism and patrimonialism, shape even more strongly political behavior and outcomes in this process. As can be expounded, the government played a very critical role in the formation of rondas campecinas as it ignored the need of its constituents in a time when their lives and properties were in peril.
Distance from the central government as well as indifference to the Queche group should have been properly addressed by the government using its communication and information system, not necessarily the military, in order to provide a channel between the peasants as well as the insurgents and the government per se.
The non-government organizations, at this instance, have taken in the form of the rondas campecinas as a way of answering insurgency, local crime, and other attributions committed against rural Peruvians in the time when their needs were not addressed by the government. Likewise, it can be indicated that although not formally acknowledged, people groups have supported the rondas campecinas by keeping mum, active participation, and indifference.
Political parties who either used the issue against the Shining Path or totally ignored them as well provided the support the Shining Path needed. By addressing the problem in the wrong way either by ignorance, indifference, or exploitation of issues, instead of providing for the necessary tool, which is land, to pacify the insurgents, political parties added fire on the insurgency.
In her book, Tarrow (1998) defined cycle of contention as: “a phase of heightened conflict across the social system: with rapid diffusion of collective action from more mobilized to less mobilized sectors; a rapid pace of innovation in the forms of contention; the creation of new or transformed collective action frames; a combination of organized and unorganized participate; and sequences of intensified information flow and interaction between challengers and authorities. Such widespread contention produces externalities that give challengers at least a temporary advantage and allows them to overcome the weaknesses in their resource base. It demands that states devise broad strategies of response that are either repressive or facilitative or a combination of the two,” (Page 142.)
In addition, he suggested that social movements have an elusive power that puts forward a theory of collective action to explain its surges and declines, and the power of movement that has effects on personal lives, policy reforms, and political culture. The rise and fall of social movements is a part of political struggle and the outcome of changes in political opportunity structure. The influence of political structures on the formation of popular movements includes both external political and social influences, plus developments in the interactions between movements and the states or regimes they are confronting. Tarrow mostly defines movements that have had strong political effects in various nations and that the “cycles of contention” impact the evolution of movements over time. Tarrow reconstructed the disparate revolutions in Europe in 1848 as a widespread movement or coverage of how states can co-opt a movement’s message as a means of control. While he has a nearly Marxist conception of such trends but avoids pontificating Marxist theorizing. Tarrow proposes that there are five political opportunity structures that include: increasing access, shifting alignments, divided elites, influential allies, and repression and facilitation (Tarrow, 1998).
Like the collective behavior theorists of the 1950s and 1960s, Wood emphasizes the psychological benefits of participating in collective action in her account of campesino support for the FMLN. How does her explanation differ from collective behavior theory? What additional factors play a role in her explanation of why some campesinos supported the FMLN while others did not?
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There had been many forms of collective behavior defined by sociologists. “Collective behavior” refers to social processes and events which do not reflect existing social structure such as laws, conventions, and institutions, but emerge in a spontaneous way. The term was first used by Robert E. Park was employed by Herbert Blumer. Examples of collective behavior include religious revival, a sudden interest in certain arts, or popular culture, among others. These events occur without clear social prescriptions, but they exemplify neither conformity nor deviance.
In this essay, I shall try to explore how Wood’s explanation differs from collective behavior theory as well as what additional factors played a role in her explanation of why some campesinos supported the FMLN while others did not in El Salvador event.
In order to provide the rationale behind Wood’s emphasis on the psychological benefits of participating in collective action, it is necessary to understand what has undergone in E Salvador in this context. Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) as suggested by Wood (2003), provided a basis for ad-sustained popular mobilization for the distinct type of democratic transition in El Salvador. The mobilization, likewise, succeeded in transforming the political and economic interests of the country’s ruling oligarchy. It was decided by the elites that after decades of political exclusion and repression, the only way to end the war and rebuild the country’s infrastructure to support an export economy would be to allow the left to participate in the formal political process but in exchange for the armed left to surrender the creation of a revolutionary state in El Salvador. The FMLN and the government were able to settle their differences and after disarming, demobilizing, and accepting the electoral process of the FMLSN led to the historic signing of the Peace Accords between the government of El Salvador and FMLN (Wood, 2003).
El Salvador prior to the Peace Accords was ruled through a mixture of state repression and electoral fraud. Many Salvadorans inns the 1970s were mobilized to demand justice after the fraudulent presidential elections in 1972 and 1977. Revolution was the only recourse though by the majority of rebels as a means to bring about a more socially, economically, and politically just society giving birth to FMLN. The next twelve years saw the insurgents battle the US-backed El Salvador military that forced the country’s elite into accepting a negotiated settlement.
The FMLN widely recognized the high level of support it received from campesinos or people who engaged in agricultural activities that provided the foundation of the rural insurgency despite the great risks to their lives and their family and friends.
Here, Wood proposed that traditional explanations of revolutionary mobilization such as class struggle, political opportunity structures, the solidarity of peasant communities, the existence of social networks, relative deprivation and purely, rational self-interest did not provide sufficient backbone for the extent and timing of the collective action for the insurgents and their supporters (Wood, 2003).
Moral and affective benefits were suggested by Wood to have contributed largely to the action and participation of the majority of civilian supporters based on Wood’s evidence collected from over 200 interviews between 1987 to 1996. She has interviewed insurgents, those who supported the insurgents, the military, and even those who remained neutral. Included in the lists of insurgents are non-combatants but providers of food, water, shelter, and logistical support such as movement of ordnance, provision of intelligence, and report on government troop movements, among others (Wood, 2003).
Wood (2003) poses the question of “what circumstances and with what motivations do rural people mobilize collectively to achieve change?” and suggested that building on ethnographic fieldwork and oral histories, Wood argued that the actions of rural people in El Salvador constituted an “assertion of citizenship” that cannot be reduced to any calculation of the probability of altering outcomes or achieving exclusive benefits. In the context of social process, she proposed the possibility of the “pleasures of agency” even in the shadow of civil war widespread support among rural people for the leftist insurgency during the civil war in El Salvador. Likewise, she has challenged conventional interpretations of collective action. Wood suggested that those who supplied tortillas, information, and other aid to guerillas took mortal risks and yet stood to gain no more than those who did not (Wood, 2003).
As such, Wood was able to provide an alternative definition for collective behavior not necessarily having to do with social processes and events which do not reflect existing social structure such as laws, conventions, and institutions, but emerge in a spontaneous way. It is therefore based on what had been existing under the provision of governments and the experiences of people to clamor for change and development despite the dangers posed by their actions. While insurgency may be viewed at most as a combatant, relating to the use of arms and fight against the ruling class or elite posed with the government system, in El Salvador’s account, insurgency took the form of equally engaging force and human relations between the combatants and non-combatants who provided what they can for a cause they believe in.
Brooke, James (1991) “Marxist Revolt Grows Strong in the Shantytowns of Peru”, New York Times, Nov. ll.
Helmke, Gretchen and Steven Levitsky. “Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda.” Perspectives on Politics (2004), 2: 725-740 Cambridge University Press.
Tarrow, Sidney. (1998) Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge University Press.
Wood, Elizabeth Jean. (2003) Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador. Cambridge University Press.