Nuances in Bottom-Up Interpretations: Colombia's and Guatemala's Radically Different Approaches to Transitional Justice

Chelsea L. Carrick, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Abstract

Scholars have treated “bottom-up” transitional justice processes as a non-nuanced whole, situating grassroots actors in direct opposition to large-scale, or “top-down,” approaches to transitional justice. Such an analysis is limited because it fails to take into account complex contextual factors that contribute to the ways in which bottom-up mechanisms manifest. Colombia and Guatemala are two cases in which bottom-up actors have strived to influence the ways in which peace and justice were articulated by their respective governments; however, the methods and outcomes are strikingly different. In Guatemala, grassroots actors sought to achieve ethnic inclusion, neglecting class and land-based demands. Colombia’s grassroots groups, however, have favored an anti-hegemonic approach through which bottom-up actors seek to redefine transitional justice in anti-hegemonic terms, frequently favoring radical land reform and redistribution and opposing neoliberal forms of post-conflict development. I argue that there are three primary variables influencing how bottom-up actors in Colombia and Guatemala responded to civil conflict and articulated transitional justice: 1. The ethnic nature of the conflict and the delineation of victims and perpetrators. 2. The countries’ respective access to resources 3. The role of religion (Catholic Liberation theology vs. conservative evangelism)