Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times bureau chief in Nica­ragua, is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown. His new book is The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War. (December 2013)

Glimmers of Hope in Guatemala

The Kaibiles, a special counterinsurgency force of the Guatemalan army that has been accused of human rights violations, Guatemala City, 1988
Guatemala’s old power structure is losing its grip. All three of the institutions that have run the country as a virtual triumvirate for most of its existence—the army, the wealthy elite, and the Catholic Church—are weaker than at any time in the last half-century. New social forces are emerging. Members of the postwar generation seem eager to learn about Guatemala’s past and help guide its future. The middle class is growing. Movements advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples are active and growing. New forms of communication and social media have made it impossible for the repressive apparatus to function with the impunity it has enjoyed for generations.

A New Direction for Turkey’s Democracy?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and top military commanders at the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk after the military's annual meeting, August 1, 2011, Ankara, Turkey

My report from Turkey in the current New York Review of Books asserts that civilian power in that country has “emerged from the shadow of military power, a breakthrough of historic proportions.” The July 29 resignation of Turkey’s four top military commanders was a capitulation to that reality. It is likely to lead to something Turkey has never known: civilian control of the military.

Triumphant Turkey?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine at a campaign rally in Istanbul, June 11, 2011
Politically Turkey has changed more in the last ten years than it did in the previous eighty. For generations the army was able to enforce strict secularism in the tradition of Ataturk, but a new ethos, more open to religious influence, has changed the terms of politics and public life. Turkey has emerged from the shadow of military power, a breakthrough of historic proportions. Whether it is moving toward an era of European-style freedom or simply trading one form of authoritarianism for another is unclear.

Life Under the Ortegas

During the 1970s, Dionisio Marenco was one of many young Nicaraguans who decided to risk their lives by joining the rebel Sandinista National Liberation Front. He helped rob a payroll office to finance the group, joined in planning spectacular commando raids, and narrowly escaped death in a firefight when he …

Big Gamble in Rwanda

One morning last summer, while staying at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda, I heard a great commotion below my first-floor window. I looked out, and saw a crowd of about one hundred distraught people pressing around a man who was dressed in a Canadian army uniform and …

The Trouble with Costa Rica

The CIA needed a very important favor from Oscar Arias after he became president of Costa Rica in 1986. Just across his country’s northern border, in Nicaragua, CIA-sponsored rebels were fighting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista regime. Costa Rica’s outgoing president had allowed them to maintain clandestine bases on Costa …

Kurds in Turkey: The Big Change

A book fair was underway while I was in Diyarbakir. At the first stand I visited, wedged between Turkish translations of War and Peace and For Whom the Bell Tolls, I found a selection of books with titles like History of Kurdistan and Turkey’s Kurdish Problem. No such books could …

Clouds Over Iran

Consumed by the conflict in Iraq, the Bush administration has been unable to find either the political or military resources to deal with Iran, which poses both greater dangers and greater opportunities. That is fortunate. During the surge of messianic zeal that drove the Bush administration in its early days, …

Will Turkey Make It?

Nine centuries after Pope Urban II sent the first Crusaders off to fight “the Turk,” 321 years after the Ottoman army besieged Vienna, Turkey and Europe are approaching a historic encounter. In December, leaders of European Union countries will vote on whether to begin negotiations that would lead to Turkey’s …

Downfall in Nicaragua

When Arnoldo Alemán took office as President of Nicaragua in 1997, he seemed ready to make history. He had defeated Daniel Ortega, longtime leader of the Sandinista Front, and vowed to lead his long-suffering country toward democracy and prosperity. Now it is likely that he will be remembered for something …

Love in a Time of Revolution

In the days after Sandinista revolutionaries seized power in Nicaragua in July 1979, jubilant guerrillas flooded into the capital to embrace long-lost friends. On a plane from Costa Rica, where she had been working as a Sandinista propagandist and arms smuggler, the poet Gioconda Belli landed with copies of the …

Our Man in Honduras

When a country finds itself at the center of world history, it begins attracting spies, mercenaries, war profiteers, journalists, prostitutes, and fortune-seekers. Often they gravitate to a particular hotel. In Honduras, which was shaken from its long slumber in the 1980s and turned into a violent staging ground for cross-border …

Country Without Heroes

In the first delirious days after they chased the dictator Anastasio Somoza out of Nicaragua in 1979, Sandinista rebels ran the country from makeshift offices in the Intercontinental Hotel, one of the few large buildings that had survived the shattering earthquake seven years earlier. Today the hotel is owned by …

Guatemala: The Unfinished Peace

A Mayan woman named Petronila doesn’t know how old she is, but she knows how long it has been since her life was shattered in the Guatemalan war: nineteen years. The story she told me when I was in the highland province of Quiché is typical of what happened to …

Self-Portrait of a Revolutionary

When the Sandinista leader Tomás Borge was a boy in provincial Nicaragua, he formed, he tells us, an intimate bond with a brave and saintly Apache Indian named Winnetou. The Winnetou books, written by the German novelist Karl May, had millions of young readers around the world during the first …