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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: November 2009



As grievances intensify potential challengers have new incentives to act. With support from allies they gain encouragement and resources. But whether movements will emerge and persist and whether they will succeed in achieving any of their objectives will be substantially determined by factors outside of their control. These central dimensions of the configuration of political opportunities are the subject of this chapter, which examines Guatemala, and the next chapter, which analyzes El Salvador and then concludes with a comparison of both with the other three countries of Central America.

Critics claim that the distinction between mobilization and political opportunities is often muddled in case studies using the political process approach. Poletta and Amenta note that critics particularly object to “a post-hoc quality” to such accounts, which identify as “‘opportunity’ any political development that preceded mobilization” (Poletta and Amenta 2001, 307). This and the next chapter accept this challenge, identifying first key changes in political opportunities, and then predicting the expected direction of popular mobilization. These predictions are tested with data for key indicators of contentious politics, demonstrations for Guatemala and strikes for El Salvador.

The Configuration of Political Opportunities

The relative openness or closure of the institutionalized political system, the stability or instability of elite alignments, and the capacity and propensity of the state to rely on repression are key aspects of the configuration of political opportunities facing contentious challengers. These have important consequences for their mobilization as well as their possibilities for success.