LATIN AMERICA IN THE LATE 20TH CENTURY
Chapter 32 - pg. 762-781
In Latin America, much of the 20th century witnessed a struggle between the forces of revolution and reaction. In the second half of the 20th century, Latin America took an intermediate position between the nations of the North Atlantic and those of Africa and Asia. Investments often came from the West, and Latin America was vulnerable to the world financial system. Throughout the 20th century, it grappled with issues of social justice, cultural autonomy, and economic security. Workers’ organizations emerged as a political force. Explosive urban growth and emigration were often key concerns. Overall, the economy and politics were subject to broad shifts. Although much of Latin America was subject to the rhetoric of social and political change, remarkable little change actually occurred. At the same time, significant transformations took place in education, social services, women’s rights, and the role of industry.
LATIN AMERICA AFTER WWII
The end of World War II was not a critical event since the region was only modestly involved. In Brazil, Vargas returned to power in 1950 until his death in 1954. In Argentina, Peron’s populism threatened the military and was victim of a military coup in 1955 as a result. More broadly, the Cold War stimulated a new round of political agitation that was increasingly communist-leaning in nature.
Mexico and the PRI. Between 1940 and 2000, Mexican politics was dominated by the PRI, where rule became increasingly conservative and focused on economic growth rather than social justice. But corruption gradually led to mounting calls for change as the principles of the 1917 revolution seemed distant. These pressures for change are evidenced by a guerilla movement in the 1990s and the election of Vicente Fox in 2000. Collectively the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Fox worked to improve Mexico’s trade and relations with the United States.
RADICAL OPTIONS IN THE 1950s
Although democratic and populist authoritarian reformers gained some traction, a more radical and frantic call for development led many nations toward socialism as the Cold War intensified. In some situations, ninety percent of land was owned by six percent of the population. Thus nationalizing mines and redistributing land became options for countries like Cuba and Guatemala.
The Cuban Revolution: Socialism in the Caribbean. Long in the shadow of the United States, Cuba’s economy was highly reliant on sugar exports and imports from the United States. This tenuous situation yielded a growing disparity between the urban middle classes and rural poor. Cuba was ripe for a radical revolution when coupling these economic problems with a leader in Fulgencio Batista, who promised reform and a democratic constitution in 1940 but was little more than a corrupt dictator. In the 1950s, reform-minded opposition mounted, most notably among leftist, university-educated Fidel Castro. Ultimately successful in 1958, Castro pledged real democracy, justice, and prosperity for all by establishing collective farms, confiscating and redistributing property, and enlisting the support of the USSR. As result Cuba isolated itself from the U.S. and much of the international community. This in turn led to failed economic policies as the Soviet Union tried to subsidize a Cuban economy that remained dependant on exports. However, much of the revolution’s social reforms were successful as public health, education, literacy, and housing rapidly improved in rural areas to rates that exceeded most of Latin America. Since the fall of Communism in Europe, Cuba has become one of the last bastions of that system (along with North Korea) – now with Soviet aid. Yet the model of revolution and successful resistance to U.S. pressure was attractive to rebels in other Latin American nations. In particular, Che Guevara, a famous Argentinean militant, used his experience in helping the Cuban Revolution to spread anti-American and communist rhetoric to other Latin American countries.
Guatemala: Reform and United States Intervention. Guatemala faced some of the region’s worst problems, including illiteracy, poor health, and high mortality. Its economy depended almost exclusively on banana and coffee plantations, which were frequently controlled by American firms like the United Fruit Company. To counteract these conditions, Guatemalan president Arbenz utilized socialist principles to nationalize many aspects of the economy. His central program was to redistribute large tracts of cultivated land held by the privileged elite and foreign firms. These actions won Arbenz the support of the Soviet bloc, but put Guatemala in direct conflict with American interests - particularly United Fruit, who stood to lose half a million acres of land. As a result of this conflict of interests, the U.S. CIA organized a Guatemala opposition group to overthrow Arbenz and set up a pro-American military dictatorship.
THE MILITARY OPTION & REFORM IN THE 1960s & 1970s
By the mid-1960s and 1970s, political winds shifted again. This time many believed political stability rather than radical changes was instrumental to overcoming Latin America’s patterns of inequality and international dependency. As a result, many turned to military governments for stability and the Catholic Church, long influential in Latin politics, for social justice.
Out of the Barracks: Soldiers Take Power. The move toward military government was precipitated by at least three developments: a long history of caudillo and military intervention, the professionalization of the militaries, and the success of the Cuban Revolution. Worried about revolutionary change, professional military officers often saw themselves as above politics and best equipped to solve their nation’s ills. Essentially a presidency controlled by the military, these dictatorships repressed opposition, regulated inflation, and promoted industrialization all in the name of stability. Standing in stark contrast to communist regimes of the 1950s, many brutal authoritarians in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Peru were supported by the U.S. because of the Cold War. Still, longstanding problems in many countries such as income distribution, land distribution and social conditions remained unequal.
NEW DEMOCRATIC TRENDS IN THE 1980s
With the exception of Cuba, many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Panama witnessed an increase in democratization in the 1980s. Again, economies continued to struggle however as inflation, national debt, and export economies intensified. Despite difficulties, by the 1990s it appeared democratic trends were well-established in Latin America.
SOCIETIES IN SEARCH OF SOCIAL CHANGE
Slow Change in Women’s Roles. Feminist movements successfully pushed for greater political and economic equality. By the 1950s, most of the region allowed females to vote. Shifts in attitudes about women’s social roles developed more slowly. Overall, as in many other areas, by the beginning of the 21st century, Latin America was in the intermediate position between industrialized and developing nations where the status of women was concerned.
The Movement of People. During the 20th century, Latin America’s population soared in comparison to North America. At the beginning of the period, the major population trend was immigration into Latin America. After WWII, migration to the region’s massive urban areas and the United States dominated Latin America’s population trends. As a result, in 1999 the region was the most urbanized of the developing world. Problems related to this rapid growth remain, including persistent ethnic tensions.
Cultural Reflections of Despair and Hope. As despair was common, the vast majority of Latin Americans turned to Catholicism, although Protestantism has been making inroads. Latin America’s internationally famed music, dance, and literature were also important parts of a popular culture that provided hope for the people of this massive region.
The United States and Latin America. One factor slowing change in Latin America was the continued presence of the United States. U.S. military intervention became a common means of protecting American interests in Latin America—more than 30 occurred before 1933—and contributed to a strong anti-imperialist reaction. The grounds for these interventions were economic, political, strategic, and ideological.
n Depth: Human Rights in the 20th Century. Human rights violations occurred in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s under communist and military-led regimes. The use of terrorism against political opponents by the state and by groups opposed to the state became all too common. This affront to human rights was no worse than in other areas of the world unfortunately. Although the concepts of morally-grounded human rights go back to the ancient Greeks and 19th century European beliefs in natural law, the United Nations issued history’s most sweeping pronouncement with a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Yet, issues of U.N. enforcement power, differing cultural priorities, and the political strategies used to protect human rights continue to fuel debate.
As Latin America entered the 21st century, it continued to seek economic, social, and political growth and stability. New forms of politics were tried, but many long-standing problems remained. Nevertheless, Latin America was the most advanced region of the “developing” world and in the 1990s its economies grew considerably. Cultural issues remained unresolved and Latin America’s global position became increasingly complex.
LATIN AMERICA IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY
Chapter 29 - pg. 679-681, 694-697