Today, March 14, 2013, the world is celebrating the election of Latin America’s first pope, Pope Francis. But all is not rosy. Despite worldwide celebration, snide newspaper headlines are emerging. Here’s a sample. It popped up yesterday in The Guardian. In fact, almost as soon as Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires (Argentina), was elected, The Guardian blustered: Pope Francis: questions remain over his role during Argentina’s dictatorship.
The paper goes on to state that
the news of Latin America’s first pope was clouded by lingering concerns about the role of the church — and its new head — during Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship.
The Catholic church and Pope Francis have been accused of a complicit silence and worse during the “dirty war” of murders and abductions carried out by the junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.
Today, the reputable New Yorker picked up the issue and is addressing it in its daily newsletter.
For quite some time, Cold War Studies has been planning a series on the Cold War in Latin America. Today seems like a good time to start — even if it’s a bit earlier than planned. So I’ll give you a brief introduction below, and tomorrow I’ll move right into Argentina. Then we’ll backtrack for a more sequential overview of Latin America’s role in the half century superpower conflict. I hope you’ll join me for the complete series.
Introduction to the Cold War in Latin America
After the shock of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the Cold War came to Latin America in full force. The Cuban government tried to help Marxist revolutionaries in other countries of the region, but there wasn’t much that they could do. The Cubans had their hands full with their own domestic challenges.
Although Latin American Marxists believed that Russia was on their side, the USSR played only a minor role in Latin America’s revolutionary movements. Instead Nationalism formed the bedrock of Latin America’s revolutionary fervor.
America didn’t see things this way. Even though there were no Soviet proxy guerilla forces in Latin America, the US State Department saw Soviet involvement at every turn.
Nevertheless, the counter-revolutionary violence that spread across the region in the 1960s and 1970s was actually based on support of the weak and impoverished masses in their struggle against rich minorities in their own countries as well as US multinational corporations.
The upper class and most of the middle class in Latin America were anti-communist. So were many of the poor. These anti-communists branded Marxist ideas as foreign to Latin America, emphasizing that Marxism was an imported ideology supported by radical university students who didn’t speak for the masses.
America’s most important anti-communist allies were the armed forces of Latin America. The working alliance between the US and Latin American militaries dated from World War II, and involved permanent, large scale US military aid for Latin American armies. It also included training at the US military’s School of the Americas. Here, the basic curriculum was summed up as counterinsurgency or “how to fight guerillas.”
The overall logic of the anti-communist alliance, sometimes called “national security doctrine,” was as follows:
- Latin American armed forces are key US allies in defense of the Free World, and counterinsurgency is their special role.
- The US military will handle any communist invaders from outside of the hemisphere.
- Latin American armies should defend against the internal enemies of freedom: revolutionary organizers in factories, poor neighborhoods, and universities.
Thus, the US alliance increased the power of Latin American armies within their own countries. Doctrine also offered a glorious mission — defending the “Free World” or even “Western Civilization. This mission won them rich and powerful friends as a fringe benefit. We’ll see how this played out in Argentina tomorrow.
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