In the 1960s, the US initiated a new aid policy for Latin America in response to the Cuban Revolution. The plan was called the Alliance for Progress and was announced by President Kennedy in 1961.
Based on the Marshall Plan, the Alliance was designed to reduce revolutionary pressures by stimulating economic development and political reform. But the Alliance for Progress never really got off the ground.
By the 1970s, most Latin American generals thought that socialist revolution was imminent. They could see signs all around them. Spray painted revolutionary slogans seemed to cover every wall. Marxism was becoming the predominant political philosophy among Latin American artists, social scientists, and nationalist intellectuals, and it pervaded the cultural scene.
The 1960s New Cinema of Brazil gained critical acclaim, producing films designed “to make people aware of their own misery.”
Cuba’s film industry became one of the best, and most influential, in Latin America. One of the most famous Cuban movies was titled Memories of Underdevelopment or Memorias del Subdesarrollo. Released in 1968, the film was elected the 144th best movie of all time in 2012. It tells the story of Sergio, a wealthy bourgeois aspiring writer, who decides to stay in Cuba even though his wife and friends flee to Miami. Sergio looks back over the changes in Cuba, from the Cuban Revolution to the missile crisis, the effect of living in an underdeveloped country, and his relations with his girlfriends Elena and Hanna. Memories of Underdevelopment highlights feelings of alienation during a tumultuous period of social change.
Latin American novels were becoming famous throughout the world, and prestigious authors were speaking for revolutions. Columbia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example, traveled often to Cuba and was a good friend of Fidel Castro.
The Garcia Marquez novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967),one of the best known Latin American novels of the 20th century, ends with a massacre, as government machine guns fire into crowds of workers on strike against a US banana company, (Garcia Marquez used literary license, however. The real event took place in 1928 near the author’s home.)
Authors such as Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes and Peru’s Maria Vargas Llosa also admired revolutionary Cuba.
Marxist thought was most prevalent in public universities. But even the Catholic Church developed a wing in sympathy with the revolutionaries.
Many in the Latin American military believed that it was their responsibility to put an end to the revolutionary “red tide.“ Secret kidnapping, torture, and murder in the name of counterinsurgency became widespread. Anyone suspected of sympathizing with guerillas was targeted: student protestors, labor leaders, peasant organizers.
Since the 1960s, guerillas were often urban. They lived and worked in the big cities close to government and army headquarters where they could cause disruption. They also preyed on wealthy industrialists to finance their operations. Still, the urban guerillas were vulnerable, and they were forced to rely on secrecy for protection.
“This is war,” explained the generals.
Latin American security forces subjected prisoners to a variety of horrors. Many in Latin America believed that torture techniques were taught at the US School of the Americas (see our post on Pope Francis and the Cold War in Latin America. ) The verdict may be out on this accusation, but many believe that ‘national security doctrine’ maintained a climate of emergency that was used to justify such action.
American policy called for democracy, but the US helped trigger dictatorship by encouraging the Latin American armed forces to take an increasingly active role in national life. As officers began promoting economic development and public health, a lot of them saw civilian politicians an unnecessary hindrance.
To “save democracy from the Marxists,” the generals engaged in a series of preemptive strikes. The governments of one Latin American country after another were taken over by juntas — executive committees composed of generals and admirals.
The juntas of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s tried to keep things under collective, institutional control. They wanted to avoid the emergence of an unpredictable leader like Argentina’s Peron.
The nonpersonal nature of the new military dictatorships led political scientists to speak of bureaucratic authoritarianism. By the mid 1970s, a plague of bureaucratic authoritarianism had swept through South America and constitutional civilian governments were few and far between.
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