Peru’s military government (1968 to 1980) is hard to categorize in Cold War terms. It was a dictatorship, yet not guilty of severe human rights violations.
Peruvian officers announced revolutionary intentions that were explicitly “not communist.” They were also “not capitalist.” Instead, the military showed a sincere desire to serve Peru’s poor majority. Their policy was driven by old fashioned nationalism:
- ambitious agrarian reform in a country with vast rural poverty
- nationalization of oil and other industries
- promotion of employee-owned companies
- indigenista themes, such as raising Quechua to the formal status of a co-national language with Spanish.
The revolutionary government of Cuba expressed strong support for the Peruvian regime. In the 1970s and 1980s, it too was — in a sense — an anomaly. It remained authoritarian, and the army, long headed by Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, constituted one of the chief pillars of the regime. But the revolutionary state worked steadily to improve the lives of Cuba’s poor majority.
Mexico. on the other hand, totally disregarded the military trend. Marxism had influenced a generation of Mexican students, just as it had in other countries. But revolutionary socialism wasn’t new in Mexico, so its anticommunist reaction was less violent.
In the 1930s, Mexico had seen real land reform as well as the expropriation of major foreign owned industries. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) retained considerable revolutionary legitimacy and, through its massive patronage, kept a firm grip on industrial workers, the urban middle classes, and the rural population alike.
In the 1960s and 1970s, bolstered by an oil boom, the PRI could handle almost any challenge. Even so, the government did suffer one instance of panic. As Mexico was preparing to host the Olympic Games in 1968, protesting students in the Tlatelolco district of Mexico City were massacred.
The Tlatelolco event was unusual though. Mexican generals hadn’t been key political players for decades. The US government, too, had learned to live with a “revolutionary” Mexico. Dire warnings about “Red” Mexico were already a half century old.
By the mid-1970s, the revolutionary tide had turned in Latin America. Reactionary anticommunist dictatorships were in decline.
Bureaucratic authoritarian governments collapsed in the late 1970s and 1980s because of their own mistakes and excesses, especially problems with massive debt and hyperinflation.
In Argentina, the military government played on nationalism as it identified a new, external enemy: Great Britain. At first, the military garnered widespread public support for its 1982 war with Great Britain over the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands. But the poorly trained Argentine soldiers quickly surrendered. In 1983, Argentina held legitimate elections that ousted the armed forces.
Uruguay got a civilian president in 1984 as did Brazil in 1985. Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia had already returned to constitutional rule by that time. The last Cold War battles had been waged.