With a vast geographical and cultural legacy, Latin America is a region stretching from the US’s southern border to Puerto Toro in Chile. Geographically, it’s a land acting as a home to multiple wonders of nature including the world’s largest rainforest. Commonly depicted as a region of continuous violence as a result of political crises and exceptionally unstable governments, Latin America’s history has been dominated by repeated conflicts in the post-war era.
In the words of Porfirio Diaz, “Latin America is a region so far from God and so close to the United States.” This is a very accurate picture of Latin America in the post-war era; a picture which this article modestly attempts to sketch, through a lens of interferences played by the US in order to instigate political and democratic shortcomings in the region.
US Involvement in Latin America
The advent of US involvement in Latin America is very clear from examples such as that of the Bracero program and the dominance of US-led corporations in the region. It has been established that the US majorly had two interests in the very region: economic and political. During WWII, Latin America benefited from increasing industrial and raw material exports, thus emerging with long-term prospects of economic gain.
For the US, Latin America was its backyard, to be used to gain support for its own trade and power. The foreign involvement only added to already building tensions in the face of constant domestic struggles. A growing population with uneven income, increased taxes, and low labor wages paved the way for many social reformist ideas, leading to several revolutionary movements all unfolding into multiple political developments in the post-war era.
These tensions pitted armed, nationalist movements, most being guided by socialist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist ideas with grievances against military and civil elites, in the favor of democracy and social reforms. These reforms provided not only major economic loss to US-led companies in Latin America but also undermined US’s capitalist influence in the region.
It is quite ironic that the US, the biggest advocate of global democracy, has been the biggest instigator of military dictatorships in its own neighborhood. The most evident proof is the existence of the SOA–School of Americas, which was founded in 1946 with the aim of improving ties with Latin America. It instead generated several despot dictators as American puppets, later contributing to Operation Condor.
Among its graduates included General Augusto, who overthrew Chile’s elected president in 1973, Manuel Noriega of Panama as well as the notorious Roberto D’Aubisson of El Salvador. Thus, with the key purpose of safeguarding its own interests in Latin America, the US installed military officers who had their loyalty and allegiance bought for the American cause.
Thus, stretching from as near as the Dominican Republic to as far as Argentina and Paraguay, a string of military coups sprang up all across the continent. By 1954, the US had had pro-American military governments installed in 13 out of 20 Latin American nations, as a means to maintain order and stability for American corporations.
Operation Condor was a secret alliance linking military dictatorships in Latin America in promoting state terror through intelligence and political assassinations, implementing US-backed right-wing dictators all across the southern border, with the main aim of protecting US goals in the region and eliminating the growing threat of left-ideology.
Beginning in 1975, Operation Condor was a joint venture carried out in the form of plotted cross-border kidnapping and torture of political opponents, with the basic aim to ‘eliminate Marxist subversion.’
Described by the CIA as ‘a cooperative and a joint effort of intelligence services to combat terrorism’, Operation Condor was basically a ploy of guerrillas, deployed to control the territory through US-backed military aid provided to the local juntas of Latin American countries, to instill terror among the masses.
The operation began in 1975 during the Johnson administration and continued on throughout Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations. It officially ended in 1983, with a successful installation of coup d’états regimes in eight Latin American countries.
- Paraguay in 1954
- Brazilian dictatorship was installed in 1964
- In 1971, Hugo Banzer took power in Bolivia
- The civic-military dictatorship in Uruguay in 1973
- In Chile, armed forces took over in 1973
- Peru witnessed the operation in 1975
- In Argentina, General Jorge Rafael Videla seized power in 1976
Each of these states witnessed a multitude of death tolls. An estimation provides the number as 60,000, with 30,000 being only in Argentina. The phrase ‘dirty war’ is often used to explain US-sponsored military terrorism in the state of Argentina from 1976 to 1983, as a part of this operation.
It was a struggle between the left-wing revolutionary army and the state military and thus proved to be very disastrous. The seven years of state repression at the hands of the Argentinean army were dominated by Washington fulfilling its interest in the country alongside a launched campaign calling for a war against subversion in order to eliminate all signs and vestiges of Peronism.
Most of the 20th century was marked by forces of nationalism circling around the globe. Indeed, Latin America was no exception as well, but its nationalistic fervor was quite short-lived, for its northern neighbor had plans of shuffling its political arenas for its own benefits. Whenever a new visionary leader stood up to provide better for society, he was either ousted by a US-led coup or assassinated by CIA-held operations.
This assistance in enabling coup d’etats is classified as Operation Condor. From the Dominican Republic to Argentina, all efforts for introducing social reforms perished and all ways to achieve socialism through a ballot box were brutally stifled. As long as the regimes in Latin America worked for US interests and for the support of its trade and investments, they were supported, but as soon as any state tried to reform its policies for the good of its own people, the US played the card of Operation Condor.
The eight countries that backslid in the broad-winged covert operation included Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil. In short, it was not the cultural or political cohesion of Latin American nations that led to the fall of the region’s nationalistic endeavor, but rather it was hostility and wariness from the United States.
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