Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hal Brands' "Latin America's Cold War"

Hal Brands is Assistant Professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University. He is the author of From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search for Purpose in the Post-Cold War World.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Latin America's Cold War, and reported the following:
Latin America's Cold War is a book about some very depressing subjects--violence, guerrilla warfare, great-power intervention, economic underdevelopment, and government repression, to name a few. These issues were at the heart of Latin American affairs during the Cold War, a period when superpower tensions joined together with political, social, and diplomatic conflicts within Latin America to make sharp and often bloody upheaval a prominent feature of the regional panorama. My book traces these tumults from the late 1940s through the early 1990s. It covers events like the U.S. intervention in Guatemala in 1954, the Cuban revolution and the Cuban missile crisis, the waves of insurgency and counterinsurgency that convulsed the region, the rapid swings between dictatorship and democracy in many countries, and the astoundingly bloody civil wars in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s.

Page 99 of my book covers the background influences that shaped one particular wave of disorder during this period--the violent guerrilla movements that popped up in much of South America during the late 1960s and 1970s. These movements drew inspiration from a wide array of sources--frustration with unresponsive or authoritarian rule, anger at declining economic conditions, a desire to emulate the upheaval that gripped much of the world in the late 1960s, and other factors. The urban guerrillas hoped that that, by kidnapping wealthy citizens and attacking police stations, they would lay bare the weaknesses of the South American governments and inspire the populace to rise up in revolution.

As it turned out, though, the actions of the urban guerrillas merely set the stage for a devastating response by South American conservatives and military establishments. The specter of violent revolution galvanized these groups, leading them to mount military coups and unleash a barrage of bloody repression against the guerrillas and anyone suspected of supporting them. The guerrillas had hoped to inspire revolution; they ended up provoking counter-revolution instead.

This theme played out numerous times in Cold War-era Latin America. Left-wing radicalism elicited right-wing radicalism (vice-versa), leading to brutal internal battles in countries from Guatemala to Argentina. All of this was frequently exacerbated by the global ideological tensions that characterized the Cold War, as well as the meddling of outside powers like United States and Castro's Cuba. The result was the violence, polarization, and tragedy that plagued Latin America during the Cold War.
Read more about Latin America's Cold War at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue