Political History in South America after World War II

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Understanding South American history during and after WWII is critical due to huge changes that happened, particularly after the war. South America was subjected to political, economic, and social impact. For example, the Panama Canal was particularly essential for the allies because of its defense and trade. It served as a vital link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (Chrimes, Philip 682). The war forced several South American countries to suffer the same problem as the majority of developing countries in the non-European globe.  However, the end of the war triggered massive economic development in the region which led to political changes as well. The dominant political system in most of the South African countries towards the beginning of the 20th century was that of military dictatorship. The leadership and the economies of those countries were in the hands of little political class. This paper analyses the political developments that occurred after the end of the Second World War in South America to date.

Immediate Political Challenges

The end of Second World War was the beginning of political struggles for most countries of South American continent. After the end of the war, the main political system was military dictatorship. This was evidenced in many countries such as Mexico that experienced dictatorship during the regime of Porfirio Diaz. Nonetheless, Juan Vicente Gomez of Venezuela also enhanced this kind of leadership after 1908 (Chrimes, Philip 682). Other counties that experienced political oligarchy during this period include Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina among other. The governments formed by the civilians practiced electoral manipulations and limited suffrage to hold power in the hands of the small minority population. For a fact, both oligarchy and dictatorship governments did not take the interest of the people seriously. Instead, those who were in power used that opportunity to enrich themselves and become superiors in the society.

The Mexican Revolution

The elite political class had not included everybody in dividing the countries national cake. As such, members of the traditional ruling groups and the ballooning members of the middle class were dissatisfied with that system of leadership leading to one of the bloodiest revolts of the 20th century. They resented the exclusion of power and privileges. Mexican revolution occurred in 1910 when Francisco Madero who was member of the landowning class challenged Diaz for a reelection. Unfortunately, he lost in the election and rose in rebellion with a promise that he would establish true democracy in the country. His rebellion resulted in a serious rebellion that no one was able to control. In fact, workers, minors and peasant farmers decided to take this opportunity to seek for the solution for their grievances that were not met by the regime. However, different revolutionist groups had constant problems with each other but the revolution resulted to the formation of a very strong political party called Institutional Revolutionary Party.

This revolution was very important to Mexicans especially the peasant farmers. Labor leaders were the greatest beneficiaries of the revolt. The new constitution of 1917 gave an opportunity for the implementations of the land reforms. However, this was not fully implemented until Lázaro Cárdenas came to power between 1934 and 1940. That is, the new government recognized the labor union and met their demands. In fact, the leaders of the labor unions were included in the ruling party. As it is indicated, almost everybody benefited from the revolution. Mexico became a perfect example of political stability in Latin America.

The Cuban Revolution

The revolution was started in 1952 when former general sergeant Fulgencio Batista won the elections. However, he did not win the elections fairly. It becomes obvious that he would lose the elections and he decided to seize power before the elections were conducted. This act was not taken lightly by many people in the country who believed that he was interfering with the Cuban democracy. Among the people who were disgusted was Fidel Castro who was also contesting for the Congress position and would have won if the elections were held (Chrimes, Philip 682). As such he began to plot for the downfall of Batista. On July 1953, Castro made his first revolutionary move and attacked isolated Moncada barracks with his 130 men. However, they did not succeed, few of his men were killed, and some of them were captured. Fidel and Raul Castro escaped and were later captured as well.

Castro and other rebels who were captured were subjected to public trial. Fidel being trained layer turned tables against the dictator government and argued that the government was imposing itself on the people. Therefore, he had to undertake his civic duty as a patriotic citizen of Cuba. However, he was sentenced to fifteen years prison term alongside his follower rebels. Batista government became under pressure from the international community to make reforms and ensure justice (Chrimes, Philip 683). This lead to release of many prisoners including Castro and his rebel team, he went to Mexico to regroup and plan their next step of action. During his stay in Mexico, he met with other Cuban citizens who were also disgusted following what had happened and were willing to help Castro in bringing the desired revolution in Cuba. Castro would return to Cuba in November 1986 with 82 men to finish his mission. Unfortunately, Batista learned of his arrival and decided to send his men to ambush them. Castro and a few of his men survived the attack and decided to move deep into the central highlands where they organized their activities. From these highlands, they made new recruitments, gathered weapons and staged military operations against the government policy. They allowed the international media to have interview with them and their activities were published across the world.

The movement was gaining momentum in 1958 with more rebels groups aligned to castor making attacks on Batista in the city time to time. When Batista realized the seriousness of the situation, he decided to send more soldiers to flush out Castro and his men from the highlands. However, this did not turn well as his soldiers were killed and most of them switched sides. Castro decided to organize his men into different rebel groups and closely followed them with another group (Dunne, Michael 437). They marched as they capture different towns and villages. They managed to defeat government army in different instances and gained more ammunition. In December the same year, government officials started negotiations with Castro to stop the killings that were going on by reaching an agreement. This was not successful. When Batista realized that Castro attacks were unstoppable, they took what they could take and fled instructing his subordinates to deal with the rebels (Dunne, Michael 437). Cuban citizens were happy and rejoiced in the streets as Castro, and his men got into Havana to disarm the military.

Castro got in power as a nationalist but later changed towards communism and started courting the Soviet leaders. This was not taken lightly by the states and lead to the triggering of international events such as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nonetheless, United States subjected Cuba to trade embargo in 1962 an incident that leads to suffering of many Cuban citizen (Chrimes, Philip 682)s.

Operation Condor

Following what had happened in Mexico and Cuba, other South American dictatorship governments had feared that the same could happen to them due to the rise of nationalism that had swept across the continent. As such, South African countries such as Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina came together with a mission of hunting and killing those who opposed their operations and regime (Dunne, Michael 439). This operation lasted from early 1970 to the beginning of1980. It started in 1975 when the above-named governments started sharing information concerning suspected leftists such as trade unionists. This was meant to identify them from whichever country that they might have moved to and kill them. Classified documents of this case indicate that US agents were aware of this evil plan.

After their location was identified, a special team would be sent to kidnap them and take them for interrogation and torture in military prisons that were located in Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile. Sometimes they were returned to their countries of origin and sometimes they were killed. Nonetheless, the agents of condor were also known to assassinate vocal political leaders who seen to incite members of the public against their military regimes. For example, the assassination of Orlando Letelier in 1976, He was the former foreign minister in Chile’s socialist president Allende. He was assassinated together with his aid in Washington DC by a bomb that was placed in his car (Dunne, Michael 441). Investigations revealed that South Americans dictator’s spies and anti-Castro movement wing were the people behind the operation. Reports indicate that the operation killed about 377 people.

Secret documents of this operation have strongly linked the United States CIA to the operations. In fact, it is believed that the black operation of the cold war era was masterminded and orchestrated by the USA. The US is linked to the murder of Allende the president of Chile in 1973, but there is no strong evidence that is linking the CIA to this. Americans activities towards the Regime of Allende were not to be taken lightly. They funded the rebel activities that were meant to oust Allende from power (Spenser, Daniela 378). Operation condor was an organized kidnapping of cross-border and extrajudicial executions of their targets who were major activists, guerrilla insurgents, and opponents of the dictator government is in southern African countries. The most worrying fact is that these people were under the protection of the United States government.

The cold war era in South America

The cold war is one of the interesting political histories of the South American continent after World War II. The continent became a battleground between two opposing ideologies, communism and capitalism an event that leads to the weakening of US relationship with south Americas. Initially, US was interested in forming a strong relationship with Latin America but after the fall of the iron curtain. The US decided to stop the spread of communism not only in America but also across the world. South America was not expected to remain neutral on this matter. The US expected Latin America to be their allies following the long relationship that they had had before. The invasion of the Soviet Union in some of the South American countries was. As a way of securing what they termed as their backyard, the US signed Rio defense treaty in 1947 which was an extension of Monroe treaty of 1923 (Dunne, Michael 443). This partnership was used by the US to strengthen military relationship with the Latin amerce so that they would easily fight down communism.

Most Latin Americans were not happy with the US activities of supporting dictatorship governments and at the same time calling for political democracy. For instance, they supported Fulgencio Batista in Cuba and Somoza family in Nicaragua who were all dictators. This move made many activists of South America to prefer Marxist ideologies that promoted social equality as well as class struggle. When Batista was defeated by Castro in 1959, his administration did not involve the US in its arrangements. In fact, Castro nationalized US companies in Cuba. He went against the wish of the US and signed military and economic pact with Moscow. In 1961, Castro publicly declared that he was a communist Leninist. This destroyed the relationship between the US and Cuba. In fact, the US reacted by imposing trade embargo on Cuba

The Rise of the Christian Democracy in South America

The end of the Second World War leads to the development of the Christian democracy in Latin America. It was easy for the Christian Democrats since South America mostly dominated by the Catholicism (Dunne, Michael 441). This made it far easier for them to have strong political influence among the faithful. Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Christian Democrat International are two important personalities that made the Christian Democrats to have international recognition. This group wanted to achieve democracy through moderate reforms as was contained in the Roman Catholic teachings. Despite operating as small splinter groups, they eventually attained power in Venezuela, El Salvador and Chile (Dunne, Michael 445). They operated in alternative manner in Venezuela with the social democrats by having almost the same policies. In Chile, they ascended to leadership under their president called Eduardo Frei, who ruled between 1934 until 1970.

They brought great land reforms and nationalized the production of copper. Their style of achieving democracy was appealing to the United States who saw it as an alternative to achieving democracy without having to go to Cuban style of revolution. As such, they received much of their support from the United States (Spenser, Daniela 380). Latin American countries have learned to separate church from the state but the process is slow. In fact, it is only Costa Rica which still has an official religion. However, there is a debate in Costa Rica to remove the reference to the name of God from the constitution after Bolivia succeeded in doing so in the years 2006.

The Expansion of Political Activities in South America

Mexican revolution was an eye-opener to many countries that were going through the same dictatorial treatments from the governments. The result of the movement and the restoration of the political democracy were admired by other states in the continent and more especially the socio-economic reforms (Spenser, Daniela 379). Most countries such as Argentina resorted to democratic system of increasing the participation that enabled the middle class to get shares, benefits, and privileges from the government. In Argentina, the 1912 electoral reforms made effective for the first time in the history of the country. This made it possible for the formation of radical civic union party that had strong support from the middle class. The Civil Union party later took power almost four years after its formation.

Chile followed closely in the fight for political freedom when a reformist political party won the election of 1920. However, disagreement between the president and the parliament resulted in a short-lived military dictatorship. By 1932, Chile had restored the political situation, and the country had a comprehensive constitution that made it difficult for oligarchy and obstructionism to exist in the country. The constitution was formulated with apparatus of social legislation that benefited both the middle class and workers of the urban centers.

On the other hand, Uruguay was rising sharply to ensure reforms and equality. By 1930, the country had already established effective political democracy, minimum wage legislation as well as social security system (Spenser, Daniela 381). To continue, Ecuador established women suffrage giving women the power to vote. However, literacy was still a requirement for women who wanted to exercise their voting rights. In fact, Ecuador was the first Latin American country to include women in the voting system. After five years, Brazil, Cuba, and Uruguay also implemented the women universal suffrage, but women had to prove their literacy.

The situation was not different in Peru. Having been inspired by the Mexican revolution, the dictator president who never wanted social and political reforms was overthrown by the military. The fight for political reforms and social reforms was taken by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre in the following decade (Spenser, Daniela 378). He was the founder of Aprista party that called for the incorporation of the Indians into national life taking advantage of the Latin America solidarity. However, this party did not come to power until early 1980. By this time, the party had lost its original characteristics and zeal. The president of Venezuela took advantage of oil revenue to stay in power as a dictator until he died in 1935. Moreover, the old republic oligarchy regime in Brazil held on until the era of the great depression when they shared power with other political factions of large states.


The end of Second World War sparked a series of political activities in South America. There was great rise in nationalism across the continent following the Mexican revolution. The governments that were formed during this era were mainly dictatorial. As such, people reacted by resenting and overthrowing the dictators. Dictator governments such as Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay among others conspired to kidnap and kill leftists who were against their governments through an operation that was called operation Condor. Cuba followed Mexican example and overthrown Batista who refused to relinquish power after sensing defeat. This was executed by Fidel Castro, and it was called the Cuban revolution. Castro refused to ally with the US and instead decided to nationalize American companies and form a military and economic pact with Moscow. The struggle to occupy South America by communist and capitalist resulted in a heated called war between the US and the Soviet Union. Some South Americans countries activists refused to form ally with America due to their support to the dictatorship governments.

Works Cited

Chrimes, Philip. "The War Has Brought Peace to Mexico: World War II and the Consolidation of the Post-Revolutionary State. By Halbert Jones." International Affairs, vol. 91, no. 3, May 2015, pp. 682-683.

 Dunne, Michael. "Kennedy's Alliance for Progress: Countering Revolution in Latin America Part II: The Historiographical Record." International Affairs, vol. 92, no. 2, Mar. 2016, pp. 435-452

Spenser, Daniela. "Revolutions and Revolutionaries in Latin America under the Cold War." Latin American Research Review, vol. 40, no. 3, July 2005, pp. 377-389.

May 02, 2023

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