Impact of the Great Depression on Latin America Video

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  • 0:01 The Great Depression
  • 0:57 Pre-Depression Latin…
  • 2:02 The Great Depression Hits
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about how the Great Depression impacted Latin America. We will highlight key events and focus on how economic instability created conditions in which fascism and military dictatorships were able to thrive.

The Great Depression

I suspect most all of you are familiar with the Great Depression. The Great Depression was a worldwide economic depression lasting throughout most of the 1930s. Those of us who are Americans sometimes tend to think of the Great Depression as primarily an American event, but this is not the case. The Great Depression was felt in economies all around the world. For example, Germany was particularly hard hit.

The Great Depression also hit Latin America, which, during this time, had strong links with the United States' economy. That's what this lesson is about: the impact of the Great Depression in Latin America.

Pre-Depression Latin American Economies

Throughout the 18th century and into the early 19th century, most Latin American economies were dependent on trade. They generally lacked heavy industry and relied heavily on exportation. Coffee, sugar, and other crops were key items of exportation. This reliance on trade left many Latin American states vulnerable when the Great Depression broke out.

Prior to the Great Depression, most Latin American states had relatively stable governments. Democracy was alive and well throughout Latin America. However, this changed following the worldwide depression as fascist governments and military dictatorships came to power. It might be helpful here to review fascism. Fascism is an extreme right-wing and nationalist political philosophy in which the state exercises complete control. Nazi Germany is probably the most well-known example of a fascist government.

Chile, Peru, and Bolivia were among the hardest hit nations, though keep in mind the Depression was felt throughout Latin America. In Chile, mass unemployment plunged the nation into political turmoil. Coup after coup took place, often placing fascist leaders in power. One leader would rise up, only to be overthrown by another. This was taking place all throughout Latin America. Increasingly, National Socialism (or Nazism) began to look attractive. Many Latin American leaders looked to Nazi Germany for support and began forging close diplomatic relationships with Germany.

Brazil was profoundly affected by the Great Depression. Economic and political instability led to the Revolution of 1930, which resulted in the ousting of President Washington Luís and the end of the Old Republic, and a coup that placed Getúlio Vargas in power. Getúlio Vargas was the dictator of Brazil between 1930 and 1945. Vargas was a nationalist and populist who sought to industrialize Brazil. Vargas disbanded the Brazilian Congress, suspended the freedom of press, and jailed communists and other political prisoners. To appeal to the nation, he used the slogan 'Brazil for the Brazilians.' Vargas worked hard to strengthen ties between Brazil and Nazi Germany. Vargas was removed from power in 1945, but was democratically elected President of Brazil in 1951.

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