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Mexico and Central America After World War II

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  • 00:18 Chaos vs. Stability
  • 00:52 Violence & Cold War
  • 01:23 Guatemala and Nicaragua
  • 2:55 Mexico
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore post-war Central America and Mexico. It will highlight the Guatemalan Civil War and the Nicaraguan Revolution, as well as the PRI's single party domination of Mexico.

Chaos vs. Stability

Despite their genetic similarities, my sisters do life very differently. One is all business; the other is fly by night. One clamps down when things get out of hand; the other joins in the fray. Like I said, they're really different.

Similar to my sisters, the country of Mexico and its neighbors in Central America share some commonalities. Nevertheless, when it comes to how they handled the turbulent years after World War II, they are worlds apart. However, while my sisters' differences are displayed in how they keep their homes or talk to my mom, Mexico and Central America's differences make themselves known through politics and war. In today's lesson, we'll highlight these differences as we explore post-war Mexico and Central America.

Violence & Cold War

In honor of my older sister, who happens to be the more chaotic one, we'll start with Central America. When speaking of this region after World War II, we can sum it up with the word violence. To prove this, we'll use Nicaragua and Guatemala as our case studies.

While most of the world busied themselves with healing from the war, each of these two countries had bigger fish to fry - one being rebellion. Since these rebellions had links to communism, another fish entered the pan. It was the Cold War, a time of political antagonism between the U.S. and the Communist Party of the Soviet bloc countries, lasting from about 1945 to 1990.

Guatemala and Nicaragua

In Guatemala, these two things held devastation in their wakes. To explain, in the mid-1950s U.S.-backed rebels ousted Jacob Arbenz, the communist Guatemalan president. Sadly, the military dictators that replaced him abused their power and their people. This led to a chaotic and bloody civil war, which lasted well into the 1990s.

As rebels clashed with the government forces, about 200,000 lives were lost. When compared to the approximately 2,000 causalities that all of Latin America suffered during the entire war, these numbers are sobering at best. While the rest of the world worked to heal from World War II, Central America was thrown deeper into death.

Regrettably, revolution and the Cold War caused a similar scene in Nicaragua. Here, the U.S. supported Anastasio Somoza against a communist foe. With U.S. dollars behind him, Somoza was eventually able to take the presidency, but sadly, his reign brought violence and abuse.

Despite this, the U.S. favored him over the Sandinistas, rebels with communist-leaning ideologies. Although the Sandinistas eventually won in the late 1970s, their victory came with a huge cost. In this conflict, anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 lives were taken, thousands upon thousands more than what Latin America lost during the war.

Sadly, the decades after World War II saw similar scenes play out in El Salvador and Honduras as official governments and revolutionaries viciously fought for power.

Mexico

Rather than facing such chaos, Mexico went in a completely different route. In fact, we can sum up post-war Mexico up with three words, single party domination.

To explain, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or the PRI, dominated Mexican politics during most of the 20th century. Founded in the 1920s by Plutarco Elías Calles, it first went by the name National Revolutionary Party. Although the PRI began as a loose association of political bosses, by the post-war era it had millions of members. This strong presence allowed it to keep the country from suffering the same post-war rebellions that plagued Central America.

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