Post-war Latin American Politics

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  • 0:11 Cold War
  • 1:07 U.S. Involvement
  • 2:07 Cuba & Hispaniola
  • 3:19 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 explores the political events occurring in post-World War II Latin America. We highlight the impact of the Cold War and American intervention.

The Cold War

In college, I had a professor who liked to say history is about the world trading problems. Just when you think you got one tackled, another issue pops up. Although I can't tell you his statement is all that empirical, I can tell you the subject of today's lesson—the political landscape of Latin America after World War II—does seem to prove his point.

For starters, as most of the world worked to heal their wounds from World War II, the countries of Latin America were entering into a period of tragic political unrest and rebellion. Since several of these rebellions had links to communism, this gained the attention of the United States. The U.S. had traded World War II for the Cold War, a time of political antagonism between the U.S. and the Communist Party in the Soviet bloc countries, from about 1945 to 1990.

U.S. Involvement

Since this is such a broad topic, we'll focus on some of the most infamous conflicts. For instance, in Brazil, it's believed that the U.S. backed military rebels to overthrow Joao Goulart, Brazil's president with ties to communism. When this rebellion succeeded, it threw Brazil into the hands of a brutal military dictator, who ravaged the country for decades.

The same story played out in Guatemala, as U.S.-backed rebels ousted Jacobo Arbenz, the communist Guatemalan president. Sadly, the military dictators that replaced him abused their power and their people. This led to a bloody civil war that lasted well into the 1990s.

The same scene can be studied in Nicaragua, where the U.S. supported Anastasio Somoza, who held absolute power in Nicaragua. Although his reign was one of violence, Uncle Sam favored him over the Sandinistas, rebels with communist-leaning ideologies. Although the Sandinistas won in the late 1970s, their victory came at the cost of many innocent lives.

Cuba and Hispaniola

Perhaps one of the most famous Latin American revolutions after World War II was Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution. Of course, this one really caused the U.S. some indigestion. Castro came to power in the revolution that took place between 1956 and 1959. Castro's presence soon led to the Bay of Pigs, a failed attempt by U.S.-backed rebels to overthrow Castro's Cuba. Also in the early 1960s was the uber-tense Cuban Missile Crisis, a standoff that occurred when Soviet missiles were found in Cuba and the U.S. blockaded the island.

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