In from the Cold: Latin America's New Encounter with the Cold War

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Over the last decade, studies of the Cold War have mushroomed globally. Unfortunately, work on Latin America has not been well represented in either theoretical or empirical discussions of the broader conflict. With some notable exceptions, studies have proceeded in rather conventional channels, focusing on U.S. policy objectives and high-profile leaders (Fidel Castro) and events (the Cuban Missile Crisis) and drawing largely on U.S. government sources. Moreover, only rarely have U.S. foreign relations scholars engaged productively with Latin American historians who analyze how the international conflict transformed the region’s political, social, and cultural life. Representing a collaboration among eleven North American, Latin American, and European historians, anthropologists, and political scientists, this volume attempts to facilitate such a cross-fertilization. In the process, In From the Cold shifts the focus of attention away from the bipolar conflict, the preoccupation of much of the so-called "new Cold War history," in order to showcase research, discussion, and an array of new archival and oral sources centering on the grassroots, where conflicts actually brewed.

The collection’s contributors examine international and everyday contests over political power and cultural representation, focusing on communities and groups above and underground, on state houses and diplomatic board rooms manned by Latin American and international governing elites, on the relations among states regionally, and, less frequently, on the dynamics between the two great superpowers themselves. In addition to charting new directions for research on the Latin American Cold War, In From the Cold seeks to contribute more generally to an understanding of the conflict in the global south.

Contributors. Ariel C. Armony, Steven J. Bachelor, Thomas S. Blanton, Seth Fein, Piero Gleijeses, Gilbert M. Joseph, Victoria Langland, Carlota McAllister, Stephen Pitti, Daniela Spenser, Eric Zolov

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This ambitious and worthy enterprise builds upon the scholarship of recent years that has articulated new perspectives on the Latin American Cold War.” - Arthur Schmidt, A Contracorriente

In From the Cold brings new insights on the different ways that the superpowers’ rivalries shaped politics and culture in Latin America. A truly collaborate and interdisciplinary project by eleven U. S. and Latin American historians, anthropologists, and political scientists . . . the authors provide fresh narratives showing that the intense struggle that spread political terror and produced episodes of violence and trauma also generated spaces for resistance . . . influenced the Latin American media, and gave national leaders carte blanche in the designs of policies, domestic and international.” - Ivani Vassoler, Perspectives on Political Science

“Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniela Spenser present a refreshing intellectual rapprochement of the Cold War as Latin Americans experienced it. . . . In from the Cold blazes new trails in our understanding of the Cold War in Latin America and deserves a wide audience among students and scholars of the period and region.” - Matthew A. Redinger, The Journal of American History

“[G]iven the array of authors, [In from the Cold] would be a very useful addition to a number of different courses, and its challenge to the status quo should spark probing discussions of precisely how to understand the nature of the Cold War in Latin America. . . . The master narrative of great power rivalry is no mere invention. What this book makes clear, however, is that it was not nearly as all-encompassing as is generally argued.” - Gregory Weeks, Hispanic American Historical Review

“The collection serves as an excellent guide not only for understanding the ‘specificity of Latin America in the global Cold War,’ but also for identifying points of continuity between the Cold War and the contemporary War on Terror.” - Claire Fox, New Mexico Historical Review

“[T]his volume is an admirable piece of work that puts into view a corpus of research that is valuable and fascinating on its own merits but also makes an important point about intellectual innovation.” - Aaron Navarro, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Of exceptional importance, In from the Cold is, at last, a volume general readers and classes have needed to fill a wide, embarrassing, and revealing gap in the current literature. It is an authoritative, cross-cultural, and provocatively interpretive work (led by Gilbert M. Joseph’s superb introductory overview of both the global Cold War and post–1945 U.S.–Latin American relations), and notably important in regard to Washington’s success in helping to kill Latin American democratic and independent cultural movements even as U.S. officials were demanding the spread of democracy elsewhere.”—Walter LaFeber, Andrew and James Tisch University Professor, Cornell University

“This outstanding collection explains why Latin America was central to the Cold War and why the Cold War was central for Latin America. By providing easy access to some of the best research currently being undertaken on Cold War history, the editors have done a great favor to those who are looking for critical and innovative explorations of the recent past.”—O. A. Westad, London School of Economics, author of The Global Cold War

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Gilbert M. Joseph is Farnam Professor of History and International Studies at Yale University. He is the editor of Reclaiming the Political in Latin American History: Essays from the North and a coeditor of The Mexico Reader; Fragments of a Golden Age; Crime and Punishment in Latin America; Close Encounters of Empire; and Everyday Forms of State Formation, all also published by Duke University Press.

Daniela Spenser is Senior Research Professor at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Mexico City. She is the author of The Impossible Triangle: Mexico, Soviet Russia, and the United States in the 1920s, also published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt

In from the Cold


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4121-5

Chapter One


What We Now Know and Should Know

Bringing Latin America More Meaningfully into Cold War Studies

Few periods in Latin America's history have been as violent, turbulent, and, some would argue, transformative as the half century that ran roughly from the end of World War II to the mid-1990s and constituted the Latin American Cold War. This is because, as in other regions of the global South, Latin America's Cold War experience was rarely cold. Indeed, one has to go back to the nineteenth-century wars of independence to find comparably protracted and far-flung episodes of mass mobilization, revolutionary upheaval, and counter-insurgent reprisal; yet the international linkages, organizational capacities, and technologies of death and surveillance at work in the late twentieth century render this earlier cycle of violence almost quaint by comparison. Gabriel García Márquez graphically evoked this "outsized" and "unbridled reality" in his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, conjuring up the apocalyptic events of the 1970s and early 1980s that turned Central America and the Southern Cone into late-century killing fields and challenged him to develop a new literary genre-"magical realism"-to assimilate the period's mind-boggling occurrences and "render our lives believable." Since 1971, when his colleague the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda had received his Nobel Prize, García Márquez reflected, "we have not had a moment's rest":

There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolical dictator [Guatemala's Efraín Ríos Montt] who is carrying out in God's name the first Latin American genocide of our time. In the meantime, twenty million Latin American children died before the age of one-more than have been born in Europe since 1970. Those missing because of repression number nearly one hundred and twenty thousand, which is as if no one could account for all the inhabitants of Uppsala. Numerous women arrested while pregnant have given birth in Argentine prisons, yet nobody knows the whereabouts and identity of their children.... Because they tried to change this state of things, nearly two hundred thousand have lost their lives in three small and stubborn countries ... Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. If this had happened in the United States, the corresponding figure would be that of one million six hundred thousand violent deaths in four years. One million people have fled Chile, a country with a tradition of hospitality-that is, ten percent of its population. Uruguay, a tiny nation of two and a half million inhabitants which considered itself the continent's most civilized country, has lost to exile one out of every five citizens. Since 1979, the civil war in El Salvador has produced almost one refugee every twenty minutes.

How do we account for such cataclysmic violence? To be sure, the Latin American past is littered with alternating cycles of social reform and intense conservative reaction, in which the influence, aid, and intervention of imperial powers have figured prominently. Even so, the dynamics of the Latin American Cold War are embedded in a particularly ferocious dialectic linking reformist and revolutionary projects for social change and national development and the excessive counterrevolutionary responses they triggered in the years following World War II. This dialectic, which shaped regional life in the late twentieth century and conditioned the region's prospects for the new millennium, played out in overlapping and interdependent domestic and international fields of political and social power. At a macro level, the Cold War was a struggle between superpowers over shifting geopolitical stakes and "mass utopias," ideological visions of how society and its benefits should be organized. But what ultimately gave the Cold War in Latin America its heat-what Greg Grandin terms its "transcendental force"-was the "politicization and internationalization of everyday life." On a variety of fronts across several decades, Latin American elites and popular classes participated in local and national political contests over land, labor, and the control of markets and natural resources that rarely escaped the powerful undertow of the larger conflict. At certain junctures (most notably the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the strategy of international armed struggle that it supported in the 1960s and 1970s, or the transnationalized anti-Communist crusade of the 1970s and 1980s), these struggles and the leftist and rightist ideologies that fueled them transcended national borders and powerfully influenced the relationship between the superpowers themselves. The result was an "international civil war" that not only pitted the United States against the Soviet Union and "capitalism" against "Communism" but, at the national and grassroots levels, opposed different views of the shape that social citizenship would take. As local conflicts throughout Latin America (some of which had extensive antecedents, issuing as they did from the social contradictions of capitalist development) were subsumed in the intensely polarizing global struggle, opposition movements, like the governments they opposed, received inspiration and material support from afar. Not infrequently, Latin American states used a Cold War rationale, generated outside the region, to wage war against their citizens, to gain or perpetuate power, and to create or justify authoritarian military regimes. In the process, the stakes rose precipitously, and the potential for violence and terror escalated to an almost inconceivable scale. A scene from CNN's documentary series on the Cold War starkly and eerily illustrates this point. "I saw these weird weapons," a Cuban campesino reminisces, referring to the ballistic missiles that rolled by his modest shack one morning in the fall of 1962. "I said to my friend Pablo, 'Pablo, how powerful are these weird weapons?' and he answered 'these are nuclear missiles.' So I thought, 'oh, really powerful.' And they just put them here [he points to his field], right out in the open."

Happily, the missiles were never launched, and ultimately, thirty years later, the Cold War wound down in its final, most brutal theaters, with the negotiation of the Central American Peace Accords terminating civil wars in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador in the early to mid-1990s. But can we really say that the Latin American Cold War has "ended"? Certainly, it endures in the tortured context of U.S.-Cuban relations and is intensely alive in Miami's "Little Havana," where an increasingly frail Fidel Castro has haunted diasporic Cubans for nearly fifty years. Although the comparable graying of the exile community has slightly diminished its zeal and transformed the monolithic stridency that once defined it, there is little question that it remains a force in state and national politics, and in the United States' unswerving opposition to normalizing relations with the hemisphere's last (albeit considerably tempered) Communist regime. Certainly the Cold War is still palpable in Central America, the Southern Cone, the Andean nations, and even Mexico, as relatives of the victims of terror continue to protest past atrocities, exhume graves, and actively press legal claims against the perpetrators. Although the results of these legal actions are, at best, mixed, with most individuals from the former security forces continuing to enjoy immunity, some signal gains have been registered, and in the process, the cultural fabric of these societies and the manner in which the past is collectively remembered have been substantially changed.

Finally, apart from the bubbling up of local episodes of extrajudicial violence that frequently map onto the fault lines and frustrations of recent Cold War pasts (e.g., lynchings that continue to plague countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua), there is a larger question that should be raised about the Cold War's conclusion, or at least regarding continuities of power: is the United States essentially waging a new version of the conflict under another name? Over a century ago, in his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, President Theodore Roosevelt told the U.S. Congress that "chronic wrongdoing or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society may in America as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation," namely, "however reluctantly," the United States. Indeed, one might argue that over the past century, the United States has repeatedly intervened to protect its southern neighbors from foreign and evil empires and ensure that the "ties of civilized society"-as Washington defined them-remained firm. With talk of "benevolent hegemony" (and even of a "benevolent U.S. empire") once again explicitly on the agenda, and with the Bush administration having already demonstrated its preemptive resolve to contend globally to guarantee not only U.S. interests but its prescriptions for global civilization as well-"(constrained) free elections, (selective) free markets and (U.S.-dominated) international security"-are we not embarked on another dichotomizing rendition of cold war? In this incarnation, "democracy promotion" ("dempro" to practitioners and Bush administration insiders) has become something of a cottage industry, and there is a new "axis of evil," comprising drug lords, terrorists, failed states, and rogue regimes and movements. The members of this network (which include some holdovers from the last conflict, such as Castro and the Sandinistas) can be constructed as broadly or narrowly as circumstances dictate-just as Communism was.

Indeed, at certain moments, as when Vladimir Putin's Russia approved a deal to send fighter planes to Hugo Chávez's Venezuela in July 2006, one experiences an eerie sense of déjà vu-which raises a host of questions. Are Russia and the United States once again moving into potentially ominous opposing alliances? Ultimately, how different is Putin's brand of authoritarian realpolitik from that of his Soviet predecessors? And what of continuities in U.S. attitudes and practice? This would not be surprising, given that Latin America-particularly Central America in the 1980s-seems to have played a defining role in the genesis of the foreign policy of the current generation of New Right activists, and that several key Latin Americanists in the Bush administration previously advised Presidents Reagan and Bush (the father) on Nicaragua and El Salvador a generation ago. Ultimately, is Chávez's "Bolivarianism" a more affluent and hemispherically influential version of the "Tercerismo" ("Third Way" strategy) of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas of the 1980s, who were similarly led to purchase weapons from Russia following an earlier campaign by the U.S. government to prevent American and Western defense contractors from selling arms to them? To what extent have the end of the Cold War and the lifting of the onus of Communism allowed social justice issues to rise to the top of inter-American relations where nations such as Venezuela or Evo Morales's Bolivia are concerned?

This volume, which represents a collaboration among eleven North American, Latin American, and European historians, anthropologists, and political scientists, all students of the Latin American Cold War, does not pretend to present a "new history" of that struggle. Such claims are made too frequently these days, almost as frequently as new caches of documents are discovered, reclaimed, or declassified in Washington, the former Eastern bloc, or elsewhere, and "the truth can now be known." Rather, what this volume aspires to contribute is an intellectual "rapprochement" with the Cold War in Latin America. This reencounter with the conflict identifies new sources of documentation (see particularly the essay by Blanton) and suggests how they might alter prevailing paradigms of interpretation, particularly where questions of international real-politik, the ideology of Cold War states, and the "Latin Americanization" and "transnationalization" of the conflict are concerned. For example, the essays in part II shed important new light on the projection of Soviet, Cuban, and Argentine power and the ideologies that underwrote the strategies of each of these nations. In part III, the essays by Fein, Zolov, and Bachelor further our understanding of the motivation and capacity of the Mexican state to skillfully balance between the superpower contenders. At the same time, the collection also seeks to delve more deeply into what was actually being fought over in the Latin American Cold War among grassroots populations (including Chicanos in the U.S. Southwest). In the process, especially in part III, contributors focus on everyday contests over culture and representation that brought Cold War states, elite establishments, and culture industries into play with local populations.

Readers will note this collection features a strong emphasis on Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean; there is less coverage of South America, and certain high-profile Cold War arenas-for example, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Chile, Bolivia-do not receive explicit treatment. Probably no single volume can adequately cover the gamut of multiform engagements that constituted the Latin American Cold War; we have sought to feature instructive and absorbing cases representing mainland and circum-Caribbean areas, and to include Brazil as well as Spanish America. Perhaps the two major South American nations, Brazil and Argentina, are treated in essays by Langland and Armony that have conceptual and substantive reach across national borders. The volume's overarching essays, by Joseph, Blanton, and Spenser, treat the region as a whole and also suggest arguments and methods that apply to nations that do not receive monographic attention. Finally, the strong emphasis on Mexico is meant to address important lacunas in the literature on the Latin American Cold War. The Mexican case not only points up oft-ignored, highly ambivalent relationships between Cold War allies but also showcases pivotal cultural and social issues, thereby moving the narrative away from its prevailing emphasis on diplomatic confrontation and military intervention. That Mexico's experience has thus far received so little treatment in Cold War studies is astonishing: not only is Mexico (with Brazil) one of Latin America's two "middle powers," but it is the southern neighbor of the hemisphere's Cold War hegemon.

One of the abiding goals of this project is to foment a more sustained dialogue between foreign relations (or diplomatic) historians of the Cold War-particularly those who work on Latin America-who have largely been preoccupied with grand strategy and the determinants of U.S. policy, and those who approach the conflict from the standpoint of the periphery, often "from below," using the tools of area studies, social and cultural history, and cultural studies. Sadly, although foreign relations historians and Latin Americanists should share fraternal relations, they have more often been, in the words of one diplomatic historian, "polyglot distant cousin[s]." Most of this volume's contributors have worked across the methodological, interpretive, and linguistic divides that have until now separated these fields, and their essays portend a more vital cross-fertilization of them.


Excerpted from In from the Cold Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


What We Now Know and Should Know: Bringing Latin America More Meaningfully into Cold War Studies Gilbert M. Joseph....................3
Recovering the Memory of the Cold War: Forensic History and Latin America Thomas S. Blanton....................47
The Caribbean Crisis: Catalyst for Soviet Projection in Latin America Daniela Spenser....................77
The View from Havana: Lessons from Cuba's African Journey, 1959-1976 Piero Gleijeses....................112
Transnationalizing the Dirty War: Argentina in Central America Ariel C. Armony....................134
Producing the Cold War in Mexico: The Public Limits of Covert Communications Seth Fein....................171
Cuba sí, Yanquis no! The Sacking of the Instituto Cultural México-Norteamericano in Morelia, Michoacán, 1961 Eric Zolov....................214
Miracle on Ice: Industrial Workers and the Promise of Americanization in Cold War Mexico Steven J. Bachelor....................253
Chicano Cold Warriors: César Chávez, Mexican American Politics, and California Farmworkers Stephen Pitti....................273
Birth Control Pills and Molotov Cocktails: Reading Sex and Revolution in 1968 Brazil Victoria Langland....................308
Rural Markets, Revolutionary Souls, and Rebellious Women in Cold War Guatemala Carlota McAllister....................350
Standing Conventional Cold War History on Its Head Daniela Spenser....................381
Selective Bibliography....................397
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