In This Article U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War

  • Introduction
  • Historiographical Essays
  • Document Collections
  • Single Administration Studies
  • Thematic Approaches
  • The Soviet Union and Latin America

Latin American Studies U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War
by
Jeffrey F. Taffet
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0104

Introduction

US involvement in Latin American affairs during the Cold War period was extraordinarily deep and, according to most scholars, generally malicious. Successive administrations in Washington involved themselves in the domestic affairs of every Latin American state, attempting either to strengthen cooperative governments or to weaken ones that demonstrated geopolitical independence. While repeated interventions, in themselves, suggest that the US government may not have used its power responsibly, the greater problem is that fears about political reliability consistently trumped concerns about democracy, human rights, and economic development. These fears led policymakers in Washington to embrace a long list of brutal dictators and to engage in covert backing for insurgent groups and military cabals dedicated to overthrowing established governments. There are exceptions to this unpleasant history, but periods of genuine respect in Washington for Latin American independence were few and far between. Many scholars have suggested that Cold War concerns about the spread of communism in the region alone drove US policy, especially in the wake of Cuba’s alignment with the Soviet Union. Others have argued that, while Cuba was deeply troubling, the United States operated simply as a traditional imperial state, attempting to ensure it retained political and economic control over its weaker neighbors. A number of scholars have explored responses to US influence to explain how Latin Americans negotiated with, mitigated the influence of, or even manipulated Washington’s power. This idea is often expanded beyond discussions of US political, military, or economic engagement to focus on cultural penetration and to explain that the importation of items such as films, music, and even cartoons operated alongside other types of imperialism. These last types of studies, which look more intently at Latin American societies than at US government decision-making, are just one piece of the scholarship on the Cold War in Latin America. Because of the importance of the Cold War in Latin America and its impact on the totality of political, economic, social, and cultural developments, it may be possible to argue that essentially any book written about Latin America from the end of World War II to the late 1980s might be considered Cold War history. Because exploring the totality of that literature is not possible or practical in one essay, this bibliography will focus on the substantial scholarship that explores concrete US efforts to fight the Cold War in the region, and the responses to those efforts. It will consider works specifically part of the subfield of US–Latin American relations, which is part of the larger history of US international history. Said differently, if only for practical purposes, this bibliography will try to draw a distinction between scholarship on the internal Cold War in Latin America and scholarship on US–Latin American relations during the Cold War period.

General Overviews

The large number of broad survey texts is, in part, a function of the relative popularity of US–Latin American history courses on university campuses. These books can be divided into three subgroups: works that attempt to use an International History perspective, works that use a Political Science approach, and works that focus on Cultural/Ideological perceptions about Latin America in the United States. While these are broad categories, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All the texts in this section attempt to provide some of the broad narrative required for introductions to the field.

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