Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0015
- LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0015
Latin America’s armed forces have played a central role in the region’s political history. This selective annotated bibliography focuses on key sources, with varying theoretical, empirical, and normative treatments of the military governments in the region, from the Cuban Revolution (1959) until the end of the Cold War (1989–1990). The article is limited to those cases in which military governments or “civil-military” governments were in power. This excludes personalist dictatorships, party dictatorships, and civilian governments in which the armed forces exercised considerable influence but did not rule directly. No pretense is made of comprehensiveness or of treating the “causes” of military coups (a vast literature) and of civil-military relations under civilian governments. Likewise, the closely related topics of guerrilla movements during this period, human rights violations under the military governments, US policy and support for many of the military governments, and the transitions back to civilian government (including “transitional justice”) are not covered in depth, but some of the selections do treat these topics and direct the reader to a more extensive literature on these subjects. Long-term military governments, with changing leadership in most cases, controlled eleven Latin American nations for significant periods from 1964 to 1990: Ecuador, 1963–1966 and 1972–1978; Guatemala, 1963–1985 (with an interlude from 1966–1969); Brazil, 1964–1985; Bolivia, 1964–1970 and 1971–1982; Argentina, 1966–1973 and 1976–1983; Peru, 1968–1980; Panama, 1968–1989; Honduras, 1963–1966 and 1972–1982; Chile, 1973–1990; and Uruguay, 1973–1984. In El Salvador the military dominated the government from 1948 until 1984, but the last “episode” was from 1979 to 1984. Military governments, though inevitably authoritarian, implemented varying economic, social, and foreign policies. They had staunch supporters and intense opponents, and they were usually subject to internal factionalism and ideological as well as policy disagreements. The sources discussed in this article reflect that diversity.
General Treatments and Comparative Studies
The literature on military governments in Latin America from 1959 to 1990 sought to differentiate these regimes from the military governments that periodically and recurrently took power in the region before the Cuban Revolution. Varying theoretical and historical discussions of these differences focus on the structural and institutional conditions that gave rise to “bureaucratic-authoritarian” regimes, a term first explored in O’Donnell 1973. Stepan 1986 and Nunn 1992 question whether the concept “bureaucratic-authoritarian” was useful, and whether, and in what fashion, a new military ideology and “new professionalism” focused on internal security rather than national defense existed. Empirical studies like Rouquié 1987 and Loveman 1999 take into account both historical patterns and the effects of the Cold War in bringing these governments to power, and Remmer 1989 and Biglaiser 2002 provide comparative studies of the policies and practices of these military governments, including, among others, economic policy, internal security, human rights violations, and institutional reform. Stepan 1988 offers a comparative analysis of military autonomy and intelligence systems, with a special emphasis on Brazil. McSherry 2005 and Dinges 2005 consider the transnational collaboration of military regimes in state terrorism against opponents. Arceneaux 2001 focuses particularly on the nature and outcomes of transitions from military to civilian government. The National Security Archive at George Washington University, Washington, DC, available online, offers a collection of declassified government documents that includes material related to Latin American military governments from 1959 to 1990. Reference to some of these National Security Archive collections are included, by country, in this article.
Arceneaux, Craig L. Bounded Missions: Military Regimes and Democratization in the Southern Cone and Brazil. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.
Considers military rule in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay from the 1960s until the 1980s. Applying a “historical institutionalist” approach, the author argues that the particular institutional character of the military in the countries studied, more so than external factors or domestic politics, largely determined the nature and outcome of transition to civilian rule.
Biglaiser, Glen. Guardians of the Nation? Economists, Generals, and Economic Reform in Latin America. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002.
Seeks to explain why the military rulers in Latin America adopted particular economic policies; discusses policy choices, appointments to government posts of economists favoring neoliberal policies, policy formulation, privatization, and the role of ideas and ideology under military governments in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Also includes some comparative material on Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico.
Dinges, John. The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. New York: New Press, 2005.
Based on hundreds of interviews and declassified documents, reveals the workings of an international state terrorist network and the role of the US government in the “secret warfare” of Latin American military governments (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay) against their “enemies.” A key source of evidence for ongoing prosecutions in several countries (in 2019) of human rights violations during the military dictatorships.
Loveman, Brian. For la Patria: Politics and the Armed Forces in Latin America. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1999.
A political scientist and historian presents a history of the role of the armed forces in Latin American politics. Chapters 6–9 focus on the policies and ideology of military governments from 1960 to 1990, as well as the transition to civilian government and constraints on democratic consolidation. Treats national security doctrine and human rights violations by military regimes. Extensive bibliography.
McSherry, J. Patrice. Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.
Important investigation of Operation Condor by a political scientist who relates the transnational anti-subversive scheme carried out by Latin American military governments with the support of the United States. Differs in interpretation regarding the extent of US control over Operation Condor with Dinges 2005.
Nunn, Frederick. The Time of the Generals: Latin American Professional Militarism in World Perspective. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Comparative study of the role and consequences of professional militarism in Latin America from 1964 to 1989 by one of most prominent experts on Latin American military institutions. Special attention given to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru. Relies heavily on official military journals in Latin America, Canada, Asia, and Europe.
O’Donnell, Guillermo. Modernization and Bureaucratic Authoritarianism: Studies in South American Politics. Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California, 1973.
Presents an Argentine political scientist’s formulation of the concept of “bureaucratic-authoritarian” regimes, which became widely applied to Latin American military governments—as well as the subject of extensive theoretical debate—and then a reconsideration of the concept by O’Donnell himself. The Argentine case was important as an inspiration of the concept, but the concept was then applied by many authors to other military governments.
Remmer, Karen L. Military Rule in Latin America. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.
Remmer, a political scientist, analyzes the origins and political and economic consequences of military rule, and she compares and contrasts the policies of military governments and civilian regimes. Creates a typology of military regimes often cited in the literature. Part 2 of the book focuses on the Chilean case.
Rouquié, Alain. The Military and the State in Latin America. Translated by Paul Sigmund. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Historical treatment of the armed forces in Latin America by an outstanding French expert; chapters 8–11 focus on the 1959–1990 period. Also examines the role of US policy in the region. Widely cited in Latin America in translation (El estado militar en América Latina [Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1984]).
Stepan, Alfred. “The New Professionalism of Internal Warfare and Military Role Expansion.” In Armies and Politics in Latin America. Rev. ed. Edited by Abraham F. Lowenthal and J. Samuel Fitch, 134–150. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986.
Often-cited article on the “new professionalism” of the Latin American military, focused on internal order and counterinsurgency. Stepan’s seminal work is sometimes compared to Nunn 1992, which emphasizes the continuity of professional values and long-term focus on internal security.
Stepan, Alfred. Rethinking Military Politics, Brazil and the Southern Cone. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Comparative analysis, by a leading theorist on civil-military relations and military government, of military prerogatives and transition toward civilian government in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, with special attention given to the Brazilian case. Keen focus on military autonomy and the system of military intelligence.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Abortion and Infanticide
- Agricultural Technologies
- Alcohol Use
- Ancient Andean Textiles
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Andean Music
- Anti-Asian Racism
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Brazil, The
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Atlantic Creoles
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Beauty in Latin America
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Bolaño, Roberto
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Borges, Jorge Luis
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- California Missions, The
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Central America, The Archaeology of
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Latin America, Crime and Punishment in
- Colonial Latin America, Pilgrimage in
- Colonial Legal History of Peru
- Colonial New Granada
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Comics, Cartoons, Graphic Novels
- Contemporary Indigenous Film and Video Production
- Contemporary Indigenous Social and Political Thought
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Cortés, Hernán
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Fernando
- Dependency Theory in Latin American History
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500–1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Dutch in South America and the Caribbean, The
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Economies from Independence to Industrialization
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- Education in New Spain
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- Franciscans in Colonial Latin America
- From "National Culture" to the "National Popular" and the ...
- Gaucho Literature
- Gender and History in the Andes
- Gender during the Period of Latin American Independence
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Gentrification in Latin America
- Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe
- Guaraní and Their Legacy, The
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Guatemala (Colonial Period)
- Guatemala (Modern & National Period)
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- History of Health and Disease in Latin America and the Car...
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Honor in Mexican Public Life
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Independence in Argentina
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Indigenous Voices in Literature
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jesuits in Colonial Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- José María Arguedas and Early 21st Century Cultural and Po...
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Theater and Performance
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- LGBT Literature
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Magical Realism
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Menchú, Rigoberta
- Mesoamerica, The Archaeology of
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Nationalism
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Mexico, Health Care in 20th-Century
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Mining Extraction in Latin America
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Mystics and Mysticism
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- Natural Disasters in Early Modern Latin America
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Nuns and Convents in Colonial Latin America
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Ortega, José y Gasset
- Painting in New Spain, 1521–1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Pastoralism in the Andes
- Paz, Octavio
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Ponce de León
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in 19th-Century Latin America
- Portuguese-Spanish Interactions in Colonial South America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-conquest Mesoamerican States, The
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Puerto Rican Literature
- Religions in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Santo Domingo
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Science and Technology in Modern Latin America
- Sephardic Culture
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Slavery in Brazil
- São Paulo
- South American Dirty Wars
- South American Missions
- Spanish American Arab Literature
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Spiritual Conquest of Latin America, The
- Sports in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Telenovelas and Melodrama in Latin America
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 19th Century and Modernismo Poetry in Spanish America
- 20th-Century Mexico, Mass Media and Consumer Culture in
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Tourism in Modern Latin America
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- US–Latin American Relations during the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Venezuelan Literature
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Women's Property Rights, Asset Ownership, and Wealth in La...
- World War I in Latin America
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas