In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cold War Dictatorships in the Southern Cone (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Dictionaries
  • Breakdown of Democratic Rules: Historical Backgrounds
  • The Coups
  • Conceptualizing Cold War Dictatorship in the Southern Cone
  • Armed Forces
  • Violence and Repression
  • Exile, Transnational Solidarity, and Human Rights
  • Mass Culture, Youth, Gender, Morality
  • Entangled Histories and the “Inter-American Cold War”
  • Institutional and Economic Transformations
  • Inside the Regimes
  • Social and Political Actors
  • Protests, Resistance, and Opposition
  • Collaborationism and Consent under Authoritarian Rule
  • Democratic Transitions, Transitional Justice, and Memory Struggles

Military History Cold War Dictatorships in the Southern Cone (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile)
Marcelo Casals
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0254


Starting with the 1964 coup in Brazil and followed by coups in both Chile and Uruguay in 1973, and then in Argentina in 1976, the Southern Cone in Latin America became a land of counterrevolutionary authoritarianism. Dictatorships were neither new in the region nor limited to those countries. During the Cold War, all Latin American countries experienced military dictatorships (except Costa Rica and Mexico). However, during the 1960s and 1970s, it was clear that the Southern Cone was especially influenced by Cold War bipolarity, thus attracting global attention given its explicit antidemocratic stances and brutal repressive practices. What is more, the military in power did not just act as arbiters in political disputes, but they also planned and executed projects of radical economic, political, and cultural transformation, the notorious effects of which linger in the twenty-first century. No wonder, then, that the study of Cold War dictatorships in the Southern Cone (Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil) has become a growing and dynamic field of study, with such an abundance of new publications each year that make it difficult for scholars to keep up with. This annotated bibliography gives a glimpse into this field, emphasizing the new subfields that have emerged thanks to the methodological innovations of cultural and social history. The historical study of Cold War dictatorships in the Southern Cone, therefore, is not limited to the description of political events and elites, but has come to include concerns about gender, culture, repression, resistance, collaboration, and memory struggles, among many others. This text also aims to present studies produced in Latin America to an anglophone audience, a dialogue that is not always fluid given linguistic barriers and structural inequalities in 21st-century global academia. (I would like to acknowledge the help received in the elaboration of this text by three of the most important Latin American specialists on this subject: Marina Franco, Vania Markarian, and Rodrigo Patto Sá Motta from Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, respectively. I am also grateful with El Colegio de México in Mexico City and its fantastic library, where I was able to consult many of the books mentioned here. This text received financial support from the Fondecyt Project, number 1220238 [ANID-Chile].)

General Overviews

Despite the growth of scholarship on Cold War dictatorships in Latin America, we still lack general studies that cover the whole of the Southern Cone. This follows a general trend in the historiography of Latin America and elsewhere: studies generally stick to a national frame, and in so doing, they obscure connections and silence comparisons between countries. A notable exception to this is Dávila 2013, which covers the history of dictatorships in Latin America from a regional perspective. However, this work is still organized in terms of national experiences (each chapter deals with a particular national case), which speaks to the difficulties in overcoming national approaches to Cold War dictatorships in the Southern Cone. There is, however, a fair number of general overviews for each of the national cases involved. Some books, such as Caetano and Rilla 1987 and Constable and Valenzuela 1991, were written just a few years after the end of authoritarian rule in an attempt to make sense of the recent past and what must be done in order to rebuild stable democracies. Most of the books of this type were written in the early twenty-first century as historians engaged in the fierce memory struggles that were unfolding in their countries. The first comprehensive account of Pinochet’s regime published in Chile was Huneeus 2000, while the former dictator was detained in London and acrimonious public discussions over the dictatorship’s legacy were taking place. Demasi, et al. 2013, on the other hand, was published on the fortieth anniversary of the coup in Uruguay, and Napolitano 2014 was published in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the coup in Brazil. More recently, with the rise of far-right movements that celebrate the memory of counterrevolutionary and authoritarian regimes, there has been a resurgence in histories that critically examine this history. Sá Motta 2022, for example, which first appeared in Portuguese in 2021, was designed to counteract the manipulation of history by the far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Most of these books seek to intervene in public debates in Latin America while also maintaining disciplinary rigor. All in all, these general narratives are an essential starting point for introducing the topic to newcomers. At the same time, books such as Águila 2023, Dávila 2013, or Stern 2006 also can be used in historical teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

  • Águila, Gabriela. Historia de la última dictadura militar: Argentina, 1976–1983. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2023.

    The latest historiographical synthesis of the “last” military dictatorship in Argentina, the “Process of National Reorganization,” as it was called. It is based on an impressive array of secondary sources. Written by one of the most salient specialists of the period.

  • Caetano, Gerardo, and José Rilla. Breve historia de la dictadura: (1973–1985). Montevideo: Ediciones de la Banda Oriental, 1987.

    Probably the first attempt to craft a general narrative of a Latin American dictatorship. Written shortly after the Uruguayan authoritarian experience came to an end, this book is both a scholarly work and a public intervention in the then-new democratic regime in Uruguay.

  • Constable, Pamela, and Arturo Valenzuela. A Nation of Enemies: Chile under Pinochet. New York and London: Norton, 1991.

    Great introduction to the Chilean dictatorship for foreign audiences. More than a chronologically organized narrative, it is a thematic exposition of different dimensions and key social actors of the Chilean military dictatorship. It is useful for both undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Dávila, Jerry. Dictatorship in South America. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

    Arguably the best introduction to Cold War dictatorships in South America in English. Especially designed for undergraduate students. While it assumes a regional perspective, each national case is analyzed separately.

  • Demasi, Carlos, Aldo Marchesi, Vania Markarian, Álvaro Rico, and Jaime Yaffé, eds. La dictadura cívico-militar: Uruguay, 1973–1985. Montevideo: Ediciones de la Banda Oriental, 2013.

    Collective volume written by the leading Uruguayan historians on the Uruguayan dictatorship. It covers the political process, economic policies, international relations, the political opposition, and cultural policies by the regime.

  • Huneeus, Carlos. El régimen de Pinochet. Santiago: Editorial Sudamericana, 2000.

    The first general analysis of the Chilean dictatorship published in Spanish. It offers a historical and political science analysis of the regime with a focus on institutions and internal power relations, focusing on civil advisors, economic experts, the military, and the repressive state apparatus. A must-read for anyone interested in the Pinochet dictatorship.

  • Napolitano, Marcos. 1964: história do regime militar brasileiro. São Paulo: Editora Contexto, 2014.

    General and accessible historical account of the Brazilian military dictatorship. Published in the context of the fortieth anniversary of the coup in Brazil. It aims to demystify the sympathetic views of the supposedly “soft” character of the regime (“ditablanda”) and its economic success.

  • Novaro, Marcos, and Vicente Palermo. La dictadura militar, 1976–1983: del golpe de Estado a la restauración democrática. Buenos Aires: Paidós, 2003.

    Fruitful and thorough political science analysis of the Argentine dictatorship. The focus is on the institutions and central actors of the regime. The authors also develop very valuable reflections on the particularities of the Argentine dictatorship in comparison to other authoritarian regimes in the region.

  • Sá Motta, Rodrigo Patto. A Present Past: The Brazilian Military Dictatorship and the 1964 Coup. Eastbourne, UK: Sussex Academic, 2022.

    DOI: 10.2307/jj.3078960

    Originally published in Portuguese in 2021, this book seeks to shed new light on the Brazilian military dictatorship in the context of growing “negationism” and the explicit defense of the regime by the far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro. It covers a wide array of topics, from anti-communism and the role of the United States in the 1964 coup to repression, the so-called economic miracle, social support, and political opposition.

  • Stern, Steve J. Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973–1988. Durham, US: Duke University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv1198vpp

    Arguably the best comprehensive narrative of the Chilean military dictatorship from the perspective of the political-cultural struggles unleashed during those years. Part 2 of a must-read trilogy on the subject.

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