Latin American Regimes

Photo by Donostia Kultura


An overview of a troubled past


By Tania Farias

“From the deep crucible of the homeland. The people’s voices rise up. The new day comes over the horizon. All Chile breaks out in song…” claims the first verse of We Will Triumph, a supporting song for the Popular Unity coalition led by Salvador Allende in Chile. According to the Revolutionary Democracy journal (2003) the Chilean songwriter and activist Víctor Jara sang this song defiantly after having been violently tortured in the Chilean Stadium (renamed later Víctor Jara Stadium). He had been arrested – and five days later assassinated – because of his political beliefs a fate shared by thousands of other people in 1973.

Forty years after the coup d’état led by General Pinochet on 11th September 1973, it is difficult to forget the horrors committed against the Chilean people. In 2011 the Valech Commission recognised more than 40,000 victims in Chile – people arrested, tortured or executed- between September 1973 and March 1990. Among them, 3,065 people dead or disappeared. These figures don’t take into account all of the people who went into exile and the families of all the victims.

Military dictatorship in Chile was characterised by its terror. However, this situation was not a unique case. Around the same time numerous Latin American countries were also ruled by a military dictatorship. In 1976, following a military coup d’état in Argentina, it started an era known as The Dirty War, a dark period of state terrorism aimed to exterminate any group or person associated with communism. During this period, all the succeeding military regimes declared war against the Argentinian citizens punishing any manifestation of heterogeneity. According to human rights organisations 30,000 people disappeared or were assassinated between 1976 and 1983 in Argentina.

Meanwhile, from 1972 to 1979, Bolivia lived under the repressive regime of General Hugo Banzer. In 1980, a group of militaries led by Luis García Meza, along with people connected with drug trafficking and a terrorist cell known as Los Novios de la Muerte, – commanded by some former Nazi and Fascist criminals – took power and imposed what the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) named “Latin America’s most errant violator of human rights after Guatemala and El Salvador”. In the first 13 months the regime killed more than 1,000 people. This period is also known The Cocaine Coup since corruption, drug trafficking and repression became Bolivia’s reality for three years.

Around the same time, Paraguay and Uruguay were ruled with repressive regimes too. For 35 years – from 1954 to 1989- general Alfredo Stroessner subjected Paraguay’s citizens to his government’s dictatorship. Assassinations were carried out; people were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, forced into exile and disappeared. It is estimated that during Stroessner’s dictatorship more than 3,500 people went into exile.

Similarly, dictatorship in Uruguay started with the coup d’état led by Juan María Bordaberry (1973–1976) and ended in 1985 with Gregorio Álvarez (1981-1985). During the succession of four leaders any kind of political activity that did not conform to the official party was repressed. Again, during this period people were imprisoned and tortured.

Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua were not exempt from having repressive governments. Actually during the twentieth century Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua suffered some of the bloodiest regimes in the world.

But how can we explain the simultaneous occurrence of these brutal regimes in Latin American? To answer this question it is necessary to analyze it in the context of the Cold War; the spread of socialist ideas and therefore, the emergence of anti-imperialist governments all over Latin America. Fearing the expansion of communism in the region, the American government along with the CIA and right–wing parties in every country conceived and imposed totalitarian dictatorships aimed at destroying any seed of communism. In 1992, the Paraguayan activist Martín Almada – he was himself a political prisoner during Stroessner’s dictatorship – came across the Archives of Terror in Paraguay. These documents were a compilation of written exchanges, information and descriptions relating cooperation agreements between leaders and militaries from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and later Ecuador, Peru and Colombia with the support of the Unites States, to eradicate any communist idea or Soviet influence in the region. These archives enumerated 50,000  assassinations, 30,0000 disappearances and 400,000 imprisonments under the name of Operation Condor.

After the horrors and terrible consequences of the Second World War, it is difficult to understand why such terror regimes were imposed on this region and probably, we will never have a rational explanation for this level of cruelty. However, we can honor those who have fallen and those who have suffered from the brutality of these regimes remembering the events with respect, learning from our mistakes and not repeating such atrocities again.

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