Colonizers by a Different Name: The U.S. and the USSR’s Stakes in Latin America

An issue to be addressed is the continued implicit colonial shadow present upon much of Latin America during the 20th century, even after supposed decolonization had occurred. Colonial control of Latin America before the 20th century oversaw systemized racist hierarchies, unequal land ownership between the top few richer families and the poorer classes, and the forceful application of foreign cultures with the domestic. As Dr. Holt noted in her lecture on Monday, the legacies of colonialism—economic, social and political—are what “set the stage for the entrenched inequalities that characterize much of Latin America today.”

Selfish foreign intervention did not stop after national independence for many Latin American countries, however. The propped-up governments and proxy wars of the Cold War served to continue colonial control by another name. On page 318 of the “Upside Down” piece, Eduardo Galeano notes that for much of the 20th century, capitalism of the West and the “real socialism” of the Eastern bloc vied for influence in the countries still seeking an independent role in the global order. The problem here, for Latin-American countries who tried to emulate or capitulate to either side, was the truth that “so-called socialism had sacrificed freedom” and that “capitalism sacrifices justice day in, day out.” Any attempt at self-governance that clashed with either ideology was often met with both covert and public organized backlash from the two giants of the Cold War.

These two paths were often not just suggestions, but rather mandates in some cases for certain unfortunate countries. The United States, in its efforts to stem communism from reaching its doorstep, opted to meddle in Latin American affairs to prop up candidates and groups to power. As Dr. Holt noted, the U.S. was originally optimistic about Fidel Castro’s rise to power in Cuba. However, after seeing that his policies did not agree with the U.S.’s goals, they opted to first militarily intervene, which was met with utter failure. In chapter 8, page 160 of the Bayly reading, Bayly recounts the U.S. economic counteroffensive, with the setting up an economic blockade that drove Cuba towards greater political dependency on the USSR, found to be an erroneous decision after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

In one case, both the USSR and the United States played the political game with Chile’s government. On chapter 8, page 159 of the Bayly reading, Salvador Allende is said to have become the president of Chile in 1970 with Soviet financial support, as well as backing being given for his later national policies. However, Bayly also stresses the fact that Augusto Pinochet, overthrowing Allende in 1973, had had financial and diplomatic backing from the American government and the CIA as well. In the pursuit of global hegemony over the other side, the U.S. and the USSR were no better than the earlier colonizers of Latin America in their consideration of these countries as pawns.

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