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Virtual Special Issue: The Cold War in Latin America

Introduction by Tanya Harmer

This virtual special issue highlights some of the exciting directions that scholarship on the Cold War in Latin America has taken over the last decade. The field has flourished since Gilbert Joseph and Daniela Spenser’s call back in 2008 to bring the region ‘in from the Cold’ and pay attention to Latin Americans’ experiences of the conflict.1 By the Latin American Studies Association’s 50th anniversary meeting in New York, over 100 papers directly and explicitly engaged with ‘the Cold War’ in their titles or abstracts.2

As a flagship journal for Latin American Studies, JLAS has also reflected this new interest in Latin America’s Cold War. Over 30 articles published since 2008 have provided new insights into the way that the conflict affected – and was shaped by – Latin Americans’ international, transnational and global interactions as well as their3 domestic politics.4 From research on the intersection of religion and Cold War ideologies5 to cultural manifestations of the Cold War,6 the journal’s articles have moved our understanding of the conflict well beyond simplistic ideas of a distant bipolar superpower battle over the region. When it comes to the United States Cold War interventions in Latin America, for example, recent articles published in JLAS have shed new light on the varied dimensions, limitations and effects of US power.7 Economic relations between Latin American countries and the United States, and their consequences for local politics and society, have received nuanced attention.8 In the past decade, JLAS has also published significant interventions on the pervasive legacies of the Cold War and transitional processes that followed conflict in the region and continue to shape contemporary politics and society.9 If Latin Americanists once had good reason to be suspicious of “the Cold War” as a frame of reference, seeing it as a lens that relegated complex developments within the region to outside powers, short-term timeframes and simplistic binaries, this is no longer the case. Unsurprisingly, given its focus, JLAS has showcased some of the best new scholarship on the Cold War that emphasizes the importance of regional expertise in navigating the contours of the conflict’s relevance and significance for Latin America.

Regrettably, one virtual special issue cannot include all articles related to the Cold War published in JLAS. In selecting the articles below, we have therefore chosen to zoom in on three areas of recent scholarship that offer fresh perspectives on Latin America’s Cold War. The first of these relates to the work being done on women, gender and morality. Women have all too often been marginalized and ignored in studies of the Cold War. However, as the articles by Margaret Power and Gerardo Leibner show, women were protagonists on the right and left of the conflict. Valeria Manzano meanwhile studies the gendered, sexual and generational dimensions of conservatism and political repression in Argentina, showing how those who fought revolutionary change believed themselves to be fighting “subservient” threats to traditional ideas of womanhood and masculinity. Together, these three articles demonstrate that ideas about how women and men should behave and relate to each were far more significant to Cold War ideological projects than previously thought. True, those who challenged gender norms were more often than not restricted or punished on all sides of the conflict. Yet, as recent scholarship has suggested, fierce debates about how men and women should live, love and raise families were key to the Cold War battle that played out in Latin America between different visions for structuring the economy, politics and society.

A second but related area that this virtual special issue focuses on is what Greg Grandin and Gilbert Joseph called the ‘politicization and internationalization of everyday life’ and its significance in underpinning Latin Americans’ experience of the Cold War10. Jenifer Lambe studies the battle over health and pharmaceuticals in post-revolutionary Cuba in her article on the ‘Drug Wars’ while Héctor Lindo-Fuentes explores the local ramifications of educational projects sponsored by the United States in El Salvador that had ‘the Cold War in their DNA.’ As Lindo-Fuentes shows, and Grandin and Joseph indicated, it was often this ‘politicization and internationalization of everyday life’ that underpinned the intensity of violence in Latin America’s Cold War. On that subject, Sebastian Carassai’s article on trends in popular culture and advertising in Argentina during the 1970s helps us to grasp the ways in which violence became normalized at the height of the Cold War in this country. Anja Nygren’s ethnographic study of everyday experiences of wartime in El Castillo, Río San Juan, then offers a haunting grassroots perspective on the lived experience of Cold War violence and its aftermath in Nicaragua.

Finally, reflecting the impact that the transnational and global turns have had on the field, this virtual special issue pays attention to new research on the wide ranging interactions of Latin America’s revolutionary left. John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco, for example, examines the influence of the Cuban Revolution on the New Left in the United States and its radical shift towards Third World nationalism. Alberto Martín Álvarez and Eudald Cortina Orero examine the influences– from Chile’s Christian Democratic Party to European student movements and the Vietnam War – that shaped the genesis and internal dynamics of El Salvador’s People’s Revolutionary Army. In evaluating the role that armed resistance played in Chile’s transition to civilian rule, Victor Figueroa Clark studies the transnational trajectories of Chilean left-wing parties that adopted armed struggle in the 1980s.

There is, of course, still much to learn about the Cold War in Latin America in these three areas and beyond. We hope readers find this selection useful, that it prompts them to explore the journal’s rich history of publishing articles related to the conflict and its consequences, and that it sparks new debate and research on related topics.


1 Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniela Spenser, eds., In from the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War (Duke University Press, 2008).

2 See 3 See for example, Tanya Harmer, “Two, Three, Many Revolutions? Cuba and the Prospects for Revolutionary Change in Latin America, 1967-1975,” JLAS 45 (2013); Jacob Blanc, “Itaipu’s Forgotten History: The 1965 Brazil-Parauay Border Crisis and the new Geopolitics of the Southern Cone,” JLAS, firstview (2017); Lily Pearl Balloffet, “Argentine and Egyptian History Entangled: From Perón to Nasser,” JLAS, firstview (2017).

4 See for example, Eduardo Alemán, “Institutions, Political Conflict and the Cohesion of Policy Networks in the Chilean Congress, 1961-2006,” JLAS 41 (2009); William A. Booth “Hegemonic Nationalism, Subordinate Marxism: The Mexican Left, 1945-7,” JLAS (2018).

5 See for example, Peter M. Sanchez, “Ideas and Leaders in Contentious Politics: One Parish Priest in El Salvador’s Popular Movement,” JLAS 46 (2014); Stephan Ruderer, “Between Religion and Politics: The Military Clergy during the Late Twentieth-Century Dictatorships in Argentina and Chile,” JLAS 47 (2015).

6 See for example, Nicola Miller, “A Revolutionary Modernity: The Cultural Policy of the Cuban Revolution,” JLAS 40 (2008); Patrick Iber, “The Cold War Politics of Literature and the Centro Mexicano de Escritores,” 48 (2015).

7 See for example, Charles D. Brockett, “US Labour and Management Fight It Out in Post-1954 Guatemala,” JLAS 42 (2010); Felipe Pereira Loureiro, “The Alliance For or Against Progress? US-Brazilian Financial Relations in the Early 1960s,” JLAS 46 (2014); Vanni Pettinà, “A Preponderance of Politics: The Auténtico Governments and US-Cuban Economic Relations, 1945-1951,” JLAS 46 (2014).

8 See for example, Claudia Kedar, “Salvador Allende and the International Monetary fund, 1970-73: The Depoliticisation and Technocratisation of Cold War Relations,” JLAS 47 (2015); Patricio Navia and Rodrigo Osorio, “ ‘Make the Economy Scream’? Economic, Ideological and Social Determinants of Support for Salvador Allende in Chile, 1970-3,” JLAS 49 (2017).

9 See for example, Luis Roniger, “Transitional Justice and Protracted Accountability in Re-deocratised Uruguay, 1985-2011,” JLAS 43 (2011); Cath Collins, “Truth-Justice-Reparations Interaction Effectis in Transitional Justice Practice: The Case of the ‘Valech Commission’ in Chile,” 49 (2016).

10 Gilbert M. Joseph, “What We Now Know and Should Know: Bringing Latin America More Meaningfully into Cold War Studies,”  in In From the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War, ed. Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniela Spenser (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 4.

Research Article