This week, to be exact the 31st of March, marked in Brazil the installation of the military dictatorship fifty years ago. It began with the 1964 coup d’état led by the Armed Forces, and supported by the USA, against the democratically elected government of left-wing President João Goulart and ended March 15, 1985, when José Sarney, the first civilian, to take office as President.
During these 50 years a lot has changed in South America. Look at the three largest countries of this continent. Three woman presidents for Argentina (Cristina Fernández de Kirchner), Chile (Michelle Bachelet) and Brazil (Dilma Rousseff).
Quite a difference with 50 years ago, when these countries showed three military rulers.
The neoliberal hangover reinvented the left in Latin America
Successive economic crises arising from the adoption of neoliberal policies (privatization of state enterprises, cutting government spending, deregulation of services, elimination of employee benefits among others) promoted deep changes in the South American continent. Right-wing governments successively lost strength and popularity and leftist governments “exploded” in Latin America elections.
Now we saw and see leaders like Hugo Chávez Frías (1999) in Venezuela, Ricardo Lagos (2000) and Michelle Bachelet (2006 and 2014) in Chile , Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (2003 ) and Dilma Rousseff (2010 ) in Brazil , Néstor Kirchner (2003 ) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007) and the return to Neo-peronismo in Argentina, Tabaré Vázquez (2005) and José Mujica (2010) in Uruguay, Evo Morales (2006) and the emergence of the “cocalero” movement in Bolivia, Rafael Correa (2007) in Ecuador among others.
We see a phenomenon called “Guinada à esquerda” (the perception that leftist ideology in general, and left-wing politics in particular, are increasingly influential in Latin America) marks the South American politics since the beginning of twenty-first century, demonstrating that political power comes alternating according to economic situations, demonstrating new ways of looking at politics in Latin America no longer hostage to international economic interests as an active subject in the intricate game of political and financial power in the contemporary world.
The story where the hangover came from
The obsession in the USA with communism culminated in South America in a wave of military coups, supported, sometimes initiated by the USA. It began with Paraguay, followed by Brazil, where the military overthrew the government of João Goulart in March 1964. Followed by other countries in the Latin American hemisphere.
In general, the military regimes of South America were extremely authoritarian and violent. The governments of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia reached to an agreement of mutual cooperation, the so-called Operation Condor, with the aim of suppressing resistance to jointly deployed dictatorial regimes. South America became a great laboratory for neoliberal experiments, with privatization of state enterprises, cutting government spending, deregulation of services and elimination of benefits for workers.
Since 1954 Paraguay was ruled by General Alfredo Stroessner, successively re-elected under a permanent state of siege. Ten years after the Paraguayan military coup, in Brazil President João Goulart was deposed by a military junta which after implementing the first Unconstitutional Act, elected General Alencar Castelo Branco as President of the Brazilian Republic.
In Argentina, a Revolution led by General Videla, conducted a coup d’état against then President Arturo in 1966. Videla had as its goal to remain in power and thereby establish a new dictatorial system of a permanent type, called “Bureaucratic Authoritarian State” (EBA).
In 1968 the Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde tried to implement industries to satisfy the population and stop the riots that took place at the time of his government, but it wasn’t enough to deal with the conservative right and mainly with the military. Peruvian General Juan Velasco Alvarado led a coup d’état, starting the Peruvian military regime.
In 1971 dictatorships in Bolivia and Uruguay were installed. Uruguay was in economic crisis. Political violence was installed as an instrument of struggle for power and so there was a military coup. Already in Bolivia, the dictatorship was exercised by General Hugo Banzer Suárez, who had been Minister of Education during the government of General Hugo Barrientos.
In Ecuador, in 1972, a military coup overthrew the regime of José María Velasco Ibarra, who had started to use oil wealth and foreign borrowing to fund a program of industrialisation, agrarian reform, and subsidies for urban consumers.
In Chile in September 1973, the military carried out a coup that culminated in the assassination of President Salvador Allende. Under the leadership of General Augusto Pinochet, Chile was living a terrible dictatorship pursuing national leftist opposition and serving USA interests.
In Colombia, although not under dictatorship, FARC and ELN started a civil war lasting four decades and taking control over a considerable part of the country. Similarly, for some critics, Venezuela, claiming the area of Guyana, is a country still in dictatorship. Under the regime of the Venezuelan military and political Hugo Chávez, Venezuela was and still is considered by some a threat to the democracy process in Latin America.
While repressing any form of opposition, the military promoted the economic recovery of their countries. Over time, this policy led to severe economic crises in South America. The recession shook the foundations of dictatorships and contributed to weakening the military regimes in the 1980s. Gradually, democracy returned to settle on this continent. Between 1979 and 1990, most countries returned to democracy, such as Paraguay (1989), Brazil (1985), Argentina (1983), Peru (1980), Bolivia (1982), Uruguay (1984), Ecuador (1979) and Chile (1990).
Today, South American governments have driven the political left as socialist leaders who are elected as in Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Venezuela. Despite the movement of the left, South America for the most part still embraces free market policies, and it is taking an active path toward greater continental integration, exemplified by the Mercosur and the Andean Community, thus forming the third political trade bloc in the world.