Latin America and the Crisis of the American Century

Friday, January 7, 2011: 3:50 PM
Room 102 (Hynes Convention Center)
William O. Walker III , independent scholar
Beginning in the mid-1960s and continuing for some time thereafter, the high-minded objectives of the American Century essentially came apart in the Western Hemisphere. The goals of democracy, freedom, and, to an extent, market-based economic growth came under attack, both as a result of developments in Latin America and as a consequence of the nature of U.S. policies. By the mid-1970s, the emergence of human rights as a factor in hemispheric affairs helped to lessen but did not significantly abate the severity of the crisis.
            The real, if exaggerated, threat that Cuba posed to U.S. interests in the region became something of a metaphor for the crisis. Revolution could have no role in sustaining an American Century. Its endurance in Cuba and the possibility of its spread from the Caribbean to Central America to the Andes therefore brought into serious question the relevance of U.S. leadership in contemporary Latin America. In response came military intervention in the Dominican Republic, the provision of counterinsurgency aid to Guatemala and Colombia, support for undemocratic regimes in Brazil and elsewhere, and complicity in the bloody fall of Salvador Allende in Chile.
            Taken together these developments suggest the limits of looking to the United States as a model for progress at a critical juncture in Latin American history. Fear of revolution and the conflating of that fear with a disdain for radicalism effectively compromised the ideals of the Alliance for Progress while providing cover from Washington for growth of the brutal National Security Doctrine within Latin America's military forces. The crisis of the American Century, in short, served to usher in a prolonged era of human want, economic uncertainty, and political malaise.
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