The Pen and the Scalar” Cold War: Solicitation and Petitionary Correspondence across and beyond the Nation in Latin America, 1943–83

AHA Session 303
Conference on Latin American History 73
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1D (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Monica Rankin, University of Texas at Dallas
Monica Rankin, University of Texas at Dallas

Session Abstract

Historical accounts of the Cold War continue to accentuate the “global” nature of the conflict between two superpowers that periodically “touched down” in specific locales. This perspective has been repeatedly challenged by historians of Latin America who have long sought to acknowledge the local conditions that helped turn the region into a “hot zone” during the Cold War.  Among recent studies, this position has perhaps been articulated most forcefully by Hal Brands, whose Latin America’s Cold War (2010) seeks to de-center the role of the US and USSR in order to show how a series of “convergent conflicts” resulted in the extraordinary violence and political strife of this era.

This panel seeks to expand this discussion by engaging intersectional political identities that characterized the “local” experience of the Cold War as expressed in correspondence sent to national and international leaders from across the region between the 1940s and 1980s.  The three studies that make up this panel thus each seek to engage this local experience through an analysis of individuals’ relationship to the “non-local” at specific moments with dramatic sociopolitical resonance at the national, regional or hemispheric levels.  As such, Ernesto Capello’s paper emphasizes the role of spectacular US goodwill tours from 1928-1969, Renata Keller focuses on the Mexican public’s reaction to the triumph of the Cuban revolution, and Jennifer Adair considers the Argentine “democratic transition” of the 1980s. 

Each paper has chosen to engage this query through an analysis of correspondence sent to ‘great leaders’ – high ranking US officials and diplomats (Capello), Fidel Castro (Keller) and Argentine President Alfonsín (Adair).  Given their audience, these letters therefore belong to a solicitation and petitionary tradition with lengthy roots in the region.  And indeed, many of these epistles incorporate the requests typical of petitions and solicitations.  However, the letters also operate on a separate level, namely as an articulation of the specific political viewpoint of the authors in the midst of a period of intense political tension as well as creative political imagination.  As such, the letters demonstrate a conscious attempt by their authors to situate themselves within distinct scales of history, moving between local concerns to the national, to the regional, to the international, and to the global and back again.  Through situating these sources and their worldviews, this panel offers an opportunity to consider not only the importance of the Cold War to localities across Latin America but also the degree to which a scaled approach to engaging this history can clarify the nuances of a global conflict on the local and individual level.

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