American Policy: Reused

During the Cold War in Latin America, the United States mastered a number of tactics in the art of political rhetoric in order to push interventionist policy with public support, tactics that it carried on using up until this very day in the modern War on Terror. The ability to frame interventionist policy in neighborly way was one of the great successes of the US administrations in their military interventions in both Guatemala and Nicaragua. 

Two key tactics used by the United States in both Cold War Latin America and in the modern War are Terror are the classifying of ideologies as a foreign threat that needed to be fought, and the framing of allies as “Freedom fighters” and enemies as “Terrorists”.

Classifying as Foreign Threats

An Important tactic developed by the United States during the Cold War in Latin America was its ability to have Latin American Head’s of State subscribe to US Anti-Communism policy.  The United States was able to do this by pushing forward the Declaration of Caracas in 1954, a statement that classified communism as “incompatible with the concept of American freedom.” This declaration was signed onto by all Latin American Nations except Guatemala. President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala was a leftist leader who called for a rejection of US influence in the region. He adopted a policy of land reform that included the expropriation of 200,000 acres of land from the United Fruit Company and the redistribution of that land. Following Arbenz’s objection to the Declaration of Caracas and his “pink” policies, the United States supported a coup against him.

This same tactic can be shown to be used in the Modern War on Terror in Iraq, where post 9/11 President George W. Bush gave speeches in which he said “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.” In this statement, Bush sought to do the same thing as was done through the Declaration of Caracas, on board Middle Eastern nations to justify the US invasion of Iraq under the lure of a foreign threat.

“Freedom Fighter” or “Terrorists”

Another key tactic by the United States during the Cold war was the use of labeling allies as “Freedom Fighters” and enemies as “Terrorists.” This was especially useful at a time were “terrorist” was polling as more fearful then “communist.” In Nicaragua, Ronald Reagan forwarded this tactic by referring to the Nicaraguan Contra Rebels as “Freedom Fighter” fighting for “American Values”.  At the same time the Office of Public Diplomacy in Central America and the Caribbean attempted to associate the Sandinista government with terrorism by accusing them of having connections with Libya, the PLO, and other US-designated terrorist groups.


Similar tactics were used against Iraq leading up to the US invasion. During Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the US worked hard to create a campaign similar to that of Nicaragua. It sought to characterize the Iraqi army as cruel and evil, and worked closely with the Committee for a Free Kuwait and a Republican PR firm to launch this campaign. Pictures were staged to show atrocities done by the Iraqi army, videos were created of Kuwaiti “freedom fighters”, T-shirts were distributed, “Free Kuwait day” was declared, and media groups pushed these elements all day long. An account by a 15 year old volunteer “Nayirah” was given at Capitol Hill, in which she described gruesome scenes of Iraqi forces tearing babies out of incubators and throwing them on the floor. While this account pushed Americans to sympathize with Kuwaiti Freedom fighters while despising Iraqi “terrorists”, it was completely fabricated. The campaign by President George Bush Sr. at the time to label Iraq as a terrorist regime would set the groundwork for President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, capture of Saddam Hussein, and 9 year war.


Impact of the Panama Canal on US-Nicaragua relationship


An interoceanic canal, in the early 1900s, would make the world smaller. Transportation from US West Coast to US East Coast would make commerce more profitable. Also the US would be hold at a higher regard in the world, and that, in turn, would increase US financial standings. For the longest time at the end of the 1890s and the early 1900s, the US determined that Nicaragua was the spot for an interoceanic canal. Unfortunately, the lobbyists for the canal to be built at Panama instead were more successful. When Washington let the world known of its change of decision, the relationship between Nicaragua and the United States became tense.

Nicaraguan president at the time, Jose Santos Zelaya, began to court foreign investors, mainly Japan and Germany, to build the interoceanic canal instead. The reaction alarmed the US. Another canal controlled by a rival power would diminish the value of the Panama Canal. The US then started backing rebels that were pro-US and when two American citizens were executed in the conflict, the US began directly to take control of Nicaragua militarily. The US then utilized several methods to take control of Nicaragua’s economic and political interests.

Even though President Taft’s “substituting dollars for bullets” were enacted in Nicaragua, when the 1912 invasion were finished, US troops still remained in Nicaragua. Even though the number of troops was in the hundreds, they symbolized the US’s willingness to use violent to achieve their goals. When the national election was held the following year, US used these force as Nicaragua’s election supervisors. The Liberal faction within Nicaragua decided not to participate in this election believing that the election was fixed. This led to a US-friendly Nicaraguan president, Adolfo Diaz. With the US’s promise of providing him troops when he needed it, Diaz’s administration assisted the US signing two treaties, the Castill-Knox Treaty in 1914 and the Chamorro-Bryan Treaty in 1916. The Castill-Knox Treaty gave the US authority to intervene in any Nicaragua’s affair to protect US’s interest. The Chamorro-Bryan Treaty gave the US exclusive right to build a canal in Nicaragua and effectively allowed the US to proceed building the Panama Canal without any worry of foreign investors in the region.

Canal Distance

In order to tightening control over Nicaragua economically, the US introduced the Dollar Diplomacy. However instead of a boom in foreign investments in Nicaragua, US’s goal was to maintain a strong presence in the country to prevent rival powers from establishing a foothold in the region. The Dollar Diplomacy created an institution known as the Mixed Commission. The Mixed Commission essentially put Nicaragua’s public finances and economic policy in the hand of Wall Street banks and they carried out austere measures in order to reduce Nicaragua’s debt. Washington believed that Nicaragua’s political instability would resolve if the nation is debt free. However, The Dollar Diplomacy further increased the instability of Nicaragua.


The commission created infighting among the elites who believed that the judges on the commission were unfair and biased favorably for the ruling party. Compound that with the lack of funds in the commission due to the lack of foreign investments, the elites began to have anti-American sentiments. Unfortunately, unlike the time when the elites had the support of the peasants, the commission, indirectly, made it impossible for elites to have the full support of the peasants. The peasants during this period, gained a lot of economic power in Nicaragua society and this eliminated the caudillismo elements, where the elites were essentially used their wealth to get the peasants’ support, in Nicaragua. Therefore, the US did not lose control of its grasp over Nicaragua.

The events leading up to and following the 1912 invasion shaped the US and Nicaraguan relationship for almost a century. In order to secure an important geopolitical interest for the US, the US would invade Nicaragua and upheave the nation’s political stability. The policy that the US imposed on Nicaragua after the invasion pushed the nation further into Washington’s grasp. The Dollar Diplomacy created infighting among the elites immobilizing the Nicaraguan government. The policy also made Nicaragua more economically dependent on the US. On top of these, the policy suppressed dissidents from the elites by empowering the peasants economically. These tactics remained useful tools which the US continued to utilized against Nicaragua throughout the 20th century.

Spheres of Influence of Liberation Theology in Brazil and its Tension with the Catholic Church

Liberation theology arose out of the Brazilian Catholic Church during the 1960s under founders such as Leonardo Boff, before it spread to other regions in Latin America. This theology developed to address the poverty that was widespread in many of these communities. Liberation theologians encouraged the poor to reflect about the poverty they were living in, to put it in the context of their Christian faith, and to then act in order to liberate themselves from poverty. The organization and resistance carried forth by this theology in Brazil serves as an example of how religious institutions were able to have an impact on the democratization of political, social, economic, and environmental aspects of Latin American societies during the second half of the 20th century. Furthermore, the way in which liberation theology challenged the Catholic Church, reflects the challenge the Church is confronted with of protecting its doctrines in a changing society.

Several factors, fostered the ideal environment for the rise of liberation theology in Brazil, including widespread poverty in the country, and the presence of socially active religious authorities during Brazil’s military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. An example of such an authority was Bishop Hélder Câmara, who advocated for social rights and agrarian reform in order to reduce economic poverty. In addition, an essential component to grassroots mobilization of liberation theology in Brazil were base ecclesial communities. These communities served the purpose of raising the poor’s awareness of why they were in an impoverished state, organizing them to contextualize their situation with the Bible, and to then act towards attaining social justice. Liberation theologians strived to organize the poor to ultimately liberate themselves, so they were free of any dependency, and free to follow their God given vocations. These different efforts reflect how liberation theology tried to put the poor at the center of their focus, encouraging the improvement of economic, political, and social aspects of the society towards a democratic system that included the poor. In addition, liberation theology later expanded to consider other aspects of society such as the environment, as done by Leonardo Boff in his book Ecology and Liberation.

Link to pages 67-77 in Section II of this book :

The Catholic Church, however, did not agree with some forms of liberation theology that arose in Brazil and throughout Latin America. This opposition mostly arose due to the increasing associations of liberation theology with Marxist ideologies, as well as the criticism from liberation theologians which called the Church to reform. For example, even though Boff explained that liberation theology did not arise directly from Marxism, he agrees that Marxism fundamentally helped liberation theologians by showing them how poverty arises from the ways in which society is organized to “exploit and oppress the weakest among us”. As Cardinal Ratzinger explained in his document Instruction On Certain Aspects of The “Theology Of Liberation” one reason why the Catholic Church was against any associations with Marxism was because they fear that core Marxist ideas such as “atheism and the denial of the human person, his liberty and rights” would lead to totalitarian societies, contradictions between faith and atheism, and the undermining of human dignity. In brief, although the Catholic Church did not condemn the entire liberation theology movement, it warned against how versions of this theology associated with Marxism could lead to deviations from the doctrine of the Catholic Church, which would actually hinder the liberation of the poor.

Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in 2013

Although the various factors which led to the rise of liberation theology in Brazil makes this country a good example to analyze this theology, liberation theologians throughout Latin America also sought for the Church to reform. This criticism of the Catholic Church was mostly rooted in the desire to liberate the poor from their suppression and to increase the democratization of opportunities for the poor. These ideas show how the Church back then and today need to balance the challenge of staying true to their doctrine while adapting as necessary to a changing society. Examples of forces calling the Church to change today include the rise of pro-choice and gay rights movements. While the church has decided that these two causes are fundamentally against the church, Pope Francis’ progressive outlook while adhering to the doctrine of the church, reminds us that the church is not static. Efforts pushing for the church to change, as well as liberation theologians call to reassess aspects such as consumerism in our society that oppress the poor, will continue to be relevant for generations to come.

Songs of protest in Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries since the 1960’s



As a reaction to the ever-present political, economic and social inequities throughout Latin America, nueva canción emerged as a manifestation of resentment and discontent through music. Nueva canción merged traditional folk music with a wide array of popular social justice themes of the times. The movement began in Chile and Cuba, and spread throughout Latin America, eventually reaching Puerto Rico. As with all other Latin American countries, nueva canción had an important cultural role in Puerto Rican protests. These songs had essentially three purposes: as tools to record history, to promote anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist agendas, and to provide a common thread between problems occurring in various Latin American countries.


Here, we will do a brief overview of protest songs in Puerto Rico and in other Latin American countries since the 1950’s, and touch upon how music is used today in protests. All of the music that we will talk about can be accessed in a Spotify playlist by clicking on the image above.

Nueva canción was most prominent in Puerto Rico in the 1970’s and 80’s, in the protests of the University of Puerto Rico. In short, the students protested the presence of a United States Armed Forces training program on campus, and the prohibition of pro-independence activities on campus. Against this backdrop, Florida-born student and artist Roy Brown rose to prominence with the release of his songs of protest. In Míster con macana, Brown denounces police brutality that occurred against students that were protesting. In Antiguos baluartes and Señor inversionista, Brown criticizes the capitalist outsiders that came to the island and took hold of all the resources (monetary, natural, political, etc.). Finally, in Descarga #51 and in Monón, Brown alludes to interventionist policies that the United States had adopted in other countries, Latin American or otherwise. He expresses how Puerto Ricans are a part of them due to their United States citizenship, and laments our inability to do anything about it.

Roy Brown in 2015. Taken from El Nuevo Día (

The movement was just as insightful and critical in other countries that were in conflict. In Playa Girón, Silvio Rodríguez of Cuba uses a clever analogy of his own work in a boat called Playa Girón to discuss the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. Likewise, Víctor Jara calls out the Chilean Minister of the Interior, Edmundo Pérez Zujovic, for ordering his men to murder 11 peasant squatters in Puerto Montt, in his song Preguntas por Puerto Montt. Finally, Panamanian singer Rubén Blades uses Juan González to tell the story of a guerrilla fighter that died at the hands of the army. He emphasizes that, although his music was based on his experiences in Panamá, he explicitly writes his songs so that they can take place anywhere in Latin America.

Just as important as knowing the kind of music that was used in the protests nearly half a century ago is appreciating how protest songs have changed in the last 50 or so years. As it happens, using music as a revolutionary tool is still a present trend, although not as nueva canción. Perhaps the clearest example is the work of Calle 13, a group that devoted an entire album to protest songs. In Calma Pueblo, Calle 13 criticizes the current political environment that had recently laid off hundreds of thousands of workers. Extending their reach, Calle 13 uses El hormiguero to invite Latin American countries to unite in countering American interventionism. To finish off, Latinoamérica is a poignant, powerful narrative of an idyllic Latin America, and of the willingness of its people to move forward.

Residente, the artist that used to be part of Calle 13, when I saw him in Madrid. Summer 2017.

All of this goes to say that using music as a tool of protest is a deeply ingrained tradition in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in Latin America. It is because of this that any study of Latin American revolutions would only be complete by paying just as much attention to the music of the time.

How Evita’s Image Set a Political Trend for Argentine Women

Evita is often remembered as the Mother of Argentina, a kind first lady who aided the descamisados, and a women who died before she could reach her full potential. However, I argue that, while she was an amazing female political figure, and the first of her kind, she also set dangerous precedents that allowed for the women who followed her to be treated poorly.

As the first active First Lady, Evita set the tone for those who filled this position after her. Moreover, as the first active women in government in Argentina, her image had far reaching consequences.


(Pictured: Eva “Evita” Peron; PC: Wikipedia)

I choose to analyze the most recent female president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, as a political figure to compare to Evita. Evita emphasized her subordination to her husband by never referring to herself as a leader, only him.  She also believed that a woman’s highest aspirations should be to be a homemaker. Jewelry “calmed her as food calmed others.” When she fell ill with uterine cancer, she had no involvement in choosing her treatment, and was actually unaware of what kind of cancer she had.  All of these cited behaviors are aspects of her life that can be used to undermine her position as a women in government, and leave room for her interpretation as a frivolous socialite turned First Lady who was extremely photogenic.


(Pictured: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner; PC: Wikipedia)

The way Cristina is characterized draws parallels from Evita’s persona. Cristina is known for her auburn hair and full face of makeup.  While president, she was seen as a puppet for her husband to control the government, despite the fact that Cristina was a well versed politician in her own right. After her husband’s death, she was characterized as a grieving widow, and her reelection win is pinned on her exploiting this fact.  All of these instances surely point to a trend of women being treated poorly in Argentine government. Particularly, Evita set a negative trend for women who followed her.

Something interesting to address in this situation is how Cristina was able to call on Evita’s image to use to her advantage (See: Image of Evita) . Although it is clear that Evita created dangerous precedents for women who followed her, and forwarded gender stereotypes, Cristina is also guilty of using these stereotypes to her advantage. Because of Cristina’s alignment with the Peronist party (the party that Evita’s husband created), Cristina is known to call upon Evita in speeches, in order to increase her association with the Mother of Argentina.

Also, the negativity surrounding Cristina’s image can also be due to the sexism and implicit biases that exist in individuals in Argentina. With a political culture that is not used to having many women involved in government, and a society that has always framed women in government negatively, it is not surprising that the media coverage of Cristina is predominately negative.

Overall, while Evita definitely created an image of political women that hurt women in government that followed her, there are other forces at play that make the situation even more intriguing, and one worth many follow up studies.

Socialism Through a Venezuelan Lens

Vigorously expressing his stances on revolution and terrorism in London, Hugo Chavez appeared more an ideological force than national leader. His speech (linked above, source: echoed the ideas and struggles that have existed in his country for the last century. For my final project, I analyzed how Chavez’s “21st century socialism” reflected Venezuela’s rich environmental, historical, and economic context. In granting greater state control of the economy, “21st century socialism” tied the economic with the political, and the political with the anti-American authoritarian regime, but these relationships have held since the early 1900s in the longer story of Chavez’s rise to power.

As a nation, Venezuela is commonly associated with its long-standing leading export: oil. Uniting a once locally-ruled country, Venezuela’s primary natural resource gave the national government reason and funds to expand its operations. In the image below (source:, we see a direct juxtaposition of the flag and an oil facility, demonstrating how oil’s influence over the its government continues today. Without heightened state power to serve as a precedent, Chavez’s far-reaching authoritarian power would not have received acceptance within the Venezuelan political culture.BN-SL154_VZEXXO_GR_20170310174608

What is socialism without revolution? Chavez’s language in his London speech, sweeping and dramatic, suggests a continuation of revolution fervor for “the people”. The concept of mass resistance in Venezuela dates back, however, to the class warfare of the 20th century. Dissatisfied by corrupt governments taking advantage of the lower classes to achieve oil profits, guerrilla fighters collaborated with the marginalized populations, leading to violent riots such as the 1989 Caracazo. Against the backdrop of this social turmoil, Chavez rallied populist support for his socialist agenda.

Deeming his policies part of a “Bolivarian Revolution”, Chavez often used the image of Latin American independence leader Simon Bolivar to justify his resistance to American exploitation, as seen in the below image (source: The 1990s had seen deep social inequalities forming due to harsh neoliberal capitalism, and Chavez’s constituency consisted of the many subsequently left out of the economic progress. “21st century socialism” aimed to resist both this economic system through improving conditions for workers, and the country that benefitted from neoliberalism: the United States. In light of this, it is no wonder that he points out American atrocities in Iraq during his London speech.


It is important when analyzing a particular political or economic system to understand the cultural aspects leading to its establishment. Moving forward without Chavez, Venezuela will continue its conversation with and development of its traditions.

Chavez’s “21st Century Socialism”

To many, the word socialism brings to mind the Cold War dichotomy between economic and political ideologies. In investigating how the modern Venezuelan brand of socialism adheres to and differs from traditional assumptions, I came across the following New York Times article (linked below) detailing Chavez’s policy of 21st century socialism. This source documents the nationalization of Venezuela’s top industries, especially oil, under government ownership, as well as increased worker employment. What I found particularly interesting was the economic analysis of this new system, which pointed out protectionist and capitalist undercurrents in this socialist state. Additionally, the last paragraph features Chavez’s homage to Simon Bolivar, a major figure in Latin American independence. We might conclude from these clues that Venezuela’s national history of colonialism and neo-colonialism from Europe and the United States may have inspired its protectionist brand of socialism. However, the article does not explicitly detail Bolivar’s role in Chavez’s Venezuela. To expand upon and fine-tune this speculation, I might focus my further research on Venezuelan Bolivarianism.

Collective blog of the students of 21H.171 (MIT, Fall 2017)

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