Latin America: Once Washington’s Back Garden, Today a Land of Raising Powers

Trying to keep under a “political control” the proximity area is not only a Russian prerogative, and it is what usually great powers have exercised over centuries to guarantee their own security. Russia’s looking after the ex soviet republic has for decades found its parallel in the American “back garden policy” towards Latin America which found its roots in the famous Monroe Doctrine. The subcontinent for decades has been put under the iron fist of Washington with the main task of counterbalancing the rising of socialism and the possible contagion from Cuba. However, if this policy gave its fruit and was pursued steadily during the Cold War, since the collapse of Soviet Union the US started to lose their grip as Russia started to lose its own on the east.

The last 20 years have seen great changes in Latin America, shaping the terrain for future development and at the same time brining into the 21st century continuity with the remnants of the past. Where it is heading today Latin America and what signals gave in the past two decades?

Latin America after having witnessed some of the most brutal dictatorships during the Cold War period started to develop finally its own road towards an “autonomous democracy” although not solving completely the problems inherited from the past (colonial and post independence). The Cold War inevitably put the subcontinent under the American radar in trying to eradicate any repetition of the Cuban experiment or, to use a word from Che Guevara, any “foco” able to develop in a new revolution Cuban style or to a socialist turn like in Chile. Dictatorships were appeased and even favored in some of the hot spots of leftist insurgence and radical political groups: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia just to name some. Where dictatorship never arrived to repress the political shift, a counter revolution or a civil war was used, such in Nicaragua, to counter the Sandinistas or fomenting repression in Guatemala and El Salvador. Exactly like the Soviet Union, the US controlled its neighbors blocking any attempt to a political progress considered less favorable. Nevertheless, the end of the Cold War suddenly exposed the US policy towards the subcontinent as obsolete and counterproductive, leading to a U-turn towards what can be described a disinterested or a sort of self accomplished security, thus paving the way for a more autonomous policy by the Latin American countries.

Latin America, free from the heavy guard of Washington, started to develop its own political choices as well as facing its unresolved problems, and developed interesting factors in international politics. Latin America is a land in rapid economic progress but is also full of contradictions and paradoxes, the recent Fifa World Cup in Brazil exposed to the world what the subcontinent is: potentially rich but marred by violence and civil unrest due to poverty, inequality, corruption, and police brutality. Latin America today offers some interesting points of discussion that we can identify under an economic, political and institutional field. On the economic field the subcontinent struggles between rapid growth and the inequality and poverty that destroy the dreams for the population such in Brazil or with economies oscillating from grow to sudden crashes like in Argentina. On the political field, since 1990 we assisted to a revival of Marxism both under a revolutionary strategy like in Chiapas, Venezuela and Bolivia or passing for milder turns like in Brazil, Uruguay and even Nicaragua where even ex guerrilla fighters started their own conversion from radicalism to reformism. Last, and not least, the institutional collapse of some of the fragile states in Latin America is better represented by the struggle of Mexico against its own drug cartels or the never ending Colombian guerrilla legacy which still leave the government under a constant threat.


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