Economic crises after World War II brought military rule in some Latin American countries and revolution in others. Democracy did not take hold in most of Latin America until the late twentieth century.
Section 1 General Trends in Latin America
During the Great Depression, Latin American leaders encouraged the development of local industries. The policy failed to end Latin America's dependence on the advanced industrial nations largely because the new industries had to import most of their supplies and equipment. Economic problems led to political instability and dictatorships. The United States tried to discourage Latin American nations from intervening in each other's affairs by creating the Organization of American States. This did not discourage the United States from intervening from time to time to protect its own interests. The pressure of mounting foreign debt helped end the dictatorships. Newly formed democracies in the late 1980s had to face urban crowding, poverty, and illegal drug trade. Latin American artists and writers have had a prominent role in society. Magic realism has been an important literary contribution.
Section 2 Mexico, Cuba, and Central America
Political and economic crises in Mexico and Latin America sometimes resulted in revolution and at other times brought foreign intervention or gradual political change. In Mexico economic and political challenges gradually convinced the ruling party to let other parties compete for—and win—power. Fidel Castro's Communist government came to power in Cuba in 1959 and remained in control after the collapse of the Soviet Union despite deteriorating economic conditions. In El Salvador, the United States provided military aid to crush leftist guerrillas. The conflict subsided after at least 75,000 people died. In the late 1970s, the Marxist Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza-family dictatorship in Nicaragua. After a bruising struggle with American-backed Contra rebels, they held elections and were defeated. In 1999 Panamanians were pleased when the United States honored a 1977 treaty, returning ownership of the Panama Canal.
Section 3 The Nations of South America
Many countries in South America alternated between elected government and military rule during the second half of the twentieth century. Some dictators, such as Argentina's Juan Péron, were highly popular. Growing income inequality destabilized many South American societies. In Brazil, reduced government interference in the economy led to run-away inflation. Concern over the growing gap between the rich and the poor led to the election of a left-wing president in 2002. The policies of Salvador Allende, a Marxist elected in Chile, led to a military coup by General Augusto Pinochet. Protests against human rights abuses under Pinochet eventually forced him to restore democracy. Other democracies were formed in the late 1980s. However, instability and peasant unrest in Peru brought a return to dictatorship under the elected leader Alberto Fujimori. His ouster in 2000 restored democracy. Despite its democratic government, Colombia is plagued with civil war and corruption brought about by drug traffic. In 2002 Alvaro Uribe was elected president, promising to restrain rebel groups.