1960s Era South America Timeline

Tank outside Parliament building in new capital city of Brazilia, Brazil after coup d’etat, 1964



  • Nine South American countries, including Mexico, form LAFTA, the Latin America free trade area to create common agricultural market.
  • Part of Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek (1954-1961) modernization program’s objective of “fifty years of progress in five,” a new federal capital, Brazilia, designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer, opens.
  • President Eisenhower tours Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.
  • Venezuela is a founding member of OPEC founded in 1960.
  • Mossad agents arrest notorious Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann outside Bueno Aires, Argentina in May.
  • Chile tries to diversify from its commodity-dependent export economy (wheat, nitrates, copper in succession) and follows the path of what it called “inward development,” following Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.
  • Paraguay enters its sixth year under Alfredo Stroessner, who became the continent’s longest-ruling non-royal leader (1954-1990); ruled with a cult of personality, savage in its cruelty and repression. Paraguay becomes haven for fugitives, including Juan Peron, Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, and heroin dealer Auguste Ricord of French Connection fame.
  • Most powerful earthquake ever recorded (9.5) rocks Santiago area in Chile killing thousands.


  • President Kennedy passes The Alliance for Progress, a ten-year $20 billion aid package for Latin America; in November creates the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). All members of the Organization of American States (OAS) except Cuba adopted the Alliance for Progress charter at Punta del Esta in Uruquay.
  • Brazil starts import substitution policies and industrial tariffs; develops heavy industry of all kinds – for example, cars that catapulted Brazil from mules and carts to the internal combustion engine in one generation. Triples automobile output between 1960 and 1970 of American Big Three, Toyota, and VW; builds highway system that opens country’s interior.


  • Brazil wins FIFA World Cup again (most recently in 1958).
  • Major land reforms in Chile begin under center-left Jorge Alessandri (1958-64): delivers church and state-owned lands to peasants (campesinos).
  • Colombia continues its novel presidency system begun in 1958 with the National Front Agreement after a decade of civil war. Every four years the presidency rotates to the other party.
  • Venezuela abrogates its 1899 agreement with Guyana that ceded mineral rights in a 95,000 section of the Orinoco River Basin. A spot of tension in the world today still unsettled in the United Nations.
  • Last case of virulent smallpox (variola major) on the continent of South America (Ecuador).


  • The 12-year “Tuna Wars” begin, pitting the United States against Ecuador and Peru for fishing rights off the western South American coast.
  • Though swimming in oil, Venezuela starts construction of the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant (Guri Dam) on the Caroni River, a tributary of the mighty Orinoco; creates reservoir of 1,640 square miles (at right); dam supplies 75% of electricity needs.
  • Architect Oscar Niemeyer awarded honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Lenin Prize for Peace.


  • Brazil experiences a coup d’etat, ends Second Brazilian Republic; creates Bank of Brazil.
  • Center-right Eduardo Frei becomes 28thpresident of Chile: expands private sector economy; large initiatives on education and building of hospitals; moves voting age to 18, introduces graduated income tax.
  • The Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is born, the oldest guerilla movement in Latin America.
  • The fierce democrat, Romulo Betancourt, lays down the presidency in Venezuela he had held since 1958; start of the most stable political scene on the continent: five able leaders from different parties – all resisting the authoritarianism of neighboring states. Begins economic diversification away from oil – into beverages, cars, and machinery.


  • The Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), a Marxist guerrilla group operating in Peru, inspired by developments in Cuba, crushed with the aid of the United States.
  • Guyana becomes a charter member of the Caribbean Free Trade Association.
  • Friendship Bridge across the Parana River opens between Brazil and Paraguay


  • Brazil starts concepting for the world’s largest hydroelectric dam on the Parana River – the Itaipu. Cooperation agreements signed for water sharing between Brazil and Paraguay. Building starts in 1975.
  • British Guyana wins independence.


  • Che Guevara executed in Bolivia.
  • Oil discovered in Ecuador.


  • Brazil becomes a full military dictatorship by Institutional Act Number Five; despite autocratic rule, Brazil starts era of spectacular yearly growth rates of 12% to 1973 known as the “Brazilian Miracle” (called “the Years of Lead” by opponents”)
  • Uruguay’s President Jorge Pacheco suspends constitutional safeguards, declares state of emergency; a number of British and American personnel kidnapped or killed; Tupamaras guerilla group active and would peak in early 1970s.
  • The (French) Guiana Space Center becomes operational near Kourou for the French’s national space agency CNES.


Rocket launch by French Guiana CNES


  • In the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Medellin, Colombia hosts the Conference of Latin American Bishops which voices agreement on “a preferential option for the poor” and opposition to poverty’s “institutionalized violence.” Instrumental in the conference’s organization was Peruvian priest, Gustavo Guttierez, who epitomized the Catholic Church’s new approach in Central and South America in his book, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation published in 1971.


  • Chile takes majority stakes in United States-owned copper companies Anaconda and Kennecott (“negotiated nationalizations”).


  • Oscar Niemeyer’s landmark Cathedral opens (May 31) – part of the construction of a new capital of Brazil.
  • Brazil now a population “full of threes:” in the 1960s, the population increased by a third to 93 million, one out of three Latins was a Portuguese Brazilian, Brazil took up one third of Latin American geography; wins FIFA World Cup in Mexico.
  • Chile elects Marxist Salvador Allende as president (1970-73) under the Popular Unity government. Initiates large-scale nationalizations, including in the mining sector; collectivized new landowners into cooperatives as part of his “experiment in socialism,”; establishes diplomatic relations with Cuba, North Korea, China, the USSR, and Albania.


  • April 19: last case of non-virulent smallpox (variola minor) in South America (Brazil).


  • Uruguay suspends constitution altogether.
  • Transamazonian Highway (below) opens in Brazil; 2,400 miles east-west.

Transamazonian Highway, Brazil


  • Chile’s inflation exceeds 500%; in a coup d’etat, Allende commits suicide at the presidential palace (September 11); General Augusto Pinochet assumes power at the head of a military junta that rules with a vengeance until 1990; reverses Allende’s left-leading economic program, returns Chile to prosperity but at terrible human cost that earned Pinochet international opprobrium.
  • Ecuador joins OPEC.
  • Suriname achieves independence from the Netherlands.
  • French Guiana becomes famous for the movie Papillon; apart from its notorious prison colony from the 19thcentury, Devil’s Island.


  • Brazil produces its first electric car, the Itaipu.


  • After perhaps seven years preparation Operation Condor begins in the Southern Cone countries to exorcise left-leaning influences, including those of the Soviet Union, China, and the Eastern bloc. With American coordination, key members include Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, and Bolivia.

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