South America – 1960s Era Survey

The Andes Mountains



In the Western Hemisphere, a lot of attention with good reason is devoted to the United States in 1960s surveys, and these might even take into account the other North American states of Canada and Mexico. Few surveys of the period, however, discuss South America: the features of its fourteen countries; its illusive prosperity and tenacious problems. In its profile, South America most closely resembles the continent of Africa for its glimmers of optimism and unfulfilled promise; for its general failure to achieve its stride or realize the potential of its great material and human resources. This overview will examine some of the long-standing problems that keep South America back from prosperity generally, then will examine countries one by one in the 1960s.

For some time, South America was isolated from world politics not by the imperialism that carved up Africa and parts of Asia in the 19th century, but by the colonialism that it had so much trouble discarding years after independence from Europe. The republics that appeared by the middle of the nineteenth century were largely isolated from each other by such geographical barriers as mountain ranges, rivers and jungles which frustrated trade cooperation, finance and other matters, and not infrequently led to serious frictions or all-out war. The 20th century witnessed a partial reversal of Latin America isolation as various states endeavored to build democratic political institutions, and strived to establish manufacturing to replace the commodities upon which the region had for so long depended, such as sugar, guano, rubber and copper.

Despite progress in regional integration and economic diversification, South America remained a byword for political instability, social immobility, civil wars, coups, and political assassinations. The decades after World War II were a time of optimism for much of Africa and Asia as new states charted new paths. By contrast, independence had been won for over a century in South America, and had brought few productive changes. Deep problems remained, persisted, festered; and by the period of the 1960s had almost ossified with time, so that one could reasonably wonder if social and economic change was possible without violence or revolution.

Historically, the appearance of a middle class bodes well for the development an open political system – in a word, for democracy. But the growth of a distinct group of energetic men engaged in commerce and the arts of business in South America was stunted after independence by the slow pace of industrial development, just as industrial development was stunted by a closed system of upperclass autarky. The ruling class maintained its living standard by exporting primary products grown by peasants, and used the proceeds to import luxuries and necessities it wanted from the outside world. The pattern we see throughout the region is of a small middle class operating on the terms of this landed oligarchy, unable to cause change because of its size, and tending to want to join the ruling upper class rather than subvert it anyway. For sure, this pattern was not unique to South America but was particularly pronounced and noteworthy for its scale and consequences.

Many states in the region in the 19th and 20th centuries were not simply run by oligarchies. They were actually owned by them in the sense that the land, what grew on it and what lay beneath it, were the private property of a tight number of individuals so that in various countries, far more than half the productive land was controlled by a tenth of the population. A great part of the region was abjectly poor, illiterate, unproductive, uneducated, and lived virtually outside the state on these privately-held estates. Huge pools of labor in a population – often of Indians and mestizos – gave landlords few incentives to modernize with equipment or modern methods of production.

Juan Peron of Argentina, r. 1946-55; 1973-74

Marcos Jimenez of Venezuela, r. 1952-58

Notwithstanding this pattern, the 1950s and 1960s saw the weakening of the traditional props of power within South American states. After the war, religious and military institutions grew concerned about the gross wealth gap and the indignations that came from it. The Roman Catholic Church shifted to the left with the formulation of so-called “Liberation Theology.” An impulse to populism and a taste for demagoguery appeared among officers of the armed forces. These were the so-called “nasseristas” – military officers who saw themselves, like the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdul Nasser – as the godfathers of the state, and the guardians of the notion that national politics and armies should become professional and socially conscious.
Here was a latter-day incarnation of the 19th century strongman (caudillo) who had been part of the liberation of the continent from Spanish control, but in the long run did little more than substitute one form of non-democratic authority for another – duplicating the centralizing tendency of the Spanish colonial administration in all but name. Here we find men in the 1950s and 1960s which, however quirky or imperfect, were nevertheless familiar to the Latin American world as a particular type of leader – men such as Peron in Argentina, Bastista and Castro in Cuba, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and Jimenez – or more recently, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Amid questions of social inequalities, a muted middle class and the changing of South American military and religious institutions, the nasseristas in the South American states searched for the best political system to keep themselves in power and manage the societies in their charge. In this, the choice between communism and democracy loomed large, and most South American states blended parts of each under a strongman-caudillo-like figure.

An important commodity in the Bolivian economy, coffee

Along with copper was Chile’s important nitrate export business

In the twentieth century, the themes of European colonialism and American military intervention loomed large. South American leaders were wary of wholesale public adoption of European or American political and economic practices within their countries. Their financial experience with Europe and the United States conditioned also the approach of the Latin states to the outside world. For much of its post-independence history, South America had to attract copious foreign capital. The boom-bust cycle of its commodity-based economies made borrowing and lending treacherous for everyone. South American borrowers had to do so at high rates of interest, while British and American lenders often faced defaults and expropriation of assets. Financial issues throughout the first part of the twentieth century were frequently mutually unsatisfactory and compounded already strained relations over past grievances.

The Second World War did not affect Latin America as it did other parts of the world. Certain isolated states like Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela did break relations with the Germany, Italy, and Japan. The main change during the war, however, was that the region became a focus of hemispheric defense, mainly coordinated by the United States, as a sort of latter-day Monroe Doctrine, or if you will, a rehearsal for the Cold War. Normal inter-American conferences took place as they had since 1889 in places like Lima and Montevideo for consultation on general issues of trade and cultural exchanges, but in the late 1940s the United States’ overriding concern switched from the Axis to the ability of the Soviet Union to spread communism in the region.

Under the guidance of George C. Marshall, the Organization of American States (OAS) was formed at Bogota in 1948 to help settle inter-American disputes, and in 1952 the United States concluded defense agreements with several South American states. Much of the enthusiasm for agreements with the United States came from the outpouring of economic assistance, including military equipment, associated with them. In regard to aid blunting communism, though, many Latin Americans were still used to thinking much more of the United States than USSR as the prime intervener in their internal affairs and were far less worried about communism per se that with purely postwar economic problems, such as the reestablishment of export markets. The Korean War sharpened the United States’ anti-communism still further, and in the 1950s, Washington focused as much on political issues as economic ones. This led to the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman of Guatemala in 1954 and the less than successful ouster of Fidel Castro of Cuba in 1961.

Vice President Nixon arrives in Lima, 1958

In 1958 Vice President Richard Nixon suffered insults and even violence on his South American tour. In Peru and Venezuela, where dictators had received the Legion of Merit from Eisenhower, Nixon felt himself the target of popular resentment for US approval of authoritarian leaders so long as they were anticommunist. Shortly after Nixon’s tour, the United States created the inter-American Bank and the inter-American Fund for Social Development, and in 1960 Eisenhower himself undertook a Latin American tour in an attempt to improve relations. These developments laid the groundwork for a program under President Kennedy who prioritized Latin America as no president had done since Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor.”

The Alliance for Progress of 1961 was a massive, long-term multilateral aid program in which the United States committed $20 billion over ten years to assist Latin America in such areas as education, health, land tenure and agriculture on condition that participating countries introduce certain fundamental reforms. For this commitment and for similar commitments around the world, President Kennedy created the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in November 1961 which still exists today. Here was the sort of intervention Latin America could tolerate, and a move reminiscent of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe. All members of the OAS except Cuba adopted the Alliance for Progress Charter at Punta del Esta in Uruguay.

President and Mrs. Kennedy with President Romulo Betancourt in Venezuela to promote the Alliance for Progress, December 1961

Kennedy’s proposal “to build a hemisphere where all men can hope for a suitable standard of living” fired the imagination at the start of a new decade and the start of a presidential term, and was a bold psychological stroke for the peoples of North and South America. Its practical results, however, proved mixed. Washington’s commitment, albeit large, was unclear in its purposes and priorities. Was the Alliance to relieve poverty, fight communism, or promote interstate integration? When were funds released in relation to democratic reforms? Uncertainties made Alliance projects unable to attract the private investment counted on to carry initiatives into the future. It is true that growth rates throughout the 1960s slightly exceeded Alliance targets of 2.5% for the region (that included Central America and the Caribbean), and land reforms proceeded successfully – for example in Chile. Adult literacy rates increased and schooling at all levels broadened across the population, as did access to health facilities.

Economic gains were real, though limited, and by the 1970s the program was widely viewed as less than effective across the region. What was more real was a political shift. During the Alliance years thirteen military dictatorships replaced constitutional governments in Latin America and the imbalanced relationship between the United States and region continued. Like Diem in South Vietnam, Washington sought friends in Latin America who were reliably anti-communist and, so long as the Cold War continued at fever pitch as it did in the early 1960s, American policymakers very much allowed their ideological attitudes to take pride of place over less admirable qualities such as dictatorship, torture, even mass murder.

All these developments meant that while much of the world enjoyed a golden age of growth after World War II, South America – with the exception of Brazil – did not. In our decade, South American leaders sought to balance tense relations with the outside world and elements at home. Regionally, they began seeking economic betterment through associations. Nine countries, plus Mexico for example, created a Latin American Free Trade Area (LAFTA) in 1960 whose first aim was to create an agricultural common market, with limited success. In 1969 a pact of four Andean nations – Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador – formed a venture for agricultural and industrial cooperation. These arrangements in the 1960s were precursors to the formation over the period 1991-93 of the most effective common market arrangement to date – MERCOSUR – that not only smoothed hostilities between the large rivals Brazil and Argentina, but presented the only credible Latin American market on the scale of NAFTA, the EU, and ASEAN.


Associated in a trade area or not, each South American country confronted the 1960s in its own way – starting with BRAZIL. The continent’s giant charted its own path profoundly when it finally broke free of the extended rule of Getulio Vargas (1930-1945; 1951-54); and flourished for a decade after 1954 under three presidents – all dependent on military sponsorship and support. Juscelino Kubitschek’s administration from 1954 to 1961 stirred Brazilian nationalism and imagination especially. An aggressive import substitution policy with industrial tariffs resulted in rapid yearly growth of about 7% and considerable diversification into durable goods.

Kubitschek pushed for development of heavy industry including an automobile industry that catapulted Brazil from the cart and mule to the internal combustion engine in a generation. New factories produced over 130,000 vehicles in 1960, and over 400,000 in 1970 by Toyota, VW, and the American Big Three of Ford, GM, and Chrysler. The highway system of contemporary Brazil stems from this early period of car building, and helped mobile Brazilians break free of the coast, and begin a drive to develop the interior of the country. A new destination appeared at the new inland city of Brasilia in 1960 that Kubitschek built as the new ultra-modern federal capital with noted planners and architects, such as Oscar Niemeyer.

Niemeyer’s Parliament building in Brazil’s new capital, Brazilia

“When we started on Brasilia,” Niemeyer recalled in the 1990s, “I could do anything I wanted. It was a dream, albeit a strenuous one because the president said the city had to be finished in four years. No one can imagine that these days. At the time, the whole country was full of optimism that we were doing something no one else was doing. It was our utopia.”[1] The city of Brasilia joined the ranks of the established centers of Rio de Janiero, Sao Paulo and Recife with its own international airport for connections throughout Brazil and the world. The development of the interior spread industry as well as opened huge lands for cultivation, and in the 1960s Brazil became the world’s number two food exporter.

Kubitshcek’s motto of “Fifty Years of Progress in Five” bore fruit by increases in life expectancies as well as population. In 1960, Brazil’s population surged. By 1970, in fact, the country’s population was said to be full of threes. The census showed the population increased by a third to 93 million in the 1960s. One Latin out of three was a Portuguese Brazilian, and Brazil took up one third of Latin American geography. Quick progress was not without cost of course. Quick urbanization and industrialization brought a swelling of slums in cities. The national debt quadrupled. Inflation became a problem. In 1959, general prices rose at an annual rate of 26 percent; in 1960, this reached to 40 percent which affected the willingness of outside lenders to make long-term loans to finance imports for its import substitution program. And inflation damaged the ability of lower-income Brazilians to manage everyday life.

The Kubitschek years were considered optimistic ones; politically stable, forward-looking. Two short-lived presidencies followed him between 1961 and 1964, during which the economy deteriorated from mounting debt, currency complications, a fall-off of foreign investment, and demands by the International Monetary Fund. In reaction, Brazil settled into a military government in 1964 which ended the Second Brazilian Republic, and ruled until 1985. Political parties were banned, and army-controlled regimes hardened against unions, students, and peasants; and strong-arm methods became widespread including imprisonment and torture of political opponents. Economic growth slowed to half the pace it had been under Kubitschek. The military regimes, though, put programs in place that tamed inflation and stopped import substitution as a development strategy. They modernized and privatized capital markets, created the Bank of Brazil in 1964; introduced incentives to direct foreign and domestic investment, and promoted commodity and manufacturing exports that set the stage for subsequent growth.

The 2,400-mile Transamazonian Highway

World’s largest by electricity production, the Itaipo Dam on the Paraguay-Brazil border, construction started 1971

Pele celebrates Brazil’s win over Italy 4-1 to capture the 1970 World Cup title in Mexico

Rocky as they were, we see that the years 1964 to 1967 created the conditions for the spectacular growth rates of 12% per year between 1968 and 1973 known as the “Brazilian Miracle.” Opponents call this period the “Years of Lead” because of heavy-handed politics, but the economy indeed boomed into the extended years of the early 1970s – that we have included in our 1960s era because of Watergate and Saigon. Under such leaders as General Garrastazu Medici, the 2,500-mile Trans-Amazonian Highway took shape and traversed the jungle’s breadth as the new capital, Brazilia, developed on the jungle’s southern edge. With insufficient petroleum and limited refining capacity, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam at Itaipu arose on the Parana River to supply power to industries that hoped to export products worldwide, such as steel and machinery. These were outward and visible signs of Brazil’s advance, as was the victory of its soccer teams at the World Cup in Mexico in 1970, and earlier in 1958 and 1962; and these created the impression that the military’s aspirations for Brazil to great-power status were possible. Unfortunately the economic boom took place under dictatorship of the darkest kind, and concentrated wealth at the highest levels, and among those with political connections. Economic growth continued into the 1970s but with an increasing debt burden. And, as in so many other places, Middle East turbulence in the 1973-74 also damaged the Brazilian economy, which was 80% dependent on oil imports, which in turn caused a strong reorientation of Brazilian foreign policy toward OPEC and its Arab oil producers.

Adolf Eichmann stands trial in Jerusalem in 1961, is found guilty, and was executed in 1962

For our era, an important lesson of the Brazilian story was the apparent success of mixing authoritarian rule and economic growth that in fact encouraged the military to seize power in several Latin American states – including in the Southern Cone countries of ARGENTINA, Uruguay, Chile, and Paraguay.Argentine postwar politics were bracketed by the administrations of General Juan Peron whose first time in office from 1946 to 1955 was reprised in 1973-74, with the in-between years dominated by fragile civilian governments that ruled at the sufferance of the military. Mossad agents arrested Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann at the water company where he worked outside Buenos Aires in May 1960 that brought notoriety to Argentina at the start of our decade. This time also saw political fragmentation and instability. And the country had a slow rate of growth that contrasted profoundly with its astonishing economic achievement in the years before the First World War which saw foreign investment race into the leading economic sectors of railroads and ranching, made Buenos Aires reminiscent of European capitals with its Beaux-Arts architecture, and brought Argentina heartbreakingly close to European levels of prosperity.

URUGUAY and CHILE escaped dictatorship until the early 1970s. Uruguay, though, suffered from a worldwide slowdown in agricultural demand that caused decreased standards of living, student and labor unrest, and an urban guerilla movement known as the Tupamaros that became increasingly militant in the 1970s but started out as a bank-robbing “steal-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor” organization. Uruguay is democratic today, but suspended its constitution in 1972 and turned authoritarian in 1972 like so many in the region.

CHILE began its bout with 20th-century authoritarianism in 1973. In the fifty years before that – during its so-called Presidential Period – the country tried to diversify away from the topsy-turvy commodity-based export economy it had followed for over a century – from wheat to nitrates to copper. After 1945 Chile concentrated on industrialization within a broader policy of what it called “inward development.” In this, she followed the path of other countries in the region such as Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. This was also the time that started regional trade alliances such as LAFTA and the Andean Group, and the United States began the Alliance for Progress.

Greatest earthquake ever recorded at 9.5 on the Richter Scale hits south of Santiago, May 22, 1960. Damage all around the Ring of Fire

Alliance for Progress assistance was needed. In 1960, Chile was rocked by a swarm of earthquakes around Santiago, including the most powerful ever recorded, a monster of 9.5 on the richter scale. Local damage was awesome and widespread, with an estimated 6,000 dead. The resulting tsunami affected the entire Pacific Rim including southern Chile, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, and as far north as the Aleutians. It devastated the new state of Hawaii.

Chile nationalizes its greatest commodity, copper.Chile was more stable politically than geologically at the start of the 1960s. It saw two men in leadership – the center-left Jorge Alessandri (1958-1964) and center-right Eduardo Frei (1964-1970) – who, for all their generally moderate policies, pointed to Chile’s less-than-moderate future. Major agricultural reforms began in 1962, continued throughout the decade, and distributed church and state-owned land to peasants (campesinos). Frei began the nationalization of the copper mining industry, taking a majority stake particularly in the United States-owned companies of Anaconda and Kennecott.

A copper mine in northern Chile.

Various social accomplishments such as increased literacy, voting at age eighteen, and the introduction of graduated income taxes were notable but could not overcome high inflation, low wages, and widespread landlessness; and Chile chose by a very narrow margin Latin America’s first Marxist president, Salvador Allende Gossens, in 1970.

Allende moved quickly during his first year to nationalize large swaths of the Chilean economy, including the healthcare system, banks, foreign firms of various kinds, and Chilean manufacturing.

He completed the nationalization of copper. He broke up most large rural estates, distributed parcels to those who had labored on them, and collectivized new landowners into cooperatives. His Popular Unity government tried to maintain cordial relations with the United States but made clear it would follow an independent foreign policy. It opened diplomatic relations with North Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, Albania, China, as well as the Soviet Union which supplied Chile with aid. All these initiatives, including the expropriation of hundreds of businesses, strained Allende’s relations with Chile’s parliament, most of which did not share his enthusiasm for an “experiment in socialism.”

A presidential campaign rally in Chile’s capital.

An East German stamp commemorating Allende posthumously.

By 1973, Allende’s political problems with parliament began to show up in the economy which was supported by debt and printed money, and labored under an inflation running at a 500% annual clip. The army and navy grew restless at the impasse between Allende and parliament and, in a dramatic coup d’etat – likely with United States help or sanction – orchestrated a change of political direction from left to right.Vowing never to resign, with troops approaching La Moneda Palace, Allende committed suicide on September 11, and army general Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile with a vengeance at the head of a military junta until 1990.

Augusto Pinochet (r) greets Juan Peron (l) on this way to meeting Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, May 14, 1974

Pinochet threw Allende’s measures into reverse and restored economic order. He opened the country to foreign companies and investment, restricted labor unions, and embraced free market principles with advisors trained at the University of Chicago, declaring that he wanted “to make Chile not a nation of proletarians but a nation of proprietors.” In the 1970s, Chile returned to positive economic growth but at absolutely terrible cost that had little to do with markets, privatization, or the reintroduction of capitalism after Allende’s socialism. The Pinochet years were marked by fearful and barbaric human rights abuses that earned the regime international opprobrium from which the country only recently has recovered.

Chile was not the only country of the Southern Cone to endure rapacious dictatorship. PARAGUAY also saw trouble, and the 1960s represent the central decade of a longer Paraguayan dark period from 1954 to 1990 – the fantastic and terrible story of General Alfredo Stroessner.

Even for a continent with high turnover among politicians, Paraguay was extreme. It invites comparison with Syria before Assad in terms of its political turnover, but worse. In the nine years after World War II, the country rotated its top leadership an astonishing 44 times. This echoes second-century Rome since a quarter of these were removed forcefully by the army, and replaced with other candidates. In 1954 the country exchanged incessant rotation for incessant and ruthless stability, and found its Assad.

Alfredo Stroessner (1912-2006) held office for more consecutive years than any individual in the history of South America, and was one of the longest-ruling non-royal national leaders anywhere in the world. Here was a Paraguayan Pinochet – a product of the army and equally savage, but with a longer tenure. For 35 uninterrupted years, including the 1960s, Stroesnner brooked no political opposition to his Colorado Party. He modified the constitution to legitimize his rule, enforced a cult of personality, and imprisoned and tortured his opponents under a prolonged “state of siege.” Under the German-Paraguayan Stroessner, Paraguay became a haven for men unwanted in their own countries or hunted for international crimes. These included notorious heroin dealer Auguste Ricord of French Connection fame, Juan Peron, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza, and Nazi officials Josef Mengele, doctor of Auschwitz, and possibly the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Muller.

Friendship Bridge over the Parana, opened 1965

Despite unspeakable political repression and cruelty, the economy was stable and did relatively well. The main foreign influences that helped Paraguay in the 1960s and 1970s were Brazil and the United States. Partly to offset Argentina’s clout with Asuncion, Brazil improved transport links with Paraguay that enhanced bilateral trade. A so-called “Friendship Bridge” across the Parana River between Paraguay and Brazil opened for traffic in 1965, and Brazil granted land-locked Paraguay duty-free access to ports on the Atlantic Ocean for international markets. Most especially, the Brazil-financed construction of the massive Itaipu dam on the Parana as well that produced thousands of jobs for Paraguayans, and the sale of electricity helped to boost economic growth and standards of living in Paraguay to some of the highest levels in the region into the 1970s. Stroessner’s relations with Brazil improved as they declined with Argentina after his decision to harbor Peron after Buenos Aires’ expulsion.

Stroessner and Paraguay benefitted from the United States in the Cold War for the stability he provided at the heart of South America and for his staunch anti-communism. In his tour of the continent in 1958, Vice President Nixon praised Paraguay as an ally and for its dependability as an opponent of communist tyranny. Stroessner became a lynchpin figure in a secret program to eradicate Soviet and Eastern bloc influence from the Southern Cone of South America called Operation Condor that had its genesis in the middle 1960s. Its key members were Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil; later Peru and Ecuador; and it appealed to the dictators of these countries because it seemed to justify state terror, kidnapping, and the suppression of opposition factions to the participating governments. To this hideous and dirty war that cost upwards of 60,000 deaths and disappearances, the United States appears to have supplied technical and military support, and, in this, Stroessner was reliable and a leading participant.

Northwest of Paraguay are the three Andean republics of Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Capping the continent are the large states of Colombia and Venezuela and the trio of smaller states, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Throughout Latin America in the 1960s, communist movements inspired by the Cuban Revolution sought to win power through guerilla warfare. Such insurgencies were a minor factor in landlocked BOLIVIA, however, which was a participant in the anti-communist Operation Condor; and the country’s fortunes during this period hinged on oil, tin, and zinc as they largely still do. Its main connection with the Cuban Revolution came with the death there of Castro’s peripatetic associate, Che Guevara, in 1967.

The main protagonist in the “Tuna Wars”

PERU was a bit different. The Revolutionary Left Movement, or MIR, launched an insurrection in the late 1950s that was crushed with the dispatch of a special military corps from the United States in 1965, much resented by the Peruvian military. Peru’s internal strife continued into the late 1960s. Frictions developed with the United States over oil but also offshore fishing when the military leadership openly antagonized the international community with an extension of trawling rights far from its coast in the Pacific Ocean. In this antagonism, ECUADOR joined Peru after a highly unstable decade of four leaders, and being even leaderless between 1966 and 1967. In the late 1960s, its military junta shifted alliances several times – first to flirt with Cuba and the Eastern bloc, then with the United States, then the Inter-American Development Bank – but finally estranged the United States in the so-called “tuna war” in which Ecuadorans and Peruvians captured and fined American fishing boats based on a 200-mile territorial sea claim before all sides settled grievances in the early 1970s. American oil companies began exploration in Ecuador and Peru in the 1960s; and both countries remained demographically apart from their South American neighbors in that half their populations were Indians, and about a third mestizo. Whereas a Pinochet or a Stroessner or an Allende could retard growth through oppressive policies or debt, Bolivia and Peru had three quarters of its people disenfranchised and deprived through ethnicity and race. Both countries required foreign – in effect United States – capital, which was as unpopular as it was necessary. After 1968, Peru strongly centralized its economy that gave a nod to markets while resisting foreign capital.

The twins of Venezuela and Colombia that sit atop the continent continue our survey. After a decade of civil war (“La Violencia,” 1948-1958) that cost a quarter of a million lives, COLOMBIA found a fascinating formula for political stability unique for the region and the 1960s. The opposing liberal and conservative parties whose respective supporters had fought for ten years across the Colombian countryside reached an agreement in 1958 that restored most of the lapsed 1886 Constitution. The agreement arranged to alternate for a period of sixteen years – until 1974 – with liberals and conservatives exchanging the presidency back and forth successfully every four years. During this time, the long-standing relationship with the United States continued.

FARC Coat of Arms, 1964-present

Historically, the relationship with the United States has been continuous: sometimes rocky (during Panama’s secession, 1903); sometimes smooth (Colombian troops in Korea, 1950-53). In our period it was steady, and for this, Colombia was one of greatest recipients of American aid in South America, behind only Peru, Chile, and Brazil throughout the 1960s. Unfortunately today, Colombia is known only for its connection to the cultivation and transportation of illegal drugs. This impression starts in the mid-1960s when a communist guerilla organization called the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia arose from the embers of the Violencia. Known by the acronym “FARC” and born in our era, this is the oldest revolutionary guerilla movement in Latin America and maintains a low-level on-going threat to the Colombian government and to all western interests.

Recently, the 1960s-created FARC has operated from bases in Ecuador and from Colombia’s eastern neighbor, VENEZUELA, whose history during the 1960s was eventful and closely connected to the United States as well. Venezuela stands out as a country that sought, at least rhetorically, to shun the pattern of authoritarianism that swept South America after 1945. The military dictator Perez Jimenez was forced from office in 1958 and Romulo Betancourt won and held the presidency until 1964. He promulgated what became known as the “Betancourt Doctrine” – a foreign policy that stated that Venezuela would not recognize dictatorial government anywhere, but especially among its Latin American neighbors. For this denunciation of authoritarianism – including the USSR – the United States underwrote Betancourt’s economic policies through the Alliance for Progress, and Venezuela became an exemplar for the rising school of “development economics” in the 1960s, a laboratory for W.W. Rostow’s metaphor of “take-off” into sustained economic growth. In 1960 Venezuela was a founding member of OPEC along with Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, reflecting its influential position in the oil markets. Indeed, based on its position as an oil exporter, the Venezuelan economy experienced steady growth and the nation enjoyed the average highest standard of living in Latin America from the late 1950s to the 1980s.

Oil tanker on Lake Maracaibo

Colombia made itself politically stable by an arrangement to quell a decade of violence in 1958. Similarly the continuity of Venezuela’s leadership was even more remarkable starting that same year. After the insightful leadership of Betancourt came five successors from different parties, all elected directly, peacefully, and serving for five-year terms. Only in 1989 do we see irregularities in Venezuelan politics that led in 1999 to the rise of Hugo Chavez and a return to the authoritarianism of the 1950s. Until recent decades, political certainty made Venezuela a magnet for foreign investment, particularly American and Dutch, whose contributions helped to diversify the economy a bit from oil into beverages, automobiles, and machinery. The Venezuelan government instituted import substitution policies, believed in “guided business” (like “guided democracy” in Indonesia) during this period, and Venezuela welcomed foreign business interests. In 1963, infrastructure improved as well. That year – in a country swimming with oil – one of the largest hydroelectric giants in the world began its rise in Bolivar State on a tributary of the Orinoco River.

Reservoir on the Orinoco River created by the Guri Dam, Venezuela

Today, the Guri Dam supplies three quarters of Venezuela’s electricity and is surpassed in generating power in Latin America only by the Itaipu Dam between Brazil and Paraguay.

In 1962 Venezuela grabbed headlines when it declared that it would no longer abide by an 1899 arbitration agreement to cede a mineral-rich territory in the Orinoco basin to neighboring GUYANA, a claim of over 95,000 square miles. While not as dangerous, for example, as the Indian-Chinese dispute or the border disputes in the Middle East, this is nevertheless one of the facts of the 1960s that added geopolitical tension to the world scene. In 1966, the Treaty of Geneva established a framework for dialogue, but it resolved nothing of substance and the Guyana-Venezuela frontier remains a turbulent one. Indeed the situation was complicated further by the independence of Guyana from Great Britain that same year. In 1969 armed rebellion among ranchers broke out against Guyanese government in the disputed territory, likely supported by Venezuela, and was damped down only by a 12-year moratorium on Venezuelan claims. As of 1973, the volatile issue that started in the 1960s now rests unresolved with the UN. The two countries continue to spar off their Atlantic coasts and on land; and to this day, Venezuelan and Guyanese maps reflect each country’s differing claims.

Bitter over land claims, Venezuela blocked Guyana’s application to the OAS. As a result, Guyana became one of the charter members of an alternative regional grouping in 1965 – the Caribbean Free Trade Association – and split its ties between South American continental and West Indian affairs. Guyanese politics before and after independence have been strained – first from 1961-1964 with the Indian-born Cheddi Jagan who leaned to Stalin, Mao, and Castro; then with the comparatively moderate – though socialist – James Burnham from 1964 into the 1980s. Burnham’s Guyana had as its neighbor the territory of SURINAME which remained a Dutch colony until 1973 – near the end of our period. Still, before and after independence, Suriname claimed territory in southeast Guyana, and like others with claims, reflected these ambitions on maps. Finally, the smallest of all South American states is FRENCH GUIANA best known as the notorious prison colony with its Devil’s Island offshore annex.  Here was Alfred Dreyfus in the 1890s and the 1930s escape account in the popular book and movie Papillon.

Still a possession of France today, the 1960s was an exciting story of transforming French Guiana into a launch site for rockets. In 1968, the Guiana Space Center became operational near the city of Kourou as a “spaceport” for France’s national space agency CNES. It was originally established in 1961 as a launch site for the European Space Agency, and most recently used as a facility for the world’s first commercial space transportation company, Arianespace SA. Kourou sits close to the equator so the spinning earth can give extra velocity to rockets, and the coastal remoteness of the base can scatter debris from launches without fear of casualties.Today, the International Space Station receives supplies from various craft launched from Guiana’s state of the art facility coordinated from Toulouse in France. Transformed technologically in the 1960s and given new purpose, French Guiana served as a settlement area for refugees from the war in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s and 1970s, particular the Hmong from Laos. It has been transformed also since its small population of a quarter million now find themselves part of the faraway European Union with all its perks and downsides, including the euro as currency. Indeed, not only rockets, but developments in the 1960s explain why many things look the way they do in South America today.

                  [1] Hanno Rauterberg, Talking Architecture (Munich, 2012), p. 126.

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