Most of the countries of Latin America had emerged as independent powers during the Nineteenth Century, after winning independence from the empires of Spain and Portugal, but any unity they may have had soon disappeared in a sea of brutal conflicts. By 1900 most countries in the area had been involved in at least one costly struggle as this book demonstrates that theme continued well into the twentieth century.
We start with a series of maps which demonstrate that every country in South and Central America (apart from Guyana and what was then British Honduras) were involved in at least once conflict, as were the larger Caribbean islands of Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Most of these conflicts were caused by one of two issues – either a border dispute or a clash between the Conservative and Liberal (later Communist) parties in each country. In general the Conservative side produced a larger number of brutal dictators (Pinochet, Duvalier (father and son), Somoza, Trujillo etc), although this was largely because they also tended to win most of the civil wars.
The book is split between chronological chapters that cover the minor conflicts of each decade and more detailed examinations of the more serious conflicts, with two looking at the Mexican revolution and its aftermath, one on a series of revolutions in Brazil, one on the Chaco War and one on two wars fought in the Amazon in the 1930s. Each of the conflicts is explained well, with useful sections on the background to the war, how it broke out, the course of events and its aftermath.
It must be said this is a rather depressing read (not the author’s fault!). We are faced with an endless array of pointless border wars, failed revolutions, successful revolutions that just replaced one dictator with another, and a series of poorly judged American interventions mainly carried out to make sure American fruit growers didn’t have to give their workers any significant rights or pay! Many of these wars were on a relatively small scale, although that didn’t stop hundreds or sometimes thousands from being killed, but the two decades of chaos in Mexico in the 1910s and 1920s or the Chaco War in the mid 1930s were on a larger scale. In an eerie shadow of recent events further north, one key factor in the outbreak of many of these conflicts was the refusal of the defeated side to accept the results of an election (in some cases not even waiting to actually lose before rushing to arms).
Latin American may have avoided significant involvement in the two World Wars, but this book makes it clear that the area didn’t avoid conflict and this book is an excellent guide to those often brutal wars.
1 – Twenty Years of Conflict 1900-20
2 – ‘Land or Liberty’ – The Mexican Revolution 1911-14
3 – Mexico in Turmoil – 1915-29
4 – Conflicts of the 1920s
5 – Revolutions in Brazil – 1922-38
6 – ‘Colossus in the North’ – US Military Interventions in Latin America, 1901-34
7 – ‘I Drink to Victory!’ – The Chaco War 1932-35
8 – Conflicts of the 1930s
9 – War in the Amazon 1932-41
10 – The 1940s
11 – The 1950s – Decade of Revolution
12 – The 1960s
Author: Philip Jowett