T.C. Field Jr. u.a. (Hrsg.): Latin America and the Global Cold War

Latin America and the Global Cold War.

Field, Thomas C. Jr.; Krepp, Stella; Pettinà, Vanni
Anzahl Seiten
440 S.
€ 47,95
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
George Payne, Global History, Freie Universität Berlin

For historians of Cold War-era Latin America, it can seem like the region is the “odd one out”.1 Geography (the continent is in the Western Hemisphere with a US superpower to the North) has constructed a peculiarly persistent historiographical barrier. The region is both a proponent of exceptionalism, while also being left out of globally-focussed fields of inquiry.2

Into this space comes Latin America and the Global Cold War, an edited volume from Thomas C. Field Jr., Stella Krepp, and Vanni Pettinà. This excellent new addition to the University of North Carolina Press’s series The New Cold War History has arrived amid a particularly productive period for the study of Latin America’s global entanglements.3 Born out of a workshop in Bern in 2014 and a conference in San Juan (Puerto Rico) in 2015, the volume is the sum of a collaborative effort from 15 scholars, the majority of whom are based in the United States and Canada (9), followed by Europe (5). Co-editor Pettinà is the sole contributor currently teaching at a Latin American institution (El Colegio de México). The book is comprised of 14 disciplined chapters, an introduction by the editors and a conclusion by series editor Odd Arne Westad. His call for a new Cold War history inspired the authors, who also count global history and writings on Third Worldism as influences.4

The volume seeks to unify these methodological and theoretical approaches to place Latin America in Global South historiography (p. 7). In doing so, the book also tries to live up to Robert Karl’s description of the early stages of the project, quoted in the acknowledgements, as an attempt to “globalize Latin American history while provincializing the study of superpowers like the United States” (p. xi). This does not mean an exclusive focus on connections with the Third World, understood in these pages principally as a revolutionary project struggling for political and economic sovereignty – its pejorative connotation with underdevelopment followed later on. The US still looms large in this volume, anything to the contrary would be narratively incoherent, but its influence is justifiably relativised. As Westad points out in the conclusion, continent-wide resistance to US domination had already begun in the late nineteenth century. In time, it would produce a set of inter-American multilateral institutions restricting the hegemonic power to the north. He identifies racism among Latin American elites as an equally if not more significant impediment to solidarity with the so-called “wretched of the earth” in newly-decolonised countries.5

The chapters do not coalesce around a single argument, which is typical for such edited volumes. They are instead split into two conceptual parts: “Third World Nationalism” and “Third World Internationalism”. The former chronicles how nationalist elites selectively engaged with anti-imperialism. The latter broadens the scope to look at examples of international solidarity, mostly from left-wing governments, social movements, and intellectuals. This plurality works to the book’s strength, reflecting the region’s conflicted relationship with the world.

Miguel Serra Coelho’s opening chapter “Brazil and India. A Brave New World, 1948–1961” sets the tone for the first half, revealing how Brazilian “apprehensions” (p. 17) shaped early diplomatic relations with India. In a complementary and creditable contribution (“Brazil and Non-Alignment. Latin America’s Role in the Global Order, 1961-1964”), co-editor Krepp portrayed Brazil’s “noncommittal, ambivalent” (p. 100) engagement with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) as typical for Latin America. Even Argentina’s acclaimed tercera posición or third way is dismissed as “abstruse” (p. 176) and lacking in De Gaullist-style “grandeur” (p. 194) by David M. K. Sheinin in his chapter “Argentina’s Secret Cold War. Vigilance, Repressions, and Nuclear Independence”. Diplomatic studies like these may be transnational, but the focus is on a sceptical elite. This only serves to emphasise the contradictions between nationalism and internationalism.

The second half widens the lens in terms of actors and themes, consequently taking a more favourable view of Latin American Third Worldism. Alan McPherson traces its roots to racial solidarity in the interwar Caribbean in his contribution “Anti-Imperialist Racial Solidarity before the Cold War. Success and Failure”. Christy Thornton (“A Mexican New International Economic Order?”) makes a compelling argument for the Mexican origins of the New International Economic Order, a cornerstone of Third World ideology. Similarly, Eric Gettig sees Cuba’s hand in Third World institution-building in his chapter “Cuba, the United States, and the Uses of the Third World Project, 1959–1967”. Eugenia Palieraki (“Chile, Algeria, and the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s. Revolutions Entangled”) finds noteworthy connections between Algeria and Chile, whose shared vision of the global order was able to transcend cultural, geographical, and historical differences.

Differences also emerge in how to interpret interactions with the Second World. Drawing on the travel memoirs of Latin American intellectuals, Tobias Rupprecht contends in “Latin American Tercermundistas in the Soviet Union. Paradise Lost and Found” that the lure of the USSR and its modernisation path reached deep into the 1970s. Yet any direct influence from the USSR was limited by geopolitical realities in the Western hemisphere. This comes across in Vanni Pettinà’s skilful contrast of the high expectations and poor results of “Mexican Ostpolitik” (p. 74) in the late 1950s and early 1960s (“Mexican-Soviet Encounters in the Early 1960s. Tractors of Discord”). Michelle Getchell’s chapter “Cuba, the USSR, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Negotiating Non-Alignment” offers a persuasive reinterpretation of Cuban foreign policy objectives positions the USSR as a hindrance on attempts at effective Third Worldism.

Field Jr.’s chapter on the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) in Bolivia (“Bolivia between Washington, Prague, and Havana. The Limits of Nationalism, 1960–1964”) deserves a special mention for incorporating several of the abovementioned strands. Transnational, diplomatic, and local history are interweaved in his narrative about the delicate and ultimately brittle Cold War balancing act during the Alliance for Progress era. Sarah Foss (“Community Development in Cold War Guatemala. Not a Revolution but an Evolution”) also manages to navigate scale in her chapter on community development in Guatemala.

A couple of contributions at the end of the volume remind us of Latin America’s pragmatic embrace of Third Worldism. In particular, Miriam Elizabeth Villanueva’s innovative chapter “Third Worldism and the Panama Canal, Liberating the Isthmus” delves into personal and official archives to revive Omar Torrijos’ multi-fronted campaign in the Panama Canal dispute with the US. International alliances and anti-imperialist nationalism also helped bolster his personal rule. In Eline van Ommen’s account “Isolating Nicaragua’s Somoza. Sandinista Diplomacy in Western Europe, 1977–1979”, Nicaraguan Sandinistas carefully tailored their message in Western Europe to present themselves not as Cuban-backed Marxist guerrillas but a Third World national liberation movement.
Chronologically, the volume makes clear that real convergence between Latin American and the Third World occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, right before the project as a whole petered out. Economic development was preferred ground for collaboration and this turn, in the long-held view of Westad, “signalled the death of the Third World as a political project” (p. 398). Revolutionaries, right-wing dictators, and royal families had little common ground other than their peripheral status in the world economy. Yet, economics is strangely what is lacking in this volume. Venezuela’s role in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) or Chilean and Peruvian involvement in the short-lived Intergovernmental Council of Countries Exporters of Copper (CIPEC) could have been two examples, among many.

That said, the volume adds depth to our understanding of the roots of Latin American Third Worldism, with special emphasis given to “primordial” (p. 7) contributions to anti-imperialist ideology, early interactions with the Second World, and the Cuban revolution of 1959. That an image from the Cuban-sponsored Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL) made its way onto the jacket is a not so subtle nod to the Caribbean island’s global reach.6 The illustration of the continent as a raised fist clenching a rifle also reflects the book’s characterisation of Havana as militant, attracting leftist guerrilla movements and alienating regional leaders in equal measure. In much the same way, US dependence is regarded as the spur for and an obstacle to global outreach during the Cold War.

In summary, the editors should be saluted for demonstrating that it is possible for histories of Latin America in the twentieth century to escape the constraints of national, regional, or US-centred perspectives. Specialists of the Cold War period or South-South exchange should take particular note. The use of foreign-language sources spread across state, regional, and personal archives shows a practical way forward. Those with an eye on the field should follow the trajectories of this marginal but growing group of young scholars. Even though the views contained within this volume were formed in Europe and North America, a start has been made. The dream of incorporating Latin America “on its own terms” (p. 7) into global narratives may yet be realised.

1 Lauren Benton, No Longer Odd Region Out. Repositioning Latin America in World History, in: Hispanic American Historical Review 84 (2004), pp. 423–430.
2 Matthew Brown, The Global History of Latin America, in: Journal of Global History 10 (2015), pp. 365–386.
3 Margarita Fajardo, The World That Latin America Created. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America in the Development Era, Cambridge, MA 2022; Tanya Harmer / Alberto Martín Álvarez (ed.), Toward a Global History of Latin America's Revolutionary Left, Gainesville, FL 2021; Christy Thornton, Revolution in Development. Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy, Berkeley, CA 2021.
4 Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War. Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, Cambridge 2006; Gilbert M. Joseph / Daniela Spenser (eds.), In from the Cold. Latin America's New Encounter with the Cold War, Durham, NC 2008; Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations. A People's History of the Third World, New York, NY 2007.
5 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, New York, NY 1961.
6 Asela Pérez, poster for Organization in Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (OSPAAL), 1970.

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