VII. The Contemporary Period, 1945–2000 > D. Latin America, 1945–2000
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Overview)
D. Latin America, 1945–2000
1. Overview
In the years since World War II, Latin America has undergone major cultural, economic, and political changes. Industrialization and urbanization have transformed the region. Long-standing conflicts over land use and control were supplemented by the struggle for industrial development, the desire for regional self-sufficiency and integration, and the fight against imperial domination. New political movements, ranging from the extreme Right to the extreme Left, reflected Latin America's changing international and internal situation.  1
Beginning in the 1950s, hyperurbanization produced megalopolises in cities such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico City. Declining economic opportunities and land scarcity in the countryside have driven ever larger numbers of campesinos into urban areas, looking for work. By the 1980s these cities, surrounded by countless squatter settlements, were among the largest in the world. Rapid population growth was simultaneously felt in rural areas, where inhabitants continued to struggle against the onslaught of commercial agriculture and environmental destruction.  2
In some regions the urban middle and working classes have also expanded rapidly. Import substitution industrialization and public employment supported the expansion of these classes in the years after 1945. As these groups grew, so did demands for social welfare and health programs, expanded educational opportunities, and growth in the role that the state played in regulating the economy and society. Before the crises and privatizations of the late 1980s, the state in nations such as Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina was heavily involved in commerce and society, and often the state owned important national industries. In other less-developed countries, where a small number of people were able to maintain control of the political apparatus, right-wing repressive tactics were often maintained.  3
The nationalist and populist politics that dominated the 1940s and 1950s gave way to a more socialist-oriented politics in some areas by the 1960s and 1970s. This trend produced the socialist revolutions in Cuba (1959) and Nicaragua (1979), and the election of a socialist president in Chile (1970). However, harsh authoritarian regimes and extremely reactionary governments dominated much of the region. Many movements identified with the Left were ruthlessly suppressed. During this time, Latin American militaries, often with U.S. support, played a growing role in politics, occasionally as social reformers (as in Peru in 1968), but most often as representatives of the Right.  4
By the late 1980s both military interventions in politics and the power of the Left were in steep decline. Years of brutal dictatorships and the horrors of Argentina's “dirty war” and Augusto Pinochet's Chile had helped to bring Latin America's militaries into deep disregard, while the obvious failures of Fidel Castro's Cuba and the decline of socialism abroad forced the region's leaders to look elsewhere for solutions to their problems. The new, mostly civilian governments of the region are currently resorting to neoliberalism and considering the policies of the newly industrializing nations of the Far East for answers to their problems with staggering debt and economic stagnation.  5
Larger political movements have also reflected certain profound changes in the internal power relationships in Latin American society. The role of women has changed radically in Latin America over the past 50 years. From simply receiving the vote to demanding (and finding) expanded roles in politics, business, and other fields, feminist movements have had some startling successes in the region. Native, mestizo, and black movements have also made great strides in their demands for representation and for ethnic and racial equality. The Catholic Church in the region has recently taken up the cause of the poor and dispossessed, highlighted by conferences in 1968 and 1979 wherein the church abandoned its traditional noninterventionist stance and openly advocated action to empower the poor and change the plight of the dispossessed. Religious life, meanwhile, has become more diverse, with evangelical Protestant sects attracting numerous converts from poor urban neighborhoods. African-influenced religions, such as Santería (Cuba), Vodun (Haiti), and Candomblê (Brazil) have also thrived in the rapidly expanding cities.  6
a. Cultural Developments
In the years since World War II, Latin American art, literature, and film have assumed a prominent international status. Many Latin American artists of the postwar era have used their work to engage in social and political struggles. Poets such as Nobel Prize–winner Pablo Neruda (1904–73), whose most famous work, Canto General (1950), explores the history of Latin America from the point of view of the workers and peasants, examined issues and social groups that had been all but ignored. Cuban poet Nicolás Guillen, too, used traditions drawn from Afro-Cuban folk culture to attack imperial domination in Latin America.  7
Over the past 50 years, the novel and short story have emerged as the two dominant art forms of the region. In the 1940s, the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) rose to international prominence with works such as Ficciones (1944), which used magic and fantasy as its primary vehicle. The Mexican Nobel laureate (1990) Octavio Paz published his major work, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950), in the immediate postwar period. During the same years, writers such as Miguel A. Asturias, who wrote Men of Maize (1949), were developing the school of magical realism in Latin America. These authors blended myth, fantasy, and native imagery to produce works that might be understood from the perspective of Indian cultures or as rejections of the “logic” of Western literary narratives.  8
The boom in Latin American fiction began in the 1960s. During this decade, the Mexican Carlos Fuentes (The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1962), the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa (Conversations in the Cathedral, 1970), and the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967) gained international prominence. García Márquez (b. 1928), perhaps the most prominent Latin American author, used magical realism to retell some of the most tragic events in Colombian history, mixing fantasy with reality, making the two part of everyday life. García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.  9
In the postwar period, the Latin American film industry also grew significantly, but it was not until the 1960s that Latin American filmmakers emerged as major artists. Cinema Nôvo in Brazil produced a wealth of films exploring poverty in the region, focusing particularly on the favelas (urban slums) of Brazil's cities. During the 1960s the Cuban film industry, led by figures such as Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Memories of Underdevelopment, 1968) launched a concerted assault against the dominance of Hollywood in the region. Elsewhere in Latin America, efforts at independent filmmaking have been frustrated by the lack of public and private funding.  10
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.