The history of modern Latin America begins after the Second World War when the economic changes wrought by the war, namely the shift towards manufacturing and urbanization, produced political and diplomatic changes across the Americas. The end of the war led to increased imports from the West, reducing the competitiveness of Latin American industry. Additionally, falling crop prices led to increasing urbanization. The result of these economic and demographic shifts was the rise of a populist movement throughout Latin America.
Populism in Latin America was characterized by a combination of nationalism, often coded with the language of anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism, and class politics. However, populism did not appeal solely to workers; rather, populist leaders attempted to create broad coalitions of people who believed that Latin American countries needed economic and political reform. The populists were generally opposed by the rural elite, which had held power throughout Latin America since the age of colonialism. Additionally, many Latin American leaders began to embrace dependencia theory; i.e. they believed that Latin America would remain poor and under the control of Western business interests as long as Latin America remained dependant on Western, specifically American, capital and imports. These leaders advocated Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), a form of industrialization in which a country would become self-sustaining by replacing imports with domestic production. Often ISI involved substantial state interference into the economy. Examples of populist governments in Latin America include the Peronists in Argentina and the Vargas years in Brazil. The actions taken by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional or PRI) in Mexico from the 1940s to the 1970s may also be characterized as populist.
Diplomatically, the onset of the Cold War reframed U.S.-Latin American relations as the United States became increasingly concerned about the threat posed by populist leaders in the region with regard to American multinational corporations and American interests abroad. Historically dependent on the United States, Latin American nations gained leverage during the Cold War as they could use the bargaining power of the Soviet Union. The United States influenced the region both directly and indirectly through the Organization of American States (OAS); e.g. in 1954, the OAS declared “that all Marxist revolutionary ideology was necessarily alien to the Western Hemisphere.” The United States also began to intervene directly in the affairs of many Latin American nations by providing training, money, and arms to right-wing groups across the region, such as the 1954 coup d’état in Guatemala assisted by the U.S. CIA.
The greatest event in U.S.-Latin American relations was the Cuban Revolution of 1959, as it created a hostile, and potentially Communist, government only ninety miles...