Dictators in Latin America: How They Come to Power

How dictatorships come to power in Latin America: the main causes/actors

Latin America is full of rulers who seized leadership through military coups. Thus, dictatorship has become a part of Latin America history ever since the times of revolutions. Some dictators created stability, whereas others only created repressive regimes. Some studies suggest that Latin America civilians have shown discontent with the civilian governments. Most Latin Americans prefer dictatorship over democracy. The ideas originated from the time of the founding of Latin America nations where conservatives argued that new nations were unable to handle their affairs and needed guidance (Becker, 2005). Consequently, others believed in a small system of government where a few elites ruled nations paternalistically as representatives of the majority.

Dictatorship in Latin America came from military coups whose leaders sought to oust democratically or constitutionally elected presidents. Consequently, they establish leadership composed of juntas and military generals. These rulers then engage in legitimising their courses. They carry out fraud elections full of voter manipulation, intimidation, manipulation of media and advertising, and propaganda. This is how Latin America dictators avoid Western sanctions.

Military rules are the norms in Latin America. Observers believe that it is the failures of the civilian governments that lead to military coups. For instance, they believe that “civilian governments fail to address persistent problems of corruptions and poverty in their states” (Hamill, 1992). However, caudillos of the twentieth-century have learnt to rule with the personal charisma instead of military brutality. It was only Fidel Castro who remained as non-elected leader by 20th century. However, his style of leadership reflected those of former caudillos rather than military autocrats (Hamill, 1992). Still, dictators of Latin America maintain power by using strong military forces at their disposals.

In Peru, General Velasco came to power through a coup, and he had the desire to serve the poor. General Velasco nationalised almost all sector of the economy as industries became entirely run by the government. In addition, General Velasco introduced monopoly of industries and discouraged any private activities. He also encouraged the participation of the media in left-wing politics. His policy on education aimed at accommodating the poor who the system had isolated.

Velasco also increased use of dictatorship during his tenure. For instance, he never tolerated any opposition, dissidents, deported, jailed and harassed any suspect from opposition politics. His administration also did not condemn any unfavourable media reports as witnessed in 1974.

Velasco had economic and political approach of transforming agrarian ownership of land. He aimed at diversifying ownership of resources. However, land owners opposed his move terming it confiscation of private property. General Velasco’s economic reform attempts were not successful. His government accrued debts and devalued the local currency. Changes in agriculture and fisheries did not succeed. Fishing policy encouraged overfishing that led to the depletion of fish in the Peruvian sea. This would take over several decades in order to restore fish population in the sea. At the same time, the administration lacked clear management of the agrarian reform. The system left small farmers poor than prior to his reform agendas. In addition, there were also import and export restriction due to Velasco foreign policies. This created shortages and rationing of basic commodities leading to periodic social challenges and unrest (Elvin, 2006).

Inflation, food scarcity, unemployment, social unrest and political opposition grew considerably resulting into pressure and subsequent downfall of Velasco military regime. What followed was a coup by military commanders on Velasco regime. They claimed that Velasco administration had failed to achieve what it stood for during the revolution and unable to continue performing his duties. As a result, the military regime took over and continued running Peru (Buckley, 1981).

Immediate impact on the population at large

Some of the effects of Latin America dictatorship may not be immediate. However, over time, the general population begins to feel the consequences of military rulers or caudillos. In Peru, General Valasco Alvarado came to power through a military coup in 1968. Consequently, he provided leadership that was different from other military dictators. He nationalised industries and allowed workers to participate in management and ownership. He also ended old laws that brought unbalanced social and economic structures. He provided national development agendas for socialism and capitalism development.

Consequently, Valasco efforts increased food production, increased wages and living standards among the peasants. Supporters praised Valasco military rule as what the country needed for progress. However, most of these reforms failed to raise issues of concern in society. Failure occurred due to lack of fundamental reforms in the structures of class, property ownership, and distribution of resources.

Some cases of Latin America show that military rulers are not always autocrats. Some promote developments whereas others cause widespread atrocities. These mixed results call for careful analysis of the roles of the military leadership away from the traditional dictatorship of the caudillos. Further, there are various branches of military government that may promote developments in rural areas, whereas others tend to favour elites as others inflict atrocities like the police.

Reference List

Becker, M 2005, Dictatorship in Latin America, New Press, New York.

Buckley, F 1981, ‘The Long March’, National Review, vol. 33 no. 23 , pp. 1440-1441.

Elvin, R 2006, ‘Background Notes on Countries of the World: Peru’, History, Governement, and Political Conditions, vol. 1 no. 2 , 2-3.

Hamill, H 1992, Caudillos: Dictators in Spanish America, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

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