Cold War and Coups d'état in Latin America (70 years after the coup d'état in Bolivia 1952)

Although the 19th century and specially the 20th century in Europe can be interpreted as an era of major interstate wars raised between the Nation-states of that particular continent, the 200 years of independent life of the Latin-American nation-states, and particularly the 20th century, are characterized by the series of interstate conflicts: civil wars, guerrillas, coups d´état and dictatorial-military governments. By 1944, of about 20 latinamerican countries, just Uruguay, Chile, Costa Rica and Colombia had certain levels of democracy that involved civil and (always limited) ballot-elected governments, political competition was allowed and the law was respected in certain levels and with it, the civil liberties. At the same time, between 1940 and 1954 Latin America went through a wave of democratic reforms. This pattern, as warned by Leslie Bethell and Ian Roxborough[1] was characterized by the development of a certain democratization, a shift towards social politcies that had been related to leftist reforms and the development of a working class militancy.

Therefore after 1947, this short democratic period collpased. The communist parties were outlawed and reprimanded in the majority of Latin American countries; the “reformist” parties moved over to the right wing; progress in social and democratic policies were contained and, in some cases, thrown backwards; the working class and its more militant unions were persecuted. In Brazil, the government of Eurico Gaspar Dutra introduced new decree-laws in order to control the workers in March of 1946. In Chile, the October 1947 transport workers' strike broke out with several deaths and with the capital under a state of siege. Other legislations to control or repress workers were passed in Cuba (the first one under Grau´s goverment in 1947 and then under Carlos Prío Socarrás in 1948 after the elections), in Costa Rica (in 1948 after the civil war) and in Mexico (the charrazo in October 1948). In this new context, the communist parties were purged, persecuted, repressed and declared illegal, as for instance in Brazil in May 1947, in Chile in April 1948, in Costa Rica in 1948, and once more, in Brazil in January 1948 communist deputies were removed from congress. Coups d'état became the norm: in Peru, Bustamante suffered a coup d'état in October 1948; in Venezuela, the democratic triennium ended on November 24, 1948 and the dictatorship of Marco Pérez Jiménez began and would last for 10 years; in Colombia, Laureano Gómez was overthrown in June 1953; in Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz was overthrown in June 1954. By the end of 1954 there were an estimate of 11 dictatorships in Latin America (including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Paraguay) which could reach 13 if Ecuador and Argentina are included.


The context was new and it inscribed Latin America in the Cold War and the direct intervention of the United States in the region, which legitimized the transition from a brief period of democracy to violence. The imperial structure of control of the region was practically refreshed in those years: in 1946 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (called the School of the Americas from 1963 onwards) was created and the United States promoted "national guards" in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Guatemala, Cuba and El Salvador, as it had already been done in Nicaragua since the early 1930s. US-sponsored intelligence centers were created in Argentina (the State Intelligence Secretariat), in Chile (the General Intelligence Directorate), in Brazil (the National Information System), in Uruguay (the General Directorate of Information and Intelligence), in El Salvador (the National Agency of Special Services), in Haiti (the National Security Intelligence) and in Venezuela (the Directorate of Intelligence and Prevision Services). Likewise, in the mid-1960s, the Central American Military Communications System was created. From then on, new coups would take place in Latin America within the framework of the national security doctrine.


In these constellations, coups d'état - with the participation of important factions of the state and parastatal repression apparatuses and frequently with the intervention of foreign forces (first and foremost the United States) - have left a mark, shaped and even determined the history of numerous Latin American nations.



Based on these reflections, CALAS calls for a Platform for Dialogue "Cold War and coups d'état in Latin America (70 years after the coup d'état in Bolivia 1952)". The encounter will offer a space to present and discuss individual experiences, academic analysis, political views, literary and artistic representations. Particularly, it aims to bring back the discussion on coups d'état in Latin America during the period 1947-1990, their applications, their collateral effects, the economic-social thinking that motivated them, their impacts and their effects on the present. It also proposes to contribute to a history of the concept of "coup d'état", its uses and abuses and its interrelations with political, social and military history.


Thematic Axes

The Platofrm for Dialogue structures itseld around the following axes:

  • ¿Cuáles fueron las funciones del golpe de Estado en América Latina durante la Guerra Fría?
  • ¿Qué experiencias de golpes de Estado se desarrollaron en América Latina en el siglo XX?
  • Dictadura, élites, grupos conservadores y Guerra Fría.
  • Los movimientos de izquierda y la guerrilla.
  • Movimientos ciudadanos en América Latina.
  • Lecciones de Bolivia 1954.
  • El marco global de los golpes de Estado y la represión en América Latina durante la Guerra Fría.
  • Crisis de la democracia.
  • Imperialismo y antiimperialismo.
  • Religión y revolución.
  • Usos y abusos del concepto “golpe de Estado” y sus interrelaciones con la historia política, social y militar.
  • Los golpes de Estado en el siglo XXI latinoamericano.


Bases of the call

  • This call is aimed for applicants of Social science, Law, Humanities, Art and Literature that can contribute to the discussed topics with empirical terms as well as theoretical and methodological terms.  
  • Fill the application form with a title and summary of the proposal and a brief academic data sheet with indications of your professional trajectory and relevant publications.
  • Languages: Spanish, Portuguese and English
  • Deadline to send in the proposals: July 1st, 2022.

An academic committee will select the papers based on criteria of excellence. Applicants will be notified by the end of July 2022 of the decision on their papers.

CALAS will cover lodging expenses. In addition, there will be limited resources for travel expenses.

Date of the platform: November 8-9, 2022, at the University of Costa Rica.



Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies (CALAS) –Regional headquarters Central America and the Caribbean

Centro de Investigaciones Históricas de América Central (CIHAC) – Ciudad Universitaria Rodrigo Facio, Universidad de Costa Rica

Organization commitee: Dr. Werner Mackenbach y Dr. David Díaz Arias.



CALAS, sede Centroamérica y Caribe