Latin America Politics Through Film

Latin America Politics 16

LatinAmerica Politics Through Film

Inthe Latin America, it was popular that the top most military rank wasthe presidency. This led to rampant military intervention in manystates in the Latin America making military rule the most overridingpolitical force in the area. As a matter of fact, the only statesthat escaped the military rule were Costa Rica and Mexico. Hence,Argentina and Chile were not exceptional in the wave of the militaryrule.

Froma general perspective, the military intervention in the Latin Americacan be associated with turbulent political growth in most of thethird world countries. In most of the third world countries, economicadvancement and political steadiness are barely compatible. Thirdworld countries lack a long constitutional tradition to overseepeaceful and smooth political transition, which is well offcomplemented by economic progress. As a result of the incompatibilityaforementioned, violence is practically inevitable. In this regard,political change has been initiated via reform coups or revolutionarycoups.

InSeptember 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led the Chilean militaryin a coup that sought to crumble Salvador Allende democraticallyelected government. The major objective of this intervention was toreplace the elected government with military dictatorship. It isbelieved that the coup received remarkable backing from the America’sCentral Intelligence Agency where United States Secretary of State bythen Henry Kissinger was directly involved in the plan. Pinochetdictatorship lasted up to 1988 upon his downfall in a 1988referendum.

Thenature of politics in the Latin America is complex making the causesof military interventions complex as well. This paper seeks to unveiland analyze the factors that led to military intervention in Chileand Argentina. These factors include conflicts in class interests,the inception of the national security doctrine in the armies inLatin America, military’s institutional interests and politicalinstability and economic crises attributed to inefficient civiliangovernments among others.

Inaddition, this paper will look at some of the impacts and legacy ofthe military rule. It will be observed that the transition from thebureaucratic-authoritarian regimes had to define new relationshipbetween the military and the civilian. It will be concluded that noneof the factors that are perceived to have led to the military coupsin Chile and Argentina was solely sufficient for the recourse. Ittook a combination of more than one factor to lead to the respectivecoups.

Firstly,conflict of class interests and the role that military played in theconflict is a major factor that led to military intervention inArgentina and Chile. With the opening of the national economies ofLatin America to global markets in the last half of 19thcentury, there was a rise in a class that comprised of professionalmanpower, exporters, importers and civil servants. This emerged asthe middle class as it is termed today. Initially, the military’sduty was to guard the oligarchies who owned land, economic power andpolitical power. Meanwhile, the upcoming middle class sought to berecognized as entitled parties in political process (Nun 1965: 68).The military tended to support the aspirations of the middle classthus boosting the middle class call for political inclusion. Hence,the military forces supported the mobility of the middle classagainst the ruling class land owning oligarchy (Nordlinger 1977: 83).In the mean time, the lower class was also growing enormouslyaggressive. It was getting politicized through formation of unions.The conflict arising involved access to education, access to decentjobs, allocation of public funds, and redistribution of land wealthowned by the middle class. In this regard, the interests of themiddle class were viewed as threatened by the politicized lower classwhile the ruling oligarchy was growing weak. In such cases, themilitary sought to defend the threatened middle class.

Hence,the military shifted its guardianship to the interests of the middleclass which was getting strongly politically established. In 1973 themilitary intervention in Chile demonstrates the military’sproclivity to guard and protect the middle class interests form thethreat of the lower class. The democratically elected socialistgovernment of Chile, which rested on the support of the ruralpeasants and the proletariat, was replaced by military rule.

AfterAllende (a leftist candidate) won the Chilean elections in 1970 underthe umbrella of the communists and socialists Unidad Popular party(Skidmore&amp Smith 2001, p126), his government clearly show its support tothe leftist proletariat especially on it announcement of the economicprogram. The economic program implied that (a) that the state willown important economic sectors, (b) popular control, and (c) stateplanning (Stalling 1978: 126). The program led to the nationalizationof the United States copper mines in Chile. The government also tookcontrol over many industries and privately owned banks. The politicalclimate created by Allende favored the working class. The prevailingconditions led to high rise in political mobilization. Wages andsalaries for the workers were raised. The government also improved onsocial services for the poor rural folks so as to amplify electoralsupport as well as to satisfy the working class expectations.

Thepopular polices (at least to the proletariat) and proletariatpolitical mobilization by Allende turned to be a nightmare for themiddle class. With the apparent level of threat by the proletariat,the upper and middle class began to respond negatively. For example,middle class shop owners closed their shops and truck owners closedtheir businesses. However, the working class took over the abandonedbusinesses and factories while preparing for armed combat. Theintensified political conflict led to the deterioration of theeconomy by 1973: the year in which the conflict between theprivileged and the working class hit its peak. The upper and themiddle class openly opposed president Allende’s policies. Rightistopposition political organizations barricaded all legislitions aimingat reforms and continually pressured the government to down itstools. The rightists steered terrorist attacks against the workingclass. The opposition to Allende’s policies, the rightist terroristattacks and deteriorating economic status all led to Chile’smilitary intervention in September 11 1973 led by Pinochet.

Whileprevious military intervention in Argentina were partly caused by themilitary inclination to secure the interests of the middle and theupper class, the 1976 coup took place without the relation betweenthe military and the privileged classes. When President Peron died in1974 his second wife Isabel Peron took over power. She was a weakpresident whose weakness led to rampant political assassinations,grand corruption and actual violence. These factors led to militaryintervention in March 1976 which removed Isabel from power.

Inthe second place, the National Security Doctrine played a major rolein military intervention in Argentina and Chile. The nationalsecurity doctrine was a doctrine among officer corps in Latin Americaconcerning the role of the military. The doctrine was based onmajorly two arguments. (a) That security was only possible viaeconomic might and that economic might provides the grounds forsufficient military defense and (b) that security threats include notonly external threats but also domestic guerilla movements. Thisimplied that the military can fulfill its mission for security if andonly if there is growth of the economy and proper management of thecountry. From this argument, the national security doctrine holdsthat it is the duty of the military to take over government in orderto realize economic development and bring the country into propermanagement in efforts of defending the nation’s security asobligated (Needler 1977: 42-43).

Thenational security doctrine was created in the United States army andwas meant for third world countries consumption. This was madepossible by the United States military-industrial hegemonic power. InChile and Argentina the armies were developing. U.S. militaryadvisory role was exercised in the superior war colleges. Theideological perspectives of the national security doctrine included(a) the view that those were times of worldwide undeclared war. Itwas believed that the war would decide the fate of the westerncivilization. In this regard, western civilization stood forcapitalist oriented production systems steered by the U.S. (b) theview that a sufficient national security policy requires a stronggovernment with the ability to maximize economy’s output as well asthe ability to curb any attempts that seek to disunite the state. (c)The view that a sufficient national security policy requires that oldpolitical forces are eliminated and communist political forcesdestroyed given that they are an internal enemy by themselves.

Theindoctrination of the Latin America military forces with the nationalsecurity doctrine can be said to be a major factor that led tomilitary intervention in Chile and Argentina. On the day of theChilean coup of 1973 which left the democratically elected presidentSalvador Allende so as to initiate constructive social changes,Admiral Merino (a member of military junta) came to the defense ofthe military on the accusations of killing civilians. He claimed thatthe Chile’s military was murdering the civilians because themilitary is the states surgeons. Just like a patients leg is cut whenit catches cancer so is the military eradicating the Marxism. Hedefended the work of the military as humanitarian (Rojas, 1975). Thisconfession shows the extent at which the national security doctrineplayed part in the coup.

Inthe 1988 Bolivian-Argentine summit for military intelligence, thesenior Argentine officers referred to the national security doctrineso as to define the security threats in Argentina during the 1980s.According to David Sheinin the national security doctrine proved tobe of great inspiration to the military officials in the Argentina’scoup of March 1976 (2006: 2). Moreover, Sonia Cardenas observes thatthe 1976 military coup in Argentina was propelled by the nationalsecurity doctrine. She continues to note that the new military regimesought to bring back national values, steer economic development, anderadicate subversion (Cardenas 2010: 38). These objectives fullycapture the ideology of the national security doctrine.

Insum, the national security doctrine gave the military a reputableideological justification that allowed them to directly take part inactive politics. In this regard, the military developed some form ofprofessionalism that was to be used in the running of the governmentafter a successful coup.

Athird factor that led to military intervention is actual or perceivedthreat to the military institutional interests by the servinggovernments. For example, in the 1973 Chilean coup was steered by thefact that Allende was giving arms to some of his most radicalpolitical supporters. The movement of the ‘Revolutionary left’ aswell as other extremist viewed the armed forces as the greatestthreat to the socialist government. In this regard, they armedthemselves and armed urban factory workers. The government togetherwith its radical supporters organized itself and put plans underwayto resist any attempted coup.

Asa result, the military felt that the government was underminingmilitary’s monopoly of force by arming other parallelorganizations. The armed forces believed that in the event that theparallel organizations seek to seize power, the military would not bein a position to control them without provoking a civil war.Therefore, the military sought to defend its institutional interestsas much as there was rampant opposition to Allende’s proletariatpolicy. The military was afraid of an erupting guerilla war againstit. This further motivated the coup in Chile.

Fourthly,economic crises and political instability in Argentina and Chile ledto military intervention. Economic growth is a crucial variable inevery country. The agents responsible for steering economicdevelopment are the respective governments. It is a common norm tolay blame on the respective governments in case of economic downfallregardless of whether the government has been involved or not. Inthis regard, the military takes economic crises as a major factor forthe justification of military coups and other interventions.

Inthe Latin America, there were rampant economic crises in the 60s and70s. In most of the coups that took place in the Latin America,economic crises were cited as the major justification for theresulting coups. For example, by 1975 before Isabel was removed frompower in Argentina, the inflation rate recorded at 333 percent whilethe economy was in total chaos (Skidmore and Peter 1992: 102). InChile, the inflation rate recorded an average of 15 percent increaseevery month in the months of June, July, and August 1973 the yearthat the coup was executed.

Besideseconomic crises, it seems that all pre-coup periods in Latin Americawere characterized by political instability. When governments facepolitical discontent and opposition to the extent that theirarbitrary actions lead to rampant violence and disorder, they areconsidered as poor performing. They are accused of being unable toperform their fundamental responsibility. That is, maintaining andenhancing public order and protection of the people’s basic rightssuch as ownership of property and right to life.

Themoments of political instability is taken by the military as equallyan appropriate time for military intervention as the period ofeconomic crisis. It is the level of political instability thatdetermines the degree of moral justification for overthrowing anelected government. For instance, the pre-coup period in Argentinabefore 1976 was partly characterized by rampant political violence.The guerrillas affiliated with the leftists carried out provocativeattacks on the military and the police. The attacks were accompaniedby various assassinations. Reiteration was witnessed from therightist affiliated organizations which included the ArgentineAnti-Communist Alliance. There was fear that there may be terroristattacks against the people.

In1973, Chile witnessed one of the worst political instabilityscenarios. The leftist working class founded industrial belts in themain factories with an objective of organizing the workers against aperceived and possible coup. On the one hand the industrial beltssought to take up the means of transportation and distribution:railways and trucks. On the other hand, the rightist groupsreiterated leading to rampant violent and terrorist attacks. TheChilean army responded by directing attacks on some industrial beltswhich were feared to be armed (Petras 1969: 6-7).

Lastbut not the list is the notion of the O’Donnell’sbureaucratic-authoritarianism on the political situations in Chileand Argentina. O’Donnell was concerned with the diagnosis ofdemocracy in the Latin America. According to Hector Schamis, the mostsignificant interpretation of military rules in the 70s applies theO’Donnell’s bureaucratic-authoritarian model. This model wasdeveloped so as to explain the authoritarian governments of Braziland Argentina in the mid 1900s. A bureaucratic-authoritarian ruleseeks to deepen the structure of production. These regimes seek totransform the mechanisms of accumulating capital while stillretaining capitalism as the mode of production (Schamis 1991: 203).

Unlikeother authoritarian regimes, the bureaucratic-authoritarian regimesare ruled by military juntas. They are also characterized by stateinstitutionalization of political nonconformist suppression by themilitary. They aim to transform the respective states into capitalistsocieties. Hence, it follows that the bureaucratic-authoritarianregimes come into place after a successful military coup of after amilitary intervention. As it has been established from the foregoing,the armed forces basically used political or economic instability andcivilian corruption so as to establish the bureaucratic-authoritarianregimes. The bureaucratic-authoritarian regimes were established on amoral justification that the military had the moral obligation tointervene so as to save the nation and guard sovereignty. In sodoing, the military held to the conviction that it was the only forcecapable of bringing rampant civil corruption to an end.

Accordingto O’Donnell, bureaucratic-authoritarian regimes relied on threesocial stratus which include the military which maintains order anddomination of the other classes, the business class which oversees anopen economy and the technocrats who formulate market policies(O’Donnell 1979)

Inthese regimes, the holders of the most influential government officesare drawn from their successful jobs in bureaucratic organizations.Due to the increased bureaucratization, these regimes imply exclusionof the sector of the popular from decision making. This implies thatthose who had been included by previous regimes find themselveskicked off from the political arena. The subordinates are notincluded in the political field. Elections are suspended thusdiminishing the voice of the people. The regimes then use force tokeep off the demands of the people.

InLatin America, many army generals came to power under thebureaucratic-authoritarian regimes. They claimed that militaryintervention was a necessary move to save the states from recklesseconomic policies and civilian corruption. This move would and didsave the Latin America from total economic downfall and socialcollapse. For instance it is claimed that the Chilean economy wasrescued from a total collapse by General Augusto Pinochet militaryintervention of 1973. Pinochet brought good economic policies in theface of a crumbling Chile’s economy. The overthrow of Allende’sdemocratically elected government is perhaps the most influentialexample of a shift from democracy to bureaucratic-authoritarianregime. Allende’s government had nationalized the United Statescopper mines as well as other major industries. It is on the rise ofthese reforms that the America’s Central Intelligence Agencyassisted the Chile’s army in organizing a coup to overthrowAllende’s Government in 1973.

Underthe rule of Augusto Pinochet Chile made the most establishedbureaucratic-authoritarian regime in the Latin America. This regimereceived support from the United States of America as long as itpromised anticommunism, stability, investment opportunities and tradeopportunities. The United States considered the Latin America as aninferior race that needed authoritarian leaders to keep order andcurb political and social chaos (Schmitz 1999: 304).

Asit has been observed, the bureaucratic-authoritarian regimes appliedcoercion so as to maintain control. However, as I it apparent, theuse of force eventually led to the collapse of the regimes. Theirauthority lacked legitimacy. By their very nature, these regimes weredestined to collapse. For instance, Pinochet’s military rule wasreplaced by a democratically elected government after his fall in the1988 referendum that led to the 1989 elections. In 1998, Pinochet wasarrested in London and charged with crimes against humanity.

Militaryintervention in Chile and Argentina had diverse effects. For example,many people were detained during the military rule. In Chile themembers of the socialist party were detained and tortured whileothers were killed and others went into hiding. Moreover, the coup inChile led to the emergence of two opposing worlds. In the view of oneworld, the coup was a tool for salvation and restoration of Chile. Onthe other hand, the coup was viewed as the tragedy of Chile.

Afterthe bureaucratic-authoritarian regimes in Chile and Argentina werereplaced in 1990 and 1983 respectively, each of the two states facedmajor challenges in the transition from military dictatorship tocivilian democratic governments. In Argentina for instance, the newrelation between the military and the civilian had to be established.Moreover, investigations into human rights violation had to be doneregarding the outgoing military government. A number of commandersfrom the Argentina’s military government were charged and sentencedto serve in jail. In Chile, the highest ranked military officer inthe outgoing military regime, Manuel Contreras was also prosecuted(Sugarman 2002:110).

Thenew relationship between the military and the civilian led to Chilebecoming the one of the most independent military in the LatinAmerica. On the other hand, Argentina had the least autonomousmilitary. This is due to the fact that the Argentina’s militaryforces went into the transition period divided and discredited whilethe Chile’s armed forces went into the transition period united andstrong (Hunter 1998 :296).

Inconclusion, this paper has analyzed four major aspects that led tomilitary intervention in Argentina and Chile. They include classconflict, the national security doctrine, economic and politicalcrises and threats to military institutional interests. It can beargued that class conflict played the biggest role in leading tomilitary intervention followed by the national security doctrine.However, this does not mean that other factors were not at play aswell. In most cases more than one of the factors discussed were usedas the justification for military intervention. For instance, in thetwo cases of Argentina and Chile analyzed above, even though theconflict between the privileged and the lower classes was evident,military coups did not take place until there were threats on theirinstitutional interests. The Chilean case is a typical example ofthis instance. As it was observed, the arming of the arming of theworkers by the leftist groups lead to military to rethink of thepossibility of guerilla war directed to the military.

Asfor the economic and political instabilities in Chile and Argentina,it will be concluded that they were not the major factors that leadto the coups. However, their existence in the two states gave furtherjustification to the need for military intervention. As wasestablished, these forms of instability proved to the military thatthe incumbent governments were insufficient and needed to be crushed.

Unlikein the second half of 20thcentury, today military intervention is no as rampant. It should benoted that during the Chile’s and Argentine’s coups, the wave ofcold war was sweeping all over the world. Another reason why militarycoups are infamous today is that the impracticability of communismhas been proved beyond reasonable doubts. The lower classes are nolonger politicized by the leftists to fight against the privilegedclasses. Finally, it has been argued that the authoritative regimesare no longer popular. Major authoritative regimes were replaced bydemocratic regimes.


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