Spain entered the Age of Atlantic Revolutions (1775–1825) motivated by a desire to re-establish its traditional status as a major European power, a position that its Habsburg monarchs gradually had relinquished over the course of the 17th century and that was lost in dramatic fashion during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713). Over the first six decades of the 18th century, the newly installed Bourbon dynasty launched a series of administrative, military, clerical, and economic reforms designed to spark and then protect an imperial revival. As a regular participant in the colonial wars of the period, the Spanish crown relied heavily on military strength to signify its renewed standing vis-à-vis its international adversaries. Any gains won by force of arms also needed to be confirmed by treaty and reinforced by positive peacetime relationships with these same rivals. As a result, an assertive diplomacy played an important role in promoting Spanish interests during a tumultuous era that began with great hopes for the restoration of Spain’s historic preeminence in the Atlantic World but ended with the collapse of its American empire.
During the Cold War’s earliest years, right-wing governments and oligarchic elites in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua fostered closer relationships with the Catholic Church. Dictatorial leaders like Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and dynastic regimes like Nicaragua’s Somoza family regarded the Church as an ally against supposed Marxist influence in the region. Those ties began to fray in the late 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council’s foundational reforms moved Catholicism farther to the political and social left around the globe. This shift was especially prominent in Central America, where Catholics like El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Guatemala’s Father Stanley Rother were among Central America’s most visible critics and reformers as political violence increased across the region during the 1970s. Relatedly, evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostal groups based in the United States, flooded Central America throughout that decade. Their staunch anticommunism and established ties to influential policymakers and political lobbyists in the United States, among other factors, gave evangelical Protestants greater influence in US-Central American relations. Their influence was strongest during the early 1980s, when José Efraín Ríos Montt, an ordained Pentecostal minister with Eureka, California’s Verbo Ministries, seized Guatemala’s presidency via a coup in March 1982. Notable US evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson praised Ríos Montt’s regime for its rabid anticommunist ideology, while President Ronald Reagan claimed that the dictator had received a “bum rap” in the global press. Concurrently, some US evangelical missioners and pastors also foregrounded the Sandinista government’s anti-Protestant activities as additional justification for US support for Nicaragua’s Contra forces. Religious actors were also instrumental to Central America’s peace processes after the Cold War, as Catholic and Protestant leaders alike worked closely with regional governments and the United States to end decades of political violence and enact meaningful socioeconomic reforms for the region’s citizens.
Manoel de Oliveira Lima (b. Recife, December 25, 1867–d. Washington DC, March 24, 1928) was one of the most prestigious men of letters of his generation. As a historian, diplomat, literary critic, journalist, writer, and professor, he maintained an intense intellectual activity. His strong and often controversial views galvanized public opinion and gathered as many admirers as detractors. The “Fat Don Quixote” and the “Intellectual Ambassador of Brazil” were at the same time deemed a “Diplomatic Torpedo” with an “incontinent pen.” Lima became a renowned scholar and public speaker thanks to his expertise on Latin American history, especially on the history of Brazil. He was the author of numerous books and articles published in Europe and the Americas, and a lecturer at Harvard, Stanford, and the Sorbonne. He was a founding member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. His career as a diplomat began in 1891, the same year he married Flora de Oliveira Lima (neé Cavalcanti de Albuquerque, b. Cachoeirinha, October 26, 1863, d. August 12, 1940, Washington, DC), his lifelong companion and collaborator. Together they lived in Portugal, Germany, the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Venezuela, and Belgium until his retirement. A devoted bibliophile, Oliveira Lima donated his rich collection of rare books, artwork, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and documents from his personal archive to the Catholic University of America in 1916. In 1920, he established residence in Washington, DC to oversee the organization of the university’s library, which was inaugurated in 1924. He taught international law and acted as librarian at CUA until his death in 1928. The Oliveira Lima Library (OLL) is currently considered one of the finest collections of Luso-Brazilian materials and one of the most important Brasilianas in the world.
Juan R. García
The Bracero Program began in 1942 as a temporary wartime measure but was extended repeatedly until 1964. During that time, more than 4.5 million braceros received contracts to work in the United States, primarily as agricultural laborers. Before the program ended, braceros worked in thirty-eight states in the United States, with the majority contracted by eight states.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941 and the subsequent sinking of two Mexican vessels by German submarines, Mexico and the United States entered into a bilateral agreement. In actuality, there were two bilateral agreements, the first extending from 1942 to 1949, and the second, enacted as Public Law 78, starting in 1951 and culminating in 1964. Throughout the program’s existence Mexico strove to ensure favorable conditions under which braceros were to be contracted, especially in light of the strong opposition to the program among a number of sectors in Mexico and the long history of discrimination against people of Mexican descent in the United States. Like Mexico, the United States faced opposition to the contract labor program from both employers and labor unions. Employers were wary of too much government interference in their ability to secure a plentiful and cheap labor supply, while labor unions viewed the program as a threat to organizing efforts and as an obstacle to achieving better working conditions and pay for agricultural workers in the United States. The Bracero Program also deeply affected the braceros themselves in both positive and negative ways. And it had a profound impact on the families of the braceros who left to work in the United States. The program was plagued by a number of issues and problems, primarily resulting from a lack of enforcement and widespread contract violations. Despite the problems associated with the program, both countries touted its benefits, not only to their economy, but to the braceros themselves. The braceros did not passively accept their fate and challenged their treatment in a variety of ways. Although the Bracero Program ended in 1964, its legacy continues to affect US–Mexican relations to this day. Furthermore, former braceros and their descendants have undertaken a movement to demand reimbursement for wages promised them under the requirements of the Bracero Program.
Friedrich E. Schuler
Mexican elites emerging out of the political civil wars of the 19th century threw their support behind French positivism and its theory that a nation could thrive through economic, industrial, and foreign-financed development. The strategy’s very success created the profound economic dislocations that triggered regional revolutions in Mexico’s center and north. Foreign observers misread these events as small rebellions and acted accordingly.
In this environment Francisco Madero became Mexico’s first democratic president. Even though he leaned toward the United States, he pleased no foreign and domestic faction and was deposed and murdered by a domestic-foreign element. Emerging dictator Victoriano Huerta perplexed all foreign observers. As US president Woodrow Wilson made fighting against Huerta’s tenure a symbol of an idealistic new policy, Canadian, European, and Latin American governments picked Venustiano Carranza at the Conference of Niagara Falls to be his successor.
The new context of World War I interrupted all of Mexico’s bilateral economic relations. The country’s national revolutions became side theaters of the global war. By 1918 the collapse of empires had changed all politicians’ outlooks.
The 1920s were dominated by strife with the Vatican and US laissez-faire policy but also pragmatic US-Mexican border relations steered by President Abelardo Rodriguez.
During the Great Depression, Mexico attempted to avoid importing food. US artists, tourists, and Europeans were inspired by Mexico’s murals and social justice movements for peasants. After 1934 Lazaro Cardenas steered these policies to the left; in 1938 he expropriated US, British, and Dutch-owned oil companies as well as US agrarian property.
After 1940 government technocrats under Ávila Camacho turned the country toward exploiting the Allies’ economic war needs. World War II found Mexico on the side of the Allies, as expressed in unprecedented security, economic, and military cooperation. The Mexican air force flew missions in the Philippines. This US-Mexican rapprochement and its architects were replaced after 1943, and the rise of the Cold War changed international linkages once again.
Josefina Zoraida Vázquez
The Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) formed the background for independence movements in the Americas. Great Britain increased its colonial land and was forced to make reforms in order to govern its territory, as was Spain, in order to modernize. Their subjects felt the consequences. Because of their experience in politics, those from the Thirteen Colonies resisted and eventually declared independence in 1776. France had been weakened by its losses and recognized the Confederation in 1778, before drawing Spain into the short fight. Because they were less important than their territory in the West Indies, Great Britain recognized their independence in 1783, ceding them the territory up to the Mississippi. The French Revolution allowed them to strengthen their government, trade as a neutral country, and purchase Louisiana in 1803.
New Spain was unfortunate in that it was a valuable viceroyalty of Spain, and, as it did not have allies, its long and bloody fight broke apart the administration. Upon achieving independence in 1821, it found itself in a deplorable situation. Impoverished and without political experience, it aroused the ambition of new trade countries and of the United States, the uninhabited territory to its north. To populate it, Mexico offered facilities and attracted American settlers, who violated the conditions that had been set and declared independence in Texas, joining the United States in 1845.
Mexico’s political inexperience, coupled with the siege coming from Spain, France, and the United States, prevented the country from consolidating a system of government and reviving its economy. By 1840, it exhibited a substantial contrast with the United States, which had a stable government, a connected and productive territory, and a growing population. In 1845, after annexing Texas, population reached nearly 20 million, while Mexico scarcely had 7 million.
By the time the United States initiated the attack, the result was foreseeable. Various armies were invading, and their fleets seized the ports in February 1847. New Mexico and California had been invaded and annexed, and the occupation was a heavy burden, as President Polk forced Mexico to pay. The bitter peace treaty was signed in 1848, and the United States’ newly annexed territory stretched to the Pacific.
The John F. Kennedy administration took a bet on the incoming president of Brazil, João Goulart, as he took office on September 8, 1961. Goulart was not a radical socialist, but his opponents portrayed him as an unpredictable nationalist who might unadvisedly fuel the flames of social upheaval and radical revolution, turning Brazil into a second Cuba. Yet, the White House estimated that Goulart was someone they could do business with and sympathized with the idea of Reformas de Base (Goulart’s program of “basic reforms”), which included the extension of labor protections to rural workers, redistributive agrarian reform, and universal suffrage. United States support for Goulart materialized in the form of economic aid, financial assistance via the IMF, and development assistance via the Alliance for Progress partnership. Within a year, however, the tide turned as Goulart failed to comply with American demands that he ban leftists from his cabinet. In a matter of months in 1962, the White House abandoned any hopes of engagement with the Brazilian president. While the crisis that led to Goulart’s fall in March 1964 was the making of domestic political actors within Brazil—as was the military coup to unseat the president—the likelihood and success rate of the golpe grew as the United States rolled out successive rounds of targeted actions against Goulart, including diplomatic and financial pressure, threats of abandonment, support for opposition politicians, collusion with coup plotters, signaling future military support for the plotters in the eventuality of civil war, and the granting of immediate diplomatic recognition for the incoming authoritarian military leaders after the coup. After Goulart, Brazil remained under authoritarian rule for two consecutive decades.
Max Paul Friedman
In the first three decades of the 20th century, the United States regularly intervened militarily in the circum-Caribbean, sending the Marines to govern directly or rule by proxy in Nicaragua (1912–1933), Haiti (1915–1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916–1924). The end of this era of U.S. occupations, and the relatively harmonious period that followed, is typically credited to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, although his predecessor Herbert Hoover began the process and both drew upon Latin American traditions and yielded to Latin American pressures to change traditional U.S. policy. The new approach to relations with Latin America included not only abjuring the use of military force but respecting the full sovereignty of Latin American states by not interfering or even commenting upon their processes of political succession. The Roosevelt administration signed agreements formalizing this new respect and sought to negotiate mutually beneficial trade agreements with Latin American countries. The benefits of the Good Neighbor Policy became evident when nearly every country in the region aligned itself with the United States in World War II. Measures taken against Axis nationals strained the policy during the war. By 1945, and during the Cold War, the policy unraveled, as the United States resumed both interference (in Argentine politics) and intervention (with a CIA-organized coup in Guatemala in 1954).
Amelia M. Kiddle
During the Mexican Revolution and the long period of reconstruction that followed, successive Mexican presidents navigated the stormy seas of international relations. Though forced to manage repeated cases of foreign intervention in its internal affairs, the government actually enjoyed considerable freedom of action during and after the Revolution because of the world historical context. From the First World War to the Second, heightened tensions and mounting international conflicts worldwide diverted the attention of foreign governments and enabled skillful Mexican diplomats to take advantage of world conditions to advance their own agendas for international relations and domestic reform on the international stage as they sought to establish Mexico’s place within the international states system, and world history, as the first social revolution of the 20th century.
Throughout the 1980s, Central America was wracked by conflict. El Salvador faced a guerrilla insurgency, Guatemala’s long conflict festered, and Nicaragua faced a continually escalating U.S.-led proxy war that used fighters, loosely referred to as the Contras, to wage war on the Nicaraguan government through cross-border raids that implicated Costa Rica and Honduras in persistent violations of sovereignty. The Treaty of Esquipulas, spearheaded by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, ended these conflicts and brought stability to the region.
The Treaty of Esquipulas stands as one of the most significant and understudied peace agreements of the late Cold War. These accords ran counter to the will of the more powerful United States, which throughout the 1980s had sought to use military force as the key to achieving regime change in Nicaragua. The United States policy of supporting guerrillas that waged a war of regime change in Nicaragua fanned the flames of conflict and destabilized the region. Esquipulas undermined this destructive policy. For the first time, the small nations of Central America, so long considered the imperial servants of the United States, thwarted an aggressive U.S. military policy. Through intense diplomatic meetings, and in the wake of the controversy that developed from the Iran–Contra scandal, President Arias of Costa Rica succeeded in creating a peace agreement for Central Americans and authored by Central Americans. The Esquipulas accords were a blanket repudiation of the near decade-long Contra war policy of the United States. Central America created diplomatic unity and facilitated a successful opposition to the military policy of its more powerful neighbor. This agreement was a great triumph of peace and diplomacy created in the face of what seemed like overwhelming odds.