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The Bracero Program, 1942–1964  

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.

Article

Central America in the Age of Tyrants, c. 1930–1960  

David Díaz-Arias

During the 1930s, the worldwide economic crisis, local social unrest, the political legacy of the 19th century, and local elites’ fears of Indigenous and organized-workers mobilizations were the perfect combination for the rise of new dictatorships in Central America. Military caudillos appeared in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, substituting a short period of democratic experience in these countries during the 1920s. Only in Costa Rica did democratic development remain, despite a bitter dictatorship from 1917 to 1919. By the end of the 1930s, strongmen who admired European fascism ruled with an iron fist and counted on the US State Department’s approbation and collaboration. National guards in El Salvador and Nicaragua and the army in Guatemala became the foundations of fierce regimes. But World War II and the Allies’ victory gave opportunities for internal opposition to contest dictators. In Guatemala and El Salvador, coup d’états occurred in 1944, bringing about new democratic scenarios for progressive politicians. Central America saw the rise of social democracy between 1948 and 1949. In 1948, a brief civil war in Costa Rica worked to consolidate social reforms that took place from 1940 to 1943, and in 1949, the reformists took power in Honduras. Even in Anastasio Somoza’s Nicaragua, a political opening occurred when the dictator supported organized labor and began to work with his political opposition. But the years of change did not last. Guatemala’s democratic experiment was abruptly canceled by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1954; in Nicaragua, the killing of Somoza in 1956 carried the country into a new, bloody regime; and in El Salvador, military officers overthrew the president in 1960.

Article

Labor and Resistance to the International Monetary Fund  

Dustin Walcher

Since the immediate post–World War II era, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has played a leading role in the political, economic, and social lives of Latin Americans. Its role has evolved from the Bretton Woods era of the postwar period, through the era of the Washington Consensus, and into the post-2008 crisis period. However, throughout those times the institution served as the enforcement instrument for orthodox economic policies within the liberal international order. It conditioned emergency lending to countries in economic distress on the implementation of austere economic policies. The region’s workers consistently bore the costs of the IMF’s prescribed policies. Such policies resulted in fewer public-sector jobs, reductions in welfare state benefits, and increased levels of foreign involvement in national economies. Consequently, the IMF became the subject of frequent labor protests. Workers understood the key role the IMF played in devising the policies that caused them pain and often took steps to resist. Although the IMF’s effects on the working class are well understood within Latin America, it has not been the subject of sustained historical analysis. To understand the dynamics of the region’s political economy, historians should focus on the IMF to a degree similar to that of economists and political scientists. More specifically, the relationship between the IMF and Latin American workers is ripe for sustained analysis across disciplinary boundaries.

Article

Lombardo Toledano’s Struggles in the World of Labor  

Daniela Spenser

Vicente Lombardo Toledano was born into a prosperous family in 1894 in Teziutlán, Puebla, and died in Mexico City in 1968. His life is a window into the history of the 20th century: the rise and fall of the old regime; the Mexican Revolution and the transformations that the revolution made in society; the intellectual and social reconstruction of the country under new parameters that included the rise of the labor movement to political prominence as well as the intervention of the trade unions in the construction and consolidation of the state; the dispute over the course of the nation in the tumultuous 1930s; and the configuration of the political and ideological left in Mexico. Lombardo Toledano’s life and work illustrate Mexico’s connections with the world during the Second World War and the Cold War. Lombardo Toledano belonged to the intellectual elite of men and women who considered themselves progressives, Marxists, and socialists; they believed in a bright future for humanity. He viewed himself as the conscious reflection of the unconscious movement of the masses. With unbridled energy and ideological fervor, he founded unions, parties, and newspapers. During the course of his life, he adhered to various beliefs, from Christianity to Marxism, raising dialectical materialism to the level of a theory of knowledge of absolute proportions in the same fashion that he previously did with idealism. In life, he aroused feelings of love and hate; he was the object of royal welcomes and the target of several attacks; national and international espionage agencies did not let him out of their sight. He was detained in and expelled from several countries and prevented from visiting others. Those who knew him still evoke his incendiary oratorical style, which others remember as soporific. His admirers praise him as the helmsman of Mexican and Latin American workers; others scorn the means he used to achieve his goals as opportunist. Lombardo Toledano believed that the Soviet Union had achieved a future that Mexico could not aspire to imitate. Mexico was a semifeudal and semicolonial country, hindered by imperialism in its economic development and the creation of a national bourgeoisie, without which it could not pass on to the next stage in the evolution of mankind and without which the working class and peasantry were doomed to underdevelopment. In his interpretation of history, the autonomy of the subordinate classes did not enter into the picture; rather it was the intellectual elites allied with the state who had the task of instilling class consciousness in them. No matter how prominent a personality he was in his time, today few remember the maestro Vicente Lombardo Toledano, despite the many streets and schools named after him. However, the story of his life reveals the vivid and contradictory history of the 20th century, with traces that remain in contemporary Mexico.

Article

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT)  

Ted Goertzel

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (b. Caetés, Pernambuco, Brazil, October 27, 1945) was born in severe poverty in the Brazilian northeast. “Lula” was a nickname which he legalized as an adult so that it could be listed on election ballots. He is universally referred to as Lula in Brazil. When he was seven years old his mother took the family on the back of a truck to the state of São Paulo in the hope of joining Lula’s father, who had abandoned the family. With her help, and without Lula’s illiterate and abusive father’s encouragement, he went to school to become a lathe mechanic. He then became a union activist and a leader of massive strikes in the industrial suburbs of São Paulo during the last years of Brazil’s military regime. In 1980, Lula joined with progressive union leaders, activists, and intellectuals in organizing the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), or Workers’ Party. The PT was distinguished by its internal democracy and intellectual openness, and many on the left, in Brazil and elsewhere, believed it had great potential for reconciling socialist economics with political democracy. It initiated participatory budgeting practices in an effort to go beyond formal electoral democracy. Lula da Silva’s charisma made him the Party’s most popular leader. Lula won a seat in Congress in 1986, then was defeated in presidential campaigns in 1989, 1994, and 1998. In 2002, he adopted a more moderate campaign platform and was elected president of Brazil. He was re-elected in 2006 and passed the presidency on to his chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, at the end of his second term. As president of Brazil, Lula followed moderate economic and social policies, building on the accomplishments of his predecessor rather than making the radical changes many Workers’ Party activists and supporters wanted. The economy grew during his presidency, and he was able to increase funding for income redistribution programs that helped the poorest Brazilians. His administration was tarnished, however, by a massive corruption scandal involving illegal payments to members of Congress. Brazil went into a recession after Dilma Rousseff’s re-election in 2014, and there was an even larger corruption scandal involving the national oil company. Rousseff was impeached in 2016, and the Workers’ Party lost control of the Brazilian government and fared badly in municipal elections. Lula da Silva was convicted on corruption charges. If his conviction is not reversed on appeal, or if he is convicted on other pending indictments, he will not be allowed to compete for the presidency in the 2018 elections.

Article

Masculinities, Consumption, and Domesticity during the Perón Era  

Natalia Milanesio

Supported by a multiclass alliance including the working class and some sectors of industry and the military, Juan Domingo Perón’s government (1946–1955) industrialized the country, modernized and expanded the state, transformed local and national politics, empowered the labor unions, and substantially improved the standard of living. Perón combined a strong nationalistic and anti-oligarchic discourse with concrete material benefits like high wages, the expansion and consolidation of the retirement system, paid vacations, housing subsidies, and full employment that ensured the political support of large sectors of the working population. Like the workers, various other traditionally disenfranchised social sectors took center stage. The very poor became the main beneficiaries of the charities run by first lady Eva Perón; women won the right to vote with a law passed in 1947 and were mobilized and politicized by the Peronist Party; and children were recognized by the government as the true heirs of the new Argentina built by Peronism and thus subject to co-optation and indoctrination. At the same time, internal migrants, attracted by the promises of a better life and industrial employment, left the countryside and small towns in the interior for the cities, propelling a profound process of urbanization. The cultural, social, political, and economic changes that marked the Peronist years had major consequences for gender relations, roles, and identities, transforming the ways of being a man or a woman in mid-twentieth-century Argentina. Those changes profoundly reshaped discursive and symbolic representations of masculinities as well as social and cultural expectations of manhood across different social classes while creating the political, social, and economic conditions that facilitated the transformation of masculinity as a lived, everyday experience.

Article

Silver Miners’ Labor Activism in Pachuca and Real del Monte, 1979–1989  

Sandra Mendiola García

The miners of Pachuca and Real del Monte have extracted silver from the mountainous region of what is now the state of Hidalgo for centuries. In the colonial period, these mines were owned by the Spanish. In the modern period, they were owned by British (1824–1849), Mexican (1849–1906), and American (1906–1947) entrepreneurs. The Mexican government bought the mines from the United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company in 1947 and kept them until 1989. In that year, the Mexican state sold the Compañía Real del Monte y Pachuca, the company that monopolized most of the region’s mines, to Mexican businessmen (Grupo Acerero del Norte) who kept them in operation until 2005. The silver miners who worked for the company belong to Locals One and Two of the Sindicato Nacional de Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana (SNMMRM). The union was created in 1934 in Pachuca. Miners’ activism, however, goes back to the colonial period. In 1766, miners went on strike to defend the partido system (a profit-sharing payment) under attack by their employer Pedro Romero de Terreros, the first Count of Regla. Subsequent employers, both British and Mexican, also faced strikes, slowdowns, and threats of violence by miners who tried to improve their wages and labor conditions. In 1934, Pachuca and Real del Monte played an important role in the formation of the national union. Most ceased their activism in 1946. It was not until 1979 when these silver miners organized Liberación Minera (Miner Liberation) to fight against their charro (government and employer-aligned) leaders and to defend workers’ rights. By the late 1970s, the miners of Pachuca and Real del Monte lacked access to proper health care, received low wages, and experienced dangerous labor conditions. Miners were under the control of local and national charro leaders, including Napoleón Gómez Sada who directed the national miner union from 1960 to virtually 2001. The dissident current, Liberación Minera, organized a strike in 1980 and a naked protest in 1985. As a result, miners increased their wages, democratized their locals, and gained several benefits. These achievements were short-lived as the Mexican government announced the sale of the company in 1989. As part of Mexico’s embrace of neoliberal policies, the privatization of the company meant the virtual end of the industry and of organized labor in these areas by 2005.