Between 1944 and 1959, conflicts with anti-dictatorial exiles and democratic leaders against dictatorial regimes and dissident exiles shaped inter-American relations in the Caribbean Basin. At the end of World War II, anti-dictatorial exiles networked with students, laborers, journalists, and politicians in denouncing the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza, and Honduras’s Tiburcio Carías. Opponents of and dissident exiles from the 1944 Guatemalan Revolution and Venezuela’s Trienio Adeco (Adeco Triennium) under Rómulo Betancourt likewise turned to dictatorial regimes for aid. By 1947, a loose coalition of anti-dictatorial exiles with the help of Cuba, Guatemala, and Venezuela’s democratic leaders formed what would become known as the Caribbean Legion and organized the abortive Cayo Confites expedition against Trujillo. Seeking regional stability, U.S. officials intervened against this expedition and Caribbean Basin dictators and dissident exiles’ attempts to air-bomb Guatemala City and Caracas. Caribbean Basin leaders and exiles focused upon these inter-American conflicts, rather than the international Cold War. José Figueres’s rise to power in Costa Rica provided a pivotal ally to democratic leaders and anti-dictatorial exiles, and Caribbean Basin dictators began working with the Venezuelan military regime after the 1948 military coup. In 1949, Trujillo’s regime coordinated a counter-intelligence operation that destroyed the Caribbean Legion’s expedition at Luperón and brought greater attention to the region. By the early 1950s, dictatorial regimes operated as a counter-revolutionary network sharing intelligence, aiding dissident exiles, supporting Fulgencio Batista’s 1952 coup in Cuba, and lobbying U.S. officials against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and Figueres in Costa Rica. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) utilized these dictators and exiles during Operations PBFORTUNE and PBSUCCESS to overthrow the Guatemalan government in 1954, but U.S. officials intervened when the counter-revolutionary network invaded Costa Rica in 1955. From 1955 onward, anti-dictatorial exiles from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Venezuela continued organizing expeditions against Caribbean Basin dictatorships, and multiple groups conspired against Batista’s regime. Among Cuban exiles, Fidel Castro rose to prominence and received important resources and alliances through anti-dictatorial exiles. Dictators shared intelligence and gave aid to Batista, yet Caribbean Legion veterans, Cuban exiles, Betancourt, Figueres, and others helped Castro undermine Batista. In 1959, Castro supported anti-dictatorial expeditions, most notably those against Trujillo and Luis Somoza. However, Castro disagreed with many former exiles and Betancourt and Figueres’s policies, so the resulting tension separated Castro from democratic leaders and divided the region among dictatorial regimes, democratic governments, and Castro.
Aaron Coy Moulton
Human rights was perhaps the defining feature of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Although much attention was given at the time to its impact on US relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Latin America was equally, if not more, important in defining and implementing Carter’s vision of a human rights foreign policy. Latin America was the site of some of the Carter administration’s most visible and concentrated human rights diplomacy, and revealed the central logic and persistent challenges of implementing a coherent, comprehensive human rights policy that worked in tandem with other US interests. Carter’s Latin America policy reimagined US national interests and paired human rights with greater respect for national sovereignty, challenging US patterns of intervention and alignment with right-wing anticommunist dictatorships throughout the Cold War. In the Southern Cone, the Carter administration’s efforts to distance the United States from repressive Cold War allies and foster improvements in human rights conditions provoked nationalist backlash from the military regimes, and faced domestic criticism about the economic and security costs of new human rights policies. Similarly, in Central America, the administration faced the challenge of reforming relations with abusive anticommunist allies in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador without supporting communist revolution. Its tepid and cautious response to violence by the Central American governments called into question the Carter administration’s commitment to its human rights agenda. In Cuba, the Carter administration sought to advance human rights as part of a larger effort to normalize relations between the two countries, an effort that was ultimately stymied by both geopolitical dynamics and domestic politics. Although limited in the fundamental changes it could coax from foreign governments and societies, the administration’s policy had a tangible impact in specific high-profile human rights cases. In the long term, it helped legitimize human rights as part of international diplomacy in Latin America and beyond, amplifying the work of other government and nongovernment proponents of human rights.
Thomas C. Field Jr.
The Cold War in Latin America had marked consequences for the region’s political and economic evolution. From the origins of US fears of Latin American Communism in the early 20th century to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, regional actors played central roles in the drama. Seeking to maximize economic benefit while maintaining independence with regard to foreign policy, Latin Americans employed an eclectic combination of liberal and anti-imperialist discourses, balancing frequent calls for anti-Communist hemispheric unity with periodic diplomatic entreaties to the Soviet bloc and the nonaligned Third World. Meanwhile, US Cold War policies toward the region ranged from progressive developmentalism to outright military invasions, and from psychological warfare to covert paramilitary action. Above all, the United States sought to shore up its allies and maintain the Western Hemisphere as a united front against extra-hemispheric ideologies and influence. The Cold War was a bloody, violent period for Latin America, but it was also one marked by heady idealism, courageous political action, and fresh narratives about Latin America’s role in the world, all of which continue to inform regional politics to this day.
On March 12, 1956, Basque National and Columbia University lecturer Jesús María de Galíndez Suarez disappeared from New York City never to be seen again. While no conclusive evidence was ever uncovered, it has been widely accepted that he was taken by functionaries of the regime of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, flown to the island, tortured, and killed. Galíndez, who had worked for the Trujillo regime after fleeing Spain in 1939 and subsequently immigrated to the United States in 1946, had just completed a dissertation on the Trujillato at Columbia. The regime did not look kindly on his chosen perspective and set in motion a plan to have him disappeared. Following his abduction, many U.S. solidarity activists joined forces with Dominican exile groups to push for greater attention to the atrocities of the Trujillo regime as well as for a closer investigation into Galíndez’s disappearance. While Trujillo had similarly disappeared a number of individuals in the United States and other Latin American countries, the Galíndez case is unique for several reasons. First, Galíndez’s life offers a prime example of a transnational identity, of someone who juggled multiple identities and causes, crossed physical and ideological borders, and operated daily with conflicting alliances and allegiances. Second, the murder of the Basque national mobilized a significant collective of solidarity activists in the United States, garnered considerable national press, and built a foundation for future activism. Moreover, as Galíndez had been working as a U.S. intelligence operative since before his arrival in the United States, his story complicates the traditional nexus of solidarity work. Finally, the case offers a unique window onto the geopolitics of the early Cold War (prior to the Cuban Revolution) and the intricacies of the second half of the Trujillo regime.