In Montevideo in 1923, streetcar company executive Juan Cat shot at journalist and Communist parliamentarian Celestino Mibelli in the atrium of the Uruguayan Congress. Despite this premeditated assassination attempt in front of numerous witnesses, Cat was released, the judge accepting the possibility that his actions were in legitimate self-defense. The logic that led police, prosecutor, and judge to arrive at conclusions that seemed to contradict both the evidence and the law hinged upon, and in the process reveals, deeply conflicting ideas of honor, family, the public versus the private sphere, and the unwritten laws that governed journalism in 1920s Uruguay. Mibelli had published a series of scandalous newspaper stories, one involving Cat’s young daughter, and many Uruguayans identified with the aggrieved father, arguing that an attack on family honor was no different from a physical assault. The only legally and socially acceptable remedy for Cat was to challenge his slanderer to a duel, but Mibelli refused to accept challenges because he considered dueling elitist. In the end, the police report, the prosecutor’s brief, and the judge’s ruling each subtly distorted the details of the encounter to construct Cat’s attack as a quasi-duel, a frustrated attempt to “demand explanations” from Mibelli, following a ritualized script set down in the dueling codes of the era. Factually, Cat’s actions were no such thing, but by crafting the narrative of an “affair of honor” gone wrong, official lies reflected deeper cultural truths.
Daniel Aarão Reis
Luís Carlos Prestes, from his birth in 1898 to his death in 1990, had a long, restless, and bustling life. His childhood and youth, as well as key events in his family life, are especially important in understanding the formation of his character. Trained as a soldier, Prestes would as an adult participate in the struggles of Brazilian army officers for the modernization and democratization of the nation (1920s), commanding, with Miguel Costa, a guerrilla column that traversed the country from 1924 to 1927. After that, Prestes became a communist and joined the Communist Party, leading a revolutionary putsch in November 1935, which was quickly put down. He then spent nine years in prison. By the time he was released, in 1945, he had become the undisputed leader of Brazil’s communists, and he was elected senator from the city of Rio de Janeiro in December. Between 1946 and 1964, through victories and defeats, he was one of the leading lights of the Brazilian Lefts. He was also an important player in the international communist movement, serving as an interlocutor in talks with the Communist parties of the USSR and China. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the defeat of the Brazilian Left in 1964, when a long military dictatorship was established in Brazil, Prestes’s prestige at home and abroad declined sharply. However, in the context of redemocratization, a process initiated in 1979, he remained a frequent reference point for leftists, albeit on a secondary level, who lauded his integrity and determination. For the Right, he stalked the political scene like a menacing ghost. Upon his death in 1990, no one could deny his impact on the history of Brazil, and on the Brazilian Left in particular.
Anticommunism was a central force in the history of the Chilean political conflict in the 20th century. Not only did several political actors define their identities and actions by their opposition to Marxist-inspired revolutionary projects, but also the state in different moments excluded and persecuted everything identified as “communist.” To a great extent, anticommunism relied on three main “frameworks”: Catholicism, nationalism, and liberalism, all of which were crucial elements in the construction of the Republic since the 19th century. Different combinations and interpretations within each framework resulted in different anticommunist expressions, from pro-fascist movements and nationalist groups to the conservative-liberal right wing, the Social Christian center and even moderate socialists. Many of them, especially in the second half of the 20th century, understood anticommunism as a defense of different variations of capitalism. Of course, anticommunism was not a uniquely Chilean phenomenon. It was, in fact, an ideological trend worldwide. This conditioned the reception in Chile of global events and ideas, while it enabled the construction of transnational networks among related actors. The enactment of the Law of Permanent Defense of Democracy in 1948, which outlawed the Communist Party, symbolized the alignment of Chilean politics to Cold War bipolarity. However, the Marxist left was able to recover during the “long Sixties,” in a political and cultural environment marked by the Cuban Revolution. The Popular Unity government was the materialization of all anticommunist fears. The counter-revolutionary bloc created then paved the way to the 1973 coup and the subsequent military dictatorship, which used anticommunism as state ideology. Human rights violations were legitimated by the dictatorship from that ideological framework. Anticommunism decayed by the late 1980s alongside socialist experiences around the world.
The history of Marxism in Brazil has been marked by discord. This tension makes sense considering that historical materialism developed in a European social environment, contrasted, to some extent, with the Asian context. The problem is, therefore, twofold. First, the theory proved incapable of reflecting the specificity of a particular social formation. The latter, differing significantly from the reality in which Marxism emerged, comes to be seen as “eccentric.” Moreover, Marxist theory seeks to transform reality, which contributes to a confusion between thought and politics. In the same sense, Marxism cannot be self-sufficient, because it must respond to the challenges of the environment in which it is inserted, contributing, in turn, to its contact with other intellectual and political traditions. Marxist thought in Brazil can be divided into three main historical moments: the first was marked by the preponderant influence of communism, from the 1920s to the 1964 coup; the second was characterized by the emergence in the mid-1950s of a New Left; and the third was the debate regarding democracy, which has gained momentum since the end of the country’s most recent authoritarian period in 1985. Throughout this extended historical period, Brazilian Marxists have been preoccupied with a recurring concern: How will the Bourgeois Revolution happen in Brazil? The periodization is not exact, with trends often overlapping and fostering an evolving political culture. In this way, through opportunities seized and missed, the Left—whose main theoretical reference today is still Marxism—penetrated Brazilian society and became an important part of national life.
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.
All cities are forged by politics. But Brazil’s “informal” neighborhoods—and especially the favelas that now shape every Brazilian urban landscape—have an especially raw link to the political world. Favelas and other informal settlements are vital to Brazil’s cityscapes; they are also spaces historically defined by weak formal regulation and tenuous urban citizenship. In the informal city, property tenancy, city services, and basic civil protections were historically defined as privileges rather than rights. This was not for lack of claims-making; favela residents demanded urban belonging and engaged in intense legal battles over issues of property and regulation long before Brazil’s “rights to the city” movements gained international recognition. But Brazilian institutions proved mostly unwilling to recognize those claims, forcing informal residents to rely on a wide range of political strategies to achieve some modicum of permanence, citizenship, and rights to the city. Urban informality and urban politics thus developed in tandem in Brazil before 1960, as favelas successfully rooted themselves in Brazil’s most significantly “informal” cities: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil’s national capital until 1960 and the birthplace of the term “favela”) and Recife (the Northeast’s regional capital, long Brazil’s third largest city, and a hothouse for the politics of informality). In both places, informal politics involved grassroots mobilization, symbolic contestations in the public sphere, and engagement with a remarkably diverse tangle of activists, patrons, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, politicians, intellectuals, artists, policymakers, and politicians. Informal residents were agile and effective political actors, who managed collectively and incrementally to establish favela residents’ de facto right to occupy Brazilian cityscapes. At the same time, the contradictions of favela politics made it difficult to convert de facto permanence into juridically enforceable rights to the city. The outcome was a politics of permanence rather than a politics of equality, the results of which are still all too apparent in Brazil’s contemporary urban form.
Andrea Botto Stuven
The Documentation Center of the Contemporary History of Chile (CIDOC), which belongs to the Universidad Finis Terrae (Santiago), has a digital archive that contains the posters and newspapers inserts of the anti-communist campaign against Salvador Allende’s presidential candidacy in 1964. These appeared in the main right-wing newspapers of Santiago, between January and September of 1964. Although the collection of posters in CIDOC is not complete, it is a resource of great value for those who want to research this historical juncture, considering that those elections were by far the most contested and conflicting in the history of Chile during the 20th Century, as it implicted the confrontation between two candidates defending two different conceptions about society, politics, and economics. On the one hand, Salvador Allende, the candidate of the Chilean left; on the other, Eduardo Frei, the candidate of the Christian Democracy, coupled with the traditional parties of the Right. While the technical elements of the programs of both candidates did not differ much from each other, the political campaign became the scenario for an authentic war between the “media” that stood up for one or the other candidate. Frei’s anticommunist campaign had the financial aid of the United States, and these funds were used to gather all possible resources to create a real “terror” in the population at the perspective of the Left coming to power. The Chilean Left labeled this strategy of using fear as the “Terror Campaign.”