Week 11: The Terror

In this chapter, Dawson focused mostly on the violence that occurred in Latin America through the 1960s and 1980s. He described the complexities of siding with either group and how distorted things became. By focusing on these groups and their violence as isolated from the long history of colonialism, I think that Dawson missed an opportunity to thoroughly explain the economic and historical context of these revolutionary groups. I thought that ISI, import substitution industrialization, was a point he could’ve expanded on to do so. He writes,

ISI depended on the state’s ability to support industry and fund a broad array of educational, health, and welfare programs (including transportation, housing, and food subsidies), but as GDP growth slowed during the 1960s, most governments in the region found themselves pressed by expanding debt, high rates of inflation, increased unemployment, and social unrest. They had to borrow from abroad simply to maintain their current levels of spending. Much of the money they borrowed went to propping up inefficient industries that could not compete against foreign, higher quality and lower cost imports.”

This may be true, but I think that this needs to be explored more in depth. Here are my questions about that quote that I wish were answered during this chapter:

  1. Why did GDP growth slow during the 1960s?
  2. What other reasons prevented the success of ISI besides the decline of GDP?

I think that the Dependency Theory would’ve been important to include in this chapter, especially in terms of why states were so deeply entrenched in debt and could no longer fund the social services that were needed. Instead of framing this as an incompetence of Latin American governments, it could be seen as a product of capitalism and neoliberal policies. These were the conditions that bred the communist revolutionary groups. This isn’t an excuse for their violence, but it is really important in understanding the time period. I think its super interesting that the way that Dawson explains some of these struggles as mirroring the Cold War. Starting as an economic battle, it became so ideological that the “Dirty Wars” became all about fear.

Dawson mentioned Alma Guillermoprieto who described Che Guevara as a “harsh angel,” who “hovered over all this, convincing a generation of young idealists to hurtle themselves against the barricades in a futile struggle.” Dawson goes on to explain that his revolution “stood little chance against the weapons arrayed against them.” I wonder if thats true… Like Dawson says in Chapter 4, we have the benefit of hindsight, so its easy to say that they stood little chance now that we know that they lost. But there was hope in Che’s movement, and maybe they could have been successful if state terror wasn’t so powerful in Latin America at the time.