Gisela Mateos and Edna Suárez-Díaz
On December 8, 1953, in the midst of increasing nuclear weapons testing and geopolitical polarization, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the Atoms for Peace initiative. More than a pacifist program, the initiative is nowadays seen as an essential piece in the U.S. defense strategy and foreign policy at the beginning of the Cold War. As such, it pursued several ambitious goals, and Latin America was an ideal target for most of them: to create political allies, to ease fears of the deadly atomic energy while fostering receptive attitudes towards nuclear technologies, to control and avoid development of nuclear weapons outside the United States and its allies, and to open or redirect markets for the new nuclear industry. The U.S. Department of State, through the Foreign Operations Administration, acted in concert with several domestic and foreign middle-range actors, including people at national nuclear commissions, universities, and industrial funds, to implement programs of regional technical assistance, education and training, and technological transfer.
Latin American countries were classified according to their stage of nuclear development, with Brazil at the top and Argentina and Mexico belonging to the group of “countries worthy of attention.” Nuclear programs often intersected with development projects in other areas, such as agriculture and public health. Moreover, Eisenhower’s initiative required the recruitment of local actors, natural resources and infrastructures, governmental funding, and standardized (but localized techno-scientific) practices from Latin American countries. As Atoms for Peace took shape, it began to rely on newly created multilateral and regional agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the United Nations and the Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission (IANEC) of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Nevertheless, as seen from Latin America, the implementation of atomic energy for peaceful purposes was reinterpreted in different ways in each country. This fact produced different outcomes, depending on the political, economic, and techno-scientific expectations and interventions of the actors involved. It provided, therefore, an opportunity to create local scientific elites and infrastructure. Finally, the peaceful uses of atomic energy allowed the countries in the region to develop national and international political discourses framing the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean signed in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, in 1967, which made Latin America the first atomic weapons–free populated zone in the world.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
After World War II, human genetics as a medical field developed new techniques and practices intended not only to characterize but also to understand variation differences among populations and their relation to the presence of certain diseases. It was transformed from a medical backwater to an appealing medical research frontier. It was precisely during the Cold War that scientists hosted, disseminated, and consolidated the emerging model of human genetics in the clinic and in the field. The emergence of human genetics in post-war Mexico (1945–1970) involved the transnational circulation of knowledge, people, and practices, and the institutions that enabled their consolidation in the country. Population genetics was the first branch of human genetics developed in Mexico. The first study, on the distribution of genetic markers in the Mexican Mestizo and Indian populations in the 1950s, was followed, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, by studies to characterize the genetic composition of the Mexican population by the groups headed by Mexican physicians Rubén Lisker, at the National Institute of Nutrition, and Alfonso León de Garay, at the National Commission of Nuclear Energy. These studies were aligned with other laboratories in other parts of the world using molecular tracers and more up-to-date electrophoresis techniques to measure the genetic variability of Mexican indigenous populations. Following the 1960s trend and technologies, they focused on enzymes and other blood components, like the deficiency of the glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase (D6PD) and the presence of abnormal hemoglobins and albumins in Mexican indigenous population.