From the 1950s to the 1970s, numerous academics and non-governmental organizations based in the United States generated alarm about political and ecological threats posed by human population growth. During the first half of the 20th century, improvements in nutrition, sanitation, and medical therapies had dramatically reduced infant mortality and contributed to increased life expectancy in many parts of the world. In the context of the Cold War, many leaders of Western industrialized nations viewed the rapid growth of poor Asian, African, and Latin American populations as a potential source of political instability. They feared that these poor masses would become fodder for revolutionary political movements, particularly communism. Combined with eugenicist views rooted in colonial racism, new understanding of ecological systems, and growing concern about overtaxing earth’s resources, these fears led many American and European scholars and activists to promote population reduction in the newly designated “Third World.” In Latin America, such efforts to curb human increase were met with skepticism or outright opposition by both Catholic Church leaders and many left-wing nationalists who saw the promotion of birth control as a form of racist imperialism. Although some physicians and even liberal priests viewed decreasing family size as important for public health and family welfare, the involvement of North American capitalists (such as the Rockefellers), U.S. government agencies, and former eugenicists in efforts to distribute contraceptive technologies made them deeply suspect in the eyes of many Latin Americans.
Andrés Estefane and Luis Thielemann
Marxist thought in Latin America was impacted by various transatlantic intellectual, and social influences. The changes in Latin American Marxism can be placed in a five-stage chronological framework. The first stage, from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, encompasses the arrival of European immigrants, who introduced the first references to Marxist socialism, and the local development of that repertoire among workers, journalists, and intellectuals in the urban centers of Latin America. The initial influence of the Second International and Karl Marx’s texts started to change during the second decade of the 20th century, following the debates sparked by the Russian Revolution and the emergence of communism. This context framed the beginning of the second stage, characterized by the emergence of a group of thinkers who questioned the Eurocentric tone and the mechanical assimilation of European Marxism. Taking as a point of departure the particularity of Latin American social formations, and inspired by a strong anti-imperialist discourse, these intellectuals and revolutionary leaders aimed at developing an original reading of Marxist thinking, more pertinent to the rural and indigenous character of the continental societies and the structural legacies of the colonial past. A third stage began in the 1930s, after the fall of the Spanish Republic, the ascent of fascism and Nazism in Europe, and the ideological purges that followed the Stalinization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The increasing influence of the Comintern (the Communist International) deactivated the creative impetus of the early 20th century, though it did not prevent the emergence of intellectuals and local organizations—led by Trotskyism and Left Opposition groups—who strongly criticized Stalinism and the bureaucratization of Soviet Communism. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 marked the beginning of a fourth stage in the history of Latin American Marxism. That event inverted the traditional direction of the transatlantic influence, since Latin America became a landmark case for Western Marxism. In the midst of a complex and productive intercontinental dialogue with Europe, Latin American Marxism developed crucial debates on such topics as the colonial legacy of the continental capitalist development, the relationship between racial hierarchies and class struggle, and over the political “routes” to building socialist orders. These dialogues and debates came to an abrupt end after the wave of coup d’états that shook the continent between the 1960s and the 1980s. The political defeats of the attempts to construct socialist systems provoked a Marxist diaspora that brought many European intellectuals back to their own continent and sent many militants and thinkers into exile in Latin America and elsewhere. Interestingly, the evaluation of the defeat was the basis for an ample renovation of the Marxist thought, which marked the beginning of the fifth and current stage, characterized by the emergence of the Latin America’s progressive governments of the 21st century and the gradual withdrawal from the old bases of historical materialism. Although this periodization recognizes the diverse transatlantic contexts that influenced Latin American Marxism, it also seeks to highlight that the production of Marxist thinking on the continent has mainly been connected with the experience of active militants and intellectuals proscribed or marginalized in academia. By extension, the development of Latin American Marxism appears to be intimately linked to the political struggle of the continental Left, which does not negate that Latin American thinkers have also produced theoretical works on Marx.
Around 1560, indigo-yielding plants were identified in the New World. Settlers turned with enthusiasm to the industry, cultivating the native Indigofera species on large-scale plantations from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the Gulf of Fonseca. Production surged, and by 1600 indigo had become the third most valuable export from the Spanish Indies (behind silver and cochineal). After an initial, explosive start, the industry declined toward 1630, crippled by the onslaught of crop plagues, an insufficient supply of labor, and a collapsing transport system.
A second boom came only in the second half of the 18th century, following the Bourbon reforms, and with the recovery of trade through the Central American ports. By this time, a steady increase in European demand for indigo had encouraged the spread of colonial production to Dutch Java, French Saint-Domingue, British Jamaica, and South Carolina. Yet the Central American product had a longstanding, elevated reputation on its sid, and fared well against its rivals with the rare flor tizate, the region’s finest, ranked highest in European markets.
In the three centuries between the emergence of colonial production and the commercialization of a synthetic alternative at the close of the 19th century, indigo transformed lives and landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic. The industry formed an integral part of the Central American economy, with important social and environmental consequences for the region.
Historians have extensively explored the topic of architecture in Mexico City in the 20th century. From the relationships between politics, public patrons, new construction technologies, and new idioms of modernism, the impressive story of architecture in this megalopolis continues to astound and captivate people’s imaginations. Architecture was a channel that politicians used to address housing, education, and health care needs in a rapidly growing city. Yet scholars have not been especially concerned with private construction projects and their influence on the process of shaping and being shaped by the visual representation of Mexico City. Private building projects reveal an alternative reality of the city—one not envisioned by politicians and public institutions. Private construction projects in the historic city center are particularly interesting due to their location. These buildings are built on ancient clay lakebeds and volcanic soil on which the Aztecs first built the city. Not only are these buildings located in the heart of the city, the buildings in the rest of the historic district are also sinking. Any building in a historic district that has withstood the test of time should be an object of interest to scholars. The Torre Latinoamericana is perhaps the only building in the historic district and the entire city that ceases to sink, and instead floats! Located on the corner of Madero and San Juan de Letrán, the building sits at the heart of history, culture, and ancient Aztec clay lakebeds. The Torre Latinoamericana was built between 1948 and 1956 and is one of the most important visual symbols of resilience and modernity in Mexico City today.
Eugenia Roldán Vera
The Atlantic world has not only been a geographic space for the exchange of people and products. Since the 16th century, it has also been a cultural space for the production, exchange, diffusion, reading, and rewriting of printed objects. Historians of the independence era constructed the view that Latin America had been “closed to the outside world” during the years of the Spanish and Portuguese domination; however, later research has shown that this was not the case. Latin American countries, especially from the 18th century onward, were part of a print network through which all kinds of information was being produced, circulated, and read.
During the Spanish Enlightenment, especially at the time of the wars of independence (1808–1824), this circulation intensified. The end of the Spanish and Portuguese trade monopoly in the region, changes in the regime of print rights, technological developments that lowered the costs of publishing, and transformations of the forms of sociability that the wars of independence themselves generated gave way to an explosion of print all over the Atlantic word. Newspapers, pamphlets, and books on topics that were not only religious but also political, literary, satirical, and educational were printed and circulated in the region. This helped to change forever the way the Latin Americans viewed themselves and contributed to the formation of new nations.
Although the circulation of ideas throughout the Atlantic does not account for the development of political and social transformations that led to the independence of the Latin American countries, print culture and political culture are connected in many different ways. This article explores some of these forms of interaction.
Jaime E. Rodríguez O.
The concept of a constitution, a political entity that determines how a people are governed, emerged in ancient times. The government of the Roman Republic (509–27 BC) influenced the Western world. Later, Romanized Visigoths adopted a charter, the Fuero Juzgo (654), in the Iberian Peninsula that integrated Roman and Visigothic legal systems. The document influenced regional political entities throughout the Middle Ages. In the 13th century, each of the realms of the Iberian Peninsula adopted individual rather than shared fundamental codes. In 1265, King Alfonso X established Castilla’s and Leon’s first constitution, the Siete Partidas. The New World obtained its own legal system, known as the Derecho Indiano (Laws of the Indies). Like the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, those of America created a compact between the monarch and the citizens of each realm rather than Hispanic America as a whole. These systems of uncodified legislation evolved to meet changing circumstances and societal norms. They provided corporations and individuals expanding opportunities for indirect and direct experience in self-government.
In 1808, an unexpected upheaval transformed the Hispanic world. The French invaded Spain. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte lured the royal family into France, compelled them to abdicate in his favor, and then granted the Spanish monarchy to his brother, José. The Spanish people did not accept the usurper king, José I. They formed the Junta Central to oppose the invaders. As the French continued to conquer the nation, they convened a Cortes, which met on September 24, 1810, in the port of Cádiz. Approximately 220 deputies, including sixty-five Americans and two Filipinos, eventually participated in the extraordinary Cortes of Cádiz. Deputies representing overseas dominions played a central role in developing the most progressive constitution of the 19th century. Despite the political chaos that surrounded the constituent congress, the delegates debated and eventually reached consensus on a modern, flexible charter that reconciled the competing interests of the multiplicity of areas and ideological positions represented at the assembly. They produced a constitution for the entire Hispanic world that made the executive and the judiciary subordinate to the legislature. It also increased the scope of political activity by establishing representative government at three levels: the city or town with a thousand or more inhabitants (constitutional ayuntamiento), the province (provincial deputation), and the monarchy (Cortes). The charter transferred political power from the center to the localities, and incorporated large numbers of people into the political process for the first time by redefining the concept of active citizenship (i.e., those eligible to vote). This fundamental document formed the basis for constitutional development throughout the Hispanic monarchy and for most charters promulgated in the nations that emerged after the breakup of that political entity.
Basques formed a minority ethnic group whose diaspora had a significant impact on the history of colonial Latin America. Basques from the four Spanish or peninsular Basque territories—the Lordship of Vizcaya, the provinces of Álava and Guipúzcoa, and the Kingdom of Navarra—migrated to the New World in significant numbers; the French Basques were also prominent in the Atlantic, particularly in the Newfoundland fisheries.
The population density of the Basque Atlantic valleys, which was the highest of any region in Spain, was an important factor that encouraged emigration. And, in response to demographic pressure, in the second half of the 15th century most villages and towns adopted an impartible inheritance system that compelled non-inheriting offspring to seek their fortunes outside the country. Castile was the immediate choice for the Basque émigré, but after 1492 America gradually became an attractive destination. Outside their home country, their unique language and sense of collective nobility (hidalguía universal) were to become two outstanding features of Basque cultural identity.
The Basques’ share of total Spanish migration to the New World increased significantly in the second half of the 17th century. By the 18th century they were one of the largest and most influential peninsular regional groups in America. The typical Basque émigré was a young, single man aged between fifteen and thirty. In the New World they left their mark in economic activities that their countrymen had developed in their homeland for centuries: trade, navigation, shipbuilding, and mining. Furthermore, Basques’ collective nobility and limpieza de sangre (blood purity) facilitated their access to important official positions.
Gregory T. Cushman
Agrarian societies in Latin America and the Caribbean have accomplished some of the most important and influential innovations in agricultural knowledge and practice in world history—both ancient and modern. These enabled indigenous civilizations in Mesoamerica and the Andes to attain some of the highest population densities and levels of cultural accomplishment of the premodern world. During the colonial era, produce from the region’s haciendas, plantations, and smallholdings provided an essential ecological underpinning for the development of the world’s first truly global networks of trade. From the 18th to the early 20th century, the transnational activities of agricultural improvers helped turn the region into one of the world’s primary exporters of agricultural commodities. This was one of the most tangible outcomes of the Enlightenment and early state-building efforts in the hemisphere. During the second half of the 20th century, the region provided a prime testing ground for input-intensive farming practices associated with the Green Revolution, which developed in close relation with import-substituting industrialization and technocratic forms of governance. The ability of farmers and ranchers to intensify production from the land using new cultivars, technologies, and techniques was critical to all of these accomplishments, but often occurred at the cost of irreversible environmental transformation and violent social conflict. Manure was often central to these histories of intensification because of its importance to the cycling of nutrients. The history of the extraction and use of guano as a fertilizer profoundly shaped the globalization of input-intensive agricultural practices around the globe, and exemplifies often-overlooked connectivities reaching across regional boundaries and between terrestrial and aquatic environments.
Throughout the 1980s, Central America was wracked by conflict. El Salvador faced a guerrilla insurgency, Guatemala’s long conflict festered, and Nicaragua faced a continually escalating U.S.-led proxy war that used fighters, loosely referred to as the Contras, to wage war on the Nicaraguan government through cross-border raids that implicated Costa Rica and Honduras in persistent violations of sovereignty. The Treaty of Esquipulas, spearheaded by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, ended these conflicts and brought stability to the region.
The Treaty of Esquipulas stands as one of the most significant and understudied peace agreements of the late Cold War. These accords ran counter to the will of the more powerful United States, which throughout the 1980s had sought to use military force as the key to achieving regime change in Nicaragua. The United States policy of supporting guerrillas that waged a war of regime change in Nicaragua fanned the flames of conflict and destabilized the region. Esquipulas undermined this destructive policy. For the first time, the small nations of Central America, so long considered the imperial servants of the United States, thwarted an aggressive U.S. military policy. Through intense diplomatic meetings, and in the wake of the controversy that developed from the Iran–Contra scandal, President Arias of Costa Rica succeeded in creating a peace agreement for Central Americans and authored by Central Americans. The Esquipulas accords were a blanket repudiation of the near decade-long Contra war policy of the United States. Central America created diplomatic unity and facilitated a successful opposition to the military policy of its more powerful neighbor. This agreement was a great triumph of peace and diplomacy created in the face of what seemed like overwhelming odds.
Coffee has played complex and diverse roles in shaping livelihoods and landscapes in Latin America. This tropical understory tree has been profitably cultivated on large estates, on peasant smallholdings, and at many scales in between. Coffee exports have fueled the economies of many parts of Latin America. At first, coffee farmers cleared and burned tropical forests to make way for their farms and increase production. Early farms benefited from the humus accumulated over centuries. In Brazil, farmers treated these tropical soils as nonrenewable resources and abandoned their farms once the soils were exhausted. In smaller coffee farms along the Cordillera—from Peru up to Mexico—coffee farming was not quite as wasteful of forests and soils. In the mid-20th century, scientific innovation in coffee farming became more widespread, especially in established coffee zones that were struggling with decreasing soil fertility, increasing soil erosion, and new diseases and pests. In the 1970s, national and international organizations promoted large-scale programs to “renovate” coffee production. These programs sought to dramatically increase productivity on coffee farms by eliminating shade, cultivating high-yielding coffee cultivars, and using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Renovation brought tremendous gains in productivity over the short term, but at the cost of added economic and environmental vulnerability over the longer term. Since the end of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, the global coffee market has become much more volatile. New coffee pioneer fronts are opening up in Brazil, Peru, and Honduras, while elsewhere coffee production is shrinking. NGOs and coffee farmers have promoted new forms of coffee production, especially Fair Trade and certified organic coffee. Still, most coffee farms in Latin America remain “conventional” farms, using a hybrid of modern and traditional tools. Economic and environmental sustainability remain elusive goals for many coffee farmers, and the threat is likely to increase as they grapple with the effects of climate change.