Post Cold War Latin America

Post Cold War Latin America

Chile and Argentina


Following the Cold War, Latin America had a variety of new opportunities to grow economically. Many states began to explore globalization and economic growth.


Learning Objectives

  • How did the end of the Cold War affect Latin America?


Key Terms / Key Concepts

Concertación: a coalition of center-left political parties in Chile, founded in 1988 (Presidential candidates under its banner won every election from when military rule ended in 1990 until the conservative candidate Sebastián Piñera won the Chilean presidential election in 2010. In 2013 it was replaced by the New Majority coalition.)

“disappearances”: in international human rights law, this occurs when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law

Peronist: a person who follows the Argentinian political movement based on the ideology and legacy of former President Juan Domingo Perón and his second wife, Eva Perón (The Justicialist Party derives its name from the concept of social justice. Since its inception in 1946, candidates from his party have won 9 of the 12 presidential elections from which they have not been banned. As of 2016, Perón was the only Argentine to have been elected president three times.

Trial of the Juntas: The judicial trial of the members of the de facto military government that ruled Argentina during the dictatorship of the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (el proceso), which lasted from 1976 to 1983.)


Democracy in Chile and Argentina


Chile and Argentina both transitioned from military dictatorships to democratic regimes in the 1980s, leading to relative political stability in both countries in the 21st century.


Chile’s Transition to Democracy


The Chilean transition to democracy began when a constitution establishing a transition itinerary was approved in a vote. From March 11, 1981 to March 1990, several organic constitutional laws were approved leading to the final restoration of democracy. After the 1988 plebiscite, the 1980 Constitution, still in force today, was amended to ease provisions for future amendments to the constitution, create more seats in the senate, diminish the role of the National Security Council, and equalize the number of civilian and military members (four members each).

Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994 and was succeeded by another Christian Democrat, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (son of Frei-Montalva), leading the same coalition for a 6-year term. Ricardo Lagos Escobar of the Socialist Party and the Party for Democracy led the Concentración (a coalition of center-left political parties in Chile, founded in 1988) to a narrower victory in the 2000 presidential elections. His term ended on March 11, 2006, when Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party took office. Center-right investor and businessman Sebastián Piñera, of the National Renewal, assumed the presidency on March 11, 2010, after Bachelet’s term expired.

Part of the transition from the military dictatorship to democracy entailed investigating the human right’s abuses under the previous regimes. In February 1991 Aylwin created the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, which released in February 1991 the Rettig Report on human rights violations committed during the military rule. This report counted 2,279 cases of “disappearance” that could be proved and registered. Of course, the very nature of disappearances made such investigations very difficult. The same issue arose several years later with the Valech Report released in 2004, which counted almost 30,000 victims of torture, among testimonies from 35,000 persons.


Contemporary Era in Argentina


Argentina also experienced a transition from a military dictatorship to a democracy in the 1980s. Raúl Alfonsín won the 1983 elections, after campaigning for the prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations during the military dictatorship. The Trial of the Juntas and other martial courts sentenced all the coup’s leaders but, under military pressure, Alfonsín also enacted the Full Stop and Due Obedience laws, which halted prosecutions further down the chain of command. The worsening economic crisis and hyperinflation reduced his popular support, and the Peronist Carlos Menem won the 1989 election. Soon after, riots forced Alfonsín to an early resignation.

Menem embraced neo-liberal policies: a fixed exchange rate, business deregulation, privatizations, and dismantling of protectionist barriers normalized the economy for a while. He pardoned the officers who had been sentenced during Alfonsín’s government. The 1994 Constitutional Amendment allowed Menem to be elected for a second term. However, the economy began to decline in 1995, with increasing unemployment and recession; this led to Fernando de la Rúa and the UCR—Radical Civic Union, a centrist social-liberal political party—returning to the presidency in the 1999 elections.

De la Rúa kept Menem’s economic plan despite the worsening crisis, which led to growing social discontent. A massive capital flight led to a freezing of bank accounts, generating further turmoil. The December 2001 riots forced him to resign.

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