12 August, 2019
The Latin American dictators
In the late 20th century, it was a common rhetorical ploy of the more "revolutionary" Left in the "Western" world simply to ignore democracy as an alternative to Communism. Instead they would excuse the brutalities of Communism by pointing to the brutalities of the then numerous military dictatorships of Southern Europe and Latin America and pretend that such regimes were the only alternative to Communism. These regimes were led by military men who might in various ways be seen as conservative, though Peron was undisputably Leftist.
Only Pinochet in Chile could realistically be described as conservative, however. His market-based economic reforms and his reduction of the Chilean bureaucracy by half were certainly cheered by American conservatives. Pinochet deposed a law-defying Marxist President at the express and desperate invitation of the Chilean parliament. Allende had just burnt the electoral rolls so it wasn't hard to see what was coming.
That Pinochet used far-Leftist methods to suppress far-Leftist violence is reasonable if not ideal. The Leftist view that they should have a monopoly of violence and that others should follow the law is a total absurdity which shows only that their hate overcomes their reason
Perhaps the main point to note here is that the Hispanic dictatorships of the 20th century were very often created as a response to a perceived threat of a Communist takeover. This is particularly clear in the case of Spain, Chile and Argentina. They were an attempt to fight fire with fire. In Argentina of the 60s and 70s, for instance, Leftist "urban guerillas" were very active -- blowing up anyone they disapproved of. The nice, mild, moderate Anglo-Saxon response to such depredations would have been to endure the deaths and disruptions concerned and use police methods to trace the perpetrators and bring them to trial. Much of the world is more fiery than that, however, and the Argentine generals certainly were. They became impatient with the slow-grinding wheels of democracy and its apparent impotence in the face of the Leftist revolutionaries. They therefore seized power and instituted a reign of terror against the Leftist revolutionaries that was as bloody, arbitrary and indiscriminate as what the Leftists had inflicted. In a word, they used military methods to deal with the Leftist attackers. So the nature of these regimes was only incidentally conservative. What they were was essentially military.
It might also be noted that the Hispanic generals were operating within a very different tradition. The abiding hero of Latin America is Simon Bolivar, the great liberator. But the ideas about government put forward by Bolivar were very authoritarian -- ideas about how the masses need to be "educated" and generally dominated by a self-chosen elite -- ideas that put Bolivar in the company of men like Mussolini and Lenin -- ideas that are totally outside the democratic traditions of Anglo-Saxon conservatism. Excerpt:
"Education was also touched upon by Simon Bolivar, especially in his Essay on Public Education, as a tool for governments to re-educate their citizens to the responsibilities and duties of participation in public life. Bolivar also commented on the weaknesses and limits of liberal democracy when writing to explain the necesity of a strong, republican form of government.... Spanish American people required that their new states be organized in such a way as to maintain order by checking the popular forces until they could be trained in the civic virtues. Bolivarism emphasizes the common good over the individual"
The Hispanic generals were doing very little more than putting Bolivarism into practice and Bolivarism was certainly not conservatism. It was however a pretty close precursor of Fascism. Bolivar emphasized the importance of a strong ruler and the constitution he wrote aimed to establish a lifelong presidency and an hereditary senate. He explicitly rejected the liberal ideas of the U.S. founders. Fascist enough?
In the 21st century, Hugo Chavez claimed inspiration from Bolivar for his reforms in Venezuela, though Communism would be a better name for them.
In the end, however, the Latin American dictators seem to have made such a bad name for themselves that most of them eventually relinquished power in favour of a transition to some form of democracy. Even Venezuela has had some episodes of democracy. Corruption remains endemic throughout Central and South America, however, so upheavals and uprisings of various sorts seem likely to continue
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