History Department
History Department

Latin America in the Cold War conference

Portrait of Che Guevara on the side of a building

Think the Cold War only involved the United States and Europe, or that Latin America didn't have its part? Guess again, but better yet, come find out how much a central role it played from five professors who know more than most.

South America

Political map of South America; Map by Central Intelligence Agency, The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, The University of Texas at Austin

Department of History Professors Jonathan C. Brown, Virginia Garrard-Burnett, and Mark A. Lawrence, as well as, two renowned visiting professors at The University of Texas are convening a conference on "Latin America in the Cold War", Oct. 29-30, 2009 at Garrison Hall Room 4.100. The conferees of this symposium propose to come together to discuss how the international Cold War intersected with the political, economic, social, and cultural development of Latin America in the second half of the 20th century.

The Cuban missile crisis is well-known, but few realized at the time that it represented the most dangerous moment faced by the world since World War II—literally the two-minutes before the "nuclear" midnight. While this crisis is one of the most notable of watershed moments in hemispheric and international relations, far fewer know that it critically damaged the Cuban-Soviet relationship, and, in fact, spurred closer ties between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

This conference plans to focus on the lesser known problems, such as the above example, and relationships that stirred a constantly-boiling pot. The expertise and insights of the two distinguished visiting scholars should prove invaluable in furthering the knowledge base of this era of history. These professors are:

  • Mellon Visiting Professor Rafael Hernández Rodríguez at the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS). He is the chief editor of Cuba's premier intellectual journal Temas: Ideología, Cultura, Política. Hernández is one of Cuba’s most distinguished senior political science scholars of U.S.-Cuban relations;
  • Visiting Fellow Professor Julio Moreno at the Institute for Historical Studies (IHS), History Department. He is an associate professor, co-director of the Center for Latino Studies in the Americas at the University of San Francisco, and author of Yankee, Don't Go Home! Moreno is a noted presenter of topics related to Latin America, U.S. business and diplomacy in the region, and the Latino community in the U.S.

Along with these distinguished scholars will also be faculty from LLILAS, University of New Mexico, and graduate students from the department's graduate program presenting their research findings. Participants of the conference are certain the collective research presented will demonstrate that Latin Americans did not stand by as spectators in the international confrontation between the Communist Bloc countries and the Capitalist West but engaged themselves fully in the ideological struggle of the Cold War.

Argentinean pesos

Argentinean pesos

In the time period between the end of World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1945-90, Latin America experienced:

  • three social revolutions,
  • numerous rural and urban guerrilla movements,
  • several overt and covert U.S. interventions, and
  • dozens of military coups, golpes de estado.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 came to power at a time in which only a handful of personalist dictatorships existed in Latin America and these governed smaller Caribbean and Central American countries and Paraguay. However, by 1976, a majority of Latin American citizens lived under institutional military rule (or "bureaucratic authoritarianism" as Guillermo O'Donnell called it).

Indeed, Latin Americans participated in the international Cold War debates over socialism, communism, developmentalism, anti-imperialism, state repression, class conflict, land invasions, labor strikes, agrarian reform, elections, militarism, populism, counterrevolution, economic nationalism, military aid, Food for Peace, and the Alliance for Progress.

In presenting preliminary stages of their research at recent conferences, the committee symposium professors have placed themselves at the cutting edge of demonstrating the multiple levels of nuance, uncertainty, contradiction, and deception at play during the Latin American Cold War.

By Oct. 15, the conference committee expects to have the formal papers available to conferees, the audience, and the public.

Presenters' papers (partial list, PDF) 

Conference schedule: "Latin America in the Cold War" (PDF, 92KB)



Prof. Jonathan Brown

Jonathan C. Brown

History Professor Jonathan C. Brown has been a vital part of the university's inquiry into Latin American society and politics for over three decades. As a graduate student at the university in the 1970s, Brown produced important insights regarding socioeconomic conditions in Latin America’s Southern Cone (southernmost geographic area of South America) during the late colonial and early republican period.

As a professor, he has researched and written on the impact of petroleum-politics and international revolution throughout Latin America during the twentieth century. Currently Brown is researching a new book on the Cuban Revolution, and organizing the Oct. 2009 “Latin America in the Cold War” conference with the help of several prominent scholars working in Austin.

Upon earning his doctorate from the university in 1976, Brown spent a few years in Calif., finishing his first book, A Socioeconomic History of Argentina, 1776-1860, which was published in 1979. Temporarily out of the academy, Brown sold real estate in Santa Barbara before his book won the Bolton Prize, the prestigious award for the best book written in English on any major aspect of Latin American History and established in 1956 by the Conference on Latin American History. The self-described “only realtor to have won the Bolton Prize” returned to Austin in the mid-1980s and joined the university faculty, splitting duties between the History and Latin American Studies Departments.

While at the university, Brown has edited or co-edited several collections of essays on Latin American labor politics, populism, petroleum industrialization, and social issues. He has also authored three monographs: Oil and Revolution in Mexico (1993); Latin America: A Social History of the Colonial Period (2nd ed., 2005); A Brief History of Argentina (2009). Two of these works have been translated into Spanish and published in Latin America.

For Brown, the time is propitious for the university to host a reconsideration of Latin America’s role in the tumultuous decades of the Cold War. Reflecting on the vibrant graduate student and faculty community studying this long and complicated struggle, Brown admits, “I am inspired by the interest of younger faculty and especially graduate students in a time period that defined my own youth.”

Without question, his youth featured a healthy dose of Cold War politics. As a ROTC-commissioned officer, Brown served in the U.S. Army for two years in the Panama Canal Zone during the time of Gen. Omar Torrijos, the general and essentially the leader of Panama from 1968-81, whose steely resolve and tough negotiations with President Carter eventually regained Panama full control over the Panama Canal Zone. Torrijos was often quoted for saying, he wanted to "walk into history" and not just "into the Canal Zone." Brown spent another year in Thailand, “close enough, thank you” to the Vietnam War.

Colorful cars on Cuban street

Colorful cars on Cuban street; Photo: Prof. Jonathan Brown

The highlight of his service in Latin America was riding horses with cavalry officers in Guatemala and Bolivia. The U.S. Army also sent Brown to Tegucigalpa, Honduras during the so-called Soccer War. (This was a four-day war fought between El Salvador and Honduras over land reform and immigration in the middle of the qualifying round for the 1970 FIFA World Cup.) He recalls a conversation in 1969 with a coronel in the Chilean army who labeled President Eduardo Frei a “communist” and later wondered what the coronel thought about President Salvador Allende. Brown got his answer on Sept. 11, 1973, when a military coup overthrew Allende's government ushering in the brutal and bloody dictatorship of military General Augusto Pinochet. The extent to which the U.S. government was involved in squeezing Allende out of power through economic interference, and aiding Pinochet, is still controversial.

While Brown was in Asia, he traveled to India, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Japan but China was off-limits. It was one of the reasons why he organized the "Conference on China and Latin America in the Global Age" at Peking University last spring. The professor finally made it to China.

On a larger level, historians in the past several years have increasingly dispensed with the notion that Latin America was a passive spectator in the “great power” struggle involving the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and their respective allies in Europe and Asia. As has been stated above, the numerous events took place within an ideological environment that reflected as well as influenced the larger dynamics of the Cold War.

While the university has long excelled in Latin American Studies because of its facilities and dedicated cadre of researchers, Brown hopes to stimulate a new round of inquiry—concerning the effect of the Cold War on socioeconomics and politics in Latin America, and the reciprocal effect of Latin Americans on Cold War issues—by taking advantage of the two leading scholars visiting the vibrant Austin research community: Hernández and Moreno.

Consistent with this new direction in scholarship, Brown has been taking advantage of newly declassified documents in U.S. and Cuban archives in his research on the 1959 Cuban revolution and its implications for hemispheric policymakers in the 1960s and beyond. Significantly, Brown is attempting to dig deeper into the dynamics of the secret wars waged by both U.S. and Cuban operatives in the Caribbean and on the mainland of Latin America.

Brown's presentation is titled “The Cuban Revolution and the Sino-Soviet Dispute” and is the first one of Panel 3 starting at 10:30 a.m., Friday, Oct. 30.


Associate Prof. Virginia Garrard-Burnett

Virginia Garrard-Burnett

Associate Professor Virginia Garrard-Burnett has been a faculty member at the university since 1990. She is the department's leading scholar on ethnicity and religion in Central America, and one of the organizers of the conference.

Burnett is enthusiastic about the upcoming conference. "This is such a good time for a historical discussion about Cold War topics in Latin America," she said. "Enough time has finally elapsed that we can finally look at these events and questions not as political scientists or anthropologists, but as historians. We can use historian's tools, and a historian's questions to analyze what was a very important part of recent world history. My work these days is about the Cold War, and many of our most stellar students are working on Cold War topics."

Burnett has published widely on religion in Latin America. In 1993 she published an edited volume she co-edited with David Stoll, Rethinking Protestantism in Latin America, and in 1998 published Protestantism in Guatemala: Living in the New Jerusalem. In 2000 she published On Earth As It Is In Heaven: Religion in Modern Latin America, another edited volume, and this year she is publishing two books: first, a Spanish translation of her 1998 work, Protestantismo en Guatemala, and second, her much-anticipated Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala Under General Efraín Ríos Montt, 1982-1983, which will go on sale in December 2009.

Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit

Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit by Prof. Virginia Garrard-Burnett

Scholars of religion, ethnicity, and genocide in Latin America have eagerly anticipated Burnett's forthcoming book. Her newest arguments about the genocidal dictatorship of Ríos Montt are in some sense a revision of her earlier assessments of his tenure in the presidency.

"The first book came out of my dissertation, which was based on work I did while Ríos Montt was president. It was a difficult time to gain access to information; it was a really hermetically sealed-off time, and it took a while to learn what had actually happened," Burnett explained. "This new book is specifically about the Ríos Montt period and the genocide of the Maya, but is in some sense a broader inquiry into how societies allow something like the Maya genocide [engineered by Ríos Montt] to happen. It's a genocide study, you could call it that, but it's also a Cold War study, about how the policies of that era found a logical conclusion in the Ríos Montt regime."

Burnett argues that when local governments, like Guatemala's, begin to identify a group of people as internal enemies of the state based on their assumption that those groups are communist, or potentially communist, "it will logically follow that you will have catastrophic results." Thus, her study is about religion, ethnicity, and Guatemalan political history, but it also engages with a broader literature about genocide, dictatorship, and the Cold War.

Burnett emphasized her anticipation for the conference she, Brown, and Lawrence have organized. The university is a key center for the study of  Latin American history in the U.S., both because of the incredible Latin American collection at the Benson Library, but also due to the large number of faculty working on Latin America in a variety of disciplines. This conference is a key step in keeping the university on the forefront of the growing historical discussion of the Cold War in Latin America.


Prof. Mark Lawrence

Mark Atwood Lawrence

A member of the university’s History Department faculty since 2000, Mark Atwood Lawrence is an award-winning scholar who continues to explore the role of developing and decolonizing nations in influencing the course of the Cold War. While Lawrence’s early research and writing focused on the French and U.S. wars in Vietnam, his inquiries have come to concern post-1945 international relations, and the nationalist movements of the so-called “Third World,” more broadly.

Fresh from a two-year visiting fellowship at Yale University, Lawrence is a senior fellow at the university's Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. He is currently researching a new book on U.S. relations with the developing world during the 1960s-70s.

Following graduation from Stanford University in 1989 with a bachelor's degree, Lawrence secured employment with the Associated Press (AP), covering European Union issues, NATO affairs, and occasionally, domestic Belgian politics. By his own admission “lucky” to have such a job, Lawrence was based in Brussels, Belgium, and traveled often to Luxembourg and Strasbourg, France during 1990-91.

His writing on European diplomacy served to focus his thinking on a potential return to school. Indeed, he had always intended to pursue a graduate degree, though he allows that it took him more than a little while to adapt to student life again after his sojourn abroad.

Assuming the Burden

Assuming the Burden by Prof. Mark Lawrence

By the time he began work on his dissertation, in any case, Lawrence found that his time as a journalist (augmented by another AP stint from mid-1995 to mid-1996) could be put to good use. He could write with more clarity and speed than he had previously, and was well suited to compose in multiple formats including book reviews, opinion-editorial pieces, and newspaper articles.

In fact, he often stresses to both his graduate and undergraduate students the benefits of thinking like a journalist and a historian in equal measures; a historian’s skill in delivering detailed evaluations of voluminous primary source material can only benefit from the journalist’s ability to cut to the root of the matter in clear and direct language. He received his doctorate from Yale University in 1999.

While deeply involved in his own research, he has encouraged this sort of “real world” thinking about historical issues to his students at the university, and also to his students at Yale during his 2006-07 time there. In this sense, Lawrence is perhaps an ambassador between the history and journalism departments on any given campus.

During his time in Austin, he has published two books: Assuming the Burden: Europe and the American Commitment to War in Vietnam (2005); and The Vietnam War: A Concise International History (2008). He also co-edited a collection of essays on the international politics of the Indochina conflict in the immediate postwar period, The First Indochina War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis (2007). Lawrence’s 2005 book, Assuming the Burden, won the American Historical Association’s George Louis Beer Prize, and the Paul Birdsall Prize. His work in the classroom has earned him the 2003-04 President’s Associates Teaching Excellence award.

Given the excellent facilities, and committed scholarly community, geared toward Latin American studies at the university, it is no surprise that Lawrence would devote increasing interest to inter-American affairs after 1945. He is particularly interested in connecting the university's scholarship with the reconsideration of the Cold War occurring within the larger academy.

Lawrence's presentation is titled “Cold War Watershed? The 1964 Riots and the Start of Negotiations for the Panama Canal” and is the first paper on Panel 1 at 3 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 29.

History Dept. professors remain committed to a nuanced and evolving understanding of Latin American society and politics in both the domestic and international arena.



Prof. Rafael Hernandez

Rafael M. Hernández Rodríguez

Professor Rafael M. Hernández Rodríguez currently is the Mellon visiting professor at LLILAS. During his career, he has served as editor of various academic journals and as visiting professor at a number of universities in the U.S. and Latin America. He has also written extensively on the history of contemporary Cuba and of U.S.-Cuban relations during and after the Cold War.

During the past 30 years, Hernández has held posts as a professor and researcher at the University of Havana and at Havana’s Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales (Institute of Advanced International Studies). Between 1979 and 1996, Hernández worked at Cuba’s Centro de Estudios de Nuestra América (Center for the Study of the Americas), a think tank of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

Starting in 1996, he spent 12 years as researcher at the Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural “Juan Marinello” (Juan Marinello Institute of Cuban Culture) at Havana. Outside of Cuba, Hernández has been a visiting professor at such prestigious institutions of higher education as Harvard University and Princeton University in the U.S., the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) at México City.

Hernández has also devoted a significant portion of his career as editor of various academic journals. While at the Centro de Estudios de Nuestra América, he founded and directed the journal Cuadernos de Nuestra América. In 1995, Hernández founded Temas: Ideología, Cultura, Política, a social science journal that covers a variety of topics, including human rights, inequality, literature and social change, revolution and popular music. The perspectives found in Temas are equally diverse; one can find in its pages contributions from scholars in Cuba but also the U.S., Europe and the rest of Latin America. Hernández currently acts as chief editor of Temas. He describes this journal as an attempt to “provide a space for critical analysis and debate” among Cuban and foreign intellectuals in today’s Cuba.

University of Havana, Cuba

University of Havana, Cuba; Photo: Prof. Jonathan Brown

Hernández’s work has direct implications for the history and aftermath of the Cold War. He has co-edited Cuba and the U.S.: Will the Cold War in the Caribbean End?, Culturas encontradas: Cuba y los Estados Unidos, and U.S.-Cuban Relations in the 1990s. Hernández is currently working on two research projects that significantly add to our understanding of the Cold War in Latin America. The first of these deals with the different perceptions of Cuba in the U.S. as constructed in such popular media as novels and tourist guides. The second constitutes an examination on little-studied topic of Cuban migration to the U.S. in the period of 1965-73, when approximately 250,000 Cubans arrived in the U.S.

These research projects provide much-needed nuance to our understanding of the Cold War in Latin America and elsewhere. Hernández reminds us of the importance of doing more research on the nature and consequences of this conflict. “The history of the Cold War in Latin America,” he argues, “has still not been written.” Much more work needs to be done to comprehend its origins, nature and outcomes. One must start by recognizing that in time the Cold War developed its own dynamic and representations—and its very own language. Thus, while the proponents of an aggressive U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis the “bear” (the Soviet Union) became known as “hawks,” those favoring more diplomatic means to prevent the advance of communism around the globe took the name of “doves.”

At the same time, Hernández emphasizes that it is imperative that scholars pay greater attention to the role played by the developing world. The histories that we often find about the Cold War are “too simple,” he notes. We need to keep in mind that countries such as Cuba participated in this global conflict, as the case of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 illustrates, but that Cuba, like the rest of Latin America, “has its own history during this period.” The Cold War merely accelerated the economic, political and social change already under way in Latin America by the middle of the twentieth century. It is precisely these local histories that we need to unearth and analyze, for they in effect “complicated the Cold War conflict.”

The Cold War, Hernández argues, is still very much with us. Some of its major features,

  •  the centrality of the Latin American militaries as the ultimate enforcers of social order,
  •  the ongoing resistance to social change in the region,
  •  the ongoing threat of nuclear warfare, and
  •  the continuing presence of a common enemy (during the Cold War, communism; now terrorism),

have persisted despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. For these reasons, Hernández sees academic meetings such as the “Latin America in the Cold War” conference essential for bringing out more fully the role that Latin America played during this time period. As well as, to highlight its continuing emergence out of the shadows of the U.S., as an equal independent player in today’s global affairs and organizations.

Rafael Hernández Rodríguez's featured presentation is titled “On Hawks, Doves, Owls, Bears and Pitirres: The Cold War as a Zoo" immediately following the keynote address at 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 29.


Associate Prof. Julio Moreno

Julio Moreno

The university is proud to have Associate Professor Julio Moreno as a fellow and visiting scholar at the History Department's IHS this year. Moreno is an associate professor of history at the University of San Francisco (USF), where he also serves as co-director of the Center for Latino Studies in the Americas (CELASA).

During the 2009-10 academic year in Austin, Moreno will write the manuscript for his upcoming book, What Global Capitalism and the Nation Leave to Each Other: Coca-Cola, the United States, and Latin America. He will also continue research on his other book project, American Business, U.S. Diplomacy, and Cold War Culture in Latin America, 1945-1970s.

Originally from rural El Salvador, Moreno migrated with his family to California in 1985. Like most Central Americans at the time, he and his family fled the country to escape the escalating violence in the region. Though pre-existing violence and tensions characterized life in Central America prior to the Cold War, he believes U.S. policies in the region exacerbated the level of violence and tensions, especially in the countryside where he grew up. His experience growing up in the Salvadoran countryside during the war have, to some extent, shaped his understanding of how the geopolitics of the Cold War impacted domestic policies, patterns of migration, and economic decision-making at the local level in Latin America.

Personal experience, combined with his academic research give Moreno an exceptional perspective pertinent to understanding the Cold War. He believes that understanding the impact of U.S. Cold War policies and the way they shaped the lives of people in Central America during the 1980s is critical, as it brings insights into the wars the United States is currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After receiving his doctorate in Latin American history at the University of California at Irvine in 1998, Moreno has been a professor at USF, where he has published a number of articles, as well as a book, Yankee, Don't Go Home: Mexican Nationalism, American Business Culture, and the Shaping of Modern Mexico, 1920-1950. He is also a contributing author in Reflections, an elementary school social studies book series by Harcourt Publishers.

Map of El Salvador

Map of El Salvador; Map by Central Intelligence Agency, The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, The University of Texas at Austin

In addition, Moreno is an experienced educator, presenter, and commentator on business and foreign relations in Latin America, in both the Latino community as well as within the U.S. Moreno has been interviewed by various newspapers, television and radio stations, such as CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Univisión, and Telemundo.

"I am pleased and honored to be presenting my work," Moreno says about his upcoming presentation at the university's "Latin America in the Cold War Conference." His work on the Coca-Cola Company presents a different perspective to exploring Cold War politics by, "looking at the impact of U.S. business and diplomacy in a way that has not been done in the past."

According to Moreno, much of the current literature on the Cold War in Latin America presents polarized views of U.S.-Latin American relations. As a result, he notes, "U.S. companies are either demonized by the left or praised by the right as an effective way of spreading democracy" throughout Latin America. His work offers a more complex approach, as it "disentangles the interests of the corporate sector and the U.S. government."

Moreno considers understanding the diverse logic and approach of U.S. companies abroad and their relationship to the U.S. government critical for advocating a more equitable relationship between the United States and Latin America. In his efforts to disentangle the U.S. government and the corporate sector abroad, Moreno's work shows how the interest of the Coca-Cola Company at various points throughout the Cold War, were different from those of the U.S. government.

In the case of Cuba, Coca-Cola tried to regain access to that market after 1960 when Cuba nationalized the Coca-Cola Company. Moreno's research includes correspondence between Fidel Castro and top Coca-Cola executives that show efforts by the two parties to work out an agreement for the company's indirect return to Cuba. If placed in the wider Cold War context, according to Moreno, this made sense, as Coca-Cola and other U.S. businesses successfully pursued entrance to the Soviet Union, China, and other markets in Eastern Europe after the 1970s. Most important, it highlights the contradiction in U.S. Cold War policy as perceived by the corporate sector: if U.S. companies could enter other communist countries, why not Cuba?

For Moreno, Coca-Cola's corporate behavior during the Cold War speaks of a broader theme that illustrates the type of approach that defined the company's attitude towards its business in Latin America and other parts of the world. As early as the 1940s, the company understood that investing in community programs or activities that benefitted the local population provided a good long term business strategy. As a result, it invested in literacy campaigns, stepped up with disaster relief efforts in times of natural disasters, and worked collaboratively with leftist governments in national campaigns to eradicate polio in the 1960s.

According to Moreno, the company simply felt that “this was a profitable long term investment strategy, as well as an effective marketing technique, which made sense because the company's business depended on consumers repeatedly purchasing the product. That dependence on repeat sales, Moreno argues, required Coca-Cola to prioritize its focus on the development of good will in the midst of bitter conflict and destructive polarization.” Moreno uses examples like this to illustrate how the business interests of companies like the Coca-Cola Company often contrasted with U.S. government policy, which was much more rigid. "U.S. Cold War government policy was often inflexible and ideology-driven in Latin America, whereas companies like Coca-Cola preferred a less partisan approach when it came to questions of Communism or Capitalism."

Moreno's featured presentation is titled "Managing Cold War Turbulence: Coca-Cola in Latin America” at 1:15 p.m., Friday, Oct. 30, GAR 4.100. He will also be presenting "What Global Capitalism and the Nation Leave to Each Other: Coca-Cola, Latin America, and the U.S." on his book, Monday, Oct. 26, noon, GAR 4.100.

This symposium is being sponsored by the Institute for Historical Studies, History Dept., Vice-Provost & Dean of Graduate Studies, and the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.

CONTRIBUTORS: Bonar Hernández (on Hernández), Aragon Storm Miller (on Brown, Lawrence and intro), Cheasty Miller (on Burnett, Moreno), M.G. Moore (intro, graphics)

Banner photo: Ministry of the Interior building at the Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba, by Prof. Jonathan Brown.