Chapter 28 Postwar Latin America

Latin America struggled through difficult decades following World War II. A rapidly growing population demanded more than its traditional agricultural economies could support. Political leaders desired economic development but remained deeply divided over how to attain it. The Cold War cast a long shadow over Latin America and polarized politics. Many Latin Americans lost their political and civil rights during this time. But in spite of these problems, Latin Americans remained loyal to their native lands and hopeful for the future.




At the end of World War II, an optimistic mood settled on Latin America. All Latin American nations (with the exception of Argentina, which remained neutral until 1945) had declared themselves on the side of the United States during the war. This placed Latin America with the victors and Latin Americans rightly felt proud of the Allied triumph.

            Mexico and Brazil had even more reason to rejoice: both had sent troops to fight in the war. Brazilian soldiers participated in the campaign in Africa and in the invasion of Italy. Mexican soldiers fought in the Philippines. Well trained, competent, and effective, the Mexican and Brazilian troops distinguished themselves alongside of the British and the Americans. They returned home heroes to cities in celebration. As the troopship steamed into the harbor of Rio de Janeiro, “the cannons of the old fortresses fired salute upon salute; hundreds of boats escorted the troopship toward its moorings while the great bells of Rio's many churches pealed and crowds gathered in the streets.”[1] In Mexico, General Cárdenas reflected that "Mexico's collaboration and participation in the war had brought respectability and had set an example of patriotism and dignity"[2]   

            During the war, Latin America's exports boomed. So high was the demand for Argentina's exports of corn, wheat, beef, and wool that the country paid off its foreign debt. Brazilian exports of textiles, rice, timber, and rubber soared to meet world demand. Mexico provided U.S. munitions factories with crucial raw materials, such as lead, zinc, copper, and mercury, while hemp and cotton found ready markets. After the war, large Latin American countries such as Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina thought themselves to be on the verge of a period of growth that would lead to prosperity. Argentina was already one of the richest countries in the world. When Evita Perón, wife of dictator Juan Perón, toured war ravaged Europe, her elaborate and elegant gowns starkly contrasted with the bombed out European cities. Europe seemed defeated and finished; Argentina wealthy and victorious. Yet the dreams of prosperity proved to be an illusion. The four decades after the war were difficult ones in Latin America. Its nations did not seem to grow and to prosper as everyone had hoped.