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11 People Who Changed The Course Of History In Latin America Through Violence And Military Coups

Latin America is the product of diverse processes of colonization that started with Christopher Columbus in 1492. Since then, the various countries that make up Latin America have seen numerous rulers and leaders launch violent coups to take power. Some of the rulers were eventually removed when the people led revolutions to overthrow their oppressive regimes. Here are 11 rulers in Latin America that used violence, intimidation and power to overthrow governments and stripped the rights away from the citizens of their countries.

1.  Fidel Castro

Credit: p04j14q0. Digital image. BBC News.


Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is one of the most recognizable faces when people talk about violent dictatorships. In the 1950s, Castro led a coup d’etat that toppled the authoritarian and Communist rule of Fulgencio Batista, a vicious ruler in his own right. Castro’s rise to power resulted in the deaths of thousands of Cubans and a humanitarian crisis as thousands more took to leaky rafts in an attempt to escape the country.

Credit: anderson-castro. Digital image. New Yorker.


Castro’s guerrilla war in Cuba led to decades of uncertainty and oppressive rule. He ruled over the country from 1956 to 2008 using intimidation, exile, imprisonment and violence to maintain control of the island. He gave the power of the country to his brother, Raul, when his health began to fail. Fidel died in November 2016 causing celebrations by Cuban exiles around the world and renewing hope that the island could soon be free again.

2. Augusto Pinochet

CREDIT: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile. – Archivo General Histórico del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores

Augusto Pinochet took control of Chile after a U.S.-back coup d’etat in September 1973 overthrowing a democratically elected president. During his rule as the dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990, Pinochet pushed through a constitutional rewrite the handed a majority of the power to the president allowing him to rule with little restraint.

CREDIT: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile. – Archivo General Histórico del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores


After his death in 2006, the number of victims who died under his rule began to come to light. The Chilean government has officially recognized more than 9,000 deaths tied directly to Pinochet’s rule of the South American country.

3. Jorge Rafael Videla

CREDIT: Wikimedia

There’s no question that Jorge Rafael Videla ruled Argentina with an iron fist from 1976 to 1981 after a coup d’etat that overthrew the government led by President Isabel Martínez de Perón. Videla held on to his power by using forced disappearances of any dissenters in the country.

CREDIT: Wikimedia


Videla relinquished his power over Argentina in 1981 and democracy was restored to the country in 1983. Videla and many involved in his coup were put on trial for their human rights violations and it has been reported that anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 political dissidents were disappeared during his time in power and his government employed widespread murder and torture to keep his dissidents quiet. This included imprisoning the families of political opponents in concentration camps.

4.  Ernesto Che Guevara

Credit: cf6e3c29265a4cf995e665be70ed9fed_18. Digital image. Al Jazeera.


The Argentine is one of the most controversial figures in recent years. His imagery is used as a sign of rebellion by many and his legacy is feared by most. Guevara joined Castro to rule over Cuba and earned the nickname “The Butcher of la Cabaña” as a prosecutor overseeing trials for the Castro regime.

READ: 21 Things You Need To Know About Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Credit: Che Guevara flag. Digital image. Europe Posters.


His legacy as “The Butcher of la Cabaña” persists to this day with many in the Cuban American community pointing out the deaths he caused without proper trials. Guevara’s role in the Castro government forced many Cubans to flee the country for freedom and to escape death.

5. Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco

CREDIT: Governo do Brasil – Galeria de Presidentes


Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco served as the first president of the Brazilian military government following a coup d’etat in 1964. He bowed to pressures from within his government to resist allowing a civilian to become president so they could continue to enjoy unfettered power of the largest South American country. As a result, Castelo Branco did away with the democracy that we know today and rid the country of other political parties and stayed in power until 1967.

CREDIT: Wikimedia

Castelo Branco gave up power and was succeeded in the presidency by Costa e Silva. However, after ridding the country of all of its political parties, Castelo Branco created two parties, the pro-government National Renewal Alliance Party (ARENA) and the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) and he drafted a strongly authoritarian constitution. He died four months after leaving the presidency in a midair collision.

6. Hugo Chavez

CREDIT: Al Jazeera English / YouTube


Hugo Chavez first attempted a coup in Venezuela in 1992 and it failed. Yet, he was not deterred from seeking power over the oil-rich country. In 1998, he was elected the president of Venezuela and what followed was a pointed redirection of the country and its politics.

CREDIT: Al Jazeera English / YouTube


In the early 2000s, a coup was launched to unseat Chavez as the president of Venezuela. The coup was unsuccessful and Chavez enacted sweeping reforms to prevent another uprising from challenging his power. A new constitution was implemented and most high ranking military leaders were removed from their posts. Chavez did away with presidential term limits and was allowed to run for reelection indefinitely. He was succeeded in the presidency by Vice President Nicolas Maduro when he died in in 2013 after running the country for 11 years. Follow Maduro’s rise to power, Venezuela has experienced widespread unrest and an economy that continues to decline with many Venezuelans fleeing to other countries in an attempt to seek freedom.

7. Manuel Noriega

CREDIT: The New York Times / YouTube


Manuel Noriega spent a lot of his time working within the Panamanian government before taking power in 1984. The military professional was a close confidant of dictator Omar Torrijos and assumed control fo the country following his death. His years in power saw increased violence and tension in the country while he was tied to drug traffickers and money laundering.

CREDIT: The New York Times / YouTube


The U.S. invaded Panama in an attempt to capture Noriega and bring him to trial for the crimes he committed. The invasion was launched by President George H.W. Bush and after a standoff at an embassy Noriega was arrested and extradited to the U.S. serving 17 years in prison for his crimes.

8. Anastasio Somoza DeBayle

CREDIT: Wikimedia


Somoza was the last in a long line of Somozas that were president of Nicaragua. The family controlled the country from 1936 until 1976. Political and social unrest during his presidency led to the president seeking exile in Paraguay.

CREDIT: Wikimedia


Somoza faced an insurgency from Sandistas who were trying to take the country back after decades of corruption. After fleeing the country, Somoza’s successor handed over the government just one day later. Somoza was later assassinated while in exile in Paraguay.

9. Alfredo Stroessner

CREDIT: AP Archive / YouTube


Alfredo Stroessner was a brutal dictator in Paraguay who served as the president for 35 years. He won re-election seven times in 1958, 1963, 1968, 1973, 1978, 1983 and 1988. Stroessner was a leading participant in Operation Condor and left devastation in his wake.

CREDIT: AP Archive / YouTube

Stroessner eventually had to flee from Paraguay and sought refuge in Brazil. He tried to re-enter Paraguay when he was dying but was denied access by the government at the time. While in power, Stroessner was responsible for the disappearance, kidnapping and murder of dissident in his country.

10. Diego Murillo Bejarano

CREDIT: Teleantioquia / YouTube


Diego Murillo Bejarano was the leader of the United Self-Defenders of Colombia (AUC) and launched brutal attacks in Colombia. He was also the leader of The Office of Envigado cartel.

CREDIT: Teleantiquoa / YouTube

His crimes eventually led to him being extradited to the U.S. for drug trafficking and money laundering. He was arrested in COlombia before the extradition for the murder of a deputy when he was working in the Medellin cartel.

11. Carlos Castillo Armas

CREDIT: Wikimedia

Carlos Castillo Armas was the president of Guatemala for three years but his impact was severe and swift. He immediately silenced his critics and political opponents by arresting 3,000 and subsequently saw 1,000 agricultural workers killed.

CREDIT: @Wikiguate / Twitter

Armas was assassinated by a presidential guard who then committed suicide. A centrist politician won the election following his death ushering in an end to Arams’ authoritative rule.

El Chapo's "Trial Of The Century" Started Last Month And Here's Everything You Should Know About It

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El Chapo’s “Trial Of The Century” Started Last Month And Here’s Everything You Should Know About It

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s greatest fear became true in January 2017, when he was extradited to the United States. For years, the kingpin had escaped US courts by staying in his native Mexico and staging two spectacular escapes from prison. However, and perhaps due to a Twitter war where he threatened incoming US president Donald Trump, the Mexican authorities expedited his extradition. He has been locked in a maximum security prison in New York since then.

His long-awaited trial started on November 5 and all signs point to a very long and very complicated judicial processes. Thousands of files and pieces of evidence will be presented by the defense and the prosecutors, and chances are the jury will feel overwhelmed by all the information. The trial will highlight the contradictory public persona that El Chapo has in Mexico and the US: some see him as a ruthless criminal while others, particularly in his native state of Sinaloa, see him as a righteous messiah who is providing for his people what the Mexican State hasn’t.

Here’s 21 facts about the trial and what has happened so far.

1. His wife Emma Coronel Aspurio has been documenting the trial on Instagram

Credit: Instagram. @emmacoronela

If you want a behind-the-scenes look at the trial you can follow Emma’s Insta account, were she narrates her life in Brooklyn while her husband’s fate is determined. She constantly declares her eternal love for the capo.

2. El Chapo is defended by lawyers Jeffrey Lichtman, Eduardo Balarezo and William Púrpura 

Credit: 1541443777-0001al30i. Digital image. T13.

The experiences litigators will try to convince the jury that El Chapo is not as bad as the popular myth, the authorities and the media has made everyone believe. This will be a hard task given the trail of chaos that the Sinaloan has left in his wake.

3. According to the prosecutor El Chapo has smuggled 154,626 kilos of cocaine to the US

Credit: close-up-of-cocaine-with-rolled-up-paper-currency-and-credit-card-on-black-background-649117683-59a8771022fa3a001154df84. Digital image. Verywellmind

El Chapo started dealing with Mary Jane in his early days in the Guadalajara Cartel, but soon struck a deal with Colombian producers and started smuggling cocaine, following on the criminal legacy of Pablo Escobar.

4. The prosecution has provided 300,000 pages of documents and at least 117,000 audio recordings

Credit: dokumenti. Digital image. Univerza v.

Our head hurts just thinking about going through all that material. One of the prosecutor’s strategies is to overwhelm the jury and dump a mountain of evidence that just by its sheer volume would be hard to doubt.

5. The defense claims that the real leader of the Sinaloa Cartel is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada

Credit: mayo_redis. Digital image. El Universal.

According to the defense, Chapo is just second in command and the criminal organization is really run by his compadre, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who has never been caught by the authorities.

6. Key witness identities are a secret

Credit: download. Digital image. Stamp Lab.

Every day could bring a surprise, as the identities of the key witnesses and informants has been kept secret, and not even El Chapo’s legal team knows what to expect.

7. Prior to his trial, Chapo spent 23 hours a day alone in his cell

Credit: El Chapo. Netflix/Univision

Perhaps due to his past history of extravagant escapes, El Chapo has spent almost two years in complete isolation. He can only be visited by his twin 7-year-old daughters and by his lawyers. Not even his wife Emma can talk to him.

8. But he did blow a kiss to his wife in court

Credit: 636777488995708939w. Digital image. El Diario NY.

According to accounts and sketch art, El Chapo blew a kiss to his wife as soon as he lay eyes on her in court. Kinda romantic and tragic.

9. The trial will cost more than $50 million USD

Credit: EST14480006b4c8047_0. Digital image. El Diario de Juarez.

According to his lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman, El Chapo’s trial will be the most expensive in the history of legal procedures in the United States.

Read: 21 Things You Didn’t Know About El Chapo

10. Jeffrey Lichtman has also defended the Italian mafia

Credit: AENSHQ3D4L74ULIGEOG6BQ5U2Y. Digital image. NY Daily News

Lichtman is an experienced litigator who was able to somewhat successfully defend Italian mafia mogul John Gotti Jr (a kind of real life badass Tony Soprano).

11. The jury is made up by 7 women and 5 men

Credit: thejuryroom2 (1). Digital image. Pure BS Podcast.

The identities of these 12 US citizens is of course a secret. It will be an experience to remember, that’s for sure.

12. 3 juries speak Spanish, at least 3 are immigrants

Credit: post-132451-0-74369300-1358690215, Digital image. Cinemas93.org

The powers that be wanted diversity in the jury, and we know that some of them are Spanish speakers, a key characteristic as most of the witness accounts will be likely provided in Spanish.

13. A jury member was dismissed because he wanted to get Chapo’s autograph

Credit: El Chapo. Netflix/Univision

A jury member from Colombia stressed the fact that he was a bit of a fan of the drug lord, so he was obviously dismissed because there was no way he could be 100% impartial.

14. Chapo is accused of 11 criminal charges

Credit: drug_trafficking. Digital image. The Right Step.

These charges are related to drug trafficking, money laundering and the illegal use of weapons. Some of these charges are likely to be dropped as the trial progresses.

15. El Chapo’s defense has accused two former Mexican presidents of accepting bribes

Credit: 2E3C07F8-7A92-400A-8F9B-579078817BDF. Digital image. iVital.

Yes, this trial has stirred the dark waters of corruption in Mexico. The defense has accused former president Felipe Calderón and current president (he finishes on December 1st) Enrique Peña Nieto of being paid off by the almighty Sinaloa Cartel.

16. And they have obviously denied the accusations

Credit: Twitter. @FelipeCalderon

Enrique Peña Nieto’s office vehemently denied the accusations, while the ex president Felipe Calderón wrote in his Twitter account: “The accusations made by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s lawyer are totally false and bold. Not him, not the Sinaloa Cartel, no one paid me off”.

17. And he has also accused the DEA!

Credit: download. Digital image. Washington Examiner.

Chapo’s lawyer argues that Zambada is the real mastermind of the Sinaloa Cartel and that he has paid off the Mexican Army, federal policy and even the Drug Enforcement Agency from the United States. Big claim!

18. “Mayo” Zambada’s brother, Jesús Zambada, has been a key witness

Credit: 1941240-N. Digital image. La Cronica.

Already held in captivity by US authorities, Jesús Zambada a.k.a. El Rey, has been a key witness as he knows how the cartel operates inside and out.

19. And he has implicated numerous government officials

Credit: chapo-juicio-jesus-zambada-ap. Digital image. Noticieros Televisa.

When Zambada opened his mouth the political establishment in Mexico shook. He has described how bags full of cash were supposedly handed over to officials at all levels of government. He has provided a detailed list and of course everyone was quick to deny the accusations. A pretty The Godfather moment.

20. A key witness, Héctor Beltrán Leyva, died of a heart attack in Mexico

Credit: hector_beltran_leyva. Digital image. El Sol de Mexico.

El Chapo’s lawyer says that the fatal cardiac arrest was triggered by the possibility of being extradited to the United States and being a witness in the trial. He died while being transferred to another prison. His death has been the source of multiple conspiracy theories. The plot thickens!

21. Sit comfortably… the trial could last up to 4 or 5 months

Credit: NWJlYmE4ZjM2. Digital image. Nacion321

A lot of new witnesses and a mounting amount of evidence will be put in front of the jury before the trial of the century finishes. We will keep you posted.

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