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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.