- Human Rights and Transnational Solidarity in Cold War Latin America ed. by Jessica Stites Mor
The end of the Cold War raised hopes among many democratic and human rights activists that a new era of openness and accountability in global affairs was possible. Just as the end of both World Wars led to the emergence of new social movements for radical political change and national liberation, there was hope that as the bipolar politics that had dominated world affairs for several decades receded, new movements could emerge to confront challenging economic and social problems.
Perhaps the high point of this period, from a North American perspective at least, was the 1999 Seattle uprising against the World Trade Organization. But the moment proved to be short-lived, as the events of 9/11 reminded the world of both the continuing appeal of authoritarian politics to many in the developing world, as well as the inherent tendency of Western powers to surrender civil liberties in the face of dangers that are frequently overblown.
Thus, if the Cold War is indeed now only a memory, it is very much the case that authoritarianism remains a potent force in world politics. A reconsideration of the roots of today’s political circumstances in the Cold War, then, would be very welcome. This collection, edited by historian Jessica Stites Mor, promises such a reconsideration yet quickly finds itself justifying a new version of the authoritarianism that undermined many opponents of Western imperial power during the Cold War.
As perhaps the most obvious example, the book contains not one but two chapters (out of nine) dedicated to the argument that there is, or at least was, something fundamentally progressive about Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Russell Cobb, writing about cultural issues, appears to believe that “initially” the Cuban Revolution was a breath-taking inspiration to Latin American artists, only to “turn [at some unspecified date after January 1959] dogmatic and authoritarian.”1
In other words, for Cobb, the Revolution began as a progressive experiment that turned bad. He even suggests, without foundation, that the “revolution in the region’s politics . . . stemm[ed] from Cuba.”2 This is an odd conclusion in light of the book’s stated aim of exploring a new alternative “transnational solidarity from below.”3
It is true, of course, that the Cuban Revolution was influential across Latin America, but different actors drew different lessons from the experience. In Nicaragua, for example, the events were mostly influential in encouraging dangerous new forms of guerilla warfare by liberals and radicals alike that endangered broader forms of democratic movements opposed to the Somoza dictatorship. It [End Page 663] was the authoritarian Sandinista movement, in fact, that would be trained and armed by the Cubans.
Similarly, the second piece on Cuba, by Christine Hatzky, argues without irony that the Cuban regime was engaged in something called “international solidarity” when it sent thousands of young Cubans to die in a proxy war in southern Africa beginning in the 1970s.4 She even invokes the names of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Leon Trotsky in order to justify this effort. At least Cobb acknowledged the eventual deterioration of whatever elements of democracy he thinks might have existed when Castro took power. For Hatzky, there is no discussion at all of dogma or authoritarianism.
Again, the reader is left to wonder how the use of the armed might of a state to overthrow another state’s government has anything to do with the new forms of solidarity “from below” the editor claims to have discovered.5 Perhaps one is supposed to assume that since Cuba was a revolutionary regime it is therefore an honorary member of this new movement “from below.”6
Of course, at the very same time as Cuban regulars were engaged in war in Africa, there were mass movements from below emerging in Central and Latin America, quite often in direct conflict with the authoritarian model created by Cuba. Thus, it was in this period...