Roots of Revolution in Latin America

Courtesy Reuters

DURING World War II revolutions in Latin America resulted in the overthrow of governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama. Compared with earlier periods the number of revolutions was relatively small. Since the close of the war, however, the revolutionary tendency has reappeared with such vigor as to suggest that it may no longer be following the usual Latin American pattern. Recent events have excited apprehension in some quarters as to possible revolutionary developments in the entire area. Let us try to determine, then, what the Latin American pattern of revolution is; whether recent outbreaks do in fact conform to or deviate from it; and what the prospects are of continued revolutionary activity in the future.

Factors making for a violent change in the status quo exist in many parts of Latin America. Almost everywhere opulent minorities flaunt their riches before a "melancholy sea of illiterates." The wealthy few, who maintain estates of thousands of hectares, derive lucrative fees and commissions from foreign business firms and drive about in expensive American limousines, have little in common with the miserably underprivileged masses of the people, whose rôle throughout life is to serve as beasts of burden, shine the shoes of the upper class in the town plaza, or sell lottery tickets. It is difficult to name other areas of the world in which so few have so much and so many have so little. With the possible exception of Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay, the Latin American countries contain only an infinitesimally small middle class. The social ladder has only two rungs -- the lowest and the highest. The low is very low, and the high is very high. The gap is so wide that those on the lowest rung can almost never reach the one above. However passionately Lazarus may desire to become Dives his chances of doing so by orderly processes are, except in rare cases, nil.

This basic class cleavage can be illustrated by a

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