the rise of bureaucratic authoritarianism in latin america argentina brazil and chile

The Rise of Bureaucratic Authoritarianism in Latin America:

Argentina, Brazil and Chile

Economic Crisis

The populist policies with which the Latin American countries of Argentina, Chile and Brazil had been experimenting during the decades leading up to the 1960’s held apparent benefits for the robust working class population that they contained (O’Donnell). While the working class expanded to support the growing industrialization, workers enjoyed an increase in wage compensation, and with the increased nationalization of the countries’ industries and resources (even those owned by foreign-based investors), the governments were able to provide added benefits to the working class. During this time, the policies that encouraged industrialization relied heavily on the Import-Substitution model, in which tariffs were elevated in order to protect the local producers and manufacturers. Encouragement of the local industries meant increased overall industrialization, but this protection of the manufacturers also discouraged the move toward greater efficiency.

The government accorded further benefits to the populace in the shape of an overvalued currency that made imported goods cheaper for consumers to acquire (O’Donnell, 59). However, it would seem as though these countries were working against themselves and sabotaging their own policies in this area. While attempting to encourage production within the local market by levying tariffs to increase the relative price of imports, the policy of overvaluing exchange rates worked against this by making imports relatively cheap. This made consumers less likely to purchase domestic goods. Such policies also tied the hands of the local market by ensuring that the revenue collected from exporting these goods would be lower than desired. The discouragement of exports along with the encouragement of imports led to an imbalance of payments and increased foreign debt.

While these Latin American economies, as fostered and shaped by governmental policies, were creating this imbalance of payments, they were also involved in spending large amounts of their revenue on creating and improving the infrastructure within the country—especially in urban centers. While these were necessary improvements, the high costs of these infrastructures were crippling the resources of the governments. This was especially so because the populist policies extant at the time made the tax rates low while the country suffered from a high rate of tax evasion. This even worsened the problem of budget deficits and debt, and inflation rates began to climb.

At this point, an expansion of industrialization had occurred, but it had yet to deepen by moving away from primary goods and into the areas of consumer goods. Such goods required much higher levels of investment to fund the capital-intensive (technological) investments that were necessary(O’Donnell, 60). With the exception of Argentina, who some analysts argue had already began its deepening of industrialization (but which likely still needed more movement in that direction), the Latin American countries suffered from stagnation in their ability to move forward. Along with the above-mentioned problems, the countries were beginning to experience high levels of inflation, while their governments’ nationalization of many foreigner-owned companies made foreign direct investment unlikely in a time where any form of investment was largely needed.

Populist policies mixed with democratic rule was not a good combination for the attraction of foreign investment. Investors are attracted by such conditions as low wages, weak workers’ unions, and low incidence of employee strikes. Any government that can guarantee these conditions would have to do so by suppressing the powers of its populace, and within a democratic government, movement in that direction would certainly preclude re-election. These conditions (along with the fact that industrialization had caused a dramatic increase in the number of educated technocrats who found it attractive to support military enforcement of the necessary reforms) led to an atmosphere in which bureaucratic authoritarianism became possible.

Urban Bias

The Urban Bias in Latin America was a source of problems for the political cohesion of the country. While Argentina did in fact have a majority of its population living in urban centers, most Latin American countries (including Brazil and Chile) left the majority of its population unrepresented because of the phenomenon known as Urban Bias. This problem arises when large urban coalitions are formed and the political influence they enjoy is used to tip the balance of economics in their favor. The political influence of the poor who reside in the rural areas is minimized and the population’s majority becomes disgruntled (O’Donnell, 60).

Several areas existed in which Latin American rural areas suffered as a result of the phenomenon of urban bias. Spending in the areas of health care and education was inadequately performed in the rural areas of these countries. Rural dwellers received less per capita investment in their education and health than did urban dwellers, and this existed while the rural population suffered a disproportionately high level of taxation when compared with the benefits they received. Taxation was nominally the same across the board for urban and rural dwellers; however, the per capita return on their taxes revealed that the money contributed by members of the rural population to the country’s tax revenue was being spent mainly within the urban centers. Furthermore, rural persons suffered from conditions that made prices higher in their region than in the urban centers. They suffered from such problems that arise from economies of scale and transportation costs, which made urban prices lower. This was only exacerbated by the fact that higher paying jobs were located in the urban areas and away from rural areas, forcing these non-city dwellers to accept a lower standard of living because of their inability to afford the prices of commodities. Plus, their lack of representation was worsened by the fact that most government representatives lived in urban centers, away from the problems of the rural populace.

Other problems of urban bias affected manufacturers and producers within the rural areas, especially those within the agricultural sector. The low government investment in infrastructure had the effect of increasing the difficulty and the costs of transporting goods. Governments with urban-biased policies were also able to make policies that were unfavorable to small-time farmers and members of any other industries who were based outside the urban areas.

Changes within the Military

The role of the military has been a very important one in most Latin American countries. This body has been responsible for major coups and seizures of governmental control within Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Civilians have historically been in favor of these forced transfers of power to the military, and these military bodies have traditionally enjoyed a great deal of power, even during times of non-leadership. The officers of the military often played dual roles as cabinet members and therefore enjoyed a great deal of influence in political matters. Furthermore, these Latin American countries possessed constitutions that granted leave to the military to intervene and seize power in times of national economic, social or political crisis. While such clauses were not overtly written into the laws, the constitutions implied this and left it to the discretion of the military to decide when such major crises were underway. The type of military rule that resulted within these countries represent a unique kind which did not act in the normal way of seizing and staying in power only for a short period and then returning the reigns to civilians. Rather, the form of bureaucratic authoritarianism known within these regimes saw the military taking hold and retaining the power of the government for much longer periods in which they felt they could effect extensive reforms to the economic systems.

The sizes of the armies in Brazil, Chile and Argentina differed in that the Brazilian military was much smaller, constituting perhaps only a third (1/3) of the number that made up the military of the other two Latin American countries. The military provided a means of upward mobility for a lot of the Brazilian officers, who mainly came from the lower or middle classes. Furthermore, the general idea that began to grow within the military was that it alone was capable of solving the social, political and economic problems of the country. This stemmed from the fact that the military enjoyed a much higher percentage of educated persons than did the general population. Military schools focused not just on military strategy but also economics, politics and sociology. Plus, because of the military’s tradition of passing down of military ideals about hierarchy and methods of succession, ideas concerning methods of ruling were different throughout the entire group.

Brazilians, as fore-runners of Latin American military policies, were first to institute the Escola Superior de Guerra (ESG). This body encouraged the doctrine of national security, a doctrine that was really characterized by its recommendations for economic and political policy. It held that any strong political rule from the Left represented the most serious threat to national security. Conversely, it held that market economies supported and bolstered by intervention of the (military) state was the optimal economic model. These ideas and conditions led to the plan for the legitimization of a form of military rule known as bureaucratic interventionism.

Developments in Argentina and Chile in many ways mirrored those of Brazil. Within these three countries, similar developments progressed further to the formation of alliances between technocrats and military officers. This was made especially possible by the fact that civilians were allowed to attend the military academies that taught military-centered rule in the production and maintenance of a strong market economy. Plus, the economic problems as well as United States’ prejudice against communist (or leftist) governments made the military atmosphere change even more toward the planning of a take-over. At this point, coups took place in each of the nations and bureaucratic interventionism was established.

In Brazil, Goulart faced charges of tolerating anarchy within the government and the military saw its chance to perpetrate its forced seizure of the reigns of the government. In Argentina, during the time of General Peron (who ironically had attained the presidency as a result of a coup) a rift began to develop between him and his military. Peron’s treatment of the military extended his authoritarian rule to his interaction with officers. Despite benefits granted to the military, Peron had begun to require that loyalty tests be made part of the requirements of Argentina’s ESG. Furthermore, the troops were regularly monitored in order to uncover any actions that might be considered disloyal to the president. This, coupled with the fact that the politics of party competition was making the president’s position impossible, caused Peron to be removed from office in 1955 for, among other reasons, “lack of loyalty to the [military] institution” (Geddes 185; Norden, 27).

Within Chile, the role of the United States was profound in its aid to the military and was characterized by its policy against investment in the Chilean economy. The first attempt at a military coup was thwarted, as the military’s intent had not yet fully coalesced into a unified movement against Allende. Tank commanders were therefore stopped by members of the regular armed forces. Yet the military was becoming more and more popular, especially among the educated. When the situation continued to decline, such groups as the Christian Democrats, Nationalists, and students advocated the resignation of the president and called for the intervention of the military. Representatives within the Chamber of Deputies also began to question and compromise the legitimacy of the president by calling for the intervention of the military. This precipitated the Chilean leg of the Latin American coups and the subsequent establishment of repressive bureaucratic authoritarian regimes.

Works Cited

Geddes. “An Impossible Game: Party Politics in Argentina, 1955-1966.” POLI 163. pp. 95-189.

Norden, Deborah L. Military Rebellion in Argentina. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,      1996.

O’Donnell, Guillermo. Modernization and Bureaucratic Authoritarianism. Berkeley: Institute of             International Studies, 1973.

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