FYSM 1405D: Dictators and the Disappeared: Military Rule in Latin America
Fall 2024-Winter 2025

Instructor: S. Lipsett-Rivera


During the 1970s and 1980s military governments ruled a large proportion of the populations of Latin America. Dominated by Cold War ideologies, factions struggled either to repress revolutionary subversion or to liberate themselves from authoritarian governments. This struggle led to the victory of leftist forces in some cases but was also used as a justification for repressive measures by rightist forces. In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende in Chile. In 1976 a triumvirate of military leaders overthrew the government of President Isabel Perón in Argentina. Military coups were common in the history of much of Latin America but these takeovers were singular in the brutality in which they suppressed resistance and dealt with those they considered subversive. Both governments engaged in systematic policies of “disappearing” opponents. This method consisted of clandestine arrests, hidden centers of detention where prisoners were tortured, and finally the disposal of bodies in such a way that family members would not be able to locale them. The “disappearance” of family members was meant to terrorize those left behind and make it difficult to accuse the regime of wrong-doings. Yet, the relatives of the “disappeared” did organize and did militate against these regimes denouncing the disappearances and the policies of the military governments.

This class will be organized into three sections. First we will look at the political history of the region and ask the question: why did these coups happen? Second, we will examine what happened during the periods of military government and how people resisted these regimes. Finally, we will look at the aftermath of the military governments and how people both in Latin America and in exile deal with the memories of these dark times.

Work will include writing and discussion as well as a public history project to cap off the year. We will use books, articles and films. The final assignment will consist of presenting research material to the public in the form of an exhibit, a website, a museum display, a film, or other forms of public history.