Philip Jowett, Liberty or Death Latin American Conflicts, 1900-70 (Osprey, 2019)
Latin America, from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, has merited few mentions in the mainstream of Military History unless the United States has been involved, and even then it is usually as a sideshow to larger geo-political affairs. Yet the entire continent has seen more than its share of conflict. In Liberty or Death Latin American Conflicts, Philip Jowett illuminates those wars fought between 1900 and 1970, sixty of them, that changed the political, economic, and social landscapes of South and Central America.
Jowett begins in the 19th Century with the end of European rule and the bloody civil and transnational wars that shook the continent. Some of them spilled over into the next century. Jowett moves on to the plethora of wars that erupted in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century, with Liberals fighting Conservatives in Colombia, a Secession movement in Bolivia, wars between nations, rebellion in Venezuala, civil wars in Uruguay, Honduras, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic. Ecuador and Costa Rica also endured armed conflicts. Most of these wars were characterized by small and poorly equipped armies and a general shaking out of political power and border realignment. Running through the second decade and on to 1929 was the Mexican Revolution to which Jowett devotes two chapters, there being so much activity going on in separate phases.
World War I barely touched Latin America, which was just as well because they were too busy fighting each other, and that continued, giving a new meaning to the Roaring Twenties. The Honduran Civil War ended in 1920, then Costa Rica and Panama kicked off the Coto War in 1921. Paraguay fell into Civil War the following year, then another Civil War erupted in Honduras in 1924. Nicaragua too fell into civil war in 1926 which descended into the Sandino Rebellion that lasted until 1933. Venezuela’s sadistic dictator Juan Vincente Gomez overcame a series of rebellions in 1929. Then there was Brazil where revolutions came along like buses between 1922 and 1938, and worthy of a large chapter on its own.
Jowett deviates into US involvement in various conflicts, most notably Mexico, before returning to his chronological narrative with the Chaco War from 1932-1935 between Paraguay and Bolivia. We now see more warplanes and tanks entering the combat zones. The 1930s was the decade of coups in Argentina then Chile; Ecuador fell into civil war; and Cuba, Uruguay, and El Salvador suffered revolts. The mass ideologies of communism and fascism entered the frame. The decade ended with another rebellion in Mexico. Running through the 1930s were disputes over borders deep in the Amazon jungle between Colombia and Peru, and Peru and Ecuador who fought it out in 1941. World War II saw most Latin American countries support the US, though only Brazil offered ground support. Normal service resumed after the world war with civil war in Paraguay, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. A decade of war broke out in Colombia in 1948, though that country sent a force to help in Korea where it performed well. The 1950s was the decade of revolution. Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Guatemala, and, of course, Cuba. That island featured in the Bay of Pigs operation in 1961, but that decade also saw civil war in the Dominican Republic and various left-wing rebel movements, the most famous being Che Geuvara’s doomed effort in Bolivia.
There is a lot fighting to cover in Liberty or Death Latin American Conflicts and Jowett does a very good job of squeezing it all in to 352 pages. His text is clean if unexceptional with solid explanations of what went on in turbulent and often confusing times. There are also useful colour maps and many monochrome photographs but, surprisingly for an Osprey book, very few colour plates of uniforms. A useful bibliography is added for more in-depth research for those who want to dive into a fascinating but neglected theatre of almost constant warfare. 8/10.