Paulo Drinot
Remembering the toxic atmosphere he lived through in his teenage years
in Weimar Berlin, Eric Hobsbawm wrote in his autobiography, “The col-
lapse of the world economy was up to a point something young persons of
the middle class read about, rather than experienced directly. But the world
economic crisis was like a volcano, generating political eruptions. . . . Erup-
tion was in the air we breathed.”1 As is well known, the political eruptions
in Europe led, albeit neither directly nor inexorably, to the Nazi seizure
of power and the Second World War. In Latin America, the world eco-
nomic crisis of the 1930s also sparked, or added fuel to, political eruptions
from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. In most countries, governments
of the Right and Left fell and were replaced, typically, by governments of
the opposite persuasion. In the Southern Cone, for example, the reformist
government of Arturo Alessandri in Chile replaced the military regime of
Carlos Ibañez. Across the cordillera, the reformist government of Hipolito
Yrigoyen in Argentina was replaced by the military dictatorship of Gen-
eral José F. Uriburu. As in Europe, in some cases these political eruptions
resulted in military conflicts, such as the Leticia War between Peru and
Colombia (1931–32) and, on a far greater scale, the Chaco War (1932–35),
which saw Bolivia lose a large proportion of its territory to Paraguay.2 As
in Europe too, these political eruptions also brought about, or accelerated,
economic, social, and cultural transformations, including, and perhaps most
importantly, a transformation in the role of the state.
This volume explores these transformations as part of a broader exami-
nation of the impact of the Great Depression in Latin America. The current
global financial crisis, which began in 2007, has produced a new vantage
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