When examining the experience of Latin American states in the twentieth century, intervention and overthrow are at the heart of the discussion. Typically, the United States, who regularly intervened in the affairs of its neighbors and ousted many governments it found “troublesome,” is portrayed as the architect of Latin American regime change. However, the United States was not alone in seeking to reshape the politics of the hemisphere. In the late 1940s, inspired but the democratic rhetoric of the Second World War and the human rights ideals of the United Nations, many Latin Americans dreamed of eliminating dictatorial governments from the Americas. Some called for peaceful change through public and international pressure, while others advocated for military intervention.
Among the latter was Eduardo Rodriguez Larreta, the Foreign Minister of Uruguay, who proposed that the American republics work multilaterally to remove any non-democratic elements. In a letter to other American governments, Larreta defended the principle of non-intervention, however he argued that it did not protect “the notorious and repeated violation by any republic of the elementary right of man and of the citizen.” According to the Larreta Doctrine, as it came to be known, dictators like Anastasio Somoza García of Nicaragua and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic could no longer abuse their citizens while hiding behind the non-intervention. As a means of ending this maltreatment, Larreta called for the pursuit of “multilateral collective action, exercised with complete unselfishness by all other republics of the continent, aimed at achieving in a spirit of brotherly prudent the mere reestablishment of essential rights.” It was also important that the intervention follow international law and not “injure the government affected” because it was “being taken for the benefit of all, including the country which has been suffering under such a harsh regime.”
Initially the United States supported the proposal, however the Cold War quickly forced the U.S. policymakers to change their tune. The United States could not support ousting the region’s dictators because they were its closest anti-communist allies. Without U.S. support, many Latin American countries also withdrew support for what came to be known as the Larreta Doctrine.
However, Latin American democrats, such as Venezuelan president Rómulo Betancourt and Guatemalan president José Arévalo, saw the doctrine as a means of removing what they saw as a blight on the hemisphere. These leaders began sponsoring national liberation movements, headed by democratic exiles, bent on ousting the likes of Somoza and Trujillo. These democratic revolutionaries became known as the Caribbean Legion and launched a series of invasions of Caribbean states over the course of the late 1940s and 1950s. The Caribbean Legion, despite giving Caribbean despots many sleepless nights, existed only in their imaginations. Although many of the revolutionaries shared resources and logistics, there was never a cohesive army made of Caribbean democrats, only individual bands of insurgents largely divided by nationality. Nicaraguan exiles represented a large portion of the Caribbean Legion, with many aiding Jose Figueres in overthrowing the despotic regime of Teodoro Picado Michalski in Costa Rica. In 1954 and 1959, Nicaraguan exiles unsuccessfully attempted to oust the Somoza regime, and with the success of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the antidictatorial struggle became the purview of communist national liberation movements.