Neither Peace nor Freedom: The Cultural Cold War in Latin America

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During the Cold War, left-wing Latin American artists, writers, and scholars worked as diplomats, advised rulers, opposed dictators, and even led nations. Their competing visions of social democracy and their pursuit of justice, peace, and freedom led them to organizations sponsored by the governments of the Cold War powers: the Soviet-backed World Peace Council, the U.S.-supported Congress for Cultural Freedom, and, after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the homegrown Casa de las Américas.

Neither Peace nor Freedom delves into the entwined histories of these organizations and the aspirations and dilemmas of intellectuals who participated in them, from Diego Rivera and Pablo Neruda to Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. Patrick Iber corrects the view that such individuals were merely pawns of the competing superpowers. Movements for democracy and social justice sprung up among pro-Communist and anti-Communist factions, and Casa de las Américas promoted a brand of revolutionary nationalism that was beholden to neither the Soviet Union nor the United States.

But ultimately, intellectuals from Latin America could not break free from the Cold War’s rigid binaries. With the Soviet Union demanding fealty from Latin American communists, the United States zealously supporting their repression, and Fidel Castro pushing for regional armed revolution, advocates of social democracy found little room to promote their ideals without compromising them. Cold War politics had offered utopian dreams, but intellectuals could get neither the peace nor the freedom they sought.

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About the Author:

Patrick Iber is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Erudite and engaging, Iber brilliantly combines the new histories of the global Cold War and the Cultural Cold War, and by doing so transforms our understanding of both. (Hugh Wilford, author of America’s Great Game and The Mighty Wurlitzer)

Iber’s new account of the Cultural Cold War in Latin America is the best I know in any language, setting the standard for study of the region’s intellectual conflicts and politics in the twentieth century. Grounded in deep research in archives on three continents, it is judiciously framed, sharp in its questions and insights, often brilliant, always clear in its arguments, and remarkably wise in its conclusions. (John Womack, Jr., Harvard University)

In Neither Peace Nor Freedom: The Cultural Cold War in Latin America, Patrick Iber follows pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet writers and cultural diplomats throughout the hemisphere, from Mexico City to Cuba to Brazil. His extensively researched book narrates the conflicts and compromises that marked the artists’ unstable alliances with the global superpowers that sponsored them. It will be an important resource for scholars across disciplines and fields. (Maggie Doherty Chronicle of Higher Education 2015-11-15)

Iber’s contribution to the literature is outstanding. It is not so unique to chart the doomed course of a divided left, a task in which Iber nevertheless stands shoulder to shoulder with none other than Jorge Castañeda. But he also sweeps across the complex landscape of Latin America’s intellectual and artistic production, familiarizing the reader with dozens of giants with such precision and ease, while also mastering European intellectual influences. Iber’s prose is elegant; his insights, confident. (Alan McPherson Diplomatic History 2016-06-01)

In addition to the careful archival and analytical work, Iber’s book is an impressive (and rare) example of an intellectual history that, while taking its subjects and their ambitions seriously, readily concedes how little they mattered. (Tim Barker New Republic 2016-09-08)

Measured, nuanced, and deeply informed...[Iber’s] book might give us some cause for optimism, or at least a sense of purpose, in these dispiriting times...As other liberal institutions―government agencies, the media, the business community―are co-opted, neutered, or replaced, art and culture become a major site of resistance. Artists and writers get under autocrats’ skin, and as they have little wealth to be confiscated or positions to be stripped of, they can only be stopped with the bluntest of instruments. (Greg Barnhisel Los Angeles Review of Books 2017-01-08)

Neither Peace nor Freedom is a work of original, wide-ranging new research and a synthesis of existing scholarship that the author casts in a new historiographic frame...By painstakingly tracing the contradictory ways in which thinkers, artists, and trade union leaders worked with two state-backed organizations over many decades, and across several continents, Iber demonstrates the ways that politically engaged intellectuals with dreams of social democracy were repeatedly ensnared by the agendas of the superpowers trying to co-opt them. (Kevin Coleman American Historical Review 2017-02-01)

It sheds a good deal of light on the ‘fractured history of the global Left,’ the battle for the soul of Latin American organized labor, the impact of the Cuban Revolution, the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s, and the careers of several major Latin American cultural icons, whose reputations are hardly enhanced as they strut their stuff across these readable pages. (Alan Knight Hispanic American Historical Review 2017-02-01)

Neither Peace Nor Freedom will be a standard bearer for everyone working on the Cultural Cold War in Latin America...Iber’s work is a must-read contribution that will shape the way Cold War history of the region develops. (Tanya Harmer Journal of Latin American Studies 2017-02-01)

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