Controversial People in Latin American History

Mixed Legacies

The nations of Latin America have had many leaders throughout the years. Some of them have been good (Jose de San Martin), some have been bad (Anastasio Somoza) and some just weird (Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna). And for others...the jury is still out. These men and women have left a mixed legacy. Did they leave their countries a better place? You decide!

Francisco de Paula Santander. Public Domain Image

Ask most South Americans about Francisco de Paula Santander, and they'll tell you that he was a small-minded, petty man who, in his envy of Simon Bolivar and desire to rule Colombia for himself, thwarted the visionary dreams of South America's most ambitious mind. Colombians, however, will tell you that he was a wise man who founded Colombia on the basis of law, fairness and justice. They're both right: Santander bucked Bolivar's dictatorial tendencies to found Colombia, but in the process he fractured the Liberator's dream of a unified continent. More »

Che Guevara. Public Domain Image

To millions, he is the dedicated revolutionary who fought for the oppressed and who gave his life for the cause. Cuban exiles, however, remember Che Guevara as the man who systematically ordered hundreds of executions of Batista loyalists after the Cuban Revolution. Was Che Guevara a bloodthirsty zealot or a dreamer with the conviction to put his life on the line for his beliefs? More »

Augusto Pinochet. Republic of Chile: Official Presidential Portrait

In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet deposed Chile's democratically elected President and usurped the nation, presiding over 15 years of torture, terror and disappearances. Or, maybe he stepped up to save the country from the brink of a Marxist revolution and followed that by 15 years of combating hordes of foreign-trained terrorists hell-bent on nothing less than the destruction of Chilean society. Wait...this is the same guy, right? Many Chileans think Pinochet was a monster and many others think he was a hero who saved them from a disastrous civil war with his iron-fisted rule. Who's right? More »

Rigoberta Menchu, Winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize. David McNew / Getty Images

In 1992, things looked good for Rigoberta Menchu. She had won the Nobel Peace Prize and her ghost-written autobiography was a best-seller around the world. But then people started looking more closely at the book and major historical discrepancies began popping up. According to her supporters, she's a lifelong peace activist who has greatly helped the native peoples of the world to unite and fight (legally) for their rights. To her detractors, she's a liar and hypocrite, a one-time violent terrorist whose rise to fame had more to do with political correctness than merit. More »

Portrait of Christopher Columbus (1520) by Sebastiano del Piombo. Public Domain image

Columbus is the oldest figure on this list, but nevertheless possibly the most controversial of all. For a long time after his death, Columbus was a hero: a brave explorer determined to challenge the unknown in order to further mankind's understanding of the globe. Then there was a backlash: Columbus was a slave trader and despot whose own colonists hated him enough to send him back to Spain in chains. Oh, and the diseases he brought to the Americas killed millions. As for the real Christopher Columbus? You'll find him about where you'd expect, somewhere in the middle, neither a real-life hero nor a cruel villain. More »

Fidel Castro in 1959. Public Domain image

Fidel Castro. What's there to say? If you're a Cuban, you love him or you hate him. Most Cubans agree that he freed them from the tyranny of the corrupt Bautista regime. Some say he replaced it with something even worse, a communist dictatorship which has destroyed the island socially and economically. Others say that he was the only Cuban leader ever to treat the poor fairly. Even his detractors have to admire his iron will and staying power and ability to thumb his nose at the USA for decades. More »

Alberto Fujimori. Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images

It's easy to see why Fujimori is on this list. After all, he was a crook who stole millions from Peru while still making the country a better place! Under his watch, the Peruvian economy boomed and the dreaded Shining Path terrorist organization was nearly destroyed. That's great, right? Too bad he stole $600 million while he was in office! In spite of his crimes, many Peruvians look back fondly on his administration. More »

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Your Citation
Minster, Christopher. "Controversial People in Latin American History." ThoughtCo, Sep. 12, 2015, Minster, Christopher. (2015, September 12). Controversial People in Latin American History. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Controversial People in Latin American History." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 25, 2017).