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South American Heartland: The Charcas, Latin American Geopolitics and Global Strategies

Author(s): Leslie W. Hepple

Source: The Geographical Journal, Vol. 170, No. 4, Halford Mackinder and the 'Geographical
Pivot of History' (Dec., 2004), pp. 359-367
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the
Institute of British Geographers)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3451465
Accessed: 14/05/2010 19:42

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TheGeographicaljournal,Vol. 170, No. 4, December2004, pp. 359-367

South American heartland: the Charcas, Latin

American geopolitics and global strategies
School of GeographicalSciences, Universityof Bristol,BristolBS8 1SS
Thispaper was accepted for publication in May 2004

Mackinder's 1904 'geographical pivot of history' concept, subsequently developed into

his famous 'Eurasian heartland thesis', marginalizes South America, yet his ideas have
attracted considerable interest there, including interpretations (and fantasies) of a 'South
American heartland'. This paper examines the reception of Mackinder's ideas in Latin
American geopolitics and how his heartland thesis was adapted for the South American
context. It traces the roots of this adaptation in earlier South American geopolitical
writing, and examines these ideas of counter-insurgency policies and global geopolitical
strategies, analysing their relationship to military and anticommunist perspectives.

WORDS:South America, geopolitics, Tambs, Heartland, Mackinder

Introduction Tambs' South American version ran

Who rules SantaCruzcommandsCharcas.
n 1944, as the Haushofersfell from favour and
Who rules Charcascommandsthe heartland.
the Nazi regime began to collapse, KarlHaushofer's
Who rulesthe HeartlandcommandsSouthAmerica.
Zeitschrift fur Geopolitik ceased publication.
However, in post-war West Germany the journal This paper sets out to examine the background and
reappeared in 1951, phoenix-like from the ashes, as a context for Tambs' adaptation of Mackinder's
conservative international affairsjournal, with a much heartland thesis to South America. The first section
more limited circulation, and survived until 1968 (see reviews the geopolitical tradition in Latin America
Schnitzer (1954) for an analysis of the early years and the significance attached to the rather remote
of this revival). In that final year of its resurrected parts of Bolivia labelled 'the magic triangle' by one
publication, the editor, Rolf Hinder, proclaimed 'eine Brazilian geopolitician. It then examines the recep-
neue Herzland-Theorie' ['a new Heartland theory'] tion of Mackinder's ideas within South America,
(Hinder 1968). This referred to the work of a young before tracing the origins and argument of Tambs'
North American academic, Lewis Tambs. In an 'new Heartland theory'. Subsequent sections
essay published in English (Tambs 1965a) and also describe how the heartland regions became seen
in German in the Zeitschrift (Tambs 1965b 1968), not simply as arenas of inter-state rivalry but also
Tambs argued that Mackinder's Eurasian heartland as launch pads and refuges for internal subversion,
analysis could be applied to the South American and then investigate how such subversion was
context, and he mimicked the famous declaration portrayed as linked to Soviet-backed interference.
Mackinder used in 1919 to summarize the heart- In this way the adaptation of Mackinder's heartland
land doctrine he had first sketched out in the 1904 ideas to a South American context is found to itself
'Geographical pivot of history' paper (Mackinder link back to wider, global issues of USA-USSR
1904; see also Parker 1982). Mackinder wrote: competition and containment.
Who rules EastEuropecommandsthe Heartland.
Who rulesthe Heartlandcommandsthe World-Island. Latin American geopolitics
Who rulesthe World Islandcommandsthe World. Within Latin America, and particularly within the
Mackinder1919, 150 countries of South America, there is a substantial
0016-7398/04/0002-0001/$00.20/0 @ 2004 The Royal Geographical Society
360 South American heartland

and influential geopolitical tradition, and a vast geo- states developed economically, such boundary
political literature throughout the twentieth century. disputes over settlement, resources and national
This literature began very soon after the European identity have sometimes flared into actual wars,
origins of geopolitical discourse: a Chilean military such as the 1879 War of the Pacific (when Bolivia
geography text was quoting Ratzel as early as lost her outlet to the sea to Chile), the Chaco war
1905; the Argentinean Admiral Storni was citing of the 1930s between Paraguay and Bolivia, and
Mahan in 1915 and the Brazilian Backhauser was repeated tensions between Argentina and Chile in
publishing in Haushofer's Zeitschrift in the mid- the extreme south. Moreover, the westward expan-
1920s. For much of the twentieth century this sion of Brazil, swallowing large tracts that were
geopolitical tradition was largely unknown in the nominally part of the Spanish empire, has left
Anglo-American literature, but the detailed studies antagonisms between Brazil and its neighbours
of Child, Dodds, Hepple, Kelly, Tambs and others (Pittman 1981; Tambs 1974). Ratzel and Kjellen's
have brought it into view in recent decades (e.g. geopolitical ideas of organic state growth, bound-
Child 1979 1985 1988; Dodds 1993 1994; Hepple aries as 'the skin of the state' and other concepts
1986 1988 1992; Tambs 1965a; Kelly 1984 1997; thus found a fertile context. The appeal of geopolitical
Kelly and Child 1988). The Latin American geopol- interpretations has been that they gave a central role
itical literature drew extensively upon the classical to the geographical dimension, a spatial dynamic,
geopolitical theorizing of Ratzel and Kjellen, and in contrast to more traditional constitutional-
organic theories of state growth have been popular. jurisprudential interpretations that trace treaties and
As well as hundreds of books, there have also been ministries but seem to miss out these central (and
numerous geopolitical journals such as Geopolftica, narratively appealing) threads. In Brazil, the Marcha
Geosur, Estrategiaand Revista Chilena de Geopolftica. para Oeste (March to the West) fulfilled much the
Such geopolitical writing has been closely associated same role as 'Manifest Destiny' did in the United
with military groups, semi-official institutes and States: part genuine history, part folk myth, it
military academies (Pittman 1981), and they are provided a direction which contemporary analysts
not mere speculations of uninfluential groups or and policymakers could also appeal to (Tambs
individuals. In South America military regimes 1968). The 'spatialized history' of geopolitics
exercised power for various periods in most tapped a neglected vein, but one that also gave
countries since the 1960s, and such regimes con- primacy to territorial concerns and so particularly
trolled the southern cone states for long periods: in appealed to the military (Hepple 1992).
Brazil from 1964 to the late 1980s, in Argentina The interior regions centred on Bolivia and
after 1966 and again from 1976 to 1982, and in Paraguay, now land-locked states, have been a
Chile from 1973 to 1990. Geopolitical ideologies particular source of geopolitical tensions, lying as
had considerable impact during these regimes, and they do between the more powerful and develop-
individual geopoliticians became major figures in ing states of Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Bolivia
the governments. General Pinochet, former dictator and Paraguay have both felt threatened by their
of Chile, was earlier Professor of Geopolitics at the neighbours (and by each other), not without
Chilean War Academy and author of the textbook reason, for Bolivia lost its Pacific coast to Chile in
Geopolftica (Pinochet 1968). In Brazil the leading the 1879 'War of the Pacific'. But they have also
geopolitical theorist General Golbery do Couto e played a significant role as 'buffer states' between
Silva became head of the Security and Intelligence their more powerful neighbours. The presence of
Service SNI, chef de cabinet and a central figure in such buffer states can prevent direct crisis and
the military regime (Hepple 1986). In Argentina conflict between the powerful states, which are
two prominent geopolitical writers held ministerial then constantly vying for economic and political
office during military rule: General Osiris Villegas influence in the buffers (Chay and Ross 1986).
as interior minister (also serving as ambassador to However, with modern economic development,
Brazil and chief negotiator in the Beagle Channel there are constant pressures to 'absorb' (econom-
dispute with Chile) and Admiral Fraga as social ically and politically) such regions into greater
welfare minister (also serving as Director of the spheres of influence. As early as the 1930s the
Argentine Antarctic Bureau). influential Brazilian geopolitician Mario Travassos
The popularity of geopolitics in Latin America had pointed to the key role of 'the magic triangle'
has been based on the political history of the states defined by the Bolivian towns of Cochabamba,
and their international relations. The emergence of Sucre and Santa Cruz, for Brazil's westward march
the independent states from the Spanish and (Travassos 1938; Pittman 1981), and such writings
Portugese empires left a serious legacy of boundary were rightly seen as a threat by Argentinean and
disputes and claims, often in regions that were Bolivian geopoliticians. Several other geopolitical
remote and lightly settled. As the independent writers in Bolivia and Brazil had also argued
South American heartland 361

Bolivia's position as the axis, crossroads or core of Because Mackinder's global geopolitical analysis
South America (e.g. Carl6s 1950; Tosta 1959; see said little about their continent, the South Ameri-
also Kelly 1991). However, until the 1960s none can schools of geopolitics have, perforce, drawn
linked this triangle or crossroads to Mackinder's much more on the German and French traditions,
concept of the 'heartland'. for these traditions (as in the works of Ratzel,
Kjellen and Haushofer) construct geopolitics in
Mackinder and South America terms of boundaries, state development and com-
petition, all of which were highly applicable to the
What has been the reception and influence of South American context. Nevertheless, although
Mackinder's ideas within this South American Mackinder did not seem to speak directly to the
geopolitical tradition? Mackinder's 1904 paper on South American context, there has been considerable
'The geographical pivot of history' had very little appreciation of the global sweep of his analysis,
to say of direct relevance to South American which is included in many textbooks (e.g. in
geopolitics - the map projection marginalizes it Argentina: Atencio 1965; Briano 1966; in Brazil:
geographically and the text marginalizes it polit- Golbery 1967), and in fact the paper itself continues
ically (Mackinder 1904). This is hardly surprising, for to be reprinted. Thus Pinochet's Geopolfitica included
Mackinder's analysis was focused on the growing a Spanish-language translation of the geographical
potential of land power and the emerging role of pivot paper as an appendix (Pinochet 1968).
the 'pivot region' of western Eurasia. His interpret-
ation, developed and emphasized in later papers
and books (notably his 1919 study where his Tambs' South American heartland thesis
three-line doctrine was enunciated), was aimed at Tambs' 'new heartlandthesis' argued that Mackinder's
awakening Britain and France to the shifting analysis did have direct geopolitical relevance to
balance of power, and in particular to the potential South America, and, in particular, that the concept
risks of a German-Russian alliance dominating the of a 'heartland' region and its control could be
pivot region and hence Eurasia (see Blouet 1987; applied to the South American context. When he
Parker 1982). Britain's traditional emphasis on sea first published these ideas, in English and in
power was insufficientin this new environment.Within German in 1965, Tambs was a young Latin Ameri-
this focus, the countries of the Outer or Insular can historian based at Creighton University (and
Crescent inevitably took a backseat in Mackinder's later at Arizona State), with a recent PhD on Brazi-
new global geopolitics (Mayell 2004). South America lian history. His research had focused on Brazil's
received two mentions in the 1904 paper: the first westward expansion, using a geopolitical interpre-
is simply as an entry in the list of colonization '[l]ntation of Brazilian history. Tambs had acquired a
Europe, North America, South America, Africa and detailed knowledge of both the Spanish-language
Australasia there is scarcely a region left for the and Portugese-language literatures, and was able to
pegging out of a claim of ownership' (Mackinder link both to the wider geopolitical literature. His
1904, 421), but the second, towards the end of the 1965 paper was, in fact, the first to bring the South
paper, is more intriguing: American literature to an Anglo-American reader-
ship, and one of Tambs' skills has been to synthe-
The development of the vast potentialitiesof South size different threads into a larger tapestry (Tambs
America might have a decisive influence upon the 1965a 1965b 1968).
system. They might strengthenthe United States, or, Throughout these papers Tambs argued that Latin
on the other hand, if Germanywere to challenge the America had two great strategic zones: the Carib-
Monroedoctrinesuccessfully,they mightdetach Berlin bean basin and the Bolivian triangle. The northern
fromwhat I may perhapsdescribe as a pivot policy. states of Venezuela, Colombia and the Guianas
Mackinder1904, 436 had historically been isolated from the rest of South
America by the Andes and Amazon, and been part
Mackinder assumed that South America was part of of the Caribbean basin. Since 1898 this zone had
the US sphere under the Monroe Doctrine, but here largely been under US hegemony. Tambs' main
raised the possibility that Germany might choose to geopolitical interest - at this time - lay in the histor-
challenge this, rather than follow an 'eastward ical competition between Brazil and its Spanish-
strategy' towards the heartland and pivot region. speaking neighbours, and with the key role of
This particular change of strategy never happened the Bolivian triangle. Tambs argued that in South
(except perhaps in some German political mano- America the mountain ranges and river systems
euvring in the late 1930s), but it does show that have been vital influences on this inter-state
Mackinder recognized that South America might competition. In particular, the Andean mountain
come to play a more active part in global geopolitics. spine largely isolated the Pacific Spanish-speaking
362 South American heartland

states from their Amazon basin territories, whereas Bolivia the heartlandwould no longer act. It would
Brazilian colonization penetrated upstream from be acted upon.
Belem to the headwaters of the Amazon. Thus Viewed as a struggle for the Charcas heartlandthe
Iquitos, in Peru's oriente or eastern region, was history of nineteenth and twentieth-centurySouth
reached from Lima in the nineteenth century by America, except for its northernshoulder, becomes
boat travelling round Cape Horn and up the intelligible
Amazon-Maranon rivers. Thus also it was Brazilians Tambs1965a, 37-8
who, using the Amazon route, exploited the rubber
of the Acre region claimed by Bolivia, and ceded to Tambs then traced this process of penetration - of
Brazil by treaties in 1867 and 1903 (Tambs 1966). Argentina's push up the Plata basin, to dominate
The Andes are broken by mountain passes in the Paraguay and parts of Bolivia, of the Brazilian
Bolivian massif: as Tambs noted, the Paso de Santa colonization of the Amazon headwaters, and the
Rosa leads up from the Pacific to the altiplano Chilean conquest of Bolivia's outlet to the sea in
(high Andean plateau) and the Puerta del Monte the 1879 War of the Pacific:
drops to the mid-continental lowlands. In this
region the great South American rivers also have ... Bolivia was dying the death of a thousand cuts,
their origin: the major tributaries of the Amazon to and its leaders,thoughthey had the heartland,did not
the north and east, and those of the Plata to the have the head to stop the haemorrhaging. The
south-east. To Tambs, these geographical factors geopolitical concept of the organic natureof the state
made this the continental core area or heartland of declares that the 'decay of every state is the resultof
South America. The area is that occupied by the declining space conception' [Ratzel], and space
former Spanish audiencia (regional government conception is precisely what the directors of the
unit) of Charcas, and the Bolivian towns of Sucre, destiniesof independentUpper Perulacked.
Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra form its Tambs1965a, 45
core. Tambs noted:
At the time he wrote in 1965, Tambs viewed the
This Charcas Heartland,compact, centrally located, future domination of this Heartland as still in the
rich in resources,temperatein climate, immune from balance, but with the odds favouring Brazil rather
maritime attack, and dominating the headwaters of than Argentina. Brazilian settlers were continuing
the continent'stwo majorriversystems- the Amazon to colonize Bolivian territory, but Tambs saw the
and La Plata - as well as controllingthe direct and establishment of Brasilia as the new Brazilian
diagonaltranscontinentalroutes,fulfilsall the classical
capital as more significant: 'Long torn between the
geopolitical requirementsfor a pivot area. influences of the Atlantic and the heartland, Brazil
Tambs1965a, 34-5 has opted for the continent' (Tambs 1965a, 43).
Amazonia's 'hollow frontier' - 'archipelagic Brazil'
Tambs encapsulated this argument in his adapta- in Golbery's phrase - would be occupied, and Brazil
tion of Mackinder's declaration, set out earlier: would probably achieve continental dominance.
Santa Cruz controlled the Charcas and Charcas was Tambs set out this heartland thesis detailed in
the key to the South American heartland, which in several papers between 1965 and 1975, including
turn was the key to continental dominance. He the two papers in Zeitschrift (Tambs 1965b 1968).
claimed that history showed the importance of Versions of the Heartland thesis were also trans-
these regions, arguing that in the pre-Colombian lated and published in Spanish in both Bolivia and
Aymara and Inca empires, and later under the Uruguay, and in Portugese in Brazil, and Tambs
Spanish empire, the altiplano and Charcas were continued to develop the theme (Tambs 1974
such power centres. 'Upper Peru remained the 1979a 1979b 1979c 1980b), and his ideas have
nerve center of Spanish power in South America to been widely citied in the geopolitical literature. In
the end of empire' (Tambs 1965a, 37). It was the fact, another writer, the Bolivian geopolitician
last redoubt to fall to Bolivar and the independence Valencia Vega, also made an explicit (and inde-
movement, a final conquest Tambs has docu- pendent) comparison of Bolivia to Mackinder's
mented (Tambs 1970). However, this importance heartland in the same year (Valencia Vega 1965).
was a legacy of the era of four-legged land transport, There he argued that Bolivia was the heartland of
the world of the llama and the horse, rather than South America but her dismemberment in the past
river steamboat and the railway. After independ- was due to her inability to dominate the region in
ence from Spain: the face of aggression by her neighbours. Both
writers were drawing on the ideas already present
...the rimland closed in upon Charcas from the in South American geopolitical discourse about
periphery. The tide had turned. Under leaderless the 'magic triangle' and the crossroads of South
South American heartland 363

America, but the explicit linkage to Mackinder's Central America were seen as playing a much
'heartland' concept was made for the first time, more central and global role. These elements were
and Tambs' pithy three-liner imitating Mackinder internal, 'communist' unrest and the construction
encapsulated the interpretation of the significance of an internal geopolitics; strategic and geopolitical
of the region. alliances with the USA; and the USSR breaking-out
Within all these various papers there is an of its Eurasian containment.
ambiguity about the actual process of power The first of these elements changed the discourse
projection in the South American heartland thesis, of South American geopolitics from the traditional
and perhaps some of this ambiguity can also be one focused purely on inter-state competition to one
seen in Mackinder's original. Specifically for South that also considered internal subversion by commu-
America, could a state centred on Santa Cruz and nist groups within the state. The forerunner of this
the Charcas heartland really have projected itself type of analysis was probably as early as Londoho
as the dominant power in South America? One can (1948). Londoho portrayed the potential geographical
accept the historical validity of Tambs' claim that spread of communist ideas from bases in Argentina,
the region of Upper Peru was a nerve centre in the Uruguay and southern Brazil, through the mine
period of Spanish imperial power, but it is certainly workers of northern Chile and Bolivia, towards the
hard to see how this could have been maintained northern states. His map is reproduced in Kelly
into the twentieth century. Tambs himself has (1997). The major development of these ideas
pointed to the technological and economic factors came, however, from the Brazilian military geopol-
working against this. Rather one can reverse the iticians, notably General Golbery. Several of the
analysis: state geo-power grew in several regions Brazilian army officers who emerged as geopolit-
(Brazil, Argentina, Chile), and as these states icians during the 1950s had, as young men, fought
competed for relative power and influence, domin- alongside US officers against the Germans in Italy
ation of the Charcas heartland would be a symbol in 1944-5. Both Golbery and Meira Mattos were in
and signal of the continental primacy of one of this group. Contacts with the US military established
these powers. The Charcas heartland was not itself then were to continue as the Brazilian officers rose
a core or nerve centre of power, but control of this in prominence. Golbery became a key figure in the
axis or crossroads would fall to the dominant state. Higher War Academy or ESG, and the key geopol-
Again, Tambs charts this process, and the eventual itical thinker in Brazil (Golbery 1967). Meira Mattos
dominance of Brazil over Argentina. But this led the Latin American contingent in the 1965
process is rather different from Mackinder's origi- Dominican taskforce and served as Vice-Director of
nal, which envisaged heartland power projecting the Inter-American Defense College in Washington
military and political control through continental as well as writing extensively on the geopolitics of
railroads. The terrain of Bolivia hardly favours such Amazonia (Kelly 1984 1997). Golbery and others
a view. Yet Mackinder's own analysis shares some developed their ideas during the anti-communism
of these ambiguities, for he worried about external of the Cold War era, and saw a strategic alliance with
powers (notably Germany) gaining control of the the US as central. Brazilian geopolitics became seen
heartland and pivot and thus gaining dominance. as a component within a wider US-led resistance
to communist unrest and subversion (Hepple 1986).
Globallinkages Golbery used the classic geopolitical ideas of
Ratzel and Kjellen on the 'state as spatial organ-
Traditional South American geopolitics was prim- ism', but extended the traditional metaphor to
arily intra-continental. Its concerns were frontier and encompass internal as well as external threats: the
inter-state rivalries within the South American body-politic was at risk not only from other state
continent, and this was the prime context for bodies but also from the internal eating away of
discussion of the Bolivian 'crossroads', 'axis' and 'cancerous cells' within the body. Such cancerous
'pivot'. But already by the time Tambs and Valen- cells - communist and revolutionary groups and
cia Vega were explicitly linking this to Mackinder's insurgents - needed to be extirpated (see Hepple
heartland concept, the geopolitical environment 1992). As Meira Mattos expressed it, 'The enemy is
was changing. New perspectives and international now within, not a threat of direct attack across our
events were providing a context to link South borders . . . The real international threat is revolu-
America and its heartland much more directly into tionary war' (cited by Kelly 1984, 451). Golbery
a global geopolitical power-play. This connection claimed: 'What is certain is that the greater proba-
came primarily through the Brazilian-US alliance bility today is limited warfare, localised conflict,
and the perceived threat of communism. Three and above all indirect Communist aggression, which
elements linked together to build a revision of capitalises on local discontents, the frustrations of
Mackinder's analysis into one where South and misery and hunger' (Golbery 1967, 198).
364 South American heartland

Golbery and others advocated a close linkage the situation. Golbery and others could point to the
symbiosis between security and development: Soviet Admiral Gorshkov and his advocacy of a
regions had to be developed and integrated into high seas fleet able to roam globally. Gorshkov's
the national space-economy in order to provide own writings referred explicitly to Mahan and
security, and such development could only take Mackinder and were a conscious strategy of break-
place if security were provided. This was the ing out of containment.
making of the 'National Security State', with the Writing his first heartland paper, published in
military taking a key role in all aspects of society 1965, Tambs could already see the potential signi-
and economy, and such doctrines also lay behind ficance of these changes. After Castro's takeover in
the rapid development of Amazonia after the Cuba, geopoliticians looked for signs of further
military took power in Brazil in 1964 (Hepple Moscow-supported activity, and Tambs had noted
1986; Hecht and Cockburn 1989). In practice, the that the next step could be the targeting of the
real guerrilla threat in Brazil was very limited, and South American heartland region:
mainly urban based. But there was a small radical
group who moved to the Araguaia-Tocantins region Soviet occupation of Cuba has shaken, but not yet
of eastern Amazonia to stimulate a peasant insur- broken, yanqui hegemony in the 'New World Medi-
gency, and this led to 20 000 government troops terranean'and it may be that havinggained the key to
being deployed to track down a group of only 69 the Caribbeanthe Communistswill concentratetheir
core militants. But the rhetoric of internal security effortson winningthe key to SouthAmerica:Bolivia.
then had evidence of subversion that could be Tambs1965a, 49
used to justify much wider-scale measures (Alves
1985). These National Security State ideas spread The 1960s and 1970s provided plenty of potential
to other South American states, notably Argentina evidence of a failure of global containment and of
and Chile, after the military takeover there, and revitalized leftist and revolutionary activity in South
geopolitical writing in those countries also America. The quagmire of the Vietnam conflict
reflected the change (Hepple 1992). demonstrated the failure of rimland containment.
Threats by Marxist/communist groups might (or In other locations, Gorshkov's navy was able to 'fly
might not) be locally important within South the flag' and lend some support to Marxist-leaning
American states, but as long as Soviet power was regimes in Africa, such as Guinea, Angola and
locked up within the Eurasian landmass by the US- Mozambique (Tambs 1979a). Within South America,
led policy of containment, then they were of little events seemed to confirm Tambs' 1965 fears, as
global significance. However, if the USSR were to Che Guevara, Castro's fellow-revolutionary in the
break through its land-locked containment, the Cuban revolution, moved on from Cuba to attempt
situation might be very different. South America to create a peasant revolution or foco in the
might no longer be relegated to the outer and Charcas heartland itself. Brazilian-Bolivian military
irrelevant margins of global geopolitics, as in cooperation destroyed the insurgency, and killed
Mackinder's original analysis, but might have a Guevara, but Tambs later claimed (in 1979) that
much more central position. In particular, if the Guevara's strategy of attempting to capture the
USSR could operate as a high-seas maritime power, heartland had been a perceptive and sound one:
relationships could be very different. This was
precisely the analysis increasingly emphasized by As predicted in the original presentation[i.e. Tambs'
geopolitical writers in both South and North 1965 paper],the Communists... subsequentlysought
America during the 1960s. Evidence of a major to seize the axis of the Americas. Concentratingat
shift was seen with events in Cuba after Castro's Camiri, Ernesto'Che' Guevara launched a campaign
takeover in 1959. This was the result of a local to conquer Charcas; but while his strategy seemed
struggle, and Castro's leftist-Marxist politics were sound, his efforts nevertheless failed. Bolivian
independent of Moscow. But the rupture with the nationalism frustratedGuevara's guerrillas, and he
USA, and the US blockade of Cuba, rapidly led to paid the price of defeat.
alliance and dependence of Soviet support. The Tambs1979a, 17
missile crisis of 1962, when Kennedy forced the
Soviets to stop installing anti-US missiles on Cuban Guevara's choice of the Charcas as the location for
soil, demonstrated that the USSR had ambitions to his foco was seen by Tambs as endorsement of his
use footholds in the western hemisphere directly identification of its crucial position as the heartland
against the US, and that it had only been stopped and 'axis of the Americas'. However, there is an
by dramatic and dangerous action. These events alternative and perhaps more plausible viewpoint:
undoubtedly led South American geopoliticians, that Guevara chose the Charcas partly because of
and their North American colleagues, to reappraise his concern for the landless peasants of Bolivia but
South American heartland 365

also because its location, remote and close to the parity. Tambs focused on the importance of the
frontiers of several countries, would facilitate Caribbean for US oil, with Alaska and Ecuadorean
movement and escape across international bounda- oil coming through Panama and Venezuelan and
ries. The heartland, and other regions such as the Middle Eastern oil having to pass through narrow
remoter parts of Amazonia, were significant not choke points (interestingly his map highlights the
because they were potential centres of power key location of Grenada). The Caribbean had been
projection, but because they were far from, and an 'American Lake', but 'today it has been turned
often outside, state control. Hence the Brazilian into a Socialist Sea' (Tambs 1981, 29), and he
generals' emphasis on rapid development to absorb identified 'socialist-leftist' regimes in Cuba, Nicara-
such regions into the normal, articulated (and gua, Panama, Guyana and the islands of Jamaica,
controlled) state-economy. Dominica, St Lucia and Grenada. Several of Tambs'
These events also provided conservative and papers were 'read into' the US Senate Record by
military leaders in both North and South America his political associates such as Goldwater, and
with added justification to interpret leftist and Tambs coedited (and largely wrote) the influential
revolutionary movements as part of Soviet geopolit- right-wing policy paper A new inter-American
ical strategy, no longer seeing them as isolated, policy for the eighties (Tambs 1980a). After Reagan
largely indigenous cells with only nominal links (if became President, Tambs himself entered the
any) to Moscow. Conflicting views on the strength administration, serving first on the National
and significance of such links and the role of Security Council and later in the important Latin
Soviet interference, and how to judge them in American posts of Ambassador to Colombia and
particular instances, lay at the heart of policy Ambassador to Costa Rica.
debates after 1962. An abortive revolution in the These portrayals of Latin America as the front
Dominican Republic, seen as potentially threaten- line of the global geopolitical competition might
ing the oil route from Venezuela through the Mona seem a far cry from Mackinder's original vision of
Passage, was put down by a US-Brazilian taskforce the world. Yet, as noted earlier, within Mackinder's
in 1965 with over 2000 marines involved. Within own text such a possible role for South America
South America, military regimes began to take was sketched out when he raised the possibility
power to oust left-leaning or leftist regimes: Brazil that Germany might choose to challenge the
in 1964, Chile in 1973, and Argentina in 1976. And Monroe doctrine, rather than follow an 'eastward
these moves brought the geopoliticians themselves strategy' towards the heartland and pivot region.
into the heart of power. More important than the Latin American geopoliticians saw the USSR, estab-
individuals, however, was the ideology. Golbery's lished in the heartland but expanding beyond its
doctrine of the National Security State and the confines, playing an interventionist strategy in their
need to extirpate the cancerous cells of revolution region.
ran through all three regimes. Geopolitical strategy
was now as much within the state as inter-state.
Later attention turned to Central America: the Conclusions
Nicaraguan revolution of 1979, the civil war in El The geopolitical analyses examined in this paper,
Salvador. like much of the South American literature,
In the USA, politicians and foreign policymakers exemplify what 0 Tuathail has termed the 'geopol-
had very divided reactions to these events in the itical gaze' (0 Tuathail 1996). They interpret and
'American hemisphere'. Democrats saw the need portray a political landscape in an apparently
for reform and democracy in Latin America, and detached manner. They attempt to naturalize and
the Carter regime imposed embargoes on both objectify the portrait. Yet, in reality, such geopolit-
Brazil and Chile because of human rights issues. ical analyses are always political constructions. In
Republicans tended to be more sympathetic to the its origins, geopolitics, envisaged as a form of
'Soviet geostrategy' argument. During these years, 'spatialized history' could be liberating, as in some
Tambs, interpreter of the South American heart- of the earlier work on Brazil, but putting the geo-
land, himself became very active politically in the into politics too often then crushes out the political
US Republican party, linked to the conservative itself. The analyses exaggerate the role of space
wing of Goldwater and later Reagan. He put and territory, making new monochromatic interpre-
forward his 'geopolitical chess' arguments in tations. Such perspectives appeal to the military
journalistic and policy pieces, arguing, 'The Third and security mind - hence their popularity with
World War is coming to a climax in East Asia and such groups in South America - and marginalize
in the Caribbean'. Attempts through detente to other political debates (such as those on political,
'socialize the Soviets' had simply given the Soviets social and economic reform). Precisely because the
time and opportunity to develop nuclear and naval geopolitical imagination is political, any assessments
366 South American heartland

are also dependant on political judgements. Were discussion allowed during the military eras in
the communist and Soviet threats to South America South America. But it is much less persuasive in
portrayed by geopoliticians mere make-believe, more open and democratic contexts. This is
paranoiac fantasies designed to support the inter- certainly true of South America after the return of
ests of the military and conservative interests? democracy, but it is also true of Tambs' work in
Some leftist and liberal critics have so argued, but the USA: nakedly geopolitical scripts such as those
there is undoubtedly some supporting evidence: put forward by Tambs had strong appeal within the
there were revolutionary and terrorist cells in the Reagan administration, but it was the more subtle
southern cones states, and there is clear evidence and sophisticated political analysis of ambassador
of Soviet activism in Latin America (see Bark 1986; Kirkpatrick, with its balancing of national interest,
Fukayama 1986; Leiken 1982; Wiarda 1987). But liberal political theory and democratic values, that
many of the threats were small scale; the most was more effective in guiding US policy towards
significant were urban based and did not involve the right-wingregimes in LatinAmerica (see Kirkpatrick
the capture of territory, and many were themselves 1979 1981 1985).
stimulated by the repressive policies of the regimes. Apocalyptic, geopolitical fears of communist
The resources the Soviet Union had available for takeover in Latin America began to vanish with the
intervention were strictly limited and Soviet activity collapse of the communist regimes in the Soviet
was directed at taking advantage of local circum- Union and Eastern Europe, the fragmentation of the
stance to divert and embarrass the USA and its Soviet Union itself, and the end of Sandinista rule
allies. Golbery himself identified its character in in Nicaragua (all events that were seen by Ameri-
the quote cited earlier: 'indirect Communist aggres- can conservatives as evidence of the success of
sion, which capitalises on local discontents, the Reaganite policies). Whatever the insights or obfus-
frustrations of misery and hunger'. Reform, not cations generated by extending Mackinder's pivot
repression, would have been more appropriate. and heartland concepts to the South American
Once again Golbery, the most perceptive of continent, the fall of the Soviet Union and the end
Latin American geopoliticians, put his finger on a of USA-USSR rivalry has made them history.
key issue, citing Isaiah Berlin's 1957 essay on Throughout South America during the 1990s the
interpretations of history. Berlin used Archilochus' military were (largely) back in their barracks and
aphorism, 'The fox knows many things, the hedge- democratic (or, at least, civilian) regimes in control.
hog one big one', to compare limited, localized Many local inter-state rivalries remain, but plans
historical interpretations with overarching grand for regional integration and cooperation are much
theories. Applying this to geopolitics, Golbery wrote: more the current rhetoric (as in the Plata Basin).
Yet scars remain. In Brazil the generals' geopolitical
Geopoliticaltruth is like a porcupine. [Golberyrefers vision resulted in resources going into Amazonia
to porcupineratherthan hedgehog, presumablyto aid and the development of the west that could have
familiarityto the Brazilian reader.] It doesn't know been better spent in eastern and south-east Brazil.
much, but it knows one big thing. And here is the Sad delusions of grandeur, such as Bolivia achiev-
power of geopolitics properlyapplied. It is robust in ing its heartland destiny or the lure of grand (and
perspective, admittedly partial, always incomplete, often doomed) territorial projects, linger on in the
schematic even, and at times fanatic. In the end it political rhetoric of post-military South America.
unifies and clarifies, and imposes on complex reality
its imperative,to plan and to act.
Golbery1967; as translatedby Hecht and Cockburn
1989, 95 The referees are thanked for their helpful comments.

The geopolitical schema, partial and incomplete,

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