Nicholas A. Robins
This article explores the genocides of conquest and colonization in Latin America, highlighting the shortcomings of conventional definitions of genocide. According to some interpretations of the 1948 UN Convention on genocide, it is possible to have a ‘genocide’ free of death. Actions causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group are legally considered genocide, yet can be interpreted as not necessarily involving mass killing even when the object is the destruction of a group. Likewise, although in a broader intellectual context, deliberate cultural destruction, or ethnocide, and the deliberate elimination of languages, or linguicide, are also often considered genocide. On the other hand, the unintended extinction or near extinction of a people from disease, a literal genocide and what could also be termed ‘collateral genocide’, is not considered genocide according to the UN Convention.
During the second half of the twentieth century, large sections of the population were exterminated in various parts of Latin America. Most of these events followed a similar pattern and were the result of what became known as the National Security Doctrine. The practice of systematic annihilation of political enemies in Latin America, which began as early as 1954 with the military coup in Guatemala, continued almost until the beginning of the twenty-first century, spreading throughout practically all of Latin America. This article analyses the general characteristics of these developments, their similarities and differences, and the possible connections between civil wars in the region and processes of mass extermination, taking into account that there were no real wars in many of the territories in which these practices were applied. It examines the cases of Guatemala and Argentina.