Twentieth-Century Wars

Latin America played a minor role in the two world wars, the Korean War, and the First Gulf War. Bolivia and Paraguay fought a major war over control of the Chaco region in the 1930s, and, more recently, Argentina invaded the British Overseas Territory of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

World War I

Latin America played a token role in World War I. Brazil, Cuba, and Panama declared war on the Central Powers, but their direct involvement did not go beyond maritime patrols in search of enemy submarines.

Argentina, Medal for the Crusaders of Civilization, 1919 (Ar45)
Brazil, Campaign Cross of 1917–1918 (Br23)
Cuba, Medal for War Service, 1917–1919 (Cu6 )
Cuba, Medal of the Allied Victory, 1921 (Cu7)
The Chaco War

From 1932 through 1935 Bolivia and Paraguay fought a bitter war over the Chaco region, which was thought to hold significant oil deposits. Bolivia had the advantage of a larger population and a better equipped military. Paraguay had shorter lines of communication to the front and greater familiarity with the terrain. More importantly, the Bolivan officer corps was staffed by Spanish-speaking creoles, whereas the country’s foot soldiers were Aymara-speaking Indians. The Paraguayan officers and men communicated in Guarani, the indigenous language of the Chaco. The Paraguayans relied on guerilla tactics to outfight their opponents and eventually won the war.

Bolivia, Medal for the Chaco Campaign (Bo34)
Bolivia, Cross for the Defenders of the Chaco (Bo35)
Bolivia, Order of Military Merit, instituted 1927, modified 1935, 4th Class, 6th Class (Bo40)
Paraguay, Medal for the Donation of Gold, 1932–1933 (Py9)
Paraguay, Iron Wedding Band Given to Women Who Donated Their Gold Bands (Py9a)
Paraguay, Defender’s Cross, instituted 1933 (Py10)
Paraguay, Chaco Cross, instituted 1933 (Py11)
Paraguay, Medal of Paraguayan Recognition, instituted 1933 (Py12)
Paraguay, Commemorative Medal for the Victory at Boquerón, instituted 1942 (Py13)
World War II

Brazil alone among the Latin American nations sent a division-size force to fight with the Allies in the Italian campaign, along with a squadron of fighter planes. The Brazilian navy patrolled the sea lanes in the Atlantic for enemy submarines, which sank a number of Brazilian merchant vessels.Mexico declared war on the Axis powers in May 1942, but sent only a squadron of fighter planes to the Philippines during the final year of the war. Mexico City formed a militia in the early days of the war in the mistaken belief that the Germans would invade.

Brazil, Blood of Brazil Medal, instituted 1945 (Br27)
Brazil, Medal of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, instituted 1944 (Br28)
Brazil, Medal for Relevant Services, Navy, instituted 1943 (Br30)
Brazil, Navy Medal for War Services, instituted 1943 (Br31)
Brazil, Medal for the Naval Force of the Northeast, instituted 1954 (Br33)
Brazil, Cross for Bravery, Air Force, instituted 1945 (Br35)
Brazil, Medal for the South Atlantic Campaign, Air Force, instituted 1948 (Br39)
Brazil, Medal of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in Italy (Br41)
Mexico, War Cross, instituted 1949, 1st Class (Mx111)
Mexico, Military Legion of Honor, instituted 1951 (Mx112)
Brazil, Combat Cross, instituted 1944, 1st Class, 2nd Class (Br25)
Brazil, War Medal, instituted 1944 (Br26)
The Falkland Islands War

On April 2, 1982, Argentine marines landed on East Falkland Island and occupied the capital city of Port Stanley. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded by sending the Royal Navy with an expeditionary force to retake the islands, which it did on June 8. Argentina’s defeat in the war soon led to the fall of its ruling military junta.

Argentina, Medal for the Malvinas Campaign, instituted 1984 (Ar46b)
Argentina, Medal for the Malvinas Campaign, Air Force (Ar46c )
Argentina, Army Medal for Heroic Valor in Combat (Ar50)
Argentina, Navy Medal for Heroic Death in Combat, instituted 1982 (Ar51)
Argentina, Navy Medal for Death in Combat, instituted 1982 (Ar52)
Argentina, Navy Medal for Recognition of Merit