I was going to do a long post (as a public service!) expanding on the various differences between Latin American authoritarians and their totalitarian opponents (who, BTW, mostly wound up dead) but halfway through the pizza I was overcome with boredom. I've explained this to a lot of people over the years, have become tired of explaining it to people, and am going to confine myself to bitching that nobody ever learns anything from history, mainly because these days they can't be arsed to study it. Too full of dead white European men, or some such rot, even when it isn't1. So I'll confine myself to admonishing people to LURK MOAR.
If you really want to start digging on this topic, though...the clearest statement of the differences between authoritarian regimes and totalitarian regimes is Jeane Kirkpatrick's classic essay Dictatorships and Double Standards, in which she examined the government of Iran under the Shah and that of Nicaragua under the Somozas, and compared them to Communist regimes. The essay's context is the catastrophic failure of the Carter Administration to prevent the fall of Iran to the theocrats of the Ayatollah Khomeini and likewise, in Nicaragua, the fall of Somoza's regime to the Communist Sandinistas. It's very much a period piece; both of these foreign policy disasters were very fresh in the minds of American voters when they went to the polls in 1980 to choose between another four years of the feckless and inept Jimmy Carter or a change to Ronald Reagan, who even then was being portrayed as a senile old fool of an actor by the media.2
After that, move on to the histories of Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and of course Spain. There were horrible things done by the military in all of these wars, and in the context of those wars they're perfectly understandable. The bloody example of Russia and its Bolsheviks provided ample reason for military officers to suppress Communism by any means necessary, since they were fully aware that if the Communists won, they'd be the first ones up against the wall. Also, while I'd be the last person to argue that the end justifies the means, it's worth noting that all of those countries transitioned more or less peacefully to elected civilian governments. We're still waiting for that in Cuba, obviously.
1. I'm thinking of the Third Chinese Revolution in particular. (Final score: Communists over Nationalists in overtime, 22-1.)
2. His service as Governor of California for eight years? Pshaw. Like that meant anything. [/sarcasm]
Srsly, what W is going through now is tiresomely familiar to me.