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By conventionally accepted criteria the Dominican Republic has had a dismal career as an independent state. Wretchedly poor, politically and socially primitive, intellectually and culturally undistinguished, it has been flotsam on the great tides of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, an object not a subject on the international scene.
Late last April public order collapsed in the capital. Rapidly more than 20,000 United States troops were put into the city to ensure the safety of foreigners, halt the bloodshed and quell the violence, restore order-and forestall what President Johnson believed was the imminent takeover of the Republic by Communist-dominated elements and the establishment of a "second Cuba."
The President's decision to intervene, applauded by most North Americans, caused consternation in other parts of the hemisphere. Many Dominicans were offended by this latest affront to their national dignity, seeing in it a dramatic demonstration that the United States had no confidence in their ability to resolve their own problems and little respect for their position as citizens of a sovereign and independent state, juridically the equal of the United States itself. Many other Latin Americans were deeply disturbed, both because of the massive breach of the non-intervention principle and because of the way in which the United States took to itself responsibility for defining the character of the developing Dominican situation and responding to it.
The Organization of American States, profoundly shocked, its pride in tatters, came reluctantly to the support of the United States, assuming responsibility for helping the Dominicans end their strife and make a new start on the long, unfamiliar road toward political democracy, economic well-being and social justice. Subsequently a small number of hemispheric states sent military contingents to serve with U.S. personnel as part of an Inter-American Force stationed in the Dominican Republic.
All of this is now history. But it is history that could repeat itself-with appropriate local variations-in other countries of Central America and the Caribbean. In Haiti, for instance, or in Guatemala or in Honduras. These are countries that lie within a sphere the United States regards as being of vital importance: under no circumstances will their capture by Communist régimes be permitted. The device of preventive intervention, employed by the United States in the Dominican case, could be employed again. Whether it will be employed, or should be, is another matter.
Three facts are to be kept in mind in thinking about United States policy toward countries in the Caribbean region. The first fact is that the societies of the Caribbean, like societies everywhere in the developing world, are caught up in the confused but rapid process of change which we are accustomed to call generically the nationalist revolution. The second is that the United States is member and leader of the Inter-American System, the institutionalized embodiment of the Western Hemisphere idea, known since 1948 as the Organization of American States. The old label better conveys the nature of the congeries of institutions through which the states of the hemisphere conduct much of their public business. The third fact is that the Caribbean is the focus of the cold war in this hemisphere.
In abstract formulation, a major purpose of United States policy in the Caribbean is to promote harmonious links between Caribbean nationalism and hemispheric inter-Americanism in pursuit of cold-war objectives. In practice this is extraordinarily difficult, as the Dominican crisis vividly illustrates. Why it is difficult is worth exploring; how the difficulties might be lessened is worth considering.
Let us look first at the societies of the Caribbean. For our purposes they include eight small states-El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Haiti and the Dominican Republic-and a larger one, Venezuela.[i] All of them are Communist targets; in all of them there are cadres of dedicated Communists, some of whom have spent time in Cuba and have travelled behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains.
More important than Communist interest and presence, however, are Communist opportunity and capability. These are functions not only of the number and skill of the Communists but of the social and political contexts within which they operate, and in respect of these latter the countries differ widely among themselves.
Guatemala, for instance, is a dual society. Its Indian majority is still largely unincorporated into national life; the minority of ladinos and whites who control the country's political and economic destinies are the inheritors of a social system marked by exploitation, brutality, corruption and absence of distributive justice. Political skill and imaginative statesmanship are notoriously lacking; the country's institutions are quite inadequate to channel and accommodate growing demands for modernization in economic, political or social respects. It is to be recalled that in 1954, a Communist-dominated government was overthrown in Guatemala; today the country is a prime Communist objective.
El Salvador, an overwhelmingly mestizo society, stands in contrast to Guatemala in having a bold, modernizing élite, alert and able political leadership, increasingly strong and resilient political and social institutions and an exceptionally hard-working and adaptable population. There is a serious agrarian problem, traceable both to growing population pressures on the land and concentration of land ownership in a few hands; this problem has nearly intractable elements. But while the Communists are doing their best to exploit peasant grievances, their prospects for sparking large-scale violence and taking over the machinery of state are very poor.
Honduras-poor, sparsely populated, ineptly governed by a self-seeking military figure, lacking internal structure and coherence-is a restless country that offers important opportunity to the Communists. On the other hand, Nicaragua, long the fief of the Somoza family, is comparatively stable, most of its population living in somnolent unawareness of the revolutionary temper abroad in today's world and little disposed to adventure.
Costa Rica, a happy aberrant on the Central American political scene, has been for many years a vigorously functioning constitutional democracy: there is no evidence that the nation intends to depart from that course. The population, which includes an exceptionally high proportion of small- holders, is culturally homogeneous and shares overwhelmingly a constructive commitment to the values of the West. The country's political leadership, alert through hard personal experience to Communist wiles and ways, will not countenance subversion.
Panama, of course, owes its existence as an independent state to the Canal, and no understanding of the country can be obtained without constant reference to the Canal. There is the heavy economic dependence of the country upon the Canal and, related to it, the comparative underdevelopment of the resources of the interior of the country. There is the social unrest engendered, first, by awareness of Panamanians living near the Zone of how poorly served they are by their society in comparison with Americans in the Zone and, second, by awareness of Panamanians in the interior of how poorly served they are in comparison with Panamanians near the Zone. There is the scapegoating mentality: the problems of Panama are caused by the United States, and it is the responsibility of the United States to ameliorate them-but to do so without infringing Panama's status as a sovereign and independent state. There is above all deep psychological and political frustration that occasionally manifests itself in aggressive violence. Who are we Panamanians? Where are we going? What do we stand for? What can we do? What will the United States permit us to do? Always and always the reference back to the Canal and the United States. In an age of nationalism, the situation of the Panamanians is tragic. In cold-war terms the situation is also precarious: the Communists have identified themselves with every grievance, real or fancied, the Panamanians express. The country is a tinderbox.
Haiti's situation is even more precarious but for very different reasons. Of all states in the hemisphere, this is the least well structured. Politically, despite the seeming invulnerability of President Duvalier, it is extremely fragile and brittle: when Duvalier goes the political "system"- such as it is-will collapse. Duvalier's successors will inherit administrative chaos and a disarticulated society. Desperately poor, largely rural, living isolated lives, the population asks little of its central government but to be left alone. Into this administrative, political, ideological void the Communists could step easily.
The remaining state, excepting the Dominican Republic itself, is Venezuela. Venezuela belongs in this group because it abuts on the Caribbean and because it has been singled out by Castro's Cuba as a top-priority target. In other respects, however, Venezuela differs markedly from the rest of the countries at which we have glanced. It is much larger; it is much better endowed with resources; it is much more highly developed and its development is proceeding at a rapid pace. Moreover, no state in the group, with the noteworthy exception of Costa Rica, can begin to approach Venezuela in respect of the quality of its political leadership: a political miracle is in the way of being wrought in Venezuela, a process that began in 1958 and that continues. Not only is the present government directed by men who are able and responsible, but alternative leadership, also able and responsible, is available in the wings. The Venezuelan public has achieved in a remarkably short time a high degree of political sophistication and a sense of civic responsibility.
It is not surprising that Castro should direct his principal energies against Venezuela, for Venezuela daily demonstrates the falsity of his claim that rapid social and economic development within a constitutionally democratic political framework is impossible and that close coöperative ties with the United States mean stultification, sacrifice of national dignity and perpetual colonial status. Castro's fanatical followers in Venezuela-who are to be numbered in the scant thousands-can identify exploitable grievances. They can point, for instance, to serious unemployment and to a housing situation that for many Venezuelans is altogether deplorable. But the Communists have been unable to secure their objective of provoking a military coup, nor have they been able to enlist much public support for their cause. They are reduced to conducting a running campaign of violence. There is no reason to suppose that their activities cannot be dealt with effectively by the Venezuelan authorities without serious prejudice to the institutional stability of the country.
Of the Dominican Republic little need be said here, for its plight has been comprehensively described by many commentators during recent months. It should be noted, however, that President Johnson's intervention course was decided upon, not because of a judgment that the Communists in the Dominican Republic were strong, but rather because of a conclusion that non- Communist elements were too weak, too lacking in political sophistication, and too little skilled in the arts of governance, to withstand Communist infiltration and subsequent control.
What conclusions can we derive from this rapid survey? First, the obvious one: this is a highly heterogeneous collection of states, each with its idiosyncratic features, its special problems. No blanket approach to the Caribbean can be very useful.
Second, really significant Communist opportunity is present in a number of these states, but the nature of the opportunity differs from country to country. At an extreme there is Haiti, which if left to itself could be effectively, if not formally, under Communist control within hours or days of Duvalier's demise. The Communist opportunity in Panama is of another kind: here it is that of fanning the futile fires of Panamanian nationalism, exacerbating anti-American feeling, railing against the established Panamanian social and political order and its leadership, and infiltrating the press, the unions, the university and the bureaucracy. The Panamanian Communists know, as do their mentors in Havana, Moscow and Peking, that they will never be permitted to come at all close to seizure of the Panamanian state; the most they can hope for is to provoke intervention by the United States. But that would be no small thing.
In Guatemala and Honduras, the opportunity is of still a different variety. It is that of enticing military leaders whom the Communists take to be politically unlettered and unimaginative into a campaign of brutal and indiscriminate repression, of savage reprisal against "the Communists" and, more broadly, against "Communism." The Communists themselves will continue to maintain their identification with popular, reformist causes. This is in the generic pattern that led to Castro's success in overthrowing Batista.
There is a third and more reassuring conclusion that emerges from this review. It is that democratic values and practice can root and hold in Central American and Caribbean soil, that with responsible, effective and responsive political leadership, with constructive government programs, with appropriate emphasis on distributive justice, with decent respect for basic human rights, the Communist threat can be diminished and dealt with. Costa Rica abundantly demonstrates this; so does Venezuela; so, at a remove, does El Salvador.
But if the picture is not all dark, it is still very far from bright. How is the United States to meet effectively situations like those in Haiti, Panama, Guatemala and Honduras? Duvalier will not live forever. Late or soon, mass violence will erupt again in Panama. No one would want firmly to predict that the Castro-Guevara technique will fail in Guatemala and Honduras. What is to be the United States response when and if these contingencies materialize?
The dilemma is a cruel one, for in a sense the Communists win if we intervene and they win if we fail to intervene. If we intervene we suffer the slings and arrows of outraged public opinion around the world. Moreover, and more important, we are an alien force in the land we enter, thereafter chargeable by the nationals of that country with responsibility for the country's destiny. Perhaps we have forgotten, but the Dominicans have not, that Trujillo made rapid progress in his ascent to power during the United States occupation of 1916-24.
On the other hand, if we fail to intervene, not only will the Communists have secured additional territory in this hemisphere, with corresponding strategic loss to us; not only will a totalitarian mousetrap have closed on a subject population, with consequent foreclosing of political and social options; but also the Communists will have proved empty our repeated assertion that another Communist régime would not be tolerated in this area, with resultant damage to our prestige.
So long as our foreign policy is keyed to cold-war concerns, so long as we are engaged in armed conflict with Communists in Asia, there can be no question about which of the alternatives is to be chosen. Intervention is clearly preferable to non-intervention.
Having said so much, important questions remain. Intervention, yes, but intervention under what auspices? Intervention at what time? Intervention in what guise?
In the sequel to the Dominican crisis of last spring, thought has been given to the establishment of a permanent Inter-American Force under O.A.S. control that would be available to respond to situations like those we have been considering. The assumption is, of course, that a multilateral, inter- American intervention would be less repugnant to world opinion and more acceptable to the public of the state intervened than would be unilateral action by the United States. It would demonstrate to the world that the judgment of Communist takeover was widely shared; it would put into the intervened country troops from other Latin American countries as well as troops from the United States.
Now it is a highly dubious assumption that the world would not think of such a force as a United States creature; and there is even less reason to suppose that the Guatemalan public, for instance, would respond more warmly to troops from General Stroessner's Paraguay than to troops from the United States. Thus there is little likelihood that the creation of a force of this kind would be authorized by the O.A.S.
The reasons why this is so go to the nature of the Inter-American System. Generations of us have been brought up to believe that the Western Hemisphere comprises a special kind of family of nations, linked not only by geography but also by a community of interests, values and aspirations. Myths have astonishing survival capacity, but it is not infinite. This particular myth can survive only so long as the demands placed upon the Inter-American System are not too great.
Actually, the states of the hemisphere are united by very little. They differ among themselves in most important ways; as we have seen, even the geographically contiguous states of Central America, among which some significant transnational forces are at work, diverge from one another in crucial political, economic, social and even racial respects. Moreover, as the states of the hemisphere acquire more firmly defined national identities, as they develop their internal economies, as they move to assert themselves as independent and autonomous entities on the broader world scene, the incompatibilities among their interests will emerge ever more sharply.
Few states of the hemisphere would see it as being in their interest to coöperate in the creation of a permanent military force, staffed largely by Latin American troops but armed and financed largely by the United States. Not only are the states of Latin America selfish-as are all states in the sense of putting their own interests first; also they would entertain the gravest doubts about the purpose for which the force was to be created. They would not be greatly reassured to be told that the force was to handle cases of "indirect aggression." The term is much too vague, and the subjective element involved in determining when "indirect aggression" has occurred is much too prominent.
There is another point, and it is well to be honest: the Latin Americans would assume that the force really was being created to serve the interests of the United States, that control of the force would vest ultimately in the United States, and that it would be our judgment that would determine where and when the force was to be employed. Because, rightly or wrongly, most Latin Americans question the ability of the United States to understand or sympathize with movements of radical reform, even of non- Communist varieties, and because they sometimes doubt the accuracy and adequacy of the information upon which our policy decisions are based (the Dominican case is very much in point) they would be reluctant to commit themselves beforehand-for so they would see it-to questionable actions.
Finally, of course, the Latin Americans dread the very notion of intervention, however defined, for whatever purpose. We in the United States find this fear, almost pathological in its intensity, difficult to understand. The fear is expressed up and down the hemisphere, just as fervently by spokesmen whose countries have never suffered intervention as by those of countries which have. Moreover, we find it hard to comprehend that the Latin Americans do not seem to appreciate that it is fully as much in their interest as in ours not to permit further Communist expansion in this hemisphere. Our understanding of the Latin American attitude may be facilitated if we bear in mind that we have been a puissant actor on the world stage for the better part of a century, that we have never thought of ourselves as an object at the mercy of alien forces, and that the last time we were "intervened" was in 1812.
If there is to be no stand-by, O.A.S.-sanctioned, multilateral force available for interventions, must we therefore resign ourselves to undertaking by ourselves this unpleasant role? The answer is probably yes if we intend to utilize the device of preventive intervention as we did in the Dominican Republic. For almost by definition an intervention of this kind must be mounted with great speed, its purpose being precisely to preempt the crisis situation before the Communists have an opportunity fully to exploit its possibilities. In such a case full consultation with the member states of the O.A.S. may well turn out to be impossible-so it appeared, at least, in the Dominican situation-and summary notification is all that can be achieved.
There is no need to talk about this question in the abstract, however. Our area of concern is geographically strictly delimited, and we have identified four states in that area in which intervention might be necessary. Of these Haiti is the one whose situation corresponds most closely to that found by President Johnson and his advisers in the Dominican Republic. Preventive intervention in Haiti, therefore, may be appropriate and necessary.
It is out of the question to ask the O.A.S. to give the United States discretionary authority to intervene in Haiti at a time we deem proper; it is also out of the question to expect the O.A.S. formally to commit itself in advance to multilateral intervention in that country. But if the United States is persuaded that only the Communists can profit from Duvalier's death, it should begin at once to inform O.A.S. member governments of Haitian realities and of its own posture with respect to those realities. It would thereby avoid some of the bitterness and misunderstanding that followed upon our Dominican action and that continue to plague inter- American relations.
There is much to be said, however, for abandoning the device of preventive intervention altogether. Certainly its use would be not only unnecessary but extremely unwise in the other three countries-Guatemala, Honduras, Panama-and its use is not enjoined upon us even in Haiti. This gets us to the question of timing of interventions.
Let us assume that the immediate post-Duvalier period in Haiti is precisely as posited here, i.e. that the political void is nearly complete and that only the Communists in the country have the skill, agility and coherence of purpose to exploit the opportunity thus afforded. Why should we not let the Communists take over the country? Or at least let them move along so far in the process of takeover that there can be no doubt about their nature and intentions? What would be lost?
It will not do to say that the country would be lost. Given the nature of Haitian society and the political and administrative infrastructure there, the Communists could assert effective control over little more than Port-au- Prince and a handful of sorry Departmental capitals during the first stages of their sway. For months after their usurpation of the Haitian machinery of state they would be highly vulnerable, either to direct United States intervention or to a properly supported invasion of Haitian exiles.
At the time of the Dominican intervention we heard many references to the Cuban example. But if the Cuban case illustrates anything, it illustrates that precipitate haste in intervention is not necessary. Even in a country as comparatively highly developed as Cuba-with all that development entails in terms of the availability of instruments of coercion and control- Castro's power was not effectively consolidated for many months after his entry into Havana.
What is suggested here is not that the United States postpone its intervention until a Communist régime is firmly installed with the apparatus of a totalitarian state fully in operation; what is suggested is that the United States wait at least long enough before intervening to permit the other states of the hemisphere and of the world to see the contours of the emerging régime. In the Dominican case President Johnson and his advisers told the world that the forces opposing General Wessin y Wessin were Communist-dominated; but the world did not see persuasive evidence that this was in fact so.
When we turn from Haiti to Honduras and Guatemala, the case against precipitate preventive intervention is even stronger. For the constellation of forces in these countries is such that we could not automatically assume upon the outbreak of major strife that the Communists were in controlling positions or that in the outcome they would carry the day. The Communists are not the only ones in these countries who preach the need for radical reform and who, in desperation, will resort to violence to achieve it. Moreover, it would be a sorry kind of justice and of logic to which we would implicitly subscribe if we were to adopt as a working principle the notion that the arbitrary and illegitimate use of violence-the use of the armed forces of the state-by military officers in quest of power or plunder could be tolerated while the resort to violence by aggrieved, frustrated and frantic citizens represented a threat too great to our national security to be countenanced.
Again, all that is urged is that we be prudent, that we pay a decent respect to the opinions of mankind. If indeed a Communist régime emerges, we are emphatically on record that we will not permit its survival, and we can move strongly against it. If we cannot tell whether a régime is Communist or not, then let us act on the assumption that it is not; it will pose no threat to our security. Above all, let us not conclude automatically that because known Communists are associated with popular movements, even movements sired by violence out of desperation, that the movements are ineradicably tainted. Had our intelligence services been as ubiquitous and as susceptible to cold-war criteria in 1930 as they are today, Romulo Betancourt would never have reached the Venezuelan Presidency to put his country firmly on the march toward effective democracy.
In the preceding pages the emphasis has been heavily on the question of intervention in the Caribbean, its necessity, form and timing. This is an important theme, for the problem of "indirect aggression" is a real and serious one. The danger exists, though, that the problem can be magnified out of proper proportion and that perspective may be lost.
When one stops to think about it, one is struck by the slight success the Communists have achieved in the Caribbean. Cuba and the image that Castro projects may distort our vision; but the fact remains that the demonstrated capability of the Communists has not been great. Their fragile control in Guatemala collapsed like a house of cards in 1954 when subjected to challenge by a handful of exiles. Although the Communists have identified themselves with the full gamut of reform and revolutionary demands, they have failed to enlist many recruits to their banner. Although, as we have seen, opportunity in the form of exploitable grievances is abundantly available to them, they have been unable to utilize such opportunity with much effectiveness.
This situation could change. The prospects for Communist success could sharply improve. It would be truly tragic, however, if the United States should be an agency importantly responsible for those improved prospects. This could happen if we were to put inordinate stress upon Communist dangers in the region at the expense of due attention to the crying needs for political, economic and social reform. If the United States loses its identification with the concepts of political democracy, social justice, economic well-being and the dignity of the individual, it has lost its purchase in this hemisphere.
What it comes down to is this: Do we, or do we not, have confidence in the Latin Americans? Hard though the choice is, we cannot really have it both ways.
[i] On geographic grounds, politically explosive British Guiana could be included in this survey, as could Puerto Rico, the independent states of Jamaica and Trinidad, Tobago and the several British, French and Dutch dependencies in the region. Their histories, however, have been very different from those of the traditionally "Latin American" countries; and their present relationships to the cold war are also very different. Despite its important Caribbean littoral, Colombia is generally regarded as a South American, not a Caribbean, country.