THERE has recently been a marked increase in the attention devoted to Latin America in the United States. In part it stems from unfavorable developments, such as the difficulties in Central America. But more basically this growing interest results from an increasing awareness of the tremendous potential in Latin America and a growing realization that, despite the sensational developments which are reported in the press from time to time, there is a continuity of life and growth in Latin America and in our relations with that area.

It is natural that ten years after the end of the last war our interest in Latin America should begin to revive. With our newly awakened sense of world responsibility after the war, we tended to become deeply committed, emotionally, with respect to those parts of the world where we had assumed new obligations. In the debates about "Europe first" and "Asia first," etc., Latin America became more or less "old hat." It was inevitable that there should occur an adjustment in the balance of our national concern. Once again we see our Latin American relations in more nearly proper perspective.

A reappraisal of the relations of the United States with its southern neighbors is complicated by the variety of differing criteria in this country for judging Latin American affairs.

American military men, for example, quite correctly look upon Latin America in terms of strategy. The defense of our continent necessarily involves the defense of the Panama Canal, the Caribbean and the South American land mass. The primary objective of military leaders is military coöperation; political and economic considerations are necessarily secondary. That simplifies other problems. Thus, a New York Times dispatch of August 4, 1953, from Guatemala, analyzing the political situation there with emphasis on Communist penetration, had this to say:

On a recent visit to Guatemala this correspondent was struck by the difference in relations between the Guatemalan Government and the political and economic sections of the United States Embassy and between the Guatemalan Army and the United States service attachés.

Guatemalan Government leaders and Embassy officers have the most cool and distant relations and these only on official business. Leading Guatemalan Army officers and the American service attachés are friends, maintaining social as well as business contacts.

The Government does not seek economic aid from the United States, nor has Washington offered any in many years. But the military leaders welcome the United States Army and Air Force training missions. Of course, as the article explained, the Guatemalan Army had not been subverted by Communism to the extent that other Guatemalan institutions had been; yet the point is illustrative. This does not mean that our military men are not believers in democracy. It merely means that they have a particular job to do and that they put it first.

Similarly with the business view of Latin America. The American business community is a powerful factor there, and the area is extremely important to the United States economically. More than one-third of our entire export and import trade is with Latin America. Over 7 billion American dollars are invested there, more than the total for all the rest of the world except Canada. Many American businessmen are experts on the area. The intimacy brought about by this state of affairs gives rise to thousands of problems which come into the sphere of diplomatic negotiation, either formal or informal. It frequently means great pressure on our government to take a particular attitude toward a specific Latin American situation or toward the area as a whole.

This is further complicated by the fact that the American business community does not always speak with one voice. In some respects it is monolithic in its viewpoint whereas in others it represents a series of different positions. In general its idea of "good relations" with Latin America is that the climate be favorable for business and that the opportunity for a reasonable profit not be jeopardized through unfriendly or unwise governmental measures there. By and large, our business opinion opposes the extension of economic assistance to countries where advantageous conditions are not found, either because such aid would be futile under the circumstances or in the hope that the withholding of the aid will check rash political impulses.

But from that point on, the refinements set in. The investor abroad is interested primarily in his chance for a fair profit, and he wants to take part of the profit out in dollars. He feels that his investment should be secure against seizure; and he seeks a generally propitious local atmosphere, including labor laws that are not too extreme. But a mining or petroleum company may have a very different set of problems from a manufacturer; the point of view of a company which produces electrical equipment may be different from one which sells soft drinks. And the problem of a public utility company is something else again. The exporter, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the existence of a market for his goods and with his ability to obtain prompt payment for them in dollars. In so far as governmental regulations are concerned, his worries center around systems of import licensing and exchange controls. Importers of Latin American commodities are concerned with having a secure source of supply, and a favorable atmosphere here at home towards the producing country and its products.

And there are a great many other criteria. What constitutes "good relations" has a different connotation in different sections of our press; labor leaders have their particular yardstick, so have intellectuals, so have those who think about Latin America chiefly in terms of human rights and democratic institutions. Many people in this latter category feel that the principal and perhaps even the sole objective of our country's foreign policy should be to bring about "democratic" conditions in the other country through one means or another. If such conditions do not exist, then our "relations" with the country concerned are not "good" and presumably we should not coöperate with it. The variety of opinions is healthful and welcome, but a note of caution is also appropriate.

Many of the criteria used in appraising inter-American relations do not deal with relations between countries, but with the state of affairs in other countries. And such matters as press censorship, freedom of labor to organize, and restrictions on business (particularly when they are applied both to domestic and foreign business in another country) do not properly come within the purview of diplomatic relations. It is often difficult to draw a precise line between "relations with" and "conditions in" other countries, but it is important to remember that we draw such a line very strictly in our own domestic affairs, and that the people of other countries ask the same privilege. Diplomatic efforts which disregard it are unlikely to be successful.


In appraising inter-American relations, we must always have in mind the point in history at which we stand. Both we in the United States and our friends in Latin America sometimes forget that there have been great changes in the world since the heyday of the Good Neighbor Policy in the period between 1933 and 1941. The affairs of the inter-American community could not be frozen as of that moment. Where there is life and growth there is always a new stage and new adjustments.

The first phase in inter-American relations was the period of the birth of freedom--the time during which we and most of the Latin American countries achieved independence from European monarchies and became sovereign nations. It came to an end, for the United States, with the enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, and, for the Spanish American Republics, with the holding of the Congress of Panama in 1826. The second phase covered the next succeeding 60 years, up to the time Secretary of State Blaine convened the first inter-American conference in Washington in 1889. This was an era when both Latin America and the United States were preoccupied with their domestic problems and their struggles to consolidate themselves as nations. We had our Civil War. Mexico had a war with the United States, was later subjugated by France, but finally achieved full independence in 1867. Brazil became an independent empire and subsequently a republic in 1889. Argentina became one nation as we know it now only in 1862 when the City of Buenos Aires and the inland provinces finally came under one government. During all this time the countries of the hemisphere had little intercourse with each other.

Another stage began when the reconstruction period after the Civil War drew to a close in the United States and we became actively interested in commercial opportunity abroad. It was an adventurous era and our international relations were marked by a series of incidents in which we do not pride ourselves today, such as our military interventions in Mexico and the Caribbean area. The years following 1889 were marked by a continued growth in the development of the Pan American idea through periodical inter-American conferences and the creation of specialized inter-American organizations. However, as recently as 1928, at the Pan American Conference in Havana, the United States delegation flatly refused to discuss the issue that was uppermost in the minds of the Latin Americans, namely, the right of one nation to intervene in the internal affairs of another.

But a new era opened soon thereafter. It might be called a period of courtship of Latin America by its northern neighbor. The first advances were made by President Hoover, Secretary Stimson and Ambassador Morrow at the end of the 1920's, and they were continued and dramatized by President Roosevelt with his announcement of the Good Neighbor Policy in 1933. During the first two terms of the Roosevelt Administration the courtship was especially ardent. Like a good suitor, we gave up the errors of the past and abjured our bad habits. The Export-Import Bank, plans for the Inter-American Highway, and the cultural exchange program were pledges of good will; and most important of all, in the minds of Latin Americans, was the elaboration of the doctrine of equality of states. We had few or no commitments elsewhere in the world during the 1930's; except for the trade agreements, foreign policy was negative, marked by abstention from the World Court and the enactment of the Neutrality Act. Our Latin American relations were the exception--a focus of interest in Washington. The war brought other interests to the fore, but our efforts to woo the Latin Americans were nonetheless intensified. The period culminated in the signing of the Rio de Janeiro Pact in 1947, when all of the American countries formally agreed that an attack on one nation constituted an attack on all.

Another phase then began. The framework of the inter-American community had been established, and the 21 Republics were faced with the problem of living together in a permanent alliance with given rules of conduct. In many ways it is a less dramatic and less glamourous era, and there are many frustrations. The United States entered this latest phase of inter-American relations at the time it shouldered urgent and complex burdens in other continents. We had quite logically worked out our regional relations with our southern neighbors in this hemisphere before we undertook other regional responsibilities. But when we turned our attention to other parts of the world, the bride of Rio de Janeiro felt that she had been abandoned almost upon leaving the altar. The economic contribution which we have made to the development of Latin America during the ten years following the end of World War II has been far greater than our prewar aid, but many Latin Americans note only that they are far less than contributions which we have been making elsewhere. The rapidity with which inter-American relations have developed in the last 20 years thus brings us under cross fire. Some in Latin America who have not caught up with the changes that have taken place still give vent to the old clichés about imperialism that were fashionable 30 years ago. And at the same time, many of our friends there accuse us, not of intervention and imperialism, but of neglect and lack of interest.

In the process of making the inter-American alliance a working concern, the United States in fact has taken a far greater interest in Latin American economic problems than it did in the heyday of the Good Neighbor Policy. Before the war we had no formalized economic arrangements with the Latin American countries, except those which we had undertaken through trade agreements, through the sugar-quota arrangements, and the inter-American coffee convention. However, our initiative in establishing the Export-Import Bank, the International Bank and the technical assistance program, and our acquiescence in the formation of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council projected our economic relations into a new sphere. The administration of our wartime export controls in a way that made us responsible for continuing essential economic activity in Latin America, even at the cost of depriving our own citizens of scarce materials, made Latin Americans believe that their countries would be our permanent source of supply of critical materials. And the imposition of wartime price controls on materials which we imported from Latin America made them believe that we had accepted a responsibility to compensate for their loss in dollars during the war by maintaining price levels when periods of shortage had ended.

Thus, although our new commitments throughout the world diluted the great diplomatic interest that had centered around Latin America in the 1930's, much more was expected of us from the Latin Americans after the war. Also, just as the weakening of other centers of power had caused us so vigorously to expand our commitments into new areas, that very weakness of other Great Powers made us more important than ever in Latin America. Before World War II, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and France performed important economic functions there as suppliers and consumers of goods and as suppliers of capital. During the war, the last four of the above countries were entirely cut off from Latin America, and Britain ceased to be an important factor in trade and investment. After the war, all five were in such a weakened condition that they could not immediately resume their former activities.

The result was a tremendous increase in the influence and responsibility of the United States in Latin American economy. During the war we became the sole source of supply for most of the Latin American imports previously drawn from Europe or Japan, and we also became the sole market for many of the goods which the Latin Americans had previously sold elsewhere. The competitive advantages which this gave United States traders in the Latin American market were obviously great. But it also magnified our national responsibility in the area. And although the commercial patterns of the immediate postwar period are now changing markedly, as the Europeans and the Japanese increasingly trade and invest in Latin America, consequences of the wartime experience will be with us for years to come. In times of emergency we shall always be looked upon as the principal source of trade with Latin America, and at all times we shall be looked upon as the principal source of investment. The Latin Americans will always feel free to deal with other nations; they feel that we have assumed a permanent economic responsibility there.


The possibilities of friction in this situation are numerous. They are multiplied by the almost obsessive desire on the part of the Latin Americans to develop their economies and raise their standard of living; by the growth of nationalism which is a concomitant of that desire; by the intense scrutiny to which every major act of our government and every significant trend in our national life is subjected; and, of course, by the activities of the Communists who miss no opportunity to use all of these sources of friction for their own purposes.

All of this is underlined by the disparity in strength between the United States and the Latin American countries. The population of the United States is roughly equal to that of all of the Latin American countries, but the United States has an aggregate national income per year about ten times as large as all 20 Latin American nations combined. Our per capita standard of living is about ten times higher than the average of the Latin American countries and about 40 times higher than that of the smaller countries. The population of New York City alone is greater than that of all but four of our southern neighbors, and, moreover, the number of people who contribute effectively to the economic life of Latin America in terms of production and consumption of goods is well under half of the total population. Of all the countries in the Pan American community, only the United States possesses the accoutrements of world power. Only we can raise, equip and transport a force capable of fighting a war anywhere on the globe. Only we have the atomic bomb.

In the political field, the Latin Americans look with apprehension upon the growing number of our commitments in other areas in which they are therefore involved through their commitments to us. At the same time, the lopsided balance of military power in our favor tends to create irresponsibility in Latin America with respect to problems of world security, and this mood is intensified when we participate in common defense arrangements with countries which are much stronger than they are, but which nevertheless receive great military assistance from us. In some countries of Latin America--or, at least, in important sectors of public opinion--these factors (often, of course, combined with others) produce neutralism very much akin to the neutralism of some of the Asiatic countries. It was pronounced during the Korean war.

Religious and cultural differences also tend to separate the United States from the other republics of the hemisphere. The Latin American countries are without exception strongly Roman Catholic, and even where, as in Mexico, strong anti-clerical movements have occurred, the Church is still powerful. Latin Americans are suspicious of the influence of Protestantism and Judaism in the United States, and many of them look upon this as an almost unbridgeable gap between them and us, not realizing that there are more than 30,000,000 Roman Catholics in this country. They are also extremely proud of their cultural background and their way of life, and have tended--or pretended--to believe that the United States is materialistic and uncultured: only Europe can offer spiritual and intellectual guidance, they sometimes tend to feel. All this is changing, but it is still an important factor in shaping their attitude toward us.

All of the foregoing factors create an inclination on the part of the Latin Americans to band together in dealing with the United States because of the identity of interest as between themselves. This trend would be much more detrimental to the position of the United States in the hemisphere if we were dealing with countries that were in every respect similar. But such most decidedly is not the case, and one of the reasons why the Organization of American States, and the theory of sovereign equality upon which it is based, have great validity today despite the uniqueness of the position of the United States is that the other countries differ very greatly one from the other in so many respects--as to size, as to language, as to racial composition, as to wealth and as to the nature of their political institutions. This disparity between the Latin Americans themselves is frequently overlooked in our tendency to think about them collectively, but it is basic to any consideration of our hemispheric relations.

In size, the countries range from Brazil, larger than continental United States plus Alaska, to El Salvador, which is about the size of the State of Maryland. Haiti and El Salvador are among the most over-populated countries in the world, yet adjacent to El Salvador is Honduras, large sections of which are almost empty. The same is true of Haiti's neighbor, the Dominican Republic. In 1951 the per capita income of Argentina was only 8.3 percent of that of the United States, yet it was almost four times higher than that of neighboring Paraguay. Argentina, Uruguay and Chile are almost entirely European in their racial composition, whereas in large segments of Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia the original indigenous dialects are still spoken.

Furthermore, it is a truism that most of the countries, until recently at least, have had closer economic relations with the United States than with each other, since most of them have depended for their livelihood on the export of food and raw materials and the importation of manufactured goods. The foreign policies of the various countries of Latin America have developed according to their own peculiar requirements and pressures, so that there is no uniformity among them. A collateral result is that many of the bread-and-butter issues that come up in relations between the United States and Latin America are dealt with on a bilateral basis outside of the framework of inter-American treaties and conferences. Thus, although the Latin Americans do tend to band together at Pan American meetings on the broader general issues of economic assistance and raw-material prices, and though many harsh words can be spoken on these subjects at these meetings, bilateral relations between the United States and specific countries are carried out more harmoniously. The sum total of the bilateral relations must be measured by a very different yardstick from the relations as they might be measured at a particular inter-American conference.

For example, our relations with Brazil have always been of a very special nature. The two countries are by far the largest in the inter-American community and both are linguistically isolated from the 18 Spanish-speaking countries. Brazil's independence was achieved in a peaceful way, and there has always been continuity in Brazil's foreign policy, as a Portuguese colony, as an empire, and as a republic. Brazil has generally been international-minded and has aspired to close relations with the United States; the complementary nature of the economies of the two countries has made this a practical ambition. And Brazil has always favored a strong inter-American organization, in keeping with the international orientation of her foreign policy.

Yet the very fact that Brazil has aspired to special relations with the United States on a bilateral basis carries with it an expectation on the part of Brazil of special treatment from the United States. Despite their genuine interest in a strong inter-American organization, the Brazilians resist any tendency on the part of the United States to treat them on the same basis as other Latin American countries. This fact in itself has the curious psychological result that although relations between Brazil and the United States are generally fruitful and constructive (Brazil was the only country to send troops to the European theater during World War II), they can be tempestuous--as at times in recent years over issues of foreign aid and coffee prices. It also means that Brazil can be as proud and nationalistic as any other country, as witness the failure of American private and governmental efforts in recent years to exercise any influence over Brazil's nationalistic petroleum and mineral policies. But regardless of these difficulties, Brazil's over-all foreign policy remains strongly oriented toward the United States, and is a constructive and stabilizing factor in the community.

In our tendency to think of the Latin American countries collectively, we lump together Mexico and Argentina, for example. These are unquestionably the two most important Spanish-speaking countries of the hemisphere in terms of population and resources. Both have at times tended to be neutralist in the cold war, and both have been leaders in the Latin American protest against United States policies on raw materials. But there the similarities end. Argentina's population is almost entirely European in origin. In Mexico the rôle of the indigenous population is at least equal in importance to that of the conquering whites. In fact, it might be said that Mexico has produced both a new racial type and a new culture.

And even though their positions toward the United States are similar in certain particulars, the Mexicans and Argentines have reached them through different processes of thought and for different reasons. If both nations are strongly nationalistic toward the United States, it might be said that the Mexicans feel that way because of excessive exposure to this country, one result of which was the loss of large parts of their national territory; whereas in a sense the Argentine attitude towards us has often been based in part on the frustration of being literally almost poles apart from us. In other words, the Argentine attitude has in the past tended to be theoretical and abstract, whereas Mexico's has been very specific and, for better or worse, highly realistic. This has made it possible for the Mexicans to adjust themselves gradually to living alongside of their powerful neighbor and of deriving profit from their relations with us, even while pursuing their own nationalistic policies. Argentine thinking about foreign relations was for many years conditioned by a feeling of superiority over the other Latin American countries, based upon pride in a European population, a comparatively high standard of living, and the beauty and size of the capital city of Buenos Aires, which contains a total population in its metropolitan area of about 5,000,000 people. These factors have at times caused a country of 17,000,000 people to entertain disproportionate notions as to its influence in world affairs.

Argentina has therefore tended to aspire to leadership in Latin America, and to resent what has been thought to be the intrusion by the United States in Latin American affairs. Mexico, on the other hand, has worked vigorously for an effective inter-American organization, if only for the sake of insuring her own protection.

The other countries of Latin America also have their own individualities and problems. The United States was responsible for bringing Cuba and Panama to nationhood, and this has given us a special relationship to them. The tremendous American investments in the highly strategic petroleum industry in Venezuela and the copper industry in Chile present special problems. Uruguay, a prosperous and highly-democratic nation situated between two great neighbors, has tended to look to the United States as a champion. Where specific problems are concerned, every Latin American country offers a special case. In recent years, the military and economic assistance programs have required the negotiation of many bilateral treaties adjusted to the specific nature of the relations between the United States and the individual nations. None of this is inconsistent with the spirit of the over-all inter-American organization; it has, on the contrary, strengthened its underlying purposes.


Relations in the community will never be frozen. Latin America is changing with sensational rapidity. São Paulo, Brazil, is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The national income of Venezuela in 1952 was more than 2 billion dollars, as compared with $434,000,000 in 1937. The value of Colombia's export trade increased from $86,000,000 in 1937 to $473,300,000 in 1952. The national income of Colombia has increased comparably in the same period; a formidable development program is under way there and the next 20 years will probably see an even more rapid growth.

Few in the United States are aware of the process of awakening that began in Latin America as recently as 25 years ago. It must be borne in mind that the origins of Latin America are very different from those of the United States. When Spain and Portugal ruled over their American possessions, neither had experienced the kind of economic and political revolution or the religious reformation that had occurred in England by the seventeenth century, nor was the achievement of political independence by the Latin American countries generally accompanied by significant economic or social change. Thus these countries were left to themselves, remote from the world's centers of thought and progress, with static social and economic structures whose origins extended back into feudal times. To the extent that any important development occurred in fields requiring heavy capital investment, such as railroads and electric power, most of the capital and technique was supplied by Europe, and eventually by the United States.

It was inevitable that one day all this should change. As the Latin American countries have felt the impact of the twentieth century and materialistic doctrine, great pressures have been felt for internal change. Some of this has, of course, been underlined by the impact of Communism, but the principal catalyst--as well as one of the principal targets in some respects--has been the United States. As one country after another has become aware of the great progress and great wealth that the United States enjoys, the people have come to demand for themselves, and for their countries as a whole, a greater share of the good things of life and a better place under the sun. This process of becoming aware has gone on gradually as the result of our motion pictures, magazines, and in general through the increasingly great intimacy of contact that modern life affords. It has hit countries at different times and with different effects, but it has culminated today in an almost frantic desire for change which is truly revolutionary in the light of Latin American history.

The wave hit first in Mexico. It did not have to await the coming of the movies or the Reader's Digest, because all that a Mexican had to do to see a different civilization was to look across the border. Of course Mexico had always had a revolutionary undercurrent from the days of Hidalgo and, later, of Juarez, but the impact of the United States and the common border have been tremendous. The 1910 revolution had a variety of aims, seeking simultaneously to bring down the political tyranny of Porfirio Diaz, the wealthy oligarchy, the Church, and vested economic interests both domestic and foreign. The revolution has been going on ever since, sometimes violently, sometimes more quietly, with interludes of reaction. One climax was the expropriation of the foreign-owned oil properties in 1937. The revolution has not substantially improved the lot of the great mass of Mexicans, but it has wrought notable changes in Mexico's national life. Some of its emotional fervor has died down, as evidenced in the easing of the restrictions on the Church and in the growing friendliness towards the United States, but the urge for national improvement is still strong and will bring further change to Mexico in our lifetimes.

The desire for change takes different forms in different countries. Uruguay, for example, has already reached a state of socialization that resembles that of Scandinavia, whereas in other countries the social structure has still not been profoundly affected by exposure to the facts of life in the twentieth century. But that the countries of Latin America are going through a profound and cataclysmic process of change, of revolution, of renovation and even of rebirth is undeniable. This process, as it is undergone, will bring gains and losses; it will also bring intensified nationalistic feelings which will be aimed primarily at the United States. This will mean occasional difficulties in our relations, possibly lasting for years at a time with some countries. It will bring great impatience in the United States. But nothing that we can do can change this course and these are the facts of life in Latin America. The ultimate result of this process, even if it takes a hundred years, will be to bring into the national life of the countries concerned millions of people who have never participated in national life as we know it--in the culture of a nation, in the production and consumption of goods, and in the shaping of its political life and institutions.

The process of change inevitably extends beyond the borders of each country. The Latin American nations existed side by side but cut off from each other during the first century of their independence. Bolivar's idea of a Pan American confederation failed above all because geographical propinquity gave way to the absence of communications and ended in political fragmentation. Today, with the airplane and increasing overland communication, travel between the countries is commonplace and trade between them is constantly increasing. More important is the interchange in thought and ideas between the Latin American countries themselves. The Organization of American States is not only a forum and meeting place, and a unifying factor, but its very existence and the rôle which it plays today arise from the needs of the new intimacy that this growing together has brought about.

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  • EDWARD G. MILLER, JR., of the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, New York; formerly Assistant Secretary of State and member of U.S. delegations at many international conferences
  • More By Edward G. Miller Jr.