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IN THE United States today there unquestionably is an ever-growing interest in the countries of Latin America, a development which naturally is welcome to those countries themselves. But first let us ask just what is meant by "Latin America?" Certainly this term, applied loosely to the 20 republics which together with the United States form the Organization of American States, is inexact, for our Latinity is open to discussion. Yet the substitutes which have been proposed have proved even less satisfactory, and so this vague, convenient and pleasant-sounding term has come to be generally accepted. We shall speak, therefore, of Latin America and the peoples who comprise it.
There are so many false conceptions about these peoples that an impatient commentator recently declared, "What Latin America needs is to be discovered, not colonized." In the universities of the United States many specialists, it is true, have devoted themselves to the study of our problems, acquiring a thorough knowledge of them and interpreting them with great discernment. This was amply demonstrated during the "Conference on Responsible Freedom in the Americas," organized last year by Columbia University. But most of these people are teachers. I am afraid that in official circles knowledge of Latin America has not reached so high a level. In general we are the victims on the one hand of superficial generalizations and on the other of specialized studies which, although in many cases excellent, are limited to a particular field of interest to which alone they concede importance, ignoring the total picture and thus frequently conveying false and dangerous impressions.
A great writer of the late nineteenth century exclaimed that Latin America was not a continent but an archipelago and, paradoxical though it may sound, this is true. Until 40 years ago its countries were separated from each other by distances and natural barriers that seemed insurmountable. When the peoples concerned traveled they went either to Europe or the United States; rarely did they visit the countries bordering their own, for communications were both difficult and scarce. That situation has now been completely changed by the advent of the automobile and the airplane. Today the peoples of Latin America are being drawn ever closer together, and are showing an increasing interest in each other. In the sphere of journalism particularly the old barriers are being eliminated, a factor of enormous importance in the constant growth of mutual understanding. This was made evident in a number of recent events in a way to give us high hopes for the future. The assembly of the Inter-American Press just held in New Orleans revealed strikingly not only the ever-closer bonds uniting the Latin American peoples but a sincere and fruitful desire for friendly cooperation between them and the United States. These are signs of the birth of a new era in inter-American relations.
Among the Latin American countries there exist certain radical differences, giving each its precise individuality. Each country has its own unmistakable characteristics determined by race, geography, climate, history, and degree of industrial development. In some the populations are almost totally European, as in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. Here even the climate reminds us of Europe, with marked temperature changes between winter and summer. In other countries the indigenous pre-Columbian population is in the majority, preserving its customs and languages intact, as in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. In still others the fusion of races is virtually complete, as in Colombia, Venezuela and a large part of Central America, where only small remnants of the pure aboriginal races are to be found. Here the populations are primarly mestizo, a mixture of white, Indian and Negro. Brazil with its enormously increasing population, its great masses of European immigrants and its variety of races and conditions is a world in itself, reminding us in many ways of the United States 60 years ago.
It is impossible to generalize freely about something so varied and at times so contradictory. This, unfortunately, is the practice of all-too-many writer-tourists, who in most cases cannot speak the language and are ignorant of the deeper realities existing in the countries which they so fleetingly visit. Their reporting is often a conglomeration of prejudices, superficial evaluations, and anecdotes which for the most part are interesting only because they highlight the picturesque exception. In their haste they sometimes have recourse to commonplaces and outdated concepts. Indeed, certain recent books and newspaper articles read as though they had been written in 1910: the urge to synthesize or the need for haste has led the writer to speak of Latin America as though he were dealing with one single country or problem.
The development of these countries has not been uniform. Indeed, the exact opposite is true, and enormous disparities exist as a result. Here are 20 individual cases which if they are similar in some respects are totally different in others. If one forgets or ignores this fact one cannot possibly arrive at a true understanding of Latin America.
But let us now focus our attention on the similarities rather than the differences, for in them an observer in the United States may well see the foundations of a unified approach to common problems which beset the Latin American nations. Everywhere in Latin America there exist what might be called "constant laws"--that is, analogous situations, similar hopes and longings. The archipelago of yesterday, despite the marked differences which still separate one country from another, is moving toward a very evident unity on higher levels.
One essential and vastly influential link is unity of religion, for adherence to the Roman Catholic Church is almost unanimous throughout Latin America. In most cases that adherence is the expression of an ardent faith, although in many others it is no more than a cordial but passive acceptance. Catholicism in these countries is both a conviction and a custom. The only serious objection to it is that it is all too frequently identified with intransigent fanatics or with politicians eager to exploit religion for their own advantage. If Catholicism in Latin America could rid itself of these two great enemies, the only ones it has that are worth taking into account; if it would strive boldly and consistently to become less a mere hereditary habit and more a daily expression of sincere faith; and if, conscious of its immense power, it would put that power at the service of all, refusing to be made the banner of reaction or the shield of the ambitious, it would unquestionably constitute the major force for unity, in thought and action, in the whole of Latin America. But for this it would have to abide faithfully by the evangelical precept, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." It would have to maintain its autonomy unsullied, never permitting itself to be used to undermine the authority of the state or to infringe on clearly defined civil rights.
Unity of language, the two Latin languages of the hemisphere, is another unifying factor. More than 110,000,000 human beings in Latin America speak Spanish; more than 50,000,000 Portuguese. The two languages are distinct, of course, but very similar. A century ago some philologists expressed the fear that the Spanish language in America would evolve into a series of new languages or dialects as it came into contact with the waves of immigrants from different European countries and with the indigenous tongues. Nothing of the sort happened. Spanish and Portuguese maintained their purity in Latin America just as English did in the United States. Naturally certain marked regional peculiarities and usages exist, but the language, enriched by permissible Americanisms, is becoming more and more pure and uniform. This is a factor of the greatest importance in the development of unity.
Another element which has contributed to our growing feeling of solidarity is our common historical background: analogies in our origins and development, the memory of the period in which we were bound together by the ideal of emancipation, the constant interchange between our peoples of every class.
Religion, language, history--these are the sources of unity in Latin America. It should be the duty of all Latin Americans to strengthen the influence of them by demonstrating our sincerity, cherishing our genuine religious spirit, and encouraging the best use of our language in speech and in writing.
In the economic sphere there are but few factors making for unity (the solidarity of the coffee industry is an exception), because our economies are often analogous rather than complementary, and because all of our countries are more or less poor and lacking in the wherewithal to help each other. Our principal markets, the great centers to which we can turn for capital and aid, are to be found beyond the confines of our continent, primarily in the United States, to which our economies with their different degrees of development are inseparably linked. It is here more than anywhere else that a global approach to Latin America is needed, for if we are to evaluate and understand this bond, if we are to strengthen and improve it, we must open wide the gates to a mutually beneficial cooperation.
I have already referred to the dangers of the type of study which gives attention only to one phase of the complex problem we are considering. This is the error of which the majority of businessmen--that is, industrialists and bankers--are guilty, obsessed as they are with curves of production and consumption, imports and exports, balances of payments, possibilities for industrial investment and ways of increasing output. The problem goes much deeper than all this. The economic development of Latin America has sociological and political implications of vast scope. It is not merely a matter of exploitation and production of raw materials, or of attractive opportunities for investment of foreign capital.
In envisaging the economic development of Latin America we must discard the Communist habit unconsciously adopted in so many conservative circles of giving a materialist interpretation, in this case not to history but to contemporary reality. The only valid and admissible approach is entirely different: the problem requires solutions based on moral, spiritual, social, and in the best sense of the word political arguments and aspirations which are at the same time grounded in precise realities. If any one of these factors is missing, the structure is bound to be precarious. More than 340,000,000 people inhabit the vast world of the Americas that stretches from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan, and their number is constantly growing. The problems of this world are above all human problems and they must be looked at from a human point of view rather than from the viewpoint of insensate materialism.
In economic geography Latin America is shown as an underdeveloped area, but the fact is that its development since the beginning of the century or, more precisely, since the first great European war, has been nothing short of astounding. Practically all of its peoples vegetated during the first century of their independent existence in so far as concerned the development of their economies and exploitation of their natural riches. This incubation was a long-drawn-out process, but it was not a waste: today all these countries are showing a remarkable rate of material progress.
Many of the world's greatest cities are in Latin America: Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Havana, Santiago, Lima, Montevideo. Bogota, which 50 years ago had scarcely 100,000 inhabitants, today has more than 800,000, and the population of Caracas has risen dizzily to 1,000,000. Modern city planning, intelligently conceived, is producing magnificent results in these capitals. In the past half century Latin America has undergone a fundamental transformation. The benefits of material civilization are everywhere asserting themselves, and Dr. Milton Eisenhower, after a rapid but conscientious tour of some of our countries, declared that in Latin America the United States has its best market and most important customers, not only right now but in the tremendous possibilities which it offers for the immediate future. Suffice it to recall that the population of Latin America, which a century and a half ago was less than 20,000,000, has now passed the 170,000,000 mark.
In Latin America the essential and fundamental problem is that of human beings. The nations which comprise it must express and assert themselves not only in material works and economic achievements but in ways that will strengthen their individual personalities and enhance the independence of their citizens. The worst form of colonialism is that in which foreign capitalism reduces a country's nationals to a subordinate position and manages their economy by remote control.
This viewpoint does not by any means imply sympathy for the vain and selfish nationalism advocated by some. Such nationalism, whether springing from complexes of inferiority or superiority, from a senseless aversion to everything foreign or a fatuous idolatry of everything domestic, is one of the worst deformations of the human soul. It is and has been the cause of innumerable collective misfortunes in many parts of our planet. Nationalism of the Peronist type is nothing but a demagogic weapon of totally unscrupulous, power-mad politicians, and is not in consonance with either the temper or the needs of the Latin American peoples. This is a fact which must be recognized. At the same time it should be recognized that these peoples have the right to insist that there be no threat of foreign domination in the indispensable economic coöperation with the United States which they so fervently desire and which is a sine qua non of their progress. Economic aid should not and must not become exploitation; it must never strangle the autonomy of these peoples or overstep the limits which the spirit of well-intentioned coöperation itself defines. Indeed, within these limits an effort must be made to free the Latin American peoples from poverty and backwardness; to elevate their condition; to encourage improvements in sanitation and health; to broaden their educational opportunities in schools, colleges and universities and assist their cultural expression in all fields; to foster in each of these countries an autonomous development which will reinforce its sovereignty and permit its citizens to feel and be the lords and masters of their own domain.
President Wilson in certain memorable speeches highlighted this theme, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt with his fruitful Good Neighbor policy gave it concrete expression. Let us remember them when, as sometimes happens, the aspirations and theories of businessmen point in other and dangerous directions.
When the colossal wealth of the United States and its technical and industrial might are brought face to face with the poverty from which we are just emerging and with the incipient industrial development of Latin America, problems of the greatest delicacy arise. A way must be found to insure the effective defense of the weak in their inevitable contacts with forces which, while they are indispensable for progress, are always dangerous if not controlled and inspired by a high concept of collaboration among nations and peoples. Capitalism left to its own devices always leans toward exclusive domination and ruthless materialism. It likes to think of itself as the center and raison d'être of all human activity. Coming up against the opposition of other principles where it had thought there were no obstacles to its own advance, it reacts with an impatience which in the past has led it to the most deplorable extremes. We must be forewarned against such excesses in the future if we are to avoid painful and difficult problems.
Right here we find another aspect of the basic unity which links the 170,000,000 inhabitants of Latin America and the republics to which they belong: their own concept of what their economic development should be, how their natural wealth should be exploited, how they should coöperate with foreign Powers and how they should strengthen their bonds with the United States. On these points there is close agreement of opinion and feeling throughout Latin America, a fact which is easily explained. For its peoples cannot afford to concentrate on financial enrichment and purely material progress, but must think in terms of the building of nations, the making of independent citizens, the strengthening of each republic's personality and the accentuation of its individuality. They reject the rôle of satellite and shun the danger of becoming poor imitations of alien forms of government.
Another one-sided approach, the most dangerous and least justified of all, is that which is advocated for military reasons and from the military point of view. This concept encourages all-out armament in Latin America, seeks to increase the size of its armed forces, and envisages the whole area primarily as a factor in one-sided military calculations, in defiance of common sense and the most obvious realities, and at the expense of our most pressing needs.
It is a distinction of Latin America that peace reigns among its member nations. Any attempt to start an international war here would be devoid of cause or even pretext; and it would be criminal, because it could not possibly reflect anything other than the selfish desires of a few men intent upon making a profit out of carnage. The peoples of Latin America wish to live together not only in peace but in close friendship. The deep historical, racial, emotional and economic factors which on other continents have traditionally set nation against nation do not exist in Latin America. To try to alter this situation artificially, to create mutually hostile blocs after the fashion of other continents, to play the politics of discord where everything calls for harmony and the peaceful solution of differences--this would be an unpardonable crime.
Furthermore, international peace in the Americas is fully guaranteed by the Pan American agreements and by the Act of Chapultepec outlawing the aggressor and automatically uniting all the others against him. The governments which are truly peace-loving governments--I do not say peoples, because all of the peoples of Latin America are peace-loving--can thus count on a sure guarantee of the defense of their rights if madness or evil should at any time threaten them. This distinctive position as a continent where peace is guaranteed gives Latin America an honored and perhaps decisive rôle in international relations.
Latin America's fortunate geographical situation is an asset in this connection. She cannot be made to serve as a pawn in the chess game of human destinies. The very nature of things as they are today, the very fact that the development of armaments has made such terrifying progress, has rudely but fortunately placed us beyond the possibility of direct participation in a universal conflict. Fortunately such a conflict is becoming more and more unlikely, even, one might say, impossible. War industries--and in this too we are fortunate--do not as yet figure in our economies. If worst should come to worst and a new conflict should threaten civilization, our necessary, just and inevitable solidarity with the United States would find a thousand ways of manifesting itself other than through the armaments and militarism which are today our natural enemies and a growing threat to us all.
Unfortunately this outlook is not shared by certain military experts who suffer from a disquieting myopia and insist on looking at everything from their own limited professional angle. Obsessed as they are with weapons and armies which it would ruin us to try to build up, they do not bother to ask themselves what use these could be to us in an atomic war. An honest answer to this question would undo in 15 minutes all the grandiose armament plans of which we are the victims.
Magazines in the United States recently published a list of jet airplanes purchased by various South American dictatorships-- magnificent and enormously costly, but now completely outdated as far as international warfare is concerned. They also listed considerable numbers of small warships, as expensive as they were showy and useless, to say nothing of tanks and cannon of the type manufactured 25 years ago. In a world conflict today all of this would have to be hastily hidden from view because it would serve no purpose. It is not the type of equipment that would be needed to put down a rebellion at home, and it will never be used for a war between sister nations, because such a war would not be tolerated by men of good will anywhere in America.
The hundreds of millions of dollars which these outmoded armaments are costing would satisfy some of the infinite needs of people who are still living in dire poverty and lack the most elementary necessities of life. There is no excuse for sinking enormous sums of money in such useless and dangerous projects when millions of people are suffering from tropical diseases for lack of funds to conduct public health services properly. There is no sense in such waste when we lack schools, universities, roads, decent housing for our peasants in the country and our workers in the cities and centers of culture. In all of these things we are woefully deficient, and yet in place of them we are given airplanes and tanks that wreck our economies and make us so uneasy that we can only hope no use will ever be found for them.
For all these reasons one of the greatest needs of Latin America and one of the most fervent desires of her peoples is that her armies should become once again what the Colombian Army, for example, represented for 35 years: an institution respected and loved by all, occupying with dignity the place of honor and service which the Constitution assigned to it in the national life and limiting itself strictly thereto; a disciplined and calm defender of national order and decorum, never a means of coercion to be used by any one faction against the people. Such armies should remain aloof from politics, never seeking to influence a political decision by their might. Nor is there any reason why they should be a crushing burden on the taxpayer. For the healthy reality is that in Latin America today there is simply no place for huge armies or oppressive armament programs, and everything points to a new concept of collective living.
Among all of Latin America's needs, the most important is that it should be, in the inspiring words of President Wilson, safe for democracy. Everywhere the democratic form of government must be a reality. This is not to say that anyone is looking for perfection, which exists nowhere, but only for one of those approximations which are the best we can hope for in the political organization of peoples. The foundations of democratic life, freedom of expression and association, the right of suffrage as the source from which all public authority springs--these must be respected and cherished. Public authority itself must have a clearly defined and delineated orbit; the reign of law must prevail, and the Constitution must be a true shield for every citizen; the arbitrary exercise of personal power must not be tolerated, and might must not be allowed to triumph over right. Our countries should be headed by responsible, representative, republican governments, "of the people, by the people and for the people." All this means that the peoples of Latin America need, want and hope to eliminate those dictatorships, most of them military, which to the detriment of us all are installed in ten or 12 of our countries.
Latin America should not be too hastily condemned for such dictatorships. Bad as they are, they are not as objectionable as the dictatorships of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and the Iron Curtain countries. Even in the United States itself our picturesque dictators have had their emulators who could well be compared to them, although fortunately on a local scale. To cite one example, Huey Long achieved many successes while the general public remained apathetic.
This militarist epidemic is not a product of the tropics (nor, be it remembered, is all of Latin America tropical). It is in large part a universal evil. The world is really one world only when it comes to the spread of epidemics, which advance with lightning speed in every direction unless they are checked in good time by the erection of the necessary cordons sanitaires. The militarist dictatorships in Latin America are only the local manifestations of the totalitarianism--whether it be called Communism, Nazism, Francoism or Fascism--which for the past 35 years has been threatening human liberty. They are different forms of one and the same virus which attacks the essential elements of democratic life and seeks to destroy them. Their symptoms are identical: hatred of liberty, suppression of free suffrage, unlimited personal power, demagogy in place of justice, the omnipotent state embodied in one man or clique, contempt for civil liberties and human rights.
The contagion of all this has spread to us from a world demoralized by 40 years of such violence and international criminality as might well disorient any people. The clash of innumerable hostile interests, passions and fears in recent times has produced changes so extraordinary, happenings so unforeseen, upsets so undreamed of that at moments the whole fate of humanity has hung in the balance and it has seemed as though the sacred principles which are always on the lips of so many were actually enshrined in the hearts of very few.
Against this background it is hardly a wonder that chaotic conditions prevail in some Latin American nations today. Many of these nations were familiar in earlier years with a type of caudillo who has now passed from the stage forever, the soldier who thanks to luck and ability emerged from the small civil wars to impose his will by the sheer force of his personal courage and physical prowess, a party man sprung from the people, with limited intellectual capacities but possessed of the gift of command and a ferocious energy. Typical examples were Porfirio Diaz and Juan Vicente Gomez.
All that has passed. In our age of technical advancements and overwhelming material power, of mechanized and highly costly military organizations, the caudillos have been replaced--and not for the better--by armies and their chiefs, just as the civil wars of old have been replaced by the coup d'état. The participants in those wars fought each other with a certain gallantry, after all, and with very modest armaments in their hands. Today the coup d'état is accomplished within a matter of hours, and is backed by sufficient power to discourage if not completely stifle all possible resistance. For what unarmed people, no matter how great their majority, can attempt to fight against tanks and airplanes?
The most galling thing about this prevalence of brute force in the political life of some Latin American nations is that the armies which have seized power have never distinguished themselves in glorious campaigns, nor have their generals won acclaim, like the heroes of Italian opera, returning victorious from historic battles. Nothing of the kind. Our generals have never seen a battlefield, and their armies have never waged war. Their first battle, and one in which there is no physical enemy, is the seizure of power by virtue of the sheer weight of armaments put into their hands. They then proceed to occupy, as though it were conquered enemy territory, the country which they are determined to rule by force of arms.
The military profession is not exactly the best school in which to learn the difficult art of government. If governing were merely commanding, as the military believe, the rôle they assume would be justified. But to govern means to interpret, to reconcile, to respect the rights of all, to give freedom of expression to every opinion, to abide by the laws and never subordinate them to personal caprice. To govern--to govern well--often means to have the courage to rectify a mistake; to ask for and listen to advice; to have patience; and to realize that one owes one's power to the will of the people and exercises it for the period they have determined and within the limitations they have established. All of this is difficult for the military to understand and accept, accustomed as they are to the blind obedience of their inferiors, the dry voices of command, and the narrow horizon of their profession, which rarely encompasses the element of humanism.
Dictatorships of any kind, and particularly military ones, can only do harm in Latin America and jeopardize the fulfillment of our true destinies. Our essential need is to produce good citizens, to provide all of our people with the opportunity to assert their personalities, to dignify the Latin American of every class, giving him intellectual, moral and spiritual stature, and finally, to ennoble our nations. All of this is endangered by dictatorship, which invariably destroys character and by its very nature causes corruption wherever it exists. Dictatorship breeds dishonesty, servility, adulation, greed, and thereby debases the people it rules. For our America, whose purest apostle was José Martí, dictatorship represents a mortal peril. Our worst enemy is not poverty, but tyranny, the totalitarian disease which has done and is still doing so much evil.
There is no substitute for the essentially democratic régime in Latin America, adapted in its details to the idiosyncrasies of each nation, and it is the only régime which can offer the stability and security our friends in the United States long to see us achieve. Any dictatorship is precarious, and the only thing it can be sure of is its own downfall, especially when its foundations are as weak as those of our dictatorial régimes in Latin America. And when they fall, dictators usually bring down everything around them, including the majority of their friends. Many are they who regret having been such a friend, many are they who realize what a mistake it was to believe that in a choice between the dictator and the oppressed people, they could ignore or scorn the latter with impunity!
This desire for democratic government, this intense, persistent longing in the hearts of our people for the freedom which they have known and cannot reconcile themselves to living without, is another factor contributing to unity in Latin America. It is the shining current, sometimes running underground, sometimes in the full light of the sun, which no perspicacious observer can fail to discern in our countries, happy or sad, backward or progressive, but always hungering for justice, liberty and peace.