Courtesy Reuters

Latin American Realities

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

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