Courtesy Reuters


IN looking back upon the Sixth Pan American Conference it is easy to see why it has been described both as a great diplomatic triumph and as a great disappointment. What happened was that except on minor matters the Conference did nothing. Those who wanted it to do nothing about the major matters which were in everybody's mind came back from Havana happily and triumphantly disappointed. Those who had hoped that the Conference would at least begin to clarify the Monroe Doctrine and our Caribbean policy came back cynically disappointed. Everybody was disappointed, but some were glad they were disappointed, and some were sorry.

The Conference had opened after many warnings that at Havana the United States would face a bloc of Latin-American nations determined at least to censure, and perhaps to put a curb upon, our extensive and self-assumed obligations in the Caribbean region. Our delegation seems to have assumed as a matter of course that if it could avoid a scolding, and deflect any proposal to limit our obligation, it would have fulfilled its mission. If this was its mission, it fulfilled it. Mr. Hughes described our policy in very noble terms. Nobody from Latin America arose to contradict Mr. Hughes and to say that it was not a very noble policy. On the other hand nobody said that it was a very noble policy. We emerged from the Conference having endorsed our own solitary obligation with our own solitary praise. We indulged ourselves in a unilateral vote of confidence in our unilateral policy. We had to do it. Nobody else was prepared to endorse our policy, or praise it, or give us a vote of confidence. The utmost we were able to obtain from our neighbors was their willingness to sit still and let us talk.

This, in the opinion of many, was a great victory. We had all somehow come to believe that "Latin-America" had one heart, one mind, and one soul, and that it was imbued with determination to do something about the hegemony which we exercise in the Caribbean. I still believe that our policies are disliked in Latin-America and that our purposes are suspect. But Havana convinced me that the idea of anything like a concert of Latin-American states to oppose the United States was an idle fiction. Indeed, after a week or two in Havana I began to wonder how I could ever have been so obtuse as not to realize that if the Latin-American nations were sufficiently advanced politically to unite against the United States, they would long since have advanced beyond the stage where interventions are either necessary or feasible. A concert of Latin-American states "to curb American aggression" and "defend the sovereignty" of say Nicaragua or Haiti, could exist only if the twenty Latin nations had reached a standard of political morality which few if any nations anywhere have yet reached.

It would mean that they were prepared to take risks in conflicts where their own immediate interest is not involved. It would mean that they ceased to play for immediate tangible advantage. It would mean that they had given up their own multitudinous jealousies and ambitions. It would mean that their governments were self-sufficient enough not to fear the punishment nor desire the favors which we are in a position to bestow. It would mean that they had outgrown the racial, class, and sectarian animosities which divide them at home, and unite factions in one country in intrigues with factions in another. Latin-Americans, before they could form an international concert, would have to have outgrown their extreme particularism, their extreme nationalism, their extreme factionalism. And if they had gotten that far, they would no longer put upon the United States the necessity, nor offer it the occasion for intervening in their affairs. When they had advanced enough really to object as a body against our interventions, the policy of intervention would almost certainly be obsolete.

That there existed a formless sentiment against our policy among the delegates at Havana is fairly certain. It is even more certain that in almost all the countries from which they came, there exists among the best educated a very strong sentiment, which might, under provocation, become militant. But the diplomats at Havana did not translate this sentiment into any kind of political program. This was due in part to the fact that they did not wish to make their feelings effective, and in part to their inability to do so.

It was evident, I think, that almost all the delegates had private reasons for not taking upon themselves the rather quixotic rôle of defending the rights of others. They would almost all have agreed, oratorically, that the rights of various nations had been unceremoniously ignored in the course of our thirty military interventions during the last generation. But practically, in January and February 1928, at Havana, in the presence of the kindly but stern eye of Mr. Hughes, under the observation of State Department officials with whom they, as Ambassadors or Foreign Ministers, have to deal for some time to come, they chose the course of prudence rather than of oratory. They did not make the humanitarian speeches they might have made, but instead almost each delegation took a line which suited the immediate practical needs of its government.

There was Cuba, for example, the host of the Conference. The Government of President Machado is hardly the kind of government to go crusading for, let us say, Nicaragua. The Machado Government happens to be a rather thoroughgoing dictatorship with a generous capacity to spend public money. It is in no position even to make faces at the State Department, for, having suppressed all semblance of political opposition at home, its ultimate protection against the otherwise inevitable revolution lies in the Platt Amendment. The Machado Government is possessed, moreover, by a strong desire for a modification of the United States tariff on sugar, and for a more easy-going attitude on the part of the State Department towards loans from Wall Street. It is not hard to see, therefore, why Cuba, in addition to its natural courtesy as a host, was also helpful to Mr. Hughes.

Our other Latin-American neighbor is Mexico. The delegation which President Calles sent to Havana reflected the new spirit in Mexican-American relations which Ambassador Morrow has created. The plain fact here was that the Mexicans were determined to do nothing at Havana which would spoil the prospects of a settlement between Washington and Mexico City. The notion that Mexico conceives herself as the leader of a great Latin-American movement directed at the United States was shown to be nonsense. Mexicans are primarily interested in Mexico; and in what goes on in Haiti, Dominica or Nicaragua they take only a rather casual interest. When they were threatened by us they no doubt looked around for help, and took a few fliers in Nicaraguan liberalism. But, given a chance to set their own affairs in order, they quite obviously prefer one Morrow in Mexico City to ten Sandinos in the bush.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic were hardly in a position to do anything contentious. About Guatemala I don't know. But Honduras and Costa Rica, which lie respectively to the north and south of Nicaragua, both have conservative governments, and therefore were not prepared to shed any tears over a policy which up to that time at least had worked out so well for their fellow conservatives in Nicaragua. In Central America, I am told, partisan feelings and partisan alignments run across the frontiers, with the result that factions of a similar character aid and abet each other. Thus the notion that one nation must not interfere in the internal affairs of another is really quite foreign to their practice. They interfere continually in each other's affairs, and if a faction can in a crisis induce the United States to interfere in its behalf so much the better.

Nicaragua itself had, of course, nothing to say, since the delegates represented the Diaz government which we were maintaining. There remain among the Central American nations only Salvador and Panama. In the person of Dr. Gustavo Guerrero, its Minister of Foreign Relations, Salvador did take a stand for the adoption of the famous line in the report made by the Commission of Jurists at Rio de Janeiro which would have prohibited all intervention by our State Department in the internal affairs of another as absolutely, and, I imagine, as effectively as our own prohibition law prohibits liquor at a politician's dinner. But Salvador is a small and uninfluential country. Besides Salvador there was Panama, which in the person of its foreign minister, Sr. Ricardo J. Alfaro, was charged with the high and difficult task of reporting on methods of adjusting international disputes. For reasons which I was never able to ascertain, Mr. Alfaro reported his plan for preventing war so late that the Conference could not consider it. He appeared with his report forty-eight hours before the Conference adjourned.

The South American nations obviously had many reasons of their own for not making an issue with us. The chief one, I fancy, is that they lie outside the orbit of our Caribbean policy, and are therefore not vitally concerned with it. Some of them, moreover, like Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, are much concerned with their own disputes, such as that over Tacna-Arica, and could not afford to sacrifice the favor of the State Department. The Argentine, which is politically and economically the least under our influence, did raise a flurry about the tariff. But the agitation of Ambassador Pueyrredon somehow got itself tangled up with the Presidential elections in the Argentine, and collapsed. Brazil was hardly in a mood to acknowledge the political importance of the Argentine by following the leadership of Dr. Pueyrredon.

I do not suppose that this hasty outline really covers the complex motives which resulted in an almost unanimous willingness of the Latin nations to let our Caribbean policy go unchallenged. But I do believe that the facts I have alluded to are characteristic of the state of mind which our delegation encountered at Havana. We took full advantage of this state of mind, and Mr. Hughes's triumph, which consisted in preventing any real discussion of our policy, was achieved by an adroit tactical use of the opportunities presented. Whether Mr. Hughes's objectives were as good as his technique was skilful is another question. Whether, by winning this diplomatic battle as he did, he really gained ground or lost it is still another question. But it is undeniable that he found the Latin-Americans hopelessly divided, that he kept them divided without hurting their feelings, and that he convoyed the State Department safely through what the officials down there thought was going to be an unpleasant experience.


If it is the real purpose of the United States to regulate affairs in the Caribbean on its own sole responsibility, then what happened at Havana was a great political triumph. It was definitely demonstrated that the enormous unpopularity of our policy finds no effective political expression. As far as the Latin-American governments are concerned we are free to proceed as we see fit, consulting only our own interests and our own consciences, subject to no limitations except those we impose upon ourselves, accountable to no one but ourselves for what we do. The Monroe Doctrine, maintained wholly by our own power, guaranties us a free hand as against Europe and Asia; the disunion of the Latin-American States assures us a free hand as against them. This situation would be ideal if our purpose is to establish an empire around all the approaches to the Panama Canal.

The true measure of the Havana Conference can be taken only by weighing what happened in the light of what our real purposes are. Now it is not easy to know what our purposes really are. If we accept the official utterances of Presidents and of Secretaries of State, we are solemnly committed to the theory that we shall not take another foot of territory belonging to an independent state, that we have no designs upon the independence of any state, that we seek no special privileges for our own nationals, and that our only desire is to see all the Central American Republics enjoying independent, constitutional, democratic government, accompanied by social progress, and an increasing prosperity. The theory is that if they had all these blessings, we should never intervene in their affairs, that we do intervene only because the breakdown of their institutions creates disorders which endanger the lives and property of foreigners, or the defences of the Canal, and that we cease to intervene as soon as there is a promise that the disorders are over. The fact that we did intervene and withdraw twice in Cuba, once in the Dominican Republic, and once in Nicaragua goes far to prove that this is in fact the general intention of the United States Government. Certainly, if the United States were aggressively imperialistic in the European sense of the term, it could readily have converted all the territory from the Rio Grande to Panama into a protectorate.

That there are politicians and private interests who would like to do that cannot, I believe, be denied. That they have in many instances imposed their views on the State Department seems also undeniable. But though they have exerted powerful influences on this matter and that, they have never wholly prevailed. The real sentiment of the country reflected both in Congress and in the Administration has sooner or later insisted that somehow we must not accept a permanent obligation to govern the Caribbean nations. A good deal of the confusion which has characterized our policy in the last twenty years is due to the fact that the first moves in any crisis are taken on the dictation or advice of interests which have far-reaching purposes, that, having made these moves, the Administration finds itself to its surprise and consternation more deeply involved than it wishes or than American opinion will approve, and that then it tries painfully to work its way out of the entanglement. Ultimately we do sincerely try to bring our actions into line with our professions of disinterestedness, but before we quite know what has happened we have been drawn into the most acute embarrassments.

The immediate circumstances which lead to an intervention are almost invariably due to revolutionary disorder. The lives and property of foreigners are threatened, and under our latter-day interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine we take upon ourselves the obligation of protecting them. But to this obligation we have come to give the very broadest interpretation. In the Caribbean we do not intervene merely to save foreigners from being killed or wounded, or to protect property which is threatened with irreparable physical damage. We go much further, and assume that it is our obligation to insure to foreigners a general domestic tranquillity. At times we go even further than that, and assume that it is part of our obligation to see that the government in power is friendly to foreign interests, and that it will not through exorbitant corruption or through radical legislation interfere too much with the business of foreigners.

Now revolutions in Latin-America may be divided into two great classes, which we may for convenience call social revolutions and executive revolutions. The social revolution is typified most clearly by the line of Mexican leaders from Father Miguelo Hidalgo y Costilla through Benito Juarez to Madero, Carranza, Obregon and Calles. They represent the gradual rise of the native and the mixed population against the small class of great landowners who descend from the Spanish conquistadores. They are part of an historic and an inevitable change in the economic class structure of Mexico. They have had their counterparts in other Latin-American countries, and in all human probability they will have more of them as time goes on. For the social system in Latin-America has for three hundred years been based on great feudal estates dominating masses of landless serfs. This social system is breaking up and in the long run nothing can prevent its breaking up. So when revolution begins in a Latin-American country the first thing to ascertain is whether or not it is a phase of this epochmaking social change.

The ordinary revolution in Latin-America is not of this sort. It is a mere transfer of the executive power from one faction to another. The chronic disorder in Nicaragua, for example, arising out of the rivalry between the old Spanish families in Granada who call themselves Conservatives, and the old Spanish families in Leon who call themselves Liberals, does not in any significant sense constitute a struggle between conservatism and liberalism. It is a struggle between two factions of the ruling class who in respect to social principles in dealing either with the natives or with foreigners are indistinguishable. The most corrupt and tyrannical of all Nicaraguan dictators was Zelaya, a Liberal, who took office in 1893 and held it until Secretary Knox threw him out in 1909. Nicaragua has a particularly bad record, but by and large the ordinary revolution in Latin-America is merely a change of executive power inside the old governing class.

This kind of revolution is an essential part of the political system of many of these countries. They are nominally republics, but with very few exceptions none of them has learned how to change the government by counting heads. They do not have a party system and they do not have elections. The party in power invariably elects its own ticket by force and fraud, and the only way the opposition can obtain power is by seizing it. The result is that a change of administration in Central America almost always implies disorder and disorder always involves the possibility of American intervention. And this means that the State Department is inevitably drawn into the domestic political contentions of these countries, being compelled either to align itself with the faction in power or against it. For since the success of a revolution depends upon whether the State Department intends to intervene in behalf of the existing administration, or to recognize the rebels if they win, the Department is the decisive element in Central American party politics.

In 1907 at a conference of the five Central American Republics, which had the moral approval both of the United States and of Mexico, a convention was adopted which laid down certain principles intended to cure the revolutionary habit. Article I of a convention added to the General Treaty provided that "the Governments of the High Contracting Parties shall not recognize any other government which may come into power in any of the five Republics as a consequence of a coup d'état, or of a revolution against a recognized government, so long as the freely elected representatives of the people thereof have not constitutionally reorganized the country". This principle has, with some striking exceptions, guided the succeeding administrations at Washington in deciding whether or not to recognize a Central American government.

It was undoubtedly adopted with a sincere desire to discourage factional revolutions, and I have no doubt that it has discouraged many. But as a bald principle forbidding the recognition of any revolutionary government, it has raised new difficulties which are even more embarrassing to us than the disorder which we set out to cure. We refused, for example, as a matter of principle, to recognize the government set up as a result of the coup d'état of General Emiliano Chamorro in October 1925. But having refused to recognize Chamorro, it was logical to assume that we would recognize Sacasa if he succeeded in undoing the treachery of Chamorro. But when Sacasa began a military rebellion to recover his office, we refused to countenance him either, and finally threw in our lot with Diaz, a man who belonged to Chamorro's party. Then when it was shown that Diaz had not force enough to maintain himself, we sent in the marines, and prevented Sacasa from defeating Diaz. We were thus placed in the unhappy position of maintaining a government by the bayonets of the marines in a country where there was no constitutional and orderly way of retiring our man Diaz from office. This drove us to the next step, which was first to disarm the opponents of Diaz, and then to take upon ourselves the incredibly difficult, not to say impossible, task of guaranteeing a free election. The effect, therefore, of refusing to permit a change of government by means of revolution has been to compel us to accept the burden of trying to provide Nicaragua with a peaceable substitute for revolution.

Thus step by step we have been pushed over a course which begins with the Monroe Doctrine and ends with our trying to impose free and fair elections upon countries which are theoretically sovereign and independent. The links in the chain have been as follows: under the Monroe Doctrine we alone can intervene in this hemisphere; because the Central American countries are too immature to conduct elections they have chronic revolutions; because they have revolutions they have disorder; because they have disorder we are compelled to intervene; because we do not wish to intervene we have in effect forbidden revolution; to enforce our prohibition we have to intervene; because we intervene we are in the morally unpleasant position of always supporting the existing régime; because we think that some change of government must be allowed, because no change can take place peaceably, because we won't permit changes that are not peaceable, we have to intervene again to compel the natives to submit to peaceable elections. What lies beyond that, I do not know. But it looks very much as if, having imposed a free election, we should have to keep the marines abroad to see that nobody demands a recount. We are finding it very difficult to impose self-government upon the natives.

This is the policy on which we so triumphantly avoided a discussion at Havana. That it is a successful policy, no one, I think, will assert, least of all the responsible officials in the State Department. The worst thing about it is that it does not work. It is designed to prevent interventions and it simply makes intervention more elaborate and costly. It gives us the odor of imperialism, and yet our intention, I believe, is not to create an empire. It involves all the nuisance of empire without the constructive advantages of a well-managed imperialism. We have been respecting the sovereignty of Nicaragua and intervening in her affairs for twenty years, and at the end Nicaragua has less sovereignty and more misgovernment than if we had frankly annexed Nicaragua and set out to rule it.

Havana may not have been a good place to discuss the problem, though I am inclined to believe that the statesmanlike thing to do would have been to insist upon discussing it. Instead of manoeuvering to stifle discussion, and of uttering noble but ambiguous assurances that we mean well in Nicaragua, we should have taken the position that far from shrinking from discussion, we were there to demand that the Latin-American countries face the full difficulties of the question, and in some measure share with us the moral responsibility for dealing with it. Mr. Hughes was entirely right, I think, in dismissing the proposal of the jurists' commission to prohibit all intervention. He would have been entirely justified in repudiating any attack upon our good faith or our motives. But having done that, he should boldly and frankly have taken the position that policing Nicaragua is not a privilege which the United States enjoys, but a costly nuisance which it thoroughly detests, and that the time had come, or at least was coming, when Latin-Americans would have to share some part of the responsibility with us.

Had Mr. Hughes taken this position he might very well have lifted the whole Nicaraguan business to a new plane and have put the United States in a new light throughout Latin-America. I do not suppose that the Havana Conference would have worked out a program for solving the question, and I am quite prepared to believe that some delegates would have made cynical or acrid remarks. But at least we should have put this problem into its proper perspective by making it plain that we are not in Nicaragua as part of a general program of imperial expansion, but that we are there because somehow, against our will, circumstances have sucked us in, and that we should like nothing so much as to get out as soon as we can do it without sacrificing any real interest or shirking any real responsibility. For the effect of avoiding discussion is to confirm the belief that what we really want in the Caribbean, however nobly we may talk, is a free hand.


If, as Mr. Hughes said at Havana, we entered Nicaragua "to meet an imperative but temporary exigency, and we shall retire as soon as it is possible," then it is a very real question whether, in avoiding a responsible discussion of our intervention, we did not accomplish precisely the result which it is in our interest to avoid. Granted that the disorders presented us with an imperative exigency. Granted that we had to enter Nicaragua when and as we did. Is it not plain that in making ourselves the sole judges of how imperative the exigency was, and the sole judges of when it will be possible to retire, we have put ourselves in a position before the world of asserting a right which rests at last upon our preponderant power? It is debatable as to whether the intervention was necessary, but surely the one certain objection to it is that it is an invasion of the sovereignty of another country without any international sanction whatsoever. The presumption is always against intervention. It is at best a necessary evil. But the presumption is ever so much greater against a solitary intervention. For when an intervention is declared to be necessary by two or more powers, the odium is distributed and the claim of disinterestedness is somewhat more plausible.

Looked at in this light, our achievement in diverting the interest of Latin-America from our Caribbean policy was not much of a triumph. On the contrary, the failure to interest Latin-America was in the most fundamental sense a failure. The United States is quite strong enough to do what it chooses in the Caribbean. Nobody denies that, and it is no great feat to hush up the rhetoric of nations which are powerless to stop us from doing what we wish to do. But if the real purpose of the United States is disinterested, as I believe it is, then what the United States is bound to desire is some kind of international recognition of its policies. Its objective must be not merely to avoid a scolding, but to enlist as many other nations as possible to share the moral responsibility of intervention.

I have already alluded to the practical difficulties which stood in the way of a Latin-American concert. It does not seem to me likely that the twenty governments to the south of us will for many years to come have the international maturity necessary to establish a society of nations. Nevertheless, because of our strength and influence, it seems to me essential that the State Department should adopt as a cardinal principle of its Latin-American policy the desirability of drawing the Latin-American countries into its confidence, and of making them share, as far as they can be persuaded to share it, the onus of intervention. The idea itself is not new. In 1906, for example, when war broke out between Guatemala and Salvador, President Roosevelt invited President Diaz of Mexico to join him in offering mediation. The United States and Mexico were joined by Costa Rica and Nicaragua in organizing a successful peace conference. President Wilson reached out for diplomatic coöperation to South America several times during his difficulties with Mexico. But of late years the State Department seems to have lost interest in this type of diplomacy and to have reverted to the method of isolated action.

It should, I believe, return to the precedents set by Roosevelt and Wilson. There is no need to deny that a coöperative diplomacy is more cumbersome, is often disappointing, and may at times be less immediately effective than an unrestrained singlehanded policy. But it is far less irritating to the opinion of the world, and for all its difficulties it is well worth the trouble.

Assuming agreement on the general desirability of a coöperative diplomacy, the question may be asked as to where we are to find nations of sufficient importance to coöperate with us. Europe is ruled out under the Monroe Doctrine. South America is remote from the Caribbean, and is not, I think, likely at present to assume any important part of the burden. My own view is that, following the precedent set by Roosevelt, we must look to Mexico.

A year ago this suggestion would have seemed preposterous to most Americans. But we must remember that for a long generation, up to 1910, Mexico had a very stable and influential government, and we may assume that it will again have one. It is not over-optimistic to believe that the régime which began with President Obregon in 1920 is now well on the way to stabilization, and that Mexico is approaching the time when it may be counted upon again as one of the strong nations of this hemisphere. I do not believe it is in the least utopian to believe that in the future it will be possible to enlist the help of Mexico in determining how to pacify the more backward countries of the Caribbean.

A more far-reaching suggestion, which is well worth exploring, is that Canada be invited to join the Pan American Union and take her part as a great nation in Pan-American affairs. The advantage to the United States of having another independent English-speaking nation participating must have been evident, I think, to anyone who watched the conference at Havana. The United States has every interest in welcoming the entrance of Canada into Pan-American affairs. The question is whether Canada would accept such an invitation, and whether the Latin-American nations could overcome their inevitable fear of a too great influence of the English-speaking peoples. To Canada it might be pointed out that the affairs of this hemisphere are at least as much her affairs as the affairs of Europe, and that if she can take the responsibility of membership in the Council of the League she can take responsibility as a member of the Pan American Union. To the Latin-Americans it could be pointed out that two English-speaking nations would not supplement each other's force, but act as checks the one upon the other.

In any event, by one means or another, the United States, if it is to avoid a repetition of the moral disaster in Nicaragua, is bound to seek international coöperation in future interventions. That seems to me the more hopeful line of policy rather than to attempt to lay down rigid general rules about the recognition of revolutionary governments. There are no universally valid general rules. Each case needs to be dealt with on its merits. The fundamentally desirable thing is that we should not seek to deal with it all alone. If we make that our guiding principle we shall not get ourselves entangled in all the embarrassments which arise from trying to prohibit revolution entirely in countries which cannot operate an electoral system, and then in lieu of revolution trying to operate an electoral system for them.

It would be far wiser to discountenance most revolutions, and yet occasionally to countenance them. The real way, moreover, of curing the revolutionary habit is frankly to exert our influence on behalf of better government. We have great power. But we tend to exert that power either to protect our narrowest interests or to reserve it for a crisis. We ought rather to exert it continuously upon the governments in power on behalf of orderly administration and of social reform. That will do more than anything else we can do to prevent the upheavals which create the "imperative exigencies" in which we intervene.

Such a diplomacy is not easy. It requires the same kind of statesmanship which Mr. Morrow has brought to Mexico, and I am frankly of the opinion that it is a wholly impracticable diplomacy for the ordinary political diplomat who is dispatched to Central America, or for the ordinary young career diplomat who goes there, like a soul to purgatory, wondering how soon he can manage to be promoted to London or Paris. Diplomacy in Central America is the most difficult kind of diplomacy which we have to conduct. It is the least fashionable and the least enchanting. It should be reserved for men of distinction, for men who have succeeded in life and do not need a diplomatic appointment to improve their social position, and for young men who would like to do a real piece of work. Today these Central American posts, though they are intrinsically of extraordinary importance, are, barring perhaps Siam and Abyssinia, the least desired. The work often is done by men whose hearts are elsewhere, by men who feel that their positions are held in low esteem. We shall blunder along in the Caribbean as long as this state of affairs continues, for diplomacy is fundamentally a matter of men and not of diplomatic notes and diplomatic theories.