THE Second World War has brought the countries of South America a feeling of concern and responsibility. It has turned their thoughts inward. The temporary silence of the cultural voices of Spain, France and Italy, the three nations which are closest to the soul of Ibero-America, has deeply affected the thinking people of the continent, while the collapse of France has bewildered them.

The influence of Spain has been strong among conservative elements in the South American countries ever since they became independent; and the authority of Spanish reformers at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries kept it alive among liberals as well. Spanish influence declined during the second half of the nineteenth century. But in the twentieth it reasserted itself and became stronger than ever. There has, however, been one important difference in this renaissance of Spanish culture and Spanish intellectual prestige in South America; the greatest contributions of Spain in this century have been to the liberal, democratic and humanitarian conceptions of life.

Spain has also been responsible for carrying much of the culture of Germany to Ibero-America. During the past forty years most Spanish scientific workers have been educated, directly or indirectly, in Germany; and their transfer to South America, in turn, of what they had learnt in Germany has undoubtedly added to German prestige and influence. German romanticism, neo-Kantism and spiritual vitalism have been enormously influential in Spain. They have not only been spread through all that country, but recently through Hispanic-America as well, by the academic authority of the Madrid publishing firm, Revista de Occidente, and its director, José Ortega y Gasset. It would be hard to exaggerate the part which that firm and the philosopher who guides it have played in the intellectual life of Ibero-America, and in particular of Argentina, during the past 25 years. The personal standing of Ortega has made him the literary and philosophical educator of several generations. He always has followed the line of German philosophy, but, politically speaking, with an unequivocal liberal slant. The publishing house has specialized in excellent translations of the works of German thinkers. Professors and students of all Spanish-speaking countries have studied these books for a quarter of a century.

There have been three periods of French influence in South America. The first was the era of Rousseau and the French Revolutionary ideology, from which the liberators drew inspiration. This period was lengthened by the appearance of romanticism. The second period was symbolized by the positivism of Comte and his school -- of the school rather than of Comte himself. For three-quarters of a century the prestige of its scientific dogma, rejuvenated by the meteoric brilliance of Spencer, who was interpreted in terms of the French school, was strong in South America. This period was a dynamic and fruitful one, a period of action that lasted until the first decade of this century. Then came the sunset of positivism, and with it a decline in the dominance of French thought. The third period has been less luminous. Writers like Bergson, Meyerson and Proust brought new French influences to South America, but it was already late. The spiritualism of Bergson encountered the reborn tradition of Spain and a new Spanish generation represented by Unamuno and Ortega y Gasset, and was forced to share its place with them. The philosophy of science represented by Meyerson reached South America only to find Spanish translations of German books on the same subject already in the windows of bookstores. As for Proust, he is a terminal station rather than a point of departure. But France has always been a moving influence in the countries of Ibero-America, and without doubt still is.

The genius of a youthful Italy emerged in the literature, art, philosophy, jurisprudence and science of the Risorgimento, and this had an echo in some of the countries of South America. The Italian influence has been neither so widespread nor so intense as that of Spain and France, but it would be a mistake to minimize it, especially in Argentina and Uruguay. The two Italian thinkers most admired have been Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile, both of the Hegelian school. Gentile is incorporated in the Fascist movement and is the author of a positive cultural interpretation of Fascism. Croce's influence is visible in the work of many thinkers on this side of the Atlantic; but, like the Spaniards educated in Germany, he has almost always inculcated in his adherents a devotion to liberty as it was understood by the liberal mind of Milton. This fact has been confusing, for instead of offering a sure refuge to those who sought solutions for their problems, German culture presents itself as a riddle. Evidently the German spirit has two faces. Which is the true one?

South America, then, is living through a period of intellectual orphanage, of serious self-analysis. The self-analysis will be not merely profound, I believe, but fertile also. But meantime these are not years of what could be called firm faith. South America is not moving forward into the unknown unfalteringly and with undaunted confidence. In one matter, however, it has determined to persevere, and that is with respect to nationalism. I sensed there on a recent visit an exacerbated feeling of national sovereignty, an integration of the national personality. Without exception, South Americans, are, in that sense, living in an era of political romanticism.


South America is divided into three different political sections, each with different problems conditioned by geographic, economic and, in some cases, ethnographic factors. The countries located on the Pacific coast form one section; those situated on the altiplano another; and those lying along the Atlantic coast a third. Besides this vertical stratification there is a horizontal one which divides the continent between a region with a tropic economy complementary to that of North America and a temperate zone in the south whose products are largely competitive.

I was with a group of political and commercial leaders in the splendid city of Viña del Mar, on the coast of Chile, when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor arrived. A feeling of uneasiness immediately gripped the gathering. For the first time in history the most representative peoples of the Pacific area were plunged into a general war. Nobody present denied that in this war the future of Chile and of all the other Pacific countries was at stake. The fact that the initiative had been taken by Japan was enough to give the struggle the aspect of a clash between the yellow and white races. China's participation rules out, strictly speaking, that interpretation; but there is justification for it in the fact that an imperialistic country such as had never existed in that part of the world has now appeared in the Pacific.

This feeling of uneasiness, which spread rapidly through all the countries of the Pacific, is enough to explain many political events. A few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor a Chilean of high military standing said: "Had this war begun as one between Germany and the United States, our internal political situation might have been very serious. It cannot be denied that Chile has a traditional admiration for the German Army, even a feeling of gratitude towards it. But because the initiative of the attack came from Japan, a Pacific nation which has long boasted of its imperialism, everybody has realized that, for the American countries along the Pacific, the basic aspect of this war is the conflict between the United States and Japan, the duel between the white man and the aggressive yellow man. That solved the political problem latent in our army."

The recent elections in Chile were not so favorable to the cause of democracy as might perhaps have been desired. The elimination of Cruz-Coke, representative of a small conservative group, was unfortunate, for he possesses an acute social and religious vision of the problems of our age. So was the failure of such a dynamic enthusiast as González Videla to win the support of the Radical Party. Finally, it may be considered that the left parties as a whole made a mistake in not choosing a moderate and farsighted Socialist like Oscar Schnake as the coalition candidate. Schnake has a long experience in administration and an exceptional cultural background. His platform speech was a real political masterpiece. In contrast to these three men, Juan Antonio Ríos, imposed on the coalition by the dominant Radical Party, seems to be rather colorless and to lack a real sense of the movement of history.

Where is Chile going? The attitude of that intelligent, energetic and charming country seems equivocal not only to North Americans but to most of the nations of Ibero-America. Chile, with the United States, initiated the Rio de Janeiro Conference. Her attitude before the Conference was generally interpreted as committing her without serious reservations to the cause of continental solidarity. On January 12 her Foreign Minister, Juan Bautista Rosetti, gave a statement to the Buenos Aires press that aroused great enthusiasm among the partisans of solidarity. Yet it was clear to an observer in Santiago before the Conference and in Buenos Aires during it that official Chile was not committing itself irrevocably. The attitude of some of the most representative men in the government of Chile was in fact very different from what had been attributed to them. They were far from ready to embark on a policy that could accentuate the dangers which in their opinion were menacing Chile unless they were assured of far-reaching guarantees in exchange. Ideological as well as economic factors inclined Chile toward the United Nations, and more particularly towards the United States. But the country is completely defenseless. A Chilean minister remarked confidentially, some days after Pearl Harbor: "We do not have guns or ammunition, warships or aircraft. How then can we justify a break in relations that could precipitate an attack upon our copper mines and nitrate fields?"

But was this the only reason which impelled Chile to take the stand she did at Rio? In my view two other factors were involved. One is political apprehension for the future. The other is a psychological factor which is very strong in Chile, as in many other countries of South America: a high respect for the German immigrants who settled there and gratitude to the German countries from which they came. I would like to stress this attitude. Between 1845 and 1854, 2,000 German families arrived in Chile and colonized the southern regions. These regions form the richest agricultural zone in Chile, that is to say, its most prosperous. From 1880 onwards the army and public education were both orientated toward Germany. German professors were invited to come to the normal schools, later to the Pedagogical Institute and finally to the liceos. At the same time, officers of the German Army were invited to take over the military education of Chilean cadets. These facts have shaped the psychological trend now dominant in Chile. It is not necessarily a permanent one. But to remove it will require time and some unequivocal military successes on the part of the United Nations.

A feeling of uneasiness very similar to that prevalent in Chile, but aggravated by the problem of Japanese immigration, brought about a sudden change in the international political attitude of Peru. Everyone knows how close a relationship there was, and is, between the governments of Peru and Spain. Everyone knows the powerful influence exercised in Peru by the Banca Italiana and the Deutsche Übersee Bank, which together control the greater part of the country's commercial credit. What is not so well known is the way the Japanese have succeeded in insinuating themselves into Peru's economic life and in establishing homogeneous groups in strategic parts of the country.

There are five definite Japanese nuclei in Peru. Three are along the coast -- at Piura, Chimbote and Lima-Callao. The other two are in the interior: one expanding from the head of the Marañon River in the direction of Iquitos, the other extending from the source of the River Madre de Dios to the border of Bolivia. The Japanese in the first three colonies exploit fertile cotton land. The Piura area is also rich in oil. The Marañon river affords access to the riches of the Amazon valley. The Mitsui trust has set up several companies through which the two colonies of the interior have been consolidated and it has worked out a plan for the exploitation of these regions. The principal activities of the Japanese are in agriculture and, to a lesser degree, in small industries and shops. They are so sober in temperament and have such endurance that white men find it impossible to compete with them economically. This factor brought about the plot of May 15, 1939, which was followed by mob assaults on Japanese department stores and shops. According to the press, the Tokyo government presented a strong protest in Lima and claimed an indemnity amounting to 100,000,000 Peruvian soles, approximately $16,600,000. How many Japanese are there in Peru? Not over 25,000, according to the official census of 1940; more than 50,000, according to figures usually accepted in intellectually responsible circles.

At Rio de Janeiro the Peruvian Government embraced the cause of the United States. Its attitude was perfectly honest and serious. But Peru too is a Pacific country, and she is uneasy as she watches the progress of Japan in the Pacific area.

Ecuador, too, scans the Pacific horizon with concern. As far back as June 1935, Captain Eloy Alfaro, the Ecuadorian Ambassador in Washington, one of the ablest diplomats of Hispanic-America, began persistently calling the attention of his Government to the military policy of Japan. He was one of the few diplomats who realized the full seriousness of the Tanaka Memorial. Instead of considering it the dream of a former Japanese Premier who once had been described as "more aggressive than tactful," he saw that the Memorial was really a logical plan developed out of the historical ambitions of the Japanese ruling classes. Ambassador Alfaro has called repeatedly for the protection of the Galapagos Archipelago. Any nation in possession of those islands is in a position to menace both Ecuador and Peru. That is the chief reason why Japan's triumphal progress has been followed with breathless interest in those two countries. But there also is another reason.


The population of the altiplano of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia is 90 to 95 percent Indian. A few Indian groups are physically impressive and arrogant in demeanor -- for example, the unforgettable Otavalos in Ecuador, the Indians in the regions between Arequipa and Cuzco, or those of Oruro, Bolivia. In most cases, however, they strike one as being depressed and exhausted. It is difficult to imagine life on a lower level than among the Indians of the altiplano. Not a trace of articles of personal hygiene can be found in their mud and straw huts, not even rudimentary wash bowls or bits of coarse soap. The whole family sleeps on a single litter, with all their clothes on, and covered with furs, seeking protection from the cold which so easily penetrates the fragile walls of their dwellings.

The Indians are withdrawing within themselves. What are they discovering there -- a well of hope, or despair and concentrated hate? Do they still nourish some remnants of the verities of ancient Inca culture, or has that completely disintegrated and fled? To us occidentals that remains a mystery. But plainly the misery of the Indians, in a material sense, is becoming more and more acute. Many of the lands that were reserved for them in the colonial period have either been expropriated or illegally seized. The religious emotions which at one time served to protect them in part have been destroyed by the acquisitive instincts released in society by economic liberalism. As a result, these natives, who by race are more contemplative than active, have become impoverished to an extreme.

Of course this in any case is not the Promised Land. Treeless, and covered almost entirely with a high, tough grass called by the natives paja brava, it can at best maintain only a very limited amount of livestock. The altiplano is the land of the strong vicuña, the alpaca and the llama. But though it is hard and unfertile it has a grandiose, dramatic beauty that makes the visitor feel at times that it must be a land of destiny. Its mystery is symbolized by the stones of Tiahuanaco, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, whose cultural significance is unknown.

A study of conditions among the Indians of the altiplano led me to the following conclusions:

1. None of the three nations, Ecuador, Peru or Bolivia, can fully achieve national unity while it is handicapped by the lack of coöperation on the part of the Indians. For this lack of cooperation the Indians themselves can by no means be held responsible. True, national unity is in addition damaged by political and economic rivalries between Guayaquil and Quito in Ecuador; by cultural and racial opposition between Cuzco and Lima in Peru; and by a bitter political and economic struggle against La Paz by Sucre and Cochabamba in Bolivia. But beyond these the attitude of the exploited Indian population is a fundamental obstacle to unity in all three countries.

2. The separation and differentiation between the Indians and the white men is being deepened by the love of the vernacular Indian language, Quechua, which is growing up all over the altiplano.

3. There is at least a possibility that some non-American country may exploit the feelings of rancor which have become so deeply rooted in the Indians. Although there is no evidence of any organized action by the Japanese in the Indian communities, white inhabitants of many parts of the altiplano, especially in the zones in which the most energetic Indians live, are openly apprehensive. They agree that the attitude of the Indians has been changing rapidly in recent years, and that the change has become a menace to the whites.

The only solution to this problem is the one already adopted by Mexico, Colombia and Brazil: fusion of the races and a greatly increased spirit of consideration for the Indians.

Bolivia, the heart of the altiplano, became an independent state in 1825, against the wishes of those who preferred to merge with Peru or Argentina. Its status was decided by men from Venezuela who, like the Colombians, visualized an independent Bolivia as a check to the possible expansionist ambitions of Peru and Argentina. The problem carried over from then still exists. The risk of Bolivia's disintegration has not yet been finally averted.

The pressing needs of Bolivia are for immigration, education, public works, sanitation, agrarian reform and, above all, roads. The people who live on the fresh, rich lands watered by the Beni River, and those who exploit the fruitful belt of northern Santa Cruz, face enormous difficulties in getting to La Paz and in delivering their crops. The same lack of roads prevents Bolivia from using the oil of the Choreti region, in the province of Tarija; and as a result most of this oil is now turned over to Argentina under the terms of a trade treaty. Enough foodstuffs are produced in the Amazon region and in the Plata provinces of Bolivia to change completely living conditions on the altiplano and in the nation as a whole, but the lack of highways makes distribution difficult. In short, Bolivia has not yet set up the technical organs of regional interrelationship. The basis for an integrated national economy has not yet been created.

Militarily and politically, Bolivia is the strategic key to South America. Germany learned that many years ago and has been acting accordingly. Many officers of the Bolivian Army were educated in Germany. The best pedagogical institution in La Paz was founded by the Germans. German farmers have been settled along all the borders. But action taken by the Bolivian Government last autumn at least temporarily destroyed the plans laid so painstakingly by the Nazis.

Bolivia borders on Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile, and thus would make an ideal center of radiation for any non-American power which, like Germany, controls minorities in the neighboring countries. The former Nazi organization in Bolivia, however, has now been brought under control and at least partly dispersed. The country also served for many years as a line of communication between the two principal centers of Japanese concentration in South America -- in Peru on the Pacific coast and Brazil on the Atlantic. We do not as yet know definitely whether that corridor has been completely or partly closed or whether it is simply being watched.


The great state of Argentina, on the Atlantic, took the same position at the Rio Conference that Chile did. Was it for the same reasons?

Public opinion and the Government of Argentina at present speak different languages. The Government has taken its stand against something which almost all the people of Argentina wish to avoid -- involvement in the war. On the other hand, it does not do what the people do want, which is to sever relations with the Axis and so maintain their prestige in South America. The Germans in Argentina have not been able to play a rôle comparable to that fulfilled by their compatriots in Chile. Immigrants in Argentina have not attained a collective personality, and though they have been active in many directions they have not exhibited the singleness of purpose that would have permitted them to influence the life of Argentina as they have that of Chile. Other factors, then, must be found to explain the Argentine Government's attitude.

Although 42 percent of all aliens in Argentina are Italians, only a minority are active Fascists. Pressure from them cannot explain the political attitude of the Argentine Government. Still less are the Spaniards responsible. They form 44 percent of the alien population, but 90 or 95 percent of them are liberals and hostile to the Falangist creed.

What social forces, then, does the Government in fact represent? Certainly not those which find a voice in the Argentine press. As conservative a newspaper as La Prensa and as moderate a one as La Nación are completely opposed to the Government's foreign policy. Nor can we discover its sources in the platforms of the political parties.

The parties do, however, form one of the most disturbing phenomena of Argentine life. The Radical Party, which for half a century has represented the liberal middle class elements of the country, and large parts of the masses and of the intellectuals as well, is politically crippled and morally almost ruined. The conservative elements are divided. The only party whose moral prestige has survived the decomposition precipitated by the military dictatorship of 1930 is the Socialist Party; and so far its strength is confined to Buenos Aires. Under these circumstances, political power has been transferred back and forth by the oligarchs who took it over in 1930. The oligarchy, supported by the military forces and a large part of the bureaucracy and upper classes, has reinforced its power with Congressional legislation. In consequence, a feeling of discouragement spread among the citizens. The ideological crisis in which the whole world has been gripped favored, of course, the only group that possesses force and that has shown it has the will to use it.

In addition, of course, Argentina is almost helpless militarily speaking, although not perhaps to the same degree as Chile. The Argentine Navy is the best in Ibero-America, but even so it is quite insufficient to patrol and defend the country's extensive coast line. The richest oil wells in Argentina, located on the shore at Comodoro Rivadavia were said to be without the protection of a single powerful battery, and thus totally at the mercy of a possible attacker. In all, Argentina was reported to have four anti-aircraft batteries for the defense of the nation at the beginning of February; and one of them was needed for training cadets. This was not, however, the decisive factor that made the Argentine Government isolationist. The risks run by Argentina, after all, could not be compared with those facing Brazil and Uruguay -- both of which, like the other Atlantic countries of South America, Colombia and Venezuela, were willing to sever relations with the Axis. The Government of Argentina, therefore, must have had its own reasons for adopting its attitude. I might summarize the principal ones as follows:

1. It is manifestly sympathetic to military régimes as such.

2. It felt that, in choosing its present attitude, it was following the historic policy of Argentina -- namely, to oppose the United States and to assume the leadership of the Hispanic-American countries.

3. It was influenced by a fear which exists, openly or latently, in all the countries of Ibero-America. This is the fear which asks: "After the war, will the loans, credits, purchases and investments, obtainable today only in the United States, be converted into bonds of political subjugation?" In other words, will the Good Neighbor Policy last? This was, perhaps, the biggest factor in the attitude of the Argentine Government.

The war has faced the American nations with the need to strengthen their political as well as their economic positions. In Argentina, the Government has isolated the country politically, and in so doing it has created a bad economic situation. The trade agreements made with Chile may have some political value, although that is problematical; but economically they are meaningless, for the economies of the two countries are not complementary nor do the degree and nature of their industrial development make it possible for them to exchange and consume the vast amounts of raw materials and foodstuffs which they produce. Each requires large industrial markets for its products and each badly needs capital with which to utilize its resources fully, so that per capita consumption and the purchasing power of the nation as a whole may be increased. Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Peru are seeking these economic objectives. The Argentine Government, on the contrary, is following a different course. The fact of the matter is that at the time of the Rio de Janeiro Conference it visualized the war as ending either in an Axis victory or a stalemate. Its own wishful thinking decided it to gamble on these possibilities.

The people of Argentina do not follow their government in spirit. More than those of any other Ibero-American country, they have been convinced of their missionary function in the Western Hemisphere. They have absorbed voraciously the Latin culture of Europe and have dreamed of becoming its spokesmen on this continent. Now, suddenly, they see that at this momentous hour, when the mother nations of that culture are silent, they, too, are being pushed in the wrong direction, away from the leadership they would like to exercise. Instead of speaking a youthful language, full of promise and faith, such as would be fitting to the Argentina of their dreams, they find themselves reticent and cautious, more symbolical of discouragement than of a bold creativeness.

Up to 1930 the voice of Argentina, her political customs and her social thought, influenced most of the countries of Hispanic-America. Today it is Mexico, Colombia and Chile which are influential. The Argentine people are conscious of their psychological isolation. They are thinking deeply, and with painful results. They are anxiously seeking for an ideal of their own. They are going, in other words, through a crisis. Judging by the mood of the nation, the crisis can end triumphantly.

In the neighboring state of Brazil, President Getulio Vargas, a man with an acute political sense and a passion for personal power, flirts with all kinds of ideas and all sorts of forms of government. He is aided in the administration of his country by a courageous and enormously attractive man who is endowed both with powerful political intuition and a strong sense of the movements of history -- Oswaldo Aranha, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Aranha may or may not be a democrat, but unquestionably he is a liberal in the sense that he has a respect for the rights of dissenting forces. Like most of the statesmen of South America, Aranha believes that this is the hour for continental solidarity in the Americas. Perhaps he thinks, too, that this is the time to promote the industrialization of his country and to create a badly-needed framework within which the riches of Brazil might be made useful to the nation and available to the world.

Another factor, too, is operating deep in the national mind of Brazil in these critical times. The people of Brazil have come to look to the democracy of the United States as a pattern for their own development, as the incarnation of the ideal they are seeking. Brazil, therefore, shows the same dualism as Peru. Both governments pursue a reactionary internal policy, while internationally they follow the lead of the United States.


Whether or not the policy of the Argentine Government and the fears felt by other Hispanic-American countries will be justified will depend on the policy pursued by the United States, both now and after the war. The Atlantic Charter and, in more specific terms, the resolutions adopted at the Rio Conference, have opened the way for a program of economic coöperation under international auspices. That is particularly true of Resolutions II, VII and XXV adopted at Rio, concerning, respectively, the formulation of plans for economic mobilization in each country, the study of a customs union for the Western Hemisphere, and the convocation of an inter-American technical economic conference.

But that is only the start of what must be done. Hereafter contracts for purchases from, or sales to, the Ibero-American countries should be considered from political as well as economic points of view. The status of investments should be settled by international courts, not interpreted unilaterally. Solutions for problems of development which arise in the South American countries should be sought through public international corporations. The problems of nationalism and national sovereignty which are sure to arise will call for a tactful political approach and will demand a fine knowledge of national psychologies.

Here we reach the heart of the great cultural problem of the relationship between North and South America. Real comprehension requires detailed knowledge. It also requires us to enlarge our capacity to understand what is different from ourselves. Comprehension and understanding, the bases of tolerance, made possible the formation of the United States. Now a new epoch is beginning. The United States, following the vision of its founders, is trying to strengthen, to make real and active, the solidarity of this continent. The Rio de Janeiro Conference shows that the idea is advancing. But it shows, too, that the problems involved cannot be solved by purely economic ideas and methods. There must be actions inspired by the political ideals which promote vital faith and international peace.

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  • FERNANDO DE LOS RIOS, Minister of Justice and later Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Spanish Republic; Spanish Ambassador to the United States, 1936-1939; former Professor of Political Science in the University of Madrid; now lecturer at the New School for Social Research, New York
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