The Endless Fantasy of American Power
Neither Trump Nor Biden Aims to Demilitarize Foreign Policy
It is now commonly admitted that the United States has no Latin American policy, save one of "benign neglect." That may be better than having the wrong one, but it is clearly impossible to coast along indefinitely. There is not much time left to develop new ideas and make a new approach before events will overtake and "surprise" the State Department.
The present vacuum received more or less official sanction with President Nixon's "low profile" speech of October 31, 1969, partly based on the poorly conceived and ill-starred Rockefeller mission. This speech marked a turning point in our attitude toward Latin America. Up to that time, we had asked ourselves what we could do to help the less-developed countries, in particular, Latin America, with which we were assumed to have special relations. President Nixon expressed the view that Latin America should no longer look for substantial aid and offered increased trade instead. He emphasized that the Latin American countries should follow a more independent line, and that the northern and southern part of the Hemisphere should coöperate. But both continents should essentially be guided by their own interests.
The Nixon policy, in effect, harks back to the Eisenhower administration, which marked out Latin America as the reservation for private enterprise. Actually, business has done a good job within its own terms of reference. Ever since the end of World War II, U.S. companies have contributed greatly to the industrial development of Latin America. On the whole, large and small companies have taken considerable risks in economically and politically unstable situations and tried to build up sound enterprises in the American manner. In general, American firms have paid better wages than the local firms; they have plowed back profits; and, on the average, the returns on their investments have been modest. The recent policy of American business has been vastly different from that of the big companies active in these countries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In those periods, no doubt much greater wealth was taken out than put in, but that was the spirit of that time and applied to domestic as well as foreign markets. Unfortunately, the image of the exploitation by oil, mining, trading and other companies still overhangs the present situation, and business has not been successful in establishing an enlightened picture of itself in the minds of the governments and people of those countries. Moreover, it cannot really be expected that Americans in general, and businessmen in particular, will step out of their somewhat condescending, paternalistic character; in the last analysis, they usually consider themselves as superior beings dealing with somewhat odd foreign creatures who, for their own good, should strive to follow in our footsteps and ultimately reach the high standards of our own society.
This attitude has also been mirrored in the policy of our government. It is one of the reasons why we do not really connect with Latin America. It contributed to the partial failure of the Alliance for Progress and the AID policy in general. In short, one cannot expect the role played by business to be a substitute for foreign policy. Business has to function within the framework set by policies established and carried out by the government.
In the postwar era, relations with Latin America were relegated to a very subordinate position on the scale of importance in U.S. foreign policy. Our security concerns-focused on the horizontal axis from Moscow to Peking-left Washington in a strangely complacent mood toward developments in the southern part of the Hemisphere. It was understandable that after World War II we were primarily concerned with reconstructing Europe and possibly Japan, but once the Marshall Plan was successfully concluded, we should have directed our full attention to Latin America, which was most receptive to coöperating with us in a really big way. Then U.S. prestige was at its zenith and our influence could have been enormous. President Truman's Point Four program for assistance to the underdeveloped world was advanced and novel enough, but to lump the Latin American countries, with their proud and highly educated upper class, together with the rest of the so-called underdeveloped countries was fundamentally wrong. To further illustrate my point that Latin America is our political blind spot, you just have to look at the fiftieth anniversary issue of Foreign Affairs: there was not one article devoted to Latin America. A review of our international political situation by George Kennan mentions the words "South America" only once, and then in the following terms: "There remains the problem of the so- called 'third world': the band of states that sweeps from the Indian subcontinent through sub-Saharan Africa to the west coast of South America."
As we conclude the longest war we have fought in our history to keep half of a far-distant, small Asian country from "going Communist," it would be wise policy to look closer to home at the changes that are occurring in Latin America. Such changes are likely to affect us far more directly than revolution and civil war in Vietnam. This is not to be interpreted as advocating an active anti-Communist policy toward Latin America; it is rather to highlight the bizarre inversion of priorities imposed on our postwar foreign policy.
The first order of business must therefore be the elevation of Latin America to a high plane in our foreign policy. And in order to do this properly we must address ourselves to the question: What should be the basic concept of our Latin American policy?
It is, perhaps, a psychological truism that our foreign policy and our relations with other nations are strongly rooted in our mental attitudes and in our domestic social developments. Nevertheless, it is worth making this point because this interrelationship seems to be so much stronger in the case of the United States than with other countries. The United States burst upon the world scene in full force with World War II. Our basically anticolonial attitudes coincided with the demise of the colonial epoch which for centuries dominated European policies toward all countries considered inferior or weaker. We have always had a missionary trait and deeply believed that our social and political order was the highest ever achieved, and if others were behind, in time they would mature and catch up with us. Added to this was our extraordinary economic prowess which led to President Truman's Point Four.
How did this mesh, or rather collide, with the existing and evolving economic, political and social conditions in Latin America, which had developed along entirely different lines from those of the United States? It is extremely difficult for the American mind to avoid comparing Latin America with the United States and not to single out backward social conditions, represented by a feudal, reactionary upper class and starving masses, primitive agriculture and political adventurism-in short, our definition of underdevelopment. Twenty years after Point Four, it should be abundantly clear that development and progress are very questionable terms. Our highly "developed" agriculture, using ever-increasing quantities of synthetic fertilizer, pesticides and sophisticated technology, may also be carrying us to the brink of disaster. With very few people we extract the ultimate from the more and more polluted countryside, while the rest of the people pile up in our more and more congested and unlivable cities. This is not the place, however, to discuss the highly complex problem of pollution. The pertinent question is rather: what gives us the right to talk about more- or less-developed countries? It might be much better to leave so- called primitive agriculture alone with its undisturbed and balanced ecology. Why is it better to produce plastics and synthetic fibers instead of using cotton, wool, leather, etc.? For ecological reasons, it may well become necessary to reverse this process. This does not mean that the vast poor rural districts should not be helped, but the emphasis should be on "intermediate technology" geared to increasing production by using more labor rather than expensive machinery. A good, though as yet small, example is the work of the Pan American Development Foundation in Washington. How much of a blessing is there in setting up large, capital-intensive industries, for instance, petrochemical or highly automated industrial plants, which turn out, with relatively few workers, synthetics and mass- produced cars and appliances? No longer certain of the answer, we have good reason to rethink our approach to the whole concept of "development."
What about social and political conditions? We are demanding, as if by conditioned reflex, that people should govern themselves democratically, and proclaim that a broad urbanized middle class with an ever-higher standard of living is highly desirable. Perhaps so. But who tells us that other nations want to live according to our pattern, or are even historically, geographically, culturally and materially willing or capable of organizing themselves along those lines?
The Spanish colonies had flourishing universities before the Pilgrims even landed in this country. The upper classes, privileged as they were, led a highly civilized life, rightly proud of their Spanish heritage. To them, many an American businessman or engineer would look like a barbarian. It might be greatly exaggerated, but, to make a point, one could say that the North
Americans of the mid-twentieth century are destroying the old civilization of the Ibero-American countries, much as the Spanish conquistadors destroyed the civilizations they found in the countries invaded by them.
In this light, the words underdeveloped, less-developed, developing (countries) should be banned from our vocabulary in connection with our foreign policy in general, and Latin American policy in particular. We should talk of less-industrialized countries or, to put it sarcastically, less-polluted countries.
Despite President Kennedy's effort to make a new start in our Latin American relations by organizing the Alliance for Progress, the program did not live up to the great expectations it aroused. We were still unable to understand the values of other societies as embodied in their existing economic and cultural institutions. President Johnson, of course, got far too involved in Vietnam to pay any real attention to Latin America. But the issues go much deeper than the degree of presidential attention. This gets us immediately to the heart of the matter. Even though we used the word "Alliance," it was a U.S.-initiated program, and for the average Latin, just another Yankee plan, run from Washington, which might do some good, but more probably was inspired by selfish political or, in the parlance of the Left, imperialistic purposes.
Though it may have been well meant, even with the best of intentions we were faced with impossible choices. The word "Progress" was not only intended for economic development, but also for social changes. The Kennedy administration was strongly attracted to the various Christian Democratic parties in South America, particularly in Chile under President Frei. We strongly favored land reforms and, in general, leaned toward a government- directed-and-financed economy. This earned us the hostility of the landowning upper classes and of many businessmen; particularly in Chile, Peru and Bolivia, it contributed to the near demise of those classes. On the other hand, for the lower classes, American officials and businessmen with their big cars, living in the best houses and hotels, congregating with the Establishment, and often running the most important enterprises, were just allies of the rich upper classes, and foreigners to boot. Strong nationalistic feelings, fed by an ingrained inferiority complex, compounded the hostility, particularly in the often-impoverished middle classes, In other words, we could not do right, regardless of the merits of our endeavors. This does not mean that nothing has been accomplished during 20 years of foreign aid. With the passage of time, it will be recognized that particularly health, education, energy supply and communications made considerable strides with our help.
Politically, too, we have reached an impasse. What is needed, above all, is to let Latin America find its own image in pursuit of its own destiny. This involves the perhaps painful recognition that Anglo-America is fundamentally different from Latin America. All talk about Western Hemisphere unity, Pan Americanism, partnership, etc. is an illusion. The roots of the northern, as well as the southern part of this Hemisphere, are in Europe, although, to be sure, the influence of the United States has waxed as that of contemporary Europe has waned. Yet the relationship between the Americas has always remained a mere skeleton, without flesh and blood, in spite of such organizations as the Pan American Union, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank and, more recently, the Inter-American Committee on the Alliance for Progress (CIAP). These are congregations of diplomats, bankers and civil servants with their head offices in Washington. To Latin Americans they are highly suspect as being Yankee-tainted, and are uninspiring as far as the broad masses in Latin America are concerned. On the other hand, Anglo- Americans are simply not interested in Latin America; with few exceptions, they are ignorant of its history, geography, present economic and social conditions. There are a few shibboleths around, such as: economically backward, an appalling contrast between rich and poor, politically unstable, etc. This ignorance and lack of interest by the general public are undoubtedly reflected in the low priority Latin America has in our foreign policy.
Latin Americans are aware of this, and are beginning to talk much more of integration and an independent Latin American policy. The Special Committee on Latin American Coördination (CECLA) meeting in Viña del Mar in 1970 was significant. For the first time in modern history, the Latin American countries got together without the United States and tried to develop a policy of their own, in particular for their relations with the United States. They succeeded remarkably well and came up with a moderate and sensible statement, though one could find fault with some of their financial claims. They chose the then foreign minister of Chile, Gabriel Valdes, to submit their program to President Nixon. Perhaps not since Bolívar has Latin America talked with one voice. This meeting was great news in Latin America but got scant notice in the United States. The reception of Sr. Valdes in the White House was, at best, lukewarm, and since then we have done nothing to further Latin American integration.
On the contrary, we follow our traditional policy of dealing with the various countries on a bilateral basis, probably in the belief that we can retain a greater influence over the continent when the countries are divided. This refers more to the traditional attitude of the State Department than to President Nixon, who, in a diplomatically unfortunate remark, suggested to President Medici that Brazil take the leadership of South America. The Brazilian President immediately rejected such a proposal, knowing full well the reaction of the Hispano Latin Americans. I believe that this kind of divide et impera is an outdated approach. Just as we were instrumental in encouraging the formation of the Common Market in Europe, we should strongly support Latin American integration. For this purpose, I think it is necessary to encourage Latin America to act on its own. We should fully support the spirit of Viña del Mar. To further implement Latin American integration, we should encourage Latin America to build up its own political and economic organizations with headquarters in one of the smaller Latin American countries. This would mean a downgrading of the OAS, if not its abolition in its present form.
Latin America has never truly found itself. The subjugation of the native population by the conquistadors, while not a quasi annihilation as in the case of the North American Indian, nonetheless has left deep social and psychological scars. Perhaps only in Mexico have the Indian masses surfaced, due to the early and long revolution, and have to some extent merged with the middle and governing classes. The wars of independence did not bring about basic social changes, only the liberation of the Creole upper class from Spanish and Portuguese domination. In spite of its beauty and gaiety, Latin America is a tragic continent. Its masses, actually from the time of the Incas and Aztecs, never had a chance. The colonial times certainly had grandeur (rather than greatness), but the conquerors looked at the land and people as objects to be exploited, with the wealth to be shipped to the motherland. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries went by without basic changes, except unending internecine struggles of various groups for power. The economies of these countries retained their colonial structure, largely dependent on exports of raw materials. Though its people were quite aware of their inner spiritual values, Latin America politically and socially remained inferior in relation to Europe and the United States.
All this is changing, yet we are hardly aware of it. Excellent books are being written. The arts have begun to flourish. Social changes are taking place for better or worse. Brazil and Mexico are making giant economic strides. But economic integration progresses only slowly. This is partially due to the dependence of Latin American trade on Europe and the United States. Probably less than 20 percent of its exports and imports are intra- Latin American. In Europe the proportion is reversed-80 percent intra- European and 20 percent with overseas countries. Politically as well as in language and history, the European nations were much more divided than the Latin American countries. It was logical, therefore, that Europe start with economic integration, working slowly toward political union. Unfortunately, Latin America is trying to follow the same pattern. The process should be reversed. What is needed is a strong Latin American political association which will then start working toward economic integration.
This should be entirely the Latin Americans' own creation. It is up to them whether such an organization is built along democratic, Socialist or authoritarian lines. Probably it would implement, among other policies, the program of Viña del Mar. With its creation, might come the dissolution of the Inter-American Committee on the Alliance for Progress and its replacement by a purely Latin American organization.
All this could receive a strong impetus if we gave it our wholehearted encouragement. For it need not mean that Washington is abandoning Latin America to its fate. Far from it. Any aid we wish to give (and I strongly advise we concentrate our resources on Latin America) should, as far as possible, be channeled through such a new Latin American organization. This may give the organization a good push forward just as the Marshall Plan helped the European community. However, what is most important is that Latin America assume full responsibility for the development of its own continent, with the help, but independent, of the United States.
This central Latin American political organization could also be the forum for discussing economic policies, including nationalization of U.S. properties and agreements regarding new investments. In any case, we should avoid getting involved in any of the social and economic convulsions which are likely to happen in the individual countries. Latin America has reached its hour of decision. While it has to work out its own destiny, we should encourage and assist, as much as possible, in the integration process and thus perform a historic task for the benefit of both Latin America and the United States. Let us not make the same mistake that we did first with Russia and then with China, of opposing Latin American countries because they go through revolutions and changes we dislike. The temptation is great, particularly under the pressure of disgruntled and frustrated persons and companies who have suffered severe losses, but in the end, we will have to come around; meanwhile a great deal of damage would be done. Implicit in this argument is that it would be up to the Latin American countries to decide whether or not to admit Cuba to any Latin American organization. As for our relations with Cuba, we alone should decide on what changes should be made. I am one of those who believe change is long overdue.
Finally, some thoughts about economic development The Nixon administration has made some noises about possibly wanting to establish preferential treatment for Latin American exports, particularly manufactured products, if the European Common Market does not extend to Latin America the same privileges that have been granted to associated countries in Africa and Asia. If such an agreement were to be negotiated with an envisaged Latin American political organization, it might act as leverage to help bring about the furtherance of such an organization.
Indeed, I myself would go further. I believe that the time has come to go ahead with a Western Hemisphere preferential trade treaty. Broadly speaking, such a treaty should provide elimination or a sharp reduction of duties and other import restrictions on manufactured products and certain raw materials. Such concessions should be reciprocal and Latin America should grant preferential treatment to U.S. exports. Yet I recognize that many people in Latin America, particularly among the young, object to such reciprocal trade arrangements, which also deviate fundamentally from the most-favored-nation clause. At this time, any kind of special relationship with us may not be acceptable, even if it would be clearly beneficial to Latin America.
A less-controversial project would be the completion of the Pan American Highway, which has been dormant for decades, and is probably languishing on the drawing boards of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Surely the country which has produced the most elaborate highway system in the world can overcome the no doubt formidable geographical and technical obstacles, such as the jungles and gigantic streams of the Amazon Basin and the mountain ranges of the Andes. We fly to the moon but we cannot yet drive through South America. Though the reasons are more political than technical, here is a project which would make jobs for rural unemployed-as Brazil's major program has shown in recent years. Moreover, a highway circling the entire continent and connecting through Central America and Mexico to the United States would open up a new era of tourism and, more importantly, contribute to the integration of the continent.
In the last analysis, ideas are the prime movers of history, though it is a long trajectory from conception to birth. The experts are often inclined to dismiss new ideas as utopian, but that would be missing the point. It must be admitted that the idea of the political integration of Latin America is very far from the world of practical politicians. Everyone is working for himself alone, and even Sr. Valdes has said that he found no one in power willing to work actively on the implementation of the resolutions of Viña del Mar. The formation of the Andean Group, whose governments contain quite different social systems, is at least a beginning in showing that political coöperation may be possible, particularly in the realm of external affairs. Further political coöperation might result if the United States would throw its full support behind an independent, united Latin America.
It may well take a traumatic historic event to catalyze these ideas, just as it took World War II to start the Common Market. What we do need, however, is a new direction, a new polar star, which can lead us out of the aimlessness of our present Latin American policy.