Latin America: Benign Neglect Is Not Enough

Courtesy Reuters

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

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