Like the last streak of lightning in a summer storm, the Chile Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence illuminates the contours of recent relations between the United States and Latin America, even as that landscape is changing. With impressive detail and understated force, the Report not only documents what the United States did in Chile from 1963 through 1973; it also illustrates the hegemonic presumption upon which this country has long based its policies toward Latin America and the Caribbean.

But the days of unchallenged U.S. control of the Western Hemisphere are numbered, if not already past. U.S. relations with Latin America are consequently being transformed. The historic "special relationship" between the United States and Latin America is coming to an end-in fact if not yet in rhetoric. A new U.S. approach toward hemispheric relations is required.


The Senate's Chile Report shows that the U.S. government engaged for over a decade in a massive, systematic, and sustained covert campaign against the Chilean Left. The Report removes from further controversy these key facts about U.S. involvement in Chilean politics:

1. The United States spent about $3 million during the 1964 election campaign in Chile, mostly on behalf of Eduardo Frei's Christian Democratic campaign; an equivalent level of spending in a U.S. election would be over $75 million, much more than was used to finance Richard Nixon's lavishly funded 1972 election.

2. The United States spent some $8 million on covert intervention in Chilean politics from 1970 through 1973. Among the items financed were political activities among workers, students, women's groups, professional organizations, and other civic associations; propaganda; planted "news" stories and editorials in Chilean newspapers and magazines; and even the inspiration and subsequent diffusion of articles on Chile by CIA-subsidized "journalists" from other countries.

3. The United States also employed various economic pressures-first to try to prevent the election of Salvador Allende, Chile's Marxist leader, and then to abort his presidency. Although the CIA formally rejected the suggestion of the U.S. corporation, ITT, that the company might contribute up to $1 million to combat Allende, the Agency did suggest an alternate recipient of anti-Allende financing.

4. President Nixon, his adviser for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Attorney General adopted a highly secret plan, not revealed even to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, to stimulate a military coup in order to prevent Allende's ever coming to power after the 1970 popular election.

5. After that coup attempt failed (not without costing the life of René Schneider, Chile's Army Chief of Staff), the U.S. government expressed its hostility to Allende's brand of socialism in many other ways: by cutting off access to international loans and credits and stimulating local capital flight; by feeding misinformation to Chilean military officers to foster fear of supposed Cuban subversive activities; and by financing opposition movements, even from the terrorist Right.1

What the U.S. government did in and to Chile during the 1960s and early 1970s was not unique in U.S.-Latin American relations, although it was in some ways anachronistic, a residue of programs set in motion early in the 1960s, at the height of the cold war and of the Alliance for Progress. The covert intervention in Chile was probably unprecedented in scope, style and duration, perhaps because the circumstances were so special; no other socialist revolutionary movement has come close to triumph in South America, much less been elected to office.

But though the degree of clandestine U.S. intervention against Allende may have been exceptional, particularly as late as the 1970s, none of the specific activities undertaken in Chile was unprecedented. On the contrary, what the U.S. government did in Chile climaxed an extended era of U.S. interventions in Latin America.

In Argentina in 1945, the United States published a "Blue Book" lambasting Juan Peron's incumbent regime in a vain (and counterproductive) attempt to aid Peron's political opponents.

In Guatemala in 1954, the CIA successfully orchestrated an invasion to oust the Left-leaning Arbenz regime, and the U.S. Ambassador led the effort to establish a successor government.

In Bolivia during the 1950s and 1960s, the United States retained several cabinet officials on the CIA payroll, provided budget support for over one-third of the national government's expenditures and flooded the country with technical assistance advisers. U.S. influence on Bolivian public policy was vast, if not always effective; one key adviser later recalled that "a much needed reform in the real property tax system . . . and an effective income tax . . . went by the board solely because there was no one who had the time, the fluency in Spanish, and the persuasiveness to put the measure across."2

At the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the U.S. Navy convoyed a U.S.-trained and U.S.-supplied anti-Castro army to ignominious defeat, thus culminating (although not concluding) extensive U.S. attempts to oust Fidel Castro's regime. Propaganda, economic pressures, sabotage, covert support for counterrevolutionary groups, even attempts to assassinate Cuba's leaders-all punctuated this hostile campaign.

In Guyana (British Guiana) in the early 1960s, the U.S. government used its penetration of the trade union movement as well as other instruments of covert intervention to thwart Cheddi Jagan's nationalist movement.

In Brazil in 1964, so obvious was U.S. enthusiasm about João Goulart's overthrow that the U.S. government sent official congratulations to the ensuing military government almost before it could be installed. Even prior to that, intense American concern about Brazil's political course led the United States to influence local decision-making in Brazil's northeast, at the expense of that region's prospects for development.3

In Santo Domingo in 1965, over 22,000 U.S. marines and paratroops landed to forestall what Washington perceived as a possible communist takeover. The "request" for U.S. forces, drafted in English with help from a U.S. attaché, came to the U.S. Embassy from a hastily assembled Dominican junta that had itself been set up with American participation.4 And U.S. officials had been meddling frantically in Dominican affairs for years, before the 1965 military intervention, as John Bartlow Martin's memoir Overtaken By Events fulsomely reveals.

Even in Ecuador-far from the United States and of little obvious economic or strategic importance-more than half the members of the Communist Party's Central Committee in the mid-1960s were CIA agents or informers, according to Philip Agee's account, Inside the Company.

This is not the time or place to judge all these cold-war episodes. Many of them, perhaps all, seemed justified when they occurred because of the threats U.S. policymakers perceived to this country's "national security." Understanding themselves to be locked in a worldwide and all-out contest with the Soviet Union, U.S. officials undertook intervention in Latin America not for its own sake, nor for economic exploitation, but for what they regarded as defensive reasons. But one important point is clear: all these interventionist activities flowed from America's hegemonic presumption-the belief in this country that the entire hemisphere was a rightful sphere of U.S. influence. That belief led U.S. officials to regard as unacceptable the emergence of any anti-American political group in any Latin American country. And overwhelming U.S. power made it feasible for this country to involve itself deeply in internal politics throughout the Americas in order to ensure that any group which challenged U.S. domination did not come to power, or did not last.


The hegemonic presumption of the United States in the Western Hemisphere emerged gradually over many decades, asserting itself first in the Caribbean and only later throughout the Americas. During the first few decades of this nation's independent existence the United States seemed mostly indifferent toward Spanish and Portuguese America. Goods sent from the United States to Latin America in 1796 accounted for only three percent of total U.S. exports. This country's political interest in the region was hardly greater than its commercial involvement. The U.S. delegates to the first Pan American Congress, convened in Panama exactly 150 years ago by Simón Bolívar, never arrived. John Quincy Adams, one of the earliest architects of U.S. foreign policy, argued against those who urged more active U.S. involvement in the Latin American struggles for independence; he emphasized that "there is no community of interest between North and South America. There is no basis for an American system." Even the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, often interpreted as a major U.S. policy initiative toward the hemisphere, may be better understood as a convenient endorsement of British policy, explainable largely in terms of domestic American electoral politics.5

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, however, the burgeoning United States of America became a nation of continental scope and industrial prowess imbued with grand notions of manifest destiny. From that period on, close relations with Latin America and the Caribbean have invariably been an important part of this country's international stance. The United States has made its presence strongly felt in the Americas: economically, politically, militarily, socially and culturally. Sometimes the impact of the United States has been benign, supportive and protective; often it has been stifling or even exploitative. But never in the past century has the North American presence in hemispheric life been insignificant.

The nature of inter-American relations has changed from time to time, mostly reflecting shifts in the wider international position of the United States. Latin America's relationship to this country has been like that of the circus mirror that heightens and exaggerates. Tendencies of U.S. policy that are subordinate in other parts of the world have been enlarged and given free rein in Latin America, often in disturbing ways. "Gunboat diplomacy" and "dollar diplomacy" both found their fullest expression in the Western Hemisphere early in the twentieth century. The unwillingness of the United States to tolerate ideological deviance has been most clearly exemplified in the conduct of hemispheric affairs.

The more noble of North American impulses have also been magnified in the context of U.S.-Latin American relations. The U.S. desire to spread democracy's gospel has been most strongly reflected in the doctrines and practice of Western Hemisphere relations. So have the U.S. aims, often genuine and deeply felt, to promote economic betterment and to champion equality of opportunity.

For many decades, U.S. relations with the other countries of the hemisphere accounted for most of this nation's international involvement. Of the 50 times the United States sent troops outside North America during the nineteenth century, for example, 43 instances were in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than half of all U.S. foreign investment at the end of World War I was within this hemisphere. Sixty percent of all U.S. diplomatic personnel stationed abroad in the 1920s were assigned in Latin America and the Caribbean. At the height of this country's "isolationism" in the 1920s, active U.S. involvement in the Americas continued uninterrupted.

From the mid-nineteenth century to the 1930s, U.S. interest focused on Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. This was the first region to feel the projection of exploding North American power. Washington's expansionist impulse swept across the border with Mexico, incorporating Texas into the United States. Santo Domingo came within one Senator's vote of being annexed by the United States in 1870. Cuba, freed of Spanish rule in 1898, was subjected by 1903 to the Platt Amendment, granting the United States the right to intervene. Panama was forced at its inception to concede to the United States the right to "act as if it were sovereign" within part of Panamanian territory. Puerto Rico was taken over outright.

Financial and commercial interests in the Caribbean were perhaps the main concerns of U.S. foreign policy from the late nineteenth century until World War I. The highest priority of U.S. policy was the preemptive aim to exclude competing influences from this border region. Within the 25 years beginning in 1898, U.S. soldiers landed in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, and even Mexico. Most of these countries became virtual U.S. protectorates. When the United States was not ruling directly, it was forming juntas, training constabularies, collecting taxes and customs, reforming education, or revising laws. American motives were sometimes generous, but U.S. programs were often naïve in the extreme, and respect for local sovereignty or sensibilities was rarely a constraint.

When the U.S. troops departed-as they did from everywhere but Puerto Rico and Guantanamo by 1934-they left behind countries deeply penetrated by the United States and very sensitive to U.S. influence. In the Dominican Republic, the U.S. dollar remained the official currency for years after the U.S. occupation; in Panama, the dollar still circulates as freely as the country's own paper money.

Until the eve of World War II, the "Latin American policy" of the United States mainly dealt with Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Every time in this century that American troops have been sent to Latin America, they have gone to the circum-Caribbean region. Well over half the total U.S. investment in Latin America in 1929 was concentrated in these nearby countries, especially in Cuba and Mexico. To take another kind of measure, of the 40 articles Foreign Affairs had published on hemisphere relations by 1943, 31 primarily discussed Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean; only one article was devoted to Brazil.

It was not until the 1930s that the United States began to extend considerable attention to South America as well. Although its most specific meaning and application was in the Caribbean, the "Good Neighbor Policy" proclaimed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1933 Inaugural was conceived and announced as a hemisphere-wide policy. The rhetoric of Pan-Americanism, previously purveyed by the United States largely for commercial reasons, now gained new currency as Latin American desires to constrain U.S. interventionism dovetailed with U.S. aims to secure cordial hemispheric relations in a time of political and economic troubles. President Roosevelt convened an inter-American conference in Buenos Aires in 1936, Secretary of State Hull devoted considerable effort to solidifying neighborly ties, and Ambassador Josephus Daniels invested his formidable energies to secure an amicable resolution of the dispute arising from Mexico's expropriation of U.S. oil companies.

Beneath the level of rhetoric, international conferences, and negotiations, the U.S. War Department was busy by 1940 building airstrips and other military installations in most countries. The FBI was just as busy establishing a major intelligence network. By the time the United States entered World War II, this country was more fully ensconced throughout Latin America (except in Argentina) than ever before.

The foreign policies and military measures taken by most countries of the region during World War II were closely coordinated with the war-making efforts of the United States. All the Latin American states formally entered the war on the Allied side, and Brazil even sent an entire division to fight in Italy. Strategic materials from Latin America contributed importantly to the U.S. campaign. Latin America supplied the United States with all of its quinine and balsa wood; 56 percent of its tin; 43 percent of its crude rubber; 83 percent of this country's copper imports, and 76.7 percent of its imported vanadium. Regional trade patterns came to concentrate increasingly on commerce with the United States.

After the war-with Germany and Japan defeated, England, France and Russia severely weakened, and the U.S. economy booming-Washington's influence throughout Latin America (as elsewhere) grew to unprecedented dimensions. Economically, Latin America moved increasingly into the U.S. orbit. The share of Latin American exports destined for the United States, which had climbed steadily from about 12 percent in 1910, spurted to 45 percent by 1958. The share of U.S. imports coming from Latin America reached a historic high of some 37 percent in 1950, more than half again what it had been before World War II. U.S. investment in Latin America quintupled in the 25 years after World War II, seeking out new opportunities in manufacturing and in services to complement the earlier involvement in natural resource extraction. American investment gained predominance in practically every country in the region.

Politically, the two decades immediately following World War II marked the zenith of U.S. power in the Americas. An Inter-American System was created, institutionalizing North American paramountcy. The Rio Treaty of 1947 (the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) formalized close political and security relations in the hemisphere. The Organization of American States (OAS), with headquarters in Washington, was established in 1948 as a regional institution authorized to impose and enforce collective sanctions and to act as a forum of first instance for disputes arising within the Americas. A network of inter-American military institutions-schools, defense councils, training programs, and the like-provided a means to ensure continuing U.S. influence in that sphere through devices ranging from standardized weapons and procedures to personal influence. A host of bilateral and multilateral modes of providing foreign aid channeled U.S. technical, educational and economic advice. The Inter-American Development Bank was created in 1959 to channel U.S. and other resources to Latin America, with Washington retaining predominant influence over the use of its funds, and even an effective veto on soft loans.

In their relations with the rest of the world, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean looked to the United States for leadership. Whether for their own motives or because of Washington's pressures (and usually for both reasons) they almost uniformly supported this country's major foreign policy initiatives: in establishing the United Nations and its accompanying postwar international institutions; in opposing presumed Soviet expansionist aims; in backing Israel's creation; in extending assistance for Europe's reconstruction; and in "uniting for peace" to oppose North Korea's invasion in 1950.

The predominant U.S. concern with the cold war was largely (and rather unquestioningly) adopted by the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean as their own. An OAS resolution adopted at Caracas in 1954 barred international communism from this hemisphere, for instance. During this cold-war period, less than half the members of the OAS even maintained diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. No country of the region, except Cuba, had any international relationship remotely comparable in significance to its ties to Washington.

President John F. Kennedy's proclamation of the Alliance for Progress in 1961-itself primarily a response to the Cuban Revolution and its challenge to U.S. hegemony-heralded the apogee of North American involvement in hemisphere affairs. For a brief moment, Washington appeared to care deeply about the whole region: to be concerned about its economic growth, its social and political development, and its internal security. The number of U.S. government personnel assigned to Latin America jumped, crowding the suburbs of Latin American capitals with embassy officers and "spooks," technicians from the Agency for International Development, cultural and military advisers-and dotting the countrysides with Peace Corps volunteers. Predictably, inter-American institutions blossomed as U.S. concerns with the region intensified. The staff and budget of the OAS quintupled after 1961, and the programs of the Inter-American Development Bank expanded at a similar pace.

The U.S. government engaged itself deeply in the domestic affairs of countries as diverse as Venezuela and Chile, Peru and Brazil, Bolivia and Panama, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras. U.S. pressures forced elections to be held, and sometimes determined the results. U.S. influence caused civic action programs to be started, planning boards to be established, and currencies to be devalued. U.S. troops were used only in Santo Domingo in 1965, but the United States also influenced Latin American politics by granting or withholding diplomatic recognition or "aid"; by providing technical assistance and advice; by training military and police units and supplying them with sundry types of equipment; and by all the techniques illustrated in the Chilean and Cuban cases.

By 1965, when the Dominican invasion dramatically reversed this country's prolonged adherence to its pledge to foreswear unilateral military intervention, the United States had convincingly asserted its sphere of influence throughout the whole Western Hemisphere. In September of that year, the U.S. House of Representatives provided perhaps the clearest official statement ever that this country has a right to shape political choices throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America. In what amounted to an after-the-fact defense of the Dominican intervention, the House declared that even the threat of intervention by "the subversive forces known as international communism" would justify the United States resorting to armed force, in the "exercise of individual self-defense." This underlying and widely accepted North American attitude-that the U.S. government has a right to remove from hemispheric political life whatever forces it deems threatening-conditioned the Nixon-Kissinger response to Salvador Allende's election in Chile.

Although Washington's hegemonic presumption has been most clearly demonstrated by overt and covert intervention in the name of national security, its influence has by no means been limited to the strategic sphere. The hegemonic presumption helps account for other striking aspects of recent inter-American relations: the intensely active U.S. pressure for reform during the Alliance for Progress years; Washington's efforts in the 1960s to force Latin American regimes to respect democratic procedures, accompanied by covert U.S. measures to influence their results; the attempts by the U.S. Congress to determine what kinds of military equipment Latin American nations could purchase; and the extraordinary lengths to which the U.S. government has been willing to go to aid specific U.S. corporations in their clashes with Latin American hosts.6


Trends in Latin America and elsewhere are, however, quickly eroding the bases for this country's hegemonic presumption which only ten years ago seemed beyond serious challenge.

Cuba's success in institutionalizing a revolutionary socialist regime allied with the Soviet Union provides the most dramatic daily reminder that U.S. hegemony has waned. Having survived countless U.S. efforts to unseat him and having outlasted four American Presidents already, Fidel Castro has shown that "geographical determinism" can be reversed. His Soviet patrons have brought units of their Navy into the Caribbean each of the past several years, ending a 70-year period in which unfriendly fleets were excluded from the American Mediterranean.

The decline of U.S. domination in the security realm is not limited to the extreme case of Cuba. The almost total Latin American dependence on U.S. arms during the period from World War II until 1965 has given way to a remarkable diversification of weapons sources. From 1968 through 1972, 87 percent of Latin America's arms purchases came from countries other than the United States. All six Latin American countries with supersonic jets fly French Mirages. Peru's flirtation with the Soviet Union, moreover, has led to the first significant military training program undertaken by an extra-hemispheric power in South America since World War II.

In economic terms, the degree of U.S. dominance in the hemisphere has declined sharply as Latin American nations have diversified their production and their commerce. Whereas Latin America as a whole sent almost half its exports to the United States in 1950, the regional figure now stands at 32 percent. The share of Latin America's imports coming from the United States has dropped from 57 percent to 37 percent in 25 years and is still declining. Japan has multiplied exports to Latin America tenfold since 1960, and other nations of Eastern and Western Europe are also significantly expanding their trade with the region. Peru, for example, now exports almost exactly as much to the communist countries and to the European Community as it does to the United States.

Although direct U.S. investment in Latin America continues to be very substantial, its nature is changing (mainly from resource extraction to manufacturing and service) and its relative significance for Latin America's development is declining as other nations begin to invest more heavily in the region. In 1964 the United States supplied almost half of the total of Brazil's foreign investment; by now the U.S. share is less than 30 percent. In 1973, new Japanese investment in Brazil exceeded that of the United States for the first time; and since 1973 investors from the oil-rich Arab countries have been attracted to Brazil as well. Across the entire region, the share of private gross capital flow coming from the Eurocurrency market has climbed to over 75 percent.

Nationalizations, compensated or not, have since 1960 removed all U.S. direct investment from Cuba, most from Peru, a good deal from Chile, and much from other countries, including the entire Venezuelan petroleum industry, taken over by Caracas with hardly a hitch on January 1, 1976. The U.S. firms continuing to do business in Latin America are finding their styles cramped and their incomes shaved by host governments that are increasingly able to bargain effectively for more advantageous terms. Strict new rules for foreign investment are being implemented in countries as different as Peru, Jamaica, Brazil and Guyana. Gaining strength from regional cooperation, the members of the Andean Common Market have been fairly successful, at least until recent setbacks, in establishing new modes of foreign investment.

In general, the weak and dependent governments of Latin America that used to look to Washington for leadership are being replaced by ever more self-confident regimes, eager to exert their influence in international affairs. All over Latin America, the state has been strengthened enormously in recent years. Cuba's socialist experiment provides the most extreme example, of course, but even in Brazil government expenditures now account for 37 percent of the gross national product, compared with 17 percent in 1950, and the Brazilian state now plays a significant entrepreneurial role in the dynamic intermediate and capital goods sectors. In Peru, the state's share of total national investment climbed from 13 percent in 1965 to over 50 percent by 1973. In Venezuela-once a capitalist bastion-state enterprises now run the petroleum, petrochemical, and iron sectors.

Latin American governments tax more, spend more, regulate more, prohibit more, and control more than regimes in the region have ever done before. They have access to a rapidly expanding resource base. Brazil's economic miracle-industrial exports have multiplied 20-fold since 1964 and GNP has climbed at 10 percent a year for almost a decade-has been most impressive. But all over the region Latin America's economies have done well: 5.1 percent growth per year in the 1950s, 5.6 percent in the 1960s, and over 6 percent in the 1970s. However unequally distributed Latin America's growth may be, it has significantly expanded the region's power.

Many of those who actually run the strengthened Latin American states reject U.S. dominance. Traditional elites favorably disposed toward the United States are being replaced by technocrats-civilian and military-often of a nationalistic bent. These new leaders, many of them well-trained (often in U.S. graduate schools), tend to identify their interests independently of and even through confrontation with the United States.

Within the United Nations and elsewhere, the Latin American countries are finding their own way. Mexico's and Brazil's votes on the U.N. resolution identifying Zionism as "racism," Brazil's early recognition of the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the many Latin American votes favoring Angola's admission to the General Assembly demonstrate this fact. On many issues-fishing zones, nuclear proliferation, debt management, buffer stocks, special drawing rights, and others-the Latin American nations differ among themselves, but few nations any longer start automatically with a U.S. position or U.S. premises. The eventual influence of the various Latin American countries on the struggle to create a viable "new international economic order" is not yet clear, but they will surely act independently of Washington's dictates. Latin Americans have taken the lead in founding and strengthening the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), establishing cartels, promoting indexing, devising fade-out formulas, and elaborating codes of corporate conduct; their pursuit of these objectives is not likely to cease now that Third World efforts are beginning to pay off.

Nor are the political activities and interests of the Latin American countries beyond the Western Hemisphere any longer easily inhibited by the United States. Venezuela's role as a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); Mexico's initiative in promoting the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States; Peru's close relations with the Soviet Union; Brazil's nuclear arrangement with Germany; Cuba's intervention in Angola-all illustrate the new capacity of Latin American nations to play important parts on the global stage regardless of Washington's script. Latin American states are participating actively not only in UNCTAD (where, as in other U.N. negotiations, they are part of the Third World "Group of 77"), but in the Conference on International Economic Cooperation, in the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, and in various cartels and commodity arrangements.

Ever since the Consensus of Viña del Mar statement presented to President Nixon in 1969, the Latin American nations have increasingly organized themselves to exert pressure on the United States: against the import surcharge in 1971, against the anti-OPEC provisions of the 1974 Trade Act, against the continued OAS embargo of Cuba, in solidarity with Panama's struggle to assert its sovereignty in the Canal Zone, and in favor of a proposed OAS charter reform intended primarily to hamstring the United States.

Bilaterally, too, the countries of Latin America are facing up to the Colossus of the North. Brazil, although still in many ways allied with the United States, has begun to clash with Washington on a wide variety of increasingly important matters, including fishing rights, population policy, export subsidies, commodity agreements, and nuclear power. Peru, only a few years ago dependent on the U.S. Embassy for reliable information regarding foreign private investment within the country's own borders, now bargains hard with American and other transnational firms. Panama, a country with no significant natural resource beyond its location, has mobilized regional and even extra-regional support to challenge perpetual U.S. control of the Canal. Colombia ended its bilateral aid accord with the United States because it resented the "aid" relationship, and when Washington criticized Cuba's Angolan involvement, Colombia's President publicly rebuked the United States for its own extra-hemispheric military interventions. Cuba itself, of course, once so overwhelmed by the United States that it was described as "no more independent than Long Island," has fundamentally overturned its relationship with this country.


The response of the U.S. government under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the quickly changing facts of hemispheric and international life has been doggedly to reassert the "special relationship" and the sense of "hemispheric community" which are said to exist between the United States and Latin America.

Both concepts have a venerable tradition in inter-American discourse. The "Western Hemisphere Idea"-that the countries of the region have a special relation toward one another that sets them apart from the rest of the world-has been a familiar theme since before the Monroe Doctrine.7 The notion goes beyond the obvious assertion that nations linked by geography are likely to have some common interests. It maintains that the nations of the Americas share among themselves so much history, so many values, so many cultural traits as to ensure hemispheric amity and the pursuit of regional approaches to common problems. "Pan-Americanism" has been a powerful idea, accepted not just by orators on ceremonial occasions but by the architects of numerous regional economic, military, cultural and political institutions.

The idea of an inter-American "community," of a natural harmony between the United States and Latin America, has also influenced U.S. rhetoric and policy toward the region throughout this country's independent history. From John Quincy Adams and Simón Bolívar on, there have always been doubters of the presumed mutuality of interest between the Americas, North and South. But the dominant view, from Henry Clay to Henry Kissinger, has been to emphasize-or simply to assume-shared or compatible interests.

The closely related concepts of "special relationship" and "inter-American community" have often been advanced as the framework for articulating U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. The key speeches outlining John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress and Richard Nixon's Mature Partnership were laced with these doctrines. So was Nelson Rockefeller's 1969 Report, The Quality of Life in the Americas. Rockefeller called for reinvigorating the "special relationship" through a series of new regional mechanisms and by reorganizing the U.S. government to deal with Western Hemisphere affairs as a Cabinet-level concern.

Although many of Rockefeller's specific recommendations were rejected or ignored, his vision of U.S.-Latin American relations continues to be accepted by many in the United States, apparently including Secretary Kissinger. When sharply unfavorable international trends helped the Secretary late in 1973 to discover Latin America anew and to seek support there for U.S. initiatives, the message Kissinger carried with him to Tlatelolco in Mexico was that the United States was prepared for a "New Dialogue" with Latin America on the basis of hemispheric "community."

Aside from feeling that a unilaterally proclaimed dialogue-like a unilaterally proclaimed alliance-is inherently problematical, the Latin American Foreign Ministers welcomed Secretary Kissinger's sudden interest in hemispheric problems. One after another, however, they resisted the language of "community," because they felt it obscured, intentionally or not, the unresolved issues between the United States and Latin America; all references to "community" were purged from the communiqué closing the Conference. Thus educated, Secretary Kissinger dropped the phrase but not the concept. As recently as February of this year, speaking in Caracas on the occasion of his second formal visit as Secretary to Latin America, Mr. Kissinger referred no less than II times in nine pages to the "special relationship." And reporting to Congress on his return, the Secretary promised further efforts to "perfect the undeniable community which exists in this part of the world."

Latin American leaders from many countries and from various places on the political spectrum are coming to reject the idea of a special and exclusive relationship between their countries and the United States. Previous notions of Pan-American harmony are being replaced all over the continent by perceptions of conflict. Inter-American organizations long overwhelmed by the United States-the OAS (for which the United States pays two-thirds of the budget) being the prime example-are being allowed to atrophy. New intra-Latin American regional and subregional institutions excluding the United States, such as the Latin American Economic System (SELA) and the Andean Common Market, are gaining stature, if not yet proven strength. Most important, many leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean think that their nations' interests may often be closer to those of developing countries outside the hemisphere than to those of the United States. Few Latin Americans still assume that their countries' interests and Washington's are inevitably the same; on the contrary, many think that the United States will oppose their concerns, as well as those of the rest of the developing world. Few Latin American leaders now expect U.S.-Latin American relations to be overwhelmingly friendly; most anticipate tensions, if not hostility.

In part, this changed Latin American expectation is due to the role the United States has played as a bulwark of the established international economic and political order. In part, the new Latin American approach to the United States and to inter-American relations simply reflects increased assertiveness flowing from enhanced power. But it also reflects an objective change-the transformation of Latin American economies from inward-turned import substitution to outward-oriented export promotion. Most Latin American countries (except for some of the smallest) are no longer mainly interested in obtaining bilateral concessional assistance from the United States; now they care primarily about securing universal trading rules which will facilitate improved access to the industrial world's markets.

As Latin America's economies change, and as the region's stake in global rules and arrangements increases, hostility may deepen between the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean (and less-developed countries generally), and those of the industrial North, including the United States. The "new international economic order" will be the rubric. Commodities, tariffs, countervailing duties, debt management, special drawing rights, technology transfer, the conservation and management of resources, the terms on which capital and labor migrate, the making and management of international rules and institutions will be some of the specific issues. The name of the game, however, will be redistribution: of resources, of income, of status and of power. The challenge for U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere for years to come will be to protect essential U.S. interests in an era when real conflict, not unchallenged hegemony, should be presumed.


If hegemony is no longer a fact and the "special relationship" is not an appropriate guide for policy, how should Washington approach its relations with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean? Surely we should base our approach on a thoughtful assessment of our nation's interests and how these relate to those of the other countries in the hemisphere, rather than simply on inherited doctrines or on unexamined habits of thought. But what are our interests, and what should be the aims of our hemispheric relations?

The first step toward an improved Latin American policy would be to realize that for most purposes we probably should not have a distinct Latin American policy at all. The main problems the United States will face in the Western Hemisphere over the next decade are not regional but global questions: making more fair and secure the terms of exchange between producers and consumers of primary products; expanding food and energy production and improving their distribution; using and conserving world resources (of the earth, space and the oceans) efficiently and equitably; curbing the diversion of funds for military purposes; limiting pollution and dealing with its consequences; improving the welfare of individuals and communities; protecting fundamental human rights; trying to end state and antistate terrorism in all its forms; assisting the victims of natural disasters and avoiding man-made catastrophes; and building more effective structures of global decision-making. The United States could better its relations with Latin America most by focusing seriously, and in a sustained way, on these critical issues.

In taking up these questions, the United States will find that its relations with Latin America and the Caribbean assume renewed importance. As the most powerful and prosperous part of the Third World, Latin America will significantly influence how the international economic order evolves. As major exporters of both primary products and manufactured goods, Latin American countries will greatly affect the future of world trade. As an area with considerable potential to expand agricultural production, Latin America will play a central role in dealing with world food problems. As a region with advanced technological capacity, Latin America will help determine whether or not nuclear technology spreads, and whether industrial pollution worsens. With many of the world's major fishing countries, Latin America will significantly affect the law and future use of the seas. As an arena where long-dormant interstate conflicts have recently been rekindled, Latin America will provide key tests of the prospects for curbing arms races. As a region with long-standing doctrines regarding respect for human rights but one now suffering from a plague of brutal repression, Latin America's evolution will importantly affect the future of human rights and their institutionalized protection or suppression.

The primary aim of U.S. policy toward the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean should be to secure their active cooperation in dealing with this broad global agenda. Their cooperation should not be sought, nor will it be extended, because of special regional ties or bonds of traditional friendship. It should be sought, and may well be granted, because the countries of Latin America have very much to gain from, and a good deal to contribute to, solving these global problems. Mutually profitable economic and cultural exchanges between the United States and Latin America would be aspects of working together on the issues of greatest concern.

In dealing with its global agenda, special sensitivity by the United States to the impact of its actions and inactions on its closest neighbors makes good sense; special regional policies for universal problems do not. On some specific problems-reporting on human rights violations, for instance, or perhaps for cultural exchanges-regional institutions may still have a place; on most issues Latin American countries should be dealt with on the basis of their interests, not their location.

While we should no longer assume that common interests automatically bind the United States and Latin America, we need not accept total hemispheric conflict as inevitable. The challenge for U.S. policy in the Americas is to nurture common interests where they exist or are latent, to help resolve intra-hemispheric tensions when conciliation is feasible, and to mitigate the effects of conflict when clashes occur. We should not be surprised or alarmed by recurrent or even deepening frictions in U.S.-Latin American relations: over tariffs and subsidies, debts and remittances, investments and nationalizations, exchange controls, technology transfer, immigration and other issues. We should neither ignore these frictions nor try to suppress them, but should rather build and fortify structures which anticipate and help resolve conflicts. New formulas should thus be sought to reconcile the interests of importers and exporters, producers and consumers, borrowers and lenders.

Spelling out in detail how the United States should try to gain help from Latin America and the Caribbean for dealing with global concerns would require another essay, but five key principles may be advanced:

1. In the United States we should free ourselves-in rhetoric, attitude, and practice-of the legacy of interventionism and paternalism. We should discipline ourselves to respect the sovereignty of all Latin American countries, regardless of their size or ideology.

Putting this principle into practice means (among other things) renouncing overt and covert intervention, abandoning coercive or discriminatory procedures, reaching an agreement with Panama which treats that country as a juridical equal, and making mutual respect the basis of our approach toward Cuba and every other country in the region-and toward Puerto Rico as well.

2. In dealing with Latin America, we should concern ourselves with the shared problems of economic security and of improving individual and collective welfare, and should focus less on security questions in the narrowly defined military sense.

Putting this principle into practice means accepting the fact that the days of absolute military security in the hemisphere are long and irrevocably gone, and understanding the truth that the greatest threat other countries of the region have perceived has often been from the United States. It means realizing that nations other than Cuba, particularly in the Caribbean, may choose socialist means of production and organization without implying any threat to this country. It also means accepting as natural that the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean will develop various links both among themselves and to nations outside the hemisphere. We ought to concentrate not on trying to limit the ties Latin American countries have outside the hemisphere, but on encouraging the states of Latin America to generate support from across the world for attempts to solve global problems.

3. We should resolve to help make the Americas safe for diversity. Though we should not try to impose on any nation our own ideological or economic preferences, we should make clear our own values-our commitments to freedom, to democracy, to justice and equity, to individual dignity. And we should avoid associating ourselves closely with those who violate standards we regard as fundamental.

Putting this principle into practice means refraining from interference in the domestic affairs of other nations, while maintaining a legitimate concern for the protection of universally recognized rights. More specifically, it means understanding that while we have no right to "destabilize," we do have an obligation not to aid those who torture and repress, and to assist the victims of repression whether they are victims of the Left or of the Right. And it means facing up to the fact that U.S. influence-still considerable though no longer overwhelming-has too often been used to support those who trample on rights we consider essential.

4. We should recognize that our relations with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are not all similar or of equal priority.

In practice this means analyzing how the interests and objectives of the various states of Latin America and the Caribbean differ among themselves, and how they relate to our own interests. The main unifying feature in recent Latin American history has been shared resistance to U.S. hegemony; as our predominance ebbs, intra-regional and subregional differences may well emerge. The United States ought to devote special priority to improving its understanding of and relations with three sets of countries: those where U.S. economic interests are concentrated (primarily Brazil and Mexico); those likely to exert particular influence in international forums (primarily Brazil and Venezuela, but also Cuba, for different reasons); and those most closely tied to the United States by patterns of trade and migration (particularly Mexico and the island territories of the Caribbean). As the era of U.S. hegemony throughout the Americas draws to a close, particular thought should be devoted to how the United States might best relate to the Caribbean territories, so many of which appear as satellites in search of an orbit.8

5. Finally, we should recognize that the end of U.S. hegemony implies that we cannot expect to achieve all of our goals in the region.

The United States is by far the strongest country in the Western Hemisphere, the only truly great power, and it will remain so for many years to come. We need not fear that our influence will be minimal or our main aims usually thwarted. But we must accept the fact that international and regional changes will limit our capacity to have our way.

One key fact which reduced influence will highlight is that priorities will conflict in the hemisphere. Devising sensible procedures for resolving investment disputes may run counter, at least in the short term, to the perceived interests of particular U.S. corporations. Insisting on the protection of essential human rights may tend to threaten the political stability our corporations expect abroad. The expansion of Latin American exports may involve increasing sectoral unemployment in our country, to which we will have to respond either by restricting imports or by providing effective adjustment assistance to displaced companies and workers. Our desire to deal effectively with the critical danger of nuclear proliferation may bring us into direct conflict with the understandable national ambitions of several Latin American states.

To fashion sound policies, the United States will face difficult choices in a hemisphere in which it is still very powerful but no longer unquestionably in charge. Recognizing that the Western Hemisphere is no longer our "sphere of influence" will therefore be painful, but no other basis for policy toward Latin America will be possible in this country's third century.


1 See Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973, Staff Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, U.S. Senate, 94th Cong., 1st Sess., December 18, 1975.

2 See George J. Eder, Inflation and Development in Latin America: A History of Inflation and Stability in Bolivia, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968, p. 163.

3 See Riordan Roett. The Politics of Foreign Aid in Northwest Brazil, Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 1972, and Joseph Page, The Revolution That Never Was: Northeast Brazil, 1955-1964, New York: Grossman, 1972.

4 For details, see Abraham F. Lowenthal, The Dominican Intervention, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972.

5 See Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975.

6 The classic, almost pathological, case of Peru's dispute with the International Petroleum Company (IPC) nicely illustrates this final point: over the course of several years Washington repeatedly punished or threatened to punish Peru's government in order to force a settlement acceptable to IPC. The end result, ironically, was to help bring to power a nationalist military regime which expropriated the IPC within weeks of taking office.

7 See Arthur P. Whitaker, The Western Hemisphere Idea: Its Rise and Decline, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1954.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Abraham F. Lowenthal, Director of Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of The Dominican Intervention and other works.
  • More By Abraham F. Lowenthal