On a Certain Impatience with Latin America

Courtesy Reuters

Democracy even under a tyranny continued to advance.

--Edith Hamilton, "The Greek Way"

PUBLIC opinion in the United States has shown a sporadic impatience at the failure of many Latin American republics to achieve a greater degree of political democracy. The persistence of dictatorships in our midst throughout a war fought for democracy was a moral embarrassment. The establishment of new dictatorships after victory has seemed to some like a rejection of what we fought to achieve. While we were still fighting we put the best face on the business, just as we did with respect to our Soviet ally. The war over, opinion in this country has sometimes tended to react in the manner of a stern father in the privacy of his home after his children have publicly embarrassed him.

But is the relationship of the United States to the Latin American nations in fact paternal? Or is it fraternal? The distinction is fundamental to the question of what the United States ought to do about the state of democracy in Latin America.

The traditional political orientation of the 21 American republics is democratic. For Americans south as well as north, the ideal state is a free association of individuals who exercise their freedom under laws of their own making, enforced by officers of their own choice. This ideal gives a common direction to the political development for which all Americans strive; north and south, all are agreed on where they want to go.

The position of the United States within this community is distinct in several important respects, however. We had already achieved, by the time of our independence in 1776, a political sophistication that the others are, for the most part, still on their way to achieving. The fact is that we gained our national independence from the mother country because we had come of age and were ready for it. The other Americans gained theirs because the mother country was struck down. When, in the first quarter of

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