In Praise of Lesser Evils
Can Realism Repair Foreign Policy?
In dealing with nearly one hundred countries that in varying degree look upon the United States as their deus ex machina, surely one of the most difficult problems is to achieve a set of foreign policies sufficiently coherent to be comprehensible to ourselves and to our friends and at the same time sufficiently responsive to the enormous differences even among those nations which for convenience we group together. The maker of policy must always, in some measure, strike a compromise between consistency in our relations among many countries and flexibility in shaping our relations to the peculiarities of each one. At the highest levels of government, however, the pressures are inevitably toward generalization and simplification as a means of making administration manageable and of attracting political support for policy decisions.
When Secretary Rusk asked, "Who speaks for Europe?", he reminded us that our tendency to generalize in terms of continents is not very valid even where shared experience is oldest, development is most uniform and integration has progressed furthest. To generalize about Latin America is far more difficult. The dangers of thinking of Latin America as an entity have frequently been pointed out, yet the practice continues among the public, if not within the State Department. In dealing with Asia no one presumes to generalize about the whole continent; at the very least we break it into regions, and in fact our bilateral relations vary enormously from country to country. Even Africa, which is at least self-consciously African, we divide into North, Central and Southern, though throughout the continent the drive for unity is intense, communication is close and stages of economic development are widely comparable.
Despite the importance and appearance of hemisphere solidarity, these factors do not apply to the countries of Latin America. Their common Hispanic culture and certain similarities in the way they look upon life and the world around them obscure a vast indifference to one another and a marked desire to be considered unique. They look to the United States above all and secondarily to Europe, but their knowledge or awareness of other countries of South and Central America is limited largely to contacts sponsored by public or private agencies of the United States. Pan Americanism has not cut deep, and even the effort to establish a Common Market has not much strengthened the Latins' sense of involvement with one another. Though an incident in Panama or Cuba will remind them how closely their destinies are linked, it is easier to find unity in what they are against than in what they are for.
Though we may be accused with some justice of being inadequately informed about Latin America, there are some 30 North American correspondents in Mexico City; none from other Latin American countries. There are at the very least a dozen universities in the United States where one can study the history, culture, politics and economics of Latin America in some depth; there is no Latin American university offering more than the most superficial survey course in the same field. Until very recently there was no direct air or passenger-ship service between the two largest countries, Mexico and Brazil.
It is said that in the Mexican Foreign Ministry, 60 percent of the officers work on United States affairs, 20 percent on international organizational affairs, 15 percent on European affairs and 5 percent on all the rest of the world including Latin America. In some other countries the disproportion would not be quite so high, but the pattern is uniform. Similarly, the average cultivated Latin American will have made several trips to the United States and to Europe, but none to other parts of Latin America.
To him, this does not seem surprising. As in other less developed parts of the world, the lines of communication have been to the centers of industrialization. Even today the opportunities for trade within Latin America remain limited. In any case, he looks to Europe and the United States for sources of interest and inspiration-cultural or technological- and does not expect to learn anything of value from other countries of the Western Hemisphere.
Moreover, he is likely to be more conscious of the differences between his country and others in Latin America than he is of their similarities. The most obvious, but not necessarily the most significant division is between those who speak Spanish and those who speak Portuguese (nearly 40 percent). Even the Spanish language, which would seem to others so close a bond, can be a source of minor friction, for each country takes its own version to be authentic and others offend the ear. Similarly, the racial mixing which has occurred in the Caribbean basin and which is a source of pride to a Mexican does not excite the admiration of a Chilean. And 21,000,000 "all-white" Argentines can feel themselves vastly superior to 75,000,000 Brazilians because the latter are intermixed with Indians and Negroes-indeed have created one of the most admirably integrated nations on earth. Parochial attitudes aside, a country like Argentina, where the whole population participates in the economy and where literacy is 85 percent, is a very different country from others where the majority have not yet entered the economy or the society.
In addition, of course, Latin America has had its quota of border wars, ancient rivalries and interventions-overt and covert. Recent political history, too, plays a part in separating the countries from one another. Differences in political orientation and forms of government are an obvious source of tension. Venezuela refuses to recognize half a dozen governments that came to power without benefit of elections. Mexico makes no such distinctions but is sure that its revolution has put it 50 years ahead of the rest of Latin America; its attitude toward its southern neighbors is, at best, patronizing. Geography, too, has been a cause of division, for the Andean range or the Amazon jungles have been more effective than oceans in inhibiting travel. And by the sheer difference in size alone, Brazil feels that it has little or nothing in common with Costa Rica. Finally, there are the obvious but profoundly important differences in the extent of economic development. When all of these distinctions are toted up and overlaid with nationalism, it is hard to find the common denominators on which "a policy for Latin America" can be based.
One result of the differences described-and the Latins' own awareness of them-is that while the United States is trying to develop a coherent body of doctrine on which to base multilateral relationships such as the Alliance for Progress was conceived to be, each of the Latin American countries wants to be treated by the United States as a special case.
A Mexican may say: "We have achieved political stability under a democratic system; in land reform we are pioneers; high social mobility has been attained and we have a large middle class; our money is sound and our growth rate is well ahead of population growth. On the testimony of no less a person than Eugene Black, former President of the World Bank, we are close to the point of self-sustaining growth. If nothing else, our proximity to the United States makes our needs and problems exceptional. How can you compare us with any other Latin American country? What we want from you more than anything else is respect for our right to differ with you and understanding of our desire to make our own way in the world."
A Venezuelan may say: "We have just had a completely free election under a multi-party system (not like those Mexicans with their one-party system and controlled elections); we have achieved a broad consensus on basic issues and perhaps we are at last breaking out of the cycle of coups and dictatorships. We have honest government, extensive land reform and rapid development. We have no race problem, no religious problem and no class problem. How can you compare us with any other Latin American country? What we want from the United States above all is a 'good' oil policy, and secondarily, some technical assistance and-again in contradistinction to Mexico-vigorous measures against Castro."
A Brazilian may say: "In size and population we are between two and three times that of the next largest country; we are continental in scope and have unlimited potential; our colonial experience was altogether different from that of the Spanish countries; our history is a record of political stability and nonintervention by the military; our traditions support non- violence and compromise. Our industrialization is unequaled in South America and, until recently, our rates of economic growth were the highest. How can you compare us with any other country in Latin America? What we want from you above all is respect for our primacy and understanding in our present economic and political difficulties brought on by the desertion of our elected leader [Quadros]. Also, a fairer price for coffee."
A Chilean may say: "We are the most politically sophisticated of all Latin American countries and our dedication to constitutionalism and democracy is the most deeply rooted. In over a century we have only twice suffered civil strife. We excel in the progressiveness of our social legislation, the integrity of our courts, the freedom of our elections, the excellence of our police and the quality of our universities. We were the first to comprehend the meaning of the Alliance for Progress and the first to present a plan in conformity with its requirements. What we want above all from you is appreciation of our capacity to set standards for Latin America and recognition of the need to be masters in our own house where the influence and scope of U.S. foreign capital is oppressive to us."
These hypothetical arguments, all of which are essentially true, if overstated, could be multiplied almost indefinitely. Each would appeal for comprehension of the distinctive qualities of the country concerned, for recognition of its special virtues and handicaps. In sum, each country would argue for bilateral arrangements with the United States, because only then can its uniqueness be taken account of.
There is no desire to add here to the vast literature on the Alliance for Progress-its ills and shortcomings. Like a color wheel that, when spun, comes out a neutral gray, all the criticisms finally cancel one another out. Where the United States is concerned, what it boils down to is that we cannot have one foreign policy for Latin America, nor can we have 20 different policies. Every measure we try to implement will in some degree be a compromise between generalizations which have limits to their validity and specifics which lack vitality for peoples, parliaments or politicians. Without generalizations there can be no concepts and without concepts there can be no policy. Therefore, it serves no useful purpose to criticize the Alliance for Progress for presupposing an entity which does not exist or for trying to develop broad conceptions which in fact have varied applicability. But to be aware that this is the case is very important if we are to achieve the necessary flexibility within an over-all plan.
Take, for example, the question of land reform, a key element of the Alliance and a subject on which President Kennedy spoke eloquently, though in very general terms. If by land reform is meant redistribution of land (as is too often the case), then the question is irrelevant or very secondary in four of the most important countries of Latin America: Mexico and Venezuela, where the problem was being attacked long before the Alliance for Progress; Argentina, which needs agricultural modernization, not land redistribution; and Brazil, where requirements vary enormously from state to state but where land redistribution is secondary to the need for resettlement, agricultural research, taxation of uncultivated land, farm credit, rural development and the like. But since in Brazil land reform is synonymous with land redistribution and since the term itself has been expropriated by the Communists, a quite unnecessary battle is raging in which leftists and opportunists are using the good name of the late President of the United States to stir up controversy and feather their political nests. As a result, urgent and feasible reforms of agriculture are blocked.
Other examples could be cited in the requirement for national planning where no planners exist or for matching funds where no money exists unless, as in inflation-ridden Brazil, the government prints it. None of these obstacles and exceptions is a reason not to encourage agrarian reform, planning and a matching effort by the recipient nation. But they show how difficult it is to develop grand conceptions that are responsive to the real needs and problems of particular countries.
One of the areas in which flexibility has been most limited-and by our own hand-is the effort to combat Communism. Here our Cuban policy, and its involvement in our domestic politics, tends to dominate everything, so that our responsible officials have little room for man?uvre. But in fact the nature of the danger and the tactics being used by the Communists vary greatly from country to country. A U.S. policy or attitude which may be right for a country with a strongly anti-Communist government but with heavy Communist infiltration among the unions will hardly be appropriate for a country where there is little popular sentiment in favor of Communism but where leftists are eating away the government at the top- "superversion," as one close observer has called it. And a policy or attitude which may be appropriate for a country where the Communist Party is illegal and driven underground will not necessarily be effective in a country where the Communist Party is actively campaigning in a free and wide-open election.
Our alarums and excursions over Castro have had a whole series of undesirable effects in Latin America. First, our constant preoccupation with Castro and our disposition to credit him or his Moscow superiors with every act that offends us throughout the Hemisphere built up his prestige, even among those who are staunch anti-Communists but not above enjoying the sight of
Uncle Sam discomfited. Second, the enormous prestige and respect we gained in the missile crisis of October 1962 have been sullied much less by our failure to obtain Soviet adherence to every particular of the agreement than by the undignified image that we, as a people, afterwards created of fear and petulance. Third, our insistence that everyone stand up and be counted on the Castro issue has embarrassed some countries and annoyed others, without achieving the unanimity we sought. In fact, the nations of Latin America have taken most of the important steps we thought necessary, but they would prefer not to talk about it. For example, the Mexicans, the most reluctant of all to take a vigorous anti-Castro position in public, are actually coöperating with us in ways which may be, strictly speaking, illegal under their constitution. For a country which has used legalism as its chief weapon of defense for more than a century and whose dearest ambition is to exercise its independence of the United States, this is not easy to do. Fourth, and now looking at the other side of the coin, the Latin American republics are in truth using our "Castrocentrism," as one foreign minister referred to it, as a stick to beat us with. Indeed, it is doubtful if a majority of the countries of this Hemisphere want to see Castro brought down-not because they are "soft on Communism," but because they feel he has served them well without ever constituting a serious threat to them. They are inclined to believe that without the apparent threat, the sources of largesse might dry up and that the United States would return to its attitude of indifference toward its southern neighbors. And several look forward with foreboding to the day when Cuban sugar reënters Western markets.
Meanwhile, Castro himself has been more successful in discrediting the cause he serves and in alerting the Hemisphere to the fact that danger does exist. The economic disaster that Castro has inflicted on his people is well known; what once looked like healthy nationalism and a desire to be free of U.S. domination looks now like a sellout to another foreign power, which may be better or worse depending on the individual's point of view, but is not what is wanted. Castro's name is heard less and less in Latin America, and where Communist parties are trying to attain power by constitutional means-as in Chile-his name is hardly mentioned; he simply is no longer a selling point. Only where the Communist parties are illegal and have turned to violence, as in Venezuela, or where they are legal but splintered and unpopular, as in Peru, does one hear Fidelismo praised as a model, and then not insistently or effectively. Communism itself has lost some of its lustre; it just is not as fashionable as it used to be, partly, at least, because since the Sino-Soviet split, it has become less the stirring ideology it once was and more a protest movement, taking many guises from ill-defined leftist nationalism to ineffectual fanaticism. With so many angry gods in the pantheon-Stalin, Khrushchev, Mao, Castro and (still) Trotsky-it becomes difficult for the fellow traveler to know whom to worship, while the infighting among the leaders is often sharp and destructive. Except in a few places, such as Chile, which has the best organized and proportionately largest Party in the Hemisphere operating in an atmosphere of unequaled freedom, Communism remains a danger in Latin America not so much because of its own strength, but because of the weaknesses in the societies into which it burrows; not because there are so many disciplined Communists working efficiently round the clock, but because there are so many politicians in default of their minimum obligations to their people; not because there is so much poverty but because there is so much corruption and inefficiency; not because Communism is considered an ultimate good but because there is so much with which to discredit democracy.
It needs to be remembered, too, that Communism is only one brand of extremism found in Latin America. For every disciplined Communist or ideological fellow traveler there is probably at least one opportunist without political commitment of any kind who may be trying to use the Communists for his own purposes or who may hope for personal gain through a fascistic power structure. In any case he finds it advantageous to destroy whatever is healthy in society and obstruct whatever promises sound progress. To brand all rogues and extremists as Communists is a dubious tactic, for it confuses the issue and makes them appear stronger than they are. Indeed we might profitably declare a moratorium on words like Communism and democracy and talk more about good government and representative government. This would help to clarify our own thinking, too. For Latin America is replete with examples of governments which are relatively "good"-in the sense of honest and efficient-without being "representative," and others which are technically "representative" without being "good." To plump quite so hard as we do for freedom and democracy, without reference to the enormous variety of experience and tradition in the countries of Latin America, may only succeed in blackening the name of democracy where constitutional régimes are immobilized, corrupt or unresponsive to the wishes of the people.
It has been widely believed in the United States that the slow progress in Latin America has been due either to the almost insurmountable nature of its problems or to the resistance to change of its privileged classes. For parts of Latin America these explanations still have some validity, but for the major countries of Latin America-those on which all else depends-they are far from the point. What impresses a visitor to Argentina or Brazil or Mexico is that, as compared to other parts of the less developed world, the problems are so manageable, so near (and yet so far from) solution. In these countries and many others there is general acceptance of the need for change, sometimes even a consensus on the general lines that change should take. The leadership groups, the men of power and influence, are for the most part only one or two generations removed from the peasantry or are the sons or grandsons of European immigrants.1[i] Even in a country like Peru, which has had no revolution and no populist dictatorship, the President and a majority of Congress are progressively minded. But unfortunately this is no guarantee that progress will be made with sufficient speed.
For all too often party comes before country and the question as posed is not what shall be done, and how, but who will get credit for it if it is a success. To be sure, this is in the nature of politics, but in Latin America it is carried to extremes. Thus one finds parties opposing what they have been promoting for years, simply because they are not in the government. It is not to be expected that good of country will be put above all other considerations; it would be enough if the party were thought of as existing to represent the interests of the individuals and groups that compose it rather than as an instrument for the aggrandizement of its leaders.
Another factor in the incapacity of Latin American governments lies in the nature of the much-heralded middle class that has emerged. There are exceptions, but in general it does not perform the same function in Latin American societies today as the similar class served in nineteenth-century Europe or America.[ii]2 It arose not in opposition to the aristocracy, but in potential conflict with the industrial worker and the urbanized proletariat. Therefore it has not spurred evolutionary forces, but has been essentially conservative; and it has placed a higher value on social acceptance than on political power. This is not to say that the middle class has accepted the standards or the political ideas of the old aristocracy; but neither has it accepted the social responsibility nor the political leadership which, for good or ill, the aristocracy once exercised. As the old order crumbled, nothing has been offered to take its place.
1 It can be argued that Argentina today is more Italian than Spanish. One indication is that the majority of politicians, including the President and his two most recent predecessors, are of Italian extraction.
Having defaulted on one set of responsibilities, it became easier to default on another. Since the government was not "theirs" and in any case was corrupt, it was not difficult to justify cheating the government out of the means of governing. Tax evasion is a national pastime in Latin America and a matter of individual pride. When collections are only a fraction of what is due the government, taxes are increased, often to such absurd heights and in such irrational ways that tax evasion becomes a necessity for survival. Meanwhile, the factory worker and a few others whose taxes may be collected at the source become the chief supporters of government.
The middle class, then, has not always exercised the political function that we assume it serves. This has left a vacuum to be filled too often by incompetents and opportunists. The Brazilians, whose sense of humor is a virtue carried to a fault, are wont to say that Brazil is the land of the future and always will be. The joke has the ring of truth and what makes it particularly poignant is that to bring that bright future into the present requires only a modicum of political leadership of strength and integrity. And so it is, in varying degree, with many other Latin American republics. They may not all be on the eve of a bright future, but there is not one whose prospects could not be altered out of recognition by a decade of consistent political leadership, integrity in public office and evidence of responsibility to the electorate.
Latin America has recently had a striking example of what honest and purposeful leadership can accomplish. Romulo Betancourt has bequeathed to Venezuela a sense of pride and achievement, which in the climate of Latin America is a gift beyond price. The admiration which flooded down on the President and people of Venezuela from North America after the December election stirred them deeply and there was hardly a literate Venezuelan who did not know of the letter in Time, nominating the Venezuelan voter as Man of the Year. No one can say whether the sense of unity and purpose now prevailing will have finally broken the tradition of dictatorship and violence, but there is a hope and optimism abroad in the land that is rare in Latin America today.
2 See Claudio Veliz, "Obstacles to Reform in Latin America," The World Today, January 1963.
It will be said that few countries have the advantages of Venezuela's wealth, and this is true. But it is not the crux of the matter, as is demonstrated by a comparison of, say, Argentina, which has done so little with so much, and Costa Rica, which has done much with so little. The crux of the matter is that, with the possible exception of the Middle East, Latin America is the most politicized area in the world which has not evolved an adequate tradition of public service or political responsibility. While we must guard against applying Anglo-Saxon standards to a very different environment and culture, it is clear that until Latin America's political underdevelopment is corrected, its economic development will continue to lurch and stumble. For what is retarding development in the major Latin American countries is not so much lack of wealth and technology nor the vested interests of landed or commercial classes; it is the prevalence of corrupt and demagogic leaders, often the legacy of dictators, governing people whose cynicism about politics leads them to alternate between fatalism and violence.
The climate of uncertainty thus created, the unpredictable exercise of arbitrary powers by government, whether elected or not, are insuperable obstacles to sound economic growth. Governmental planning becomes a political football and private capital moves into the least productive areas, where the interest rates are highest and where the investor can get in and get out with the fattest profits and the least risk.
The Argentines and Brazilians know as well as anyone that there simply is no excuse for the conditions found in their countries today-try as they will to explain them or blame them on others. The new and almost freely elected government of Argentina has done only two things of the least consequence in its first four months in office: one is to renegotiate the foreign oil contracts to its advantage; the other, to increase its borrowing from the central bank so as to become current in its payments to employees and suppliers. What characterizes these acts is that they require no courage, no imagination and solve nothing. Already there is talk of more golpes, more military intervention. The situation in Brazil is worse, because there the Communists are in a position to take advantage of the economic chaos which already seems near, and which may be allowed or encouraged to become a reality.
It would be inconsistent with an earlier thesis of this article if there were not innumerable exceptions and qualifications to be made concerning these sweeping generalizations. Chile does have a tradition of public service, though it also has a tradition of protecting private monopolies; the Argentine landowner does exert political influence out of all proportion to his numbers; individuals of great eminence do serve as government ministers, often in maddening frustration; there are some individuals of great courage and integrity in public office; the incapacity or unwillingness of the Latins to organize and to coöperate for defined objectives would sorely try the best of leaders; our press has exaggerated some crises and failures out of proportion; and it should go without saying that we in the United States are not faultless either in our domestic affairs or in our relations with Latin America. The list of qualifications could be extended, but the generalizations hold, on the testimony of the Latins themselves. In the words of a democratic labor leader who had just survived a bitter battle with the Communists, "What we need is more patriotism." It is a word which, for all the rampant nationalism in Latin America, is almost unknown there in other than a flag-waving sense.
In countries which prize dynamic leadership above all else, it is particularly tragic that there is so little of it. The truly astounding outpouring of grief in Latin America on the death of President Kennedy was probably not so much because of any new initiatives he took or more sympathetic attitudes he reflected toward them, as because he epitomized what they themselves are looking for in a leader: personal appeal, energy, eloquence, ability and integrity.
One senses that our responsible officials in Washington and our Foreign Service Officers in the field are being ground fine between the sensitivities of the Latin Americans and the need to state harsh truths; between their very lively affection for the Latins-so generally reciprocated-and the awareness that the United States is being outrageously used; between the Latins' private respect for the United States and their public abuse of it; between American commercial interests and the national interest, which are too often assumed to be the same; between the American public's unwarranted sense of guilt about Latin America and our Congressmen's periodic outbursts of wrath; between . ..
The tensions and conflicts are innumerable. What few generalizations can be drawn which will have validity for some appreciable part of this diverse area we call Latin America? After acknowledging that diversity and realizing that no policy will be relevant for all parts of Latin America, we might consider some of the following:
1. Talk more about responsible and responsive government and less about democracy.
2. Try to put our own fears of Communism in better proportion to the extent and nature of the threat. Cuba was not subverted, but had Communism clamped on it from the top. The country which today is most in danger is probably Chile, where a Communist-Socialist coalition stands a better than fighting chance of being freely elected to office next September, with a plurality of at most 30 percent of the vote. Elsewhere the threat may be altogether different, and more remote. Most of the things we can do to fight Communism in Latin America have to be done quietly, and they are being done. But there are limits to what we can accomplish, and sooner or later we will have to be resolute in resisting the gentle blackmail which is posed as, "Help us or else. . . ." One day, perhaps in Brazil, the second option may have to be taken up. To assume that the alternative must be Communism seems very dubious.
3. Distinguish more clearly in our own minds between technical and genuinely developmental aid programs, which more often than not are admirable in conception and accomplishment, and other forms of assistance which are unproductive and merely protect irresponsible governments against the day of reckoning. One reason the American people seem disillusioned with the rate of economic development in countries we have helped is that they do not know how small a proportion of our total aid has been used for development, how much to balance budgets or unsuccessfully fight inflation.
4. Avoid giving the impression that we look upon the O.A.S. merely as an instrument for fighting Communism. It has rarely been used effectively on issues of primary interest to the Latin American countries or as a means of drawing them more closely together.
5. Avoid making a fetish of consistency where circumstances in fact differ. For example, though we must do what we can to discourage military coups, we cannot thereby be put in the position of defending-simply because they were elected-venal governments which have wholly defaulted on their minimal responsibilities.
6. Do not let our own need for resoluteness and realism become an excuse for "getting tough" or an unwillingness to discuss and act in areas of friction between us and the Latin American nations-whether it be the Panama Canal or water disputes with Mexico or the price of coffee.
7. 7. Give the highest priority in our programs of training, education and exchange to the search for leadership and the cultivation of a sense of individual responsibility for government.
8. 8. Do not expect that the unwarranted abuse we are subjected to from Latin America will cease until the discrepancies between us and them-in size, power and accomplishment-have disappeared. It will be a long time.
9. 9. Though our "big stick" is too obvious to need to be carried, the first half of Teddy Roosevelt's dictum-to speak softly-still has great merit. Latin America is of two worlds. One is that of Cuba and Panama and damn-Yankeeism and demagogy and scalding headlines. The other is a quiet world where public statements are avoided, where emphasis is on the spoken word exchanged between a few individuals, where genuine respect and even affection for the United States is demonstrated. This is not only the world of diplomacy, as it ought to be, but the world of thousands of other individual relationships that tie us to Latin America. It is the world where things get done, away from those who would use any means to destroy those relationships and away from the temptation even of honorable men to take political profit from their dealings with us.
[i] It can be argued that Argentina today is more Italian than Spanish. One indication is that the majority of politicians, including the President and his two most recent predecessors, are of Italian extraction.
[ii] See Claudio Veliz, "Obstacles to Reform in Latin America," The World Today, January 1963.