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The Lowering Hemisphere

by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

While we squander young lives, resources, and prestige in Vietnam, we persist in shortsighted, niggardly policies in Latin America, an area far more vital to our national security than Southeast Asia. A noted historian examines our hypocrisy toward the Good Neighbors and offers some remedial suggestions.

O NE of the more conspicuous hypocrisies of the American way in foreign policy is our combination of vocal solicitude about the inter-American system with visceral indifference to the Latin American ordeal. On ceremonial occasions, our leaders talk lavishly and righteously about hemisphere solidarity. When an ambassador is kidnapped, we get interested and mad. But one cannot resist the impression -- certainly Latin Americans don't -- that deep down most North Americans do not give a damn about Latin America. Only two Presidents in nearly half a century, Roosevelt and Kennedy, have shown convincing interest in the Western hemisphere. Our politicians, professors, and journalists expend infinite emotion over remote and not very germane countries like Vietnam, but their eyes grow glazed when they are asked to consider the really quite fascinating problems of the Americas. Here is a subcontinent of nearly 250 million souls, 50 percent of whom are under twenty years of age, more than 50 percent of whom are illiterate, 30 percent of whom will die before their fortieth year, but still a population multiplying faster than any other in the world. Here is a subcontinent where one eighth more people than the population of the United States subsist on less than one eighth of our gross national product, where 5 percent of the people receive a third of the income and 70 percent live in abject poverty, and where in country after country the political and social structures are organized to keep things that way. Yet here is a subcontinent which has produced great painters and poets, brilliant scientists, accomplished diplomats, and a highly polished culture. Here is a subcontinent rich in natural resources as well as historic traditions and anticipations. Here is the one part of the Western world that is underdeveloped, and the one part of the underdeveloped world that is Western. And here is an area far more vital to the national security of the United States than the jungles of Southeast Asia, in which we still squander so much money and so many young lives.

Return to an interview with Jorge Castañeda

There are, as Germán Arciniegas of Colombia pointed out in a famous observation, two Latin Americas: the visible and the invisible. Visible Latin America is the Latin America of Presidents, generals, embassies, newspapers, business houses, universities, cathedrals, estancias,and haciendas. But in the shadows lies "mute, repressed" Latin America, a "vast reservoir of revolution.... Nobody knows what these ... silent men and women think, feel, dream, or await in the depths of their being." In recent years invisible Latin America has begun to stir. Workers and campesinoswant three meals a day and a modicum of human recognition and dignity. Indians want to enter the national life of their countries. Intellectuals and students want social justice. Engineers and soldiers want modernization. Whatever the particular goal, the inherited condition of life is becoming every day more insupportable for more people.

Of course, through force and through inertia, the old order hangs on. But no one, except its most direct beneficiaries and its most brutalized victims, believes in it much any longer. The question in Latin America is, Which road into the future? Three different answers are currently proposed -- the progressive democratic way, the Communist way, and the military-populist-nationalist way.

JFK's call for progress

THE progressive democratic way was well defined by John F. Kennedy in his speech on March 13, 1961. He noted that the continentwide revolution which had begun in Philadelphia in 1776 and Caracas in 1811 was not yet finished: "for our unfulfilled task is to demonstrate to the entire world that man's unsatisfied aspiration for economic progress and social justice can best be achieved by free men working within a framework of democratic institutions." He then issued his call for an Alliance for Progress. Meeting later that year at Punta del Este in Uruguay, the American republics gave the Alliance a charter designed to combine the reform of economic structures and the stimulation of economic growth with the strengthening of democratic processes.

The success of the Alianza para el Progreso rested on two things: on the contribution of the United States and, much more, on the capacity of progressive democratic parties and governments in Latin America to carry through a peaceful revolution. Kennedy did not propose that they confine their social changes to results acceptable to the United Fruit Company. As he told Cheddi Jagan of British Guiana, "We are not engaged in a crusade to force private enterprise on parts of the world where it is not relevant. If we are engaged in a crusade for anything, it is national independence." So long as countries maintained their national independence, "we don't care whether you are socialist, capitalist, pragmatist, or whatever."

Progressive democratic leaders in Latin America embraced the Alianza in this spirit; as an uncle taking, in the words of President Frei of Chile "committed to the achievement of a revolution and designed to produce "a substantial change in the political, social, and economic structures of the region." Frei enumerated the objectives of "the Latin American revolution" -- destruction of the oligarchies; ending the semifeudal regimes on the countryside and redistributing their land; assuring equal access to education and political power; sharing the gains of economic development; utilizing international capital for the benefit of the national economy -- and said, "These are precisely the same objectives as those of the Alliance."

It is fashionable these days to decry the Alianza. It was, we are told, "oversold": Kennedy's rhetoric roused hopes that could not possibly be fulfilled and the inevitable result was disillusion. Instead of trumpeting forth a new policy and promising to get Latin America moving in a decade, the United States, it is now said, should have worked without fanfare for limited but attainable ends. Certainly the low profile has its charms in a slogan-mad world. Yet would we really be better off today had there been no eloquence and no Alianza?

What the hemisphere desperately needed in 1961 (what it needs even more desperately now) was a new political consciousness and purpose. Conceptions as well as acts are necessary to create new moods, to signal breaks with the past, to inspire fresh initiatives; in this sense, words become acts. Would there ever have been a New Deal, for example, without the "overselling" of Franklin Roosevelt? It may be that the Nixon Administration in due course will begin to demonstrate that an Administration without eloquence has its own disadvantages. Nor were Kennedy's words of 1961-1963 entirely unavailing. By defining new issues and setting new goals, the Alianza began to change the political consciousness of Latin America. An it seems unlikely that more change will come without more words that will once again be vulnerable to the charge of overselling. Even Governor Rockefeller observed to John M. Goshko of the Washington Post,"You've got to have a vision of what the hell we are trying to implement, and that's something our government's bureaucratic structure doesn't lend itself to."

Rockefeller's comment suggests a second reason for the rhetoric of the Alianza: it was necessary in order to mobilize the United States government behind new Latin American policies. The Alianza speech, it need hardly be said, was written in the White House; it could never have come out of the State Department. The Old Latin American Hands disdained the Alianza as a fantasy dreamed up by amateurs and tried ever after to cut it down to size, an objective in which they began to succeed when President Johnson confided Latin American policy to Thomas Mann, famed in the State Department for his aphorism: "I know my Latinos. They understand only two things -- a buck in the pocket and a kick in the ass." Very often the main function of presidential speeches is to commit the executive bureaucracy -- the "permanent government" -- to something it would never do on its own.

Nor has the Alianza been entirely ineffective. One original objective, as laid down at Punta del Este in 1961, was a growth rate of 2.5 percent per capita per year. From 1961 through 1967 Latin America grew at the average annual rate of 4.5 percent of the total gross national product; but because population increased even faster, per capita growth was under 2 percent. In 1968 the gross rate was 5.5 percent and the per capita rate 2.5 percent. It is impossible to determine how much of this achievement was due to the Alianza, but a good part of it certainly was. Over the decade this has not been a bad record; and it has brought with it impressive gains in social development -- the building of schools, hospitals, low-cost housing, roads, advance in irrigation and electric power, and so on.

"Made in the United States"

YET for all this, the Alianza has accomplished a good deal less than its founders hoped. It has not lightened the weight of Latin America's external debt, nor has it improved Latin America's share in world trade, nor has it substantially reduced Latin American unemployment. Worse, it has not come close to bringing about the structural changes necessary for economic progress; as President Frei has said, it has missed its fundamental goal -- "a revolutionary approach to the need for reform." Above all, despite its Latin American origins, Latin Americans have not perceived it as a Latin American effort; it has remained something external and alien, bearing indelibly the mark "made in the United States." Why has the Alianza thus far failed to realize its essential purposes? Fundamentally, of course, because of the intractability of the problems themselves; beyond this, part of the responsibility rests with the United States and part with Latin America.

It is evident, for example, that the Johnson Administration somewhat altered the character of the Alianza. On the political side, what had begun as a continental commitment to progressive democracy lost its ideological drive. In the Dominican Republic the United States revived the policy of direct armed intervention, and elsewhere it developed ties to conservatism and dictatorship. On the economic side, despite the valiant efforts of men like William D. Rogers, Lincoln Gordon, David Bronheim, and Sol Linowitz, the Alianza became just another United States aid program, with aid increasingly taking the form not of grants but of loans, often at high interest rates and repayable in dollars, and with smaller congressional appropriations every year. In addition, President Johnson's growing obsession with Vietnam meant a precipitate decline both in official concern and available resources.

Then, when Vietnam intensified the balance-of-payments stringency, this became the occasion for introducing into the aid program stipulations that Latin Americans could only regard as devices to force unwelcome North American exports on the Latin American market. Thus "tied loans" compelled Latin American countries to spend well over 90 percent of United States "aid" in the United States and became in effect an export subsidy.

At the same time, tariffs and quotas kept Latin American goods out of the United States market. All this seemed to represent a deformation of the Alianza in the interests of American business -- a suspicion confirmed in Latin American eyes by the Johnson Administration's brutal policy of suspending aid to Peru in order to coerce the Peruvian government into abandoning its claims against the International Petroleum Company.

In 1965, when Robert Kennedy was about to leave on a trip to Latin America, he asked a State Department official to explain the discrepancy between this decision to stop aid to the progressive democratic Belaunde government in Peru and the decision taken about the same time to send aid to the dictatorship in Brazil. Finally Kennedy said, "What the Alliance for Progress has come down to then is that you can close down newspapers, abolish congress, jail religious opposition, and deport your political enemies, and you'll get lots of help, but if you fool around with a U.S. oil company, we'll cut you off without a penny. Is that right?" The official replied, "That's about the size of it."

The Johnson Administration thus gave the interests of United States business a central role in Latin American policy. Certainly foreign investment is indispensable, or at least highly useful, for Latin American development. But foreign investment serves the purposes of development only when a decent share of the ownership, management, and profits remains in Latin America. Though more U.S. corporations than is generally supposed recognize this truth, and some, like W. R. Grace and Sears, Roebuck, have taken significant steps to Latin-Americanize their operations, others cling to the arbitrary and exploitative practices of the past.

The problem of the repatriation of private earnings to the United States has become so particularly acute that, in effect, this alone has almost defeated the Alianza. United States private profits taken out of Latin America have been greater than United States private investment in Latin America by a larger figure every year since 1962, in 1968 by the quite formidable figure of $812 million. Moreover, in some years private remittances to the United States have exceeded the aid disbursed under the Alianza -- in 1967, for example, by $106 million. "Between 1961 and 1966," according to the Economist, Latin America "received $6,000 million in loans and investment but paid back double that sum in debt repayment, interest on loans and remitted profits." Who is giving aid to whom?

The drain of private capital, on top of the mounting debt-repayment burden, the dwindling provision of public capital, and the fall in the prices of raw materials, has made it all the more urgent for Latin America to increase its own export earnings. But many Latin American states are largely dependent on single products, like coffee or copper, and here international stabilization agreements are inadequate or nonexistent. These countries can diversify their economies and improve their earnings only as their other products find greater access to North American markets. So Latin Americans seek nonreciprocal tariff and quota concessions which will permit preferential treatment for their manufactures -- in the teeth of the revived protectionist impulses of United States business. When the United States boggles at making such minor adjustments in its own trading arrangements, Latins wonder at North American insistence that they instantly undertake wholesale transformations of their own societies.

Recently twenty-one Latin American governments, meeting without the United States at Vina del Mar in Chile, adopted a document entitled the Latin American Consensus and presented it to President Nixon. This document, after reaffirming the principles of the Alianza, concentrated on trade and especially on the external obstacles that prevent Latin America from selling in the markets of industrialized countries. But, if Washington did everything the Latin American Consensus requests, even if our Congress voted appropriations sufficiently massive and accepted policies sufficiently radical to enable Latin Americans to begin to bring their countries into the twentieth century, this would still not ensure the success of the progressive democratic thesis. For the contribution of the United States is the lesser part of the problem. Powerful as we are, we can have only a marginal impact.

Latin America cannot be saved in Washington. It can only be saved in Latin America. Washington has a limited power, too often exercised, to prevent change. It has much less power to compel change. Too often the United States becomes the great alibi -- the permanent excuse for the failure of the Latin nations to do what they can, should, and must do for themselves. Roberto Campos, the Brazilian economist, called the Latin American Consensus, with its determination to blame "external factors" for Latin American backwardness, an exercise in the economics of self-pity. If the United States did everything the Vina del Mar Consensus demands to improve Latin American terms of trade, for example, this would only give the Latin American ruling classes more money without influencing the way they use this money, and it would do very little to solve the serious problems of Latin America.

Only Latin Americans can alter the profoundly inequitable distribution of wealth and income. Only Latin Americans can revolutionize archaic systems of land tenure, improve agricultural productivity, and correct the imbalance between rural and urban areas. Only Latin Americans can modernize domestic markets and link the national markets into a great continental market through free trade areas and regional integration agreements. Only Latin Americans can make administrative systems honest and efficient. Only Latin Americans can control inflation. Only Latin Americans can improve systems of education. Only Latin Americans can slow down the fantastic population growth, which promises to increase their number by 90 million in the seventies and to bring Latin America over the 600 million mark by the year 2000.

This was the challenge the Alianza presented to the progressive democrats of Latin America. Now, the Latins have done some impressive things. In the first seven years of the Alianza they invested $ 11 billion in development and accounted for more than 90 percent of the region's financing (U.S. loans and technical assistance accounted for about 6 percent). A few Latin American states -- Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile -- have made progress of a sort in land reform and have begun to make foreign investment responsive to national purpose. Some states have improved their mechanisms of tax collection. Educational enrollment has increased. There has been striking progress in public health. But few Latin American states have made much effort to bring about the structural reorganization pledged in the Punta del Este charter. Indeed, as President Frei has said, "Many Latin American governments have used the Alliance as a bargaining lever to obtain increases in U.S. aid precisely so as to avoid changing their domestic situation."

The progressive democratic impulse in Latin America cannot be discounted. It has true roots in the Latin American past; for the wars of liberation and the nineteenth-century constitution were animated by the spirit of liberal democracy, however sadly this spirit was subsequently betrayed. Today progressive democracy expresses itself in two main currents: the partidos populares,like Accíon Democrática in Venezuela, Accíon Popular and APRA in Peru, and, by extension, PRI in Mexico; and the Christian Democrats, currently in power in Chile and Venezuela and a force in other countries. Yet many progressive democratic leaders have the disadvantages of the classical liberal tradition with its elitist and paternalistic overtones. Most are out of touch with the younger generation. And while the old oligarchies savagely oppose their democratic reforms, the radical left, seeing progressive democracy as theenemy, is even more determined that the peaceful revolution shall not succeed.

Fidel Castro, for example, remembers Batista and is confident that reactionary dictatorships will only strengthen his own appeal. If progressive democratic regimes should work, on the other hand, then the Communist bid would fail. That is why the main target of Castro's efforts at subversion has been the progressive democratic government of Venezuela.

Kennedy for a moment awakened through the hemisphere the hope that democratic methods of social change might work. That hope has faded. "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible," he said in one of his Latin American speeches, make violent revolution inevitable." The oligarchies ignored his warning, and his progressive democrats have thus far failed to transform the special order so rigidly protected by the alliance of privilege and inertia.

The progressive democrats remain the best people in Latin America and the most deserving of United States support. Where they are in power, or have a chance of power, Washington should give them all possible assistance. But the sad reality is that many Latin Americans today, including some of the ablest and most idealistic among intellectuals, among the military, among the students, even among the priesthood, have come to the conclusion that the progressive democratic way is too slow, too rational, too much the faith of an older generation, too weak in its political base, too solicitous of established interests, too deficient in the ruthlessness necessary to overthrow the structures of the past and lay the foundations for a just society. Ambassador Burke Elbrick suggested to his captors in Brazil that there are other ways of accomplishing political objectives than violence. "They did not agree with me, and they said that, in fact, any other form of political action in this country would be doomed to failure."

The resort to direct action has taken two main forms among those who claim to stand for modernization: Communism and military-populist nationalism. With the victory of Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1959, it seemed that Marxism-Leninism might become a major factor in the future of Latin America. In the decade since, however, the Marxist prospect has notably declined. Today Communist revolution would not appear a serious likelihood in any Latin American country.

The superficial reason for the failure of Communism has been the tactical disagreement between the Communists of the Castro-Guevara persuasion, who argue for the destruction of the centers of power through guerrilla warfare on the countryside, and the Communists of the Moscow persuasion, who argue for the penetration of the centers of power through peaceful means. The argument exploded during the meeting at Havana in August, 1967, to set up Castro's continental front, the Organization of Latin American Solidarity. The Venezuelan Communists had committed the heresy of doubting the guerrilla strategy, and Fidel let the brothers have it. "Let no one harbor any illusions," he said, "about seizing power by peaceful means in any country in this hemisphere."

The pro-Moscow Communist parties, unmoved, have continued to denounce the guerrilla thesis (as they had denounced Castro himself in the 1950s) for "putschism" and "infantile leftism." This is hardly surprising. The Communist parties of Latin America have no great tradition of militancy. "There is probably no conservative or liberal party in all Latin America," Ernst Halperin has written with only slight hyperbole, "that has not staged more insurrections and incited more civil wars than the Communists." More important, their sponsors in the Soviet Union see little point at this time in insurrectionary violence in the Americas.

What Moscow wants

THE Soviet goal is not to overthrow the Latin American governments but to encourage them to become independent of the United States, not to terrorize Latin American society but to corrupt it. Moscow wants diplomatic and commercial relations with as many Latin countries as possible, and it would like to develop the capacity, if things should go sour with Washington, to gain Latin American sympathy or at least neutrality.

While a Communist success, especially one attained through elections, would not displease the Russians, Moscow is evidently determined to limit direct Soviet involvement and liability. One Cuba is enough in the sense of a costly continuing charge on Soviet resources. And one Cuba is more than enough in the sense of a direct confrontation with the United States. Since October, 1962, Moscow has accepted the fact that the United States will not ignore Soviet military intrusion into what even Moscow acknowledges as a United States sphere of influence, any more than Moscow would stand idly by should the United States intrude militarily into the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

The disagreement in tactics between the revolutionary and nonrevolutionary Communists has considerably reduced Communist influence in Latin America. But this disagreement is itself the expression of a deeper dilemma. For each of the disputants is probably right about the other.

The Moscow Communists seem clearly right in challenging the alleged virtues of the rural strategy. Rural guerrilla warfare has succeeded nowhere in Latin America, not even in Cuba; Castro won, not by guerrilla warfare, but because the middle class withdrew its support from the detested Batista regime. Che Guevara, the supposed genius of guerrilla warfare, tried to convert the Andes into another Sierra Maestra; his incredible miscalculations and pathetic fate in Bolivia proved the Soviet case. Moreover, the ablest and most vigorous of the peasants, instead of fleeing into the hills, flow into the cities. Castro once said, "It is not only a stupidity but also a crime to want to direct the guerrillas from the city"; but today urban guerrilla warfare, conducted by left-wing nationalists and Maoists in Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Rosario, and Córdoba, offers a greater threat to established regimes than Che ever did.

On the other hand, the fidelistasmay also well be right in fearing that, as Communist parties enter into the parliamentary game, make coalitions, join cabinets, they will develop a stake in the system, become bourgeoisified, and forget to make the revolution. In short, neither Communist approach seems particularly relevant to Latin America. In recent months both sides have perhaps realized this. There are indications that Moscow and Havana are drawing together, with Castro moderating his appeals for instant revolution throughout Latin America in exchange for an increase in Soviet economic and technical assistance. Yet if the fidelistasnow accept the less revolutionary Soviet approach, Communism, as they have always said, becomes a relatively pallid force in contemporary Latin America.

Military radicalism

AS progressive democracy and Communism recede, the vivid force in Latin America today is left-wing military nationalism -- a new populism generally opposed by the progressive democrats because of its authoritarianism, but sometimes given conditional support by the Communist factions and not seldom borrowing Marxist categories itself, especially when talking about the United States.

There is, of course, nothing new about military dictatorship in Latin America. Traditionally, however, the caudillossimply did the dirty work of the oligarchy. The military regimes in Brazil and Argentina represent, at the top at least, this old style of military authoritarianism. Then before and during the Second World War a new type of dictatorship began to emerge, in alliance with the military and sometimes springing from it, dictatorships with a claim, however specious, to social and ideological content. Thus Vargas, in Brazil and military officers like Perón in Argentina and Villaroel in Bolivia represented a kind of populist nationalism. Their regimes were soon discredited by demagoguery and corruption. Yet while they lasted, they threatened traditional structures, struck a responsive chord among the people, and stimulated imitation in other countries.

The first wave of military radicalism petered out in the early fifties. Recently in Peru and Bolivia the impulse has renewed itself, and perhaps in less corruptible and more enduring form. One reason for this is that the social composition of the military, in some countries at least, is becoming significantly different from what it has been in the past. In Peru, for example, at the turn of the century, the officer corps was recruited from the oligarchy. But in more recent times the Peruvian Army has increasingly provided a means, one of the few in a rigidly stratified society, by which abler men can rise from the lower classes. As Luigi R. Einaudi has summarized the changes: "The shift within the officer corps in recent decades has been away from the whitish upper middle classes and toward the darker lower classes."

Moreover, many younger officers, trained, ironically, in military colleges in the United States have returned to their homelands imbued with splendid North American ideals of modernity, honesty, and civic responsibility. They have set up institutes of their own, like the Center of Higher Military Studies (CAEM) in Lima, where the study the theory of national development. Richard Goodwin recently wrote after talking to these military technocrats:
From the irrefutable thesis that guerrillas are fish that swim in the sea of people, they have drawn the inexorable conclusion: if they are to suppress guerrillas, they must win the support of the people.... The emerging conviction that traditional conservative thinking has been a source of explosive inequalities is coupled with a growing contempt for the inefficiency or corruption of civilian leadership and a mounting belief that it is the mission of the armed forces to take their country in a new direction.

So the new Peruvian regime sees itself as the government in Latin America most fully dedicated to the social and economic reforms of the Alianza, and it may be right, even if it is not, alas, equal dedicated to its political goals. In any case, General Velasco's "nationalist revolution" offers Latin America a persuasive formula for overcoming traditional rigidities. When General Ovando took over in Bolivia in September, he told the press, after suspending the Gulf Oil concession, "Fundamentally our revolution is the same as Peru's." Another member of the regime added, "Chile's reforms under Christian Democrats have taken too long for us. Remember always that we like what we have seen in Peru." Even in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, where the present military rulers are zealots of the status quo, younger officers like what they have seen in Peru.

The dream of military populism may well fade too. Long before the colonels establish their ring of Nasserist states across the subcontinent, they may succumb, in the manner of earlier military regimes, to the temptations of repression and corruption. Yet for centuries Latin Americans have copied their ideologies from Europe and North America. Both progressive democracy and Communism were borrowed creeds. Claudio Veliz of Chile and others now powerfully argue that the age of imitation is coming to an end. Whether or not populist nationalism succeeds under military leadership, it looks, in one form or another, to be the dominating mode of Latin American political and social experimentation in the decade to come.

Nixon drags his feet

WHAT remains for the United States? What will the Nixon Administration do -- what can it do -- about the new Latin America?

Thus far it has done very little. In April President Nixon said his Administration would give hemisphere problems "highest priority"; if this is what it did, one hesitates to think when it will get to low-priority problems. Nixon sent Congress the lowest request for Latin American economic assistance since the Alianza began. He made notably unimaginative ambassadorial choices, departing from career selections only to send John Davis Lodge to a reluctant Argentina and to propose a Texas oilman for Venezuela -- the second designation so ill conceived that he was finally forced to withdraw his name. His acquiescence in the exclusion from the United States of radical writers, like Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, confirmed the worst suspicions of Latin American intellectuals. His Operation Intercept, undertaken unilaterally by the United States at the expense of Mexico, intercepted more goodwill than it did marijuana; and he finally had to call it off.

As for the Rockefeller mission, it was quite reasonable to expect that Rockefeller's long and sympathetic concern with Latin America would assure him a friendly reception. But Latin Americans feel they have been studied enough. Moreover, the Rockefeller trip, with its enormous entourage (his total party, it was noted, constituted a force larger than Pizarro used to overthrow the Inca Empire) and its hit-and-run forays, was poorly planned; and the dispute over the International Petroleum Company, a Standard Oil subsidiary, made any Rockefeller something less than the ideal emissary. Perhaps too -- and this is suggested by the warmth of his salute to Duvalier, the most squalid tyrant in the hemisphere -- Rockefeller had been away from Latin American affairs too long. In few fields does expertise become so quickly obsolescent.

At the end of October, after nine silent months, President Nixon finally vouchsafed his Latin American policy. His speech contained useful suggestions about running the aid programs through inter-American agencies and raising the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs to the rank of Undersecretary. Beyond this, it was less arresting for what it said than for what it did not say. Mr. Nixon made a single passing reference to the Alianza, "whose principles still guide us," but indicated no strong desire to promote such formerly essential principles as political democracy and structural reform. The alleged "untying" of American loans -- "I simply ordered it done" -- was a phony, since money was released only for purchases within the hemisphere; the Latins want to spend it in Europe or Japan. The problem of tariff preferences was smoothly postponed to that utopian day when "all of the industrialized countries" would do something for "all developing countries, including Latin America." No congressional action was requested for either trade or aid. For Latin Americans it was a fairly dusty answer.

Too late for imperialists

UNQUESTIONABLY some members of the Nixon Administration have a nostalgia for the pro-United States oligarchies of the past. But one is permitted to doubt whether even a conservative Administration in Washington would find it possible in the decade ahead to serve as the collecting agent for foreign investors and become again the Big Daddy of the hemisphere.

The first reason is that such a course would encounter the strongest possible resistance within the United States itself. Vietnam has transformed attitudes toward foreign policy. Leading senators, newspapers, and opinion-makers, as well as the opposition political party, would energetically oppose anything suggesting a return to dollar diplomacy or military intervention. I do not suppose President Nixon feels his position in public esteem so impregnable that he would wish to pursue "imperialistic" policies that would be profoundly unpopular in the United States as well as in Latin America.

Such a domestic debate would express the historical duality of United States hemisphere policy, oscillating for a century between those who assume that Latin America exists to serve North American economic ends ("The United States is practically sovereign on this continent," said Secretary of State Olney in 1895, "and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition") and those who see a clear distinction between the interests of United States business and those of the United States ("Our national interests as a whole," said a State Department memorandum in the days of the Good Neighbor policy, "far outweigh those of the petroleum companies"). This is a duality of which Latin Americans are well aware. It would be wrong, for example, to conclude from the hostile treatment Mr. Nixon received in Latin America in 1958 or the rough time Governor Rockefeller had in 1969 that Latin Americans automatically detest all North American political leaders. Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy had very different receptions when they visited Latin America.

The reason for this is not obscure. As President Lleras Camargo of Colombia said when President Kennedy received his tumultuous welcome in Bogotá in December, 1961, "Do you know why those workers and campesinosare cheering you like that? It's because they believe you are on their side against the oligarchs." To this day, photographs of the Kennedys, torn from newspapers, hang on the walls of hovels in the barriosand favelasof Latin cities. The hatred of Latin Americans for the United States as the source of economic exploitation is matched only by their faith in United States leaders who fight our own oligarchs and their sometimes quixotic hope for the United States as a source of political idealism.

It may be said, of course, that Administrations, like those of Roosevelt and Kennedy, engaged in domestic combat with businessmen find it easy to resist the pressures of businessmen on foreign policy; but that an Administration dominated by businessmen would be much more inclined to act forcibly to protect North American properties in Latin America. And it is certainly true that there is more to protect than ever before. In 1966, the last year for which figures are available in the Statistical Abstract of the United States,the private, long-term direct investment of United States business in Latin America amounted to $9.9 billion. Of this, $3.1 billion was invested in manufacturing, $2.9 billion in petroleum, and $1.2 billion in mining and smelting; $2.7 billion was invested in a miscellany of other industrial and agricultural undertakings. Income receipts from these investments in 1966 were $962 million. Recent estimates indicate that U.S.-owned business accounts for 10 percent of the total output of goods in Latin America, a fifth of all taxes, and a third of all exports.

Yet, while it would be rash to deny that private investors have influenced United States policy toward Latin America, it would perhaps be equally rash to explain everything in Washington's conduct of international affairs by American capitalism's demand for investment outlets or for markets. A glance at the statistics makes it very clear that there is no one-to-one relationship between the size of private investment and the extent of political control. Of United States private investment in Latin America, more than a quarter is in the single country of Venezuela, and more than half in the three countries of Venezuela, Brazil, and Mexico -- all states that have pursued courses relatively independent of the United States. One could add that United States private investment in Latin America is only about 60 percent of United States investment in Canada, or in Western Europe; so, by the simplistic theory, United States political control should be far greater in Ottawa, London, and Paris than in Caracas, Brasilia, and Mexico City.

Can one really reduce all national interests to economic interests and suppose that private investments determine all foreign policy? The record suggests that the economic interests of United States corporations in Latin America have less influence on policy than the security interests of the United States.

It is sometimes said that a capitalistic United States intervened in Cuba in 1961 and the Dominican Republic in 1964 in order to protect the interests of American sugar planters. But does any one seriously suppose that a Communist United States would have acquiesced in the take-over of Cuba and the Dominican Republic by regimes supposed (correctly in one instance, incorrectly in the other) to be ready to offer their countries as bases for extracontinental powers -- any more than Soviet Russia acquiesced in regimes it disliked in Hungary and Czechoslovakia? This is said not to justify these American actions but to suggest that they can be better understood in the context of security than that of dollar diplomacy.

Let us not ascribe to economic ambitions what should more fundamentally be ascribed to strategic anxieties. Obviously the United States has not opposed Communism in Latin America just because it wished to protect the interests of American business. It has done so because a Communist state in Latin America might become a base for a nuclear threat against the United States -- hardly a whimsical fear, as we learned in October, 1962. Any Administration in Washington, liberal or conservative, capitalist or Communist, would be obligated to take prudent steps to protect the safety of the country.

Private profits versus the national interest

WE may summarize the matter, I think, by suggesting that, when strategic issues are not important, the interest of United States business in the economic penetration of Latin America has often had a large -- and, in my view, almost invariably injurious -- influence on the formation of United States hemisphere policy. But when the pursuit of profit for United States business visibly threatens United States strategic and political interests, then the economic motive takes second place. We have noted that this was very explicitly the case during the time of the Good Neighbor policy; and even the Nixon Administration has tacitly acknowledged this in the controversy between the United States government and Peru over the nationalization of the International Petroleum Company.

So long as no one paid much attention to that controversy, the American Embassy in Lima functioned almost as a branch office of Standard Oil of New Jersey. But once the Peruvian government nationalized the company and the controversy became a question of acute hemisphere concern, the United States, instead of applying the Hickenlooper amendment -- the amendment to the Alliance for Progress legislation requiring the suspension of aid to states which nationalize U.S.-owned property without negotiations for equitable compensation -- postponed the application of the amendment for the time being and is earnestly seeking ways to avoid applying it at all. And this, it should be remembered, is a business-minded Administration -- as it was another Republican Administration which accepted and eventually helped subsidize the Bolivian Revolution of 1952 despite its land reforms and its nationalization of the tin mines.

The priority of political and strategic interests will thus serve as a second obstacle to any full-fledged effort to revive United States economic imperialism in Latin America. This will be especially the case because the upsurge of nationalism means that Washington will have to face more urgently and inexorably than ever choices between the profits of private business and the political and strategic welfare of the United States. Faced with such choices, even a business-minded Administration will be under a certain pressure to prefer the national interest.

While all this should be acknowledged, it must also be noted that the dominance of strategic and security concerns creates problems of its own. For twenty years the Pentagon has been busily negotiating bilateral defense pacts, dispatching military missions, off-loading obsolescent weapons, stimulating militarist appetites, training officers, and developing independent relations with the military of Latin America. Murat Williams, an excellent ambassador to El Salvador in the Kennedy years, recently observed of the war between El Salvador and Honduras, "It is easy to imagine U.S. military missions as 'seconds' to the fighters in that bloody and useless contest in the Salvadoran-Honduran forests." He recalled his own efforts to phase out the "ridiculously large" military missions in El Salvador in 1963 and 1964, adding, "We had more men in our air mission than there were fliers in the Salvadoran Air Force." As such examples suggest, the special interests of the United States military establishment may corrupt hemisphere policy today quite as much as the special interests of United States business corrupted hemisphere policy in the good old days. "U.S. military policies and programs in Latin America have been disastrous from a political point of view," Ralph Dungan, one of the architects of the Alianza and later ambassador to Chile, has said. "There is no shaking the prevailing Latin conception of the U.S. as a society dominated to a very large extent by the Pentagon."

But the Pentagon will no longer have its accustomed free run in Washington, at least on Capitol Hill. Nor, indeed, will the new Latin American nationalism permit it the same free run in Latin America. Even the military, Claudio Veliz has written, "are beginning to see the penetration and interference of the great northern power in the same light in which they formerly viewed communism -- as an international threat to national sovereignty." The new nationalism will seek increasingly to assert against Washington what the Latin American Consensus called "the distinctive personality of Latin America." The Vina del Mar meeting was only an early expression of the new "separatism" -- that is, Latin American states meeting on their own without the benefit of the American Secretary of State. In the years to come, the Organization of American States will be decreasingly means of United States domination of the hemisphere and increasingly a forum for Latin American nations to argue against the United States. The Age of the Superpowers is coming to an end, and with it, the role of the OAS as a company union.

The United States will, of course, remain the paramount power in the hemisphere. But, if the only way Washington can enforce its paramountcy is through military intervention, as in the Dominican Republic, United States power will not have the same significance in the 1970s that it had as recently as the 1950s. The surge of nationalism will redefine the relations between the United States and the rest of the hemisphere, whether Washington likes it or not, as the surge of nationalism is redefining the relations between Moscow and the rest of the Communist world, whether Moscow likes it or not.

The party is over, and both superstates must accept the new world. The passion for national independence south of the border will defeat any hopes in Washington for a return to Richard Olney's dream of practical sovereignty on this continent; and if the United States could respond to this passion with intelligence and generosity, there could arise a new sense of hemisphere solidarity, stronger and healthier than anything we have yet known in the history of the Americas.

Mr. Schlesinger, the Albert Schweitzer Professor at the City University of New York, toured Latin America early in 1961 as the special emissary of President Kennedy. He is now at work on the fourth volume of his The Age of Roosevelt.

Copyright © 1997 by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 1970; The Lowering Hemisphere; Volume 225 , No. 1; pages 79-88.

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