(3) Latin America


As an asset to the United Nations’ fighting strength, the inter-American front is still a relatively fluid element. Its effectiveness in certain aspects depends as much on developments such as at Midway and Tobruk as on activities in the Western Hemisphere itself.

Whether or not there was any direct connection between the Midway victory and the resignation of Argentina’s late President, Roberto M. Ortiz, will probably remain for a long time a state secret of Argentine practical politics. But the indications all suggest that the Radicals expected the Ortiz resignation to put Señor Castillo on a tougher defensive spot in connection with his policies; and certainly, shortly after Midway, the Ortiz resignation was decided upon. Yet President Ortiz’s resignation in the Argentine practically coincided with the fall of Tobruk and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s dash into Egypt. And, by a possibly more subtle coincidence, Chilean President Rios’s first decisive employment of his new emergency powers granted him in the early summer was to crack down on labor unions and similarly militant pro-democratic organizations. In the two “on the fence” Latin-American countries, in other words, the British African reverses left the pro-democratic forces, to some extent, holding the bag.

When, late in June, the Argentine merchant ship Rio Tercero was torpedoed off New York Harbor, Foreign Minister Ruiz Guinazú not only sent an obviously routine note to Berlin requesting reparations and apologies, but insisted on keeping its text secret. There were no signs of a relaxation in the “state of siege” by which the government has held pro-democratic activities in check since Pearl Harbor, and no indications that the Radicals will soon be in a position to modify the “state of siege” by parliamentary or legal methods. Barring a spectacular recovery from the disasters of the North Africa campaign, or further sinkings, it may be difficult for the Radicals to get out from under the politically hamstringing restrictions of the “state of siege” even in time for Argentina’s 1943 presidential elections.

In Chile, following the loss of Libya, expectancies of drastic anti-Axis actions quickly evaporated. When the results were counted, in fact, about the only diplomatic advantage the United Nations gained from the Midway victory was the hardly binding announcement to the press from “informed circles,” presumably close to the Foreign Ministry, that Chile would declare war on the Axis if ships were torpedoed off the west coast of South America, or if the Panama Canal were attacked.


The African reverses have also strengthened Axis facilities for whisper propaganda among uppercrust South American politicos. For example, an outstanding shock story of the season goes like this: When the Axis has captured Suez and either taken the British Mediterranean fleet or dispersed it into the supplyless wastes of the Indian Ocean, its naval troubles will be largely over. Nazis and Italians can then forget about convoys from Port Said to Gibraltar. They can take what they need of Western Africa with a picnic expedition.

Then they can turn loose the interned French warships, fight some of their own big ships down the seas to Dakar, and launch a real naval offensive in the South Atlantic. With the United States Navy busy standing off the Japanese in the Pacific, the story concludes, inter-American traffic in war supplies can be utterly destroyed and South America, at least as far as our Caribbean defenses, placed at the mercy of the Axis.

For all its propaganda, this is more than a bogeyman story to frighten timid statesmen. However fallacious its adornments, the fact remains that mastery of Northern Africa and the Mediterranean would make it easier for the Axis to strike toward South America. In the Atlantic-facing republics the top people in the governments know this.

So far there have been no direct repercussions. The pace of war supply production has not slackened anywhere in the Americas. No one — unless you count the Argentine and Chilean “neutralists” — has tried to throw a monkey wrench into the political accord of the American republics against the Axis.

Only in Brazil has there been a slight straw—or suspicion of a straw—in the wind. Mauricio Nabuco, lover of England and of the United States — most of his childhood was spent in Washington when his father was Brazilian ambassador thirty-five years ago — resigned recently as Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs in Rio de Janeiro. Internal factors, not foreign policies, apparently caused him to quit. But the man appointed to succeed him, Pedro Leao Veloso, is a recent Brazilian, ambassador to Japan and Italy. There are no signs of change in Brazil’s program of intensive collaboration with the United Nations. But presumably a diplomat like Veloso would have useful Axis contacts if Axis forces took Western Africa and stood only 1800 miles away from the Brazilian mainland across the “straits of Dakar” with a warfleet in the South Atlantic.

Almost inevitably, in a word, events like those in the Near East tempt the Latin-American leaders to hedge against developing weakness on the United Nations side. And however subtly expressed, the hedging impulse is bound, in the long run, to hamper the development of the interAmerican war effort.


Fairly steadily since early spring, intimations have been held out that the United States would take care of the Axis submarine offensive in American waters when we had begun winning the war on its global fronts. But up to date, as it looks to Latin-American observers, we have not, except in the brilliant defensive action at Midway, made much progress toward winning the war elsewhere, while the rate of submarine sinkings has continued to climb toward the point of disaster.

To hold the confidence of the other American republics, then, we need a more effective line of action against the submarine offensive, and a new attitude of public psychology toward its dangers, almost in proportion as there may be bitter revenses to the United Nations’ global strategy elsewhere.

This viewpoint is taking hold. The recent consideration given by the Navy to the possibilities of using unorthodox small boats as submarine detectors and chasers suggests a growing realization in the armed services that our getting at the U-boats “fustest with the mostest periscopespotters and depth bombs” may call for widespread guerrilla sea war against the Axis. The brilliant bit of naval intelligence work resulting in the capture of a ring of shipping movement tipsters and refueling experts operating between British Honduras and Panama proves that we are coming to grips with the submarines’ own intelligence and supply departments in American waters.

Whatever the difficulties, what is needed is many times more of the same. A situation needs to be created in which the risks for U-boats of being sighted and bombed will be strategically multiplied; in which the perils of providing tips or supplies for submarines will be such that only fanatical Nazi agents will attempt the job. We need a cordon of anti-submarine forces in the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic which will make an exploit like the early July raid by a U-boat into the harbor of Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, virtually a suicide assignment.