ON THE WORLD TODAY
THE impact of war on Latin America is still to be looked for beneath the surface. This autumn it is felt in rapidly — and perhaps critically — rising tensions.
The major tensions are in three fields: in the relations of the South American countries — particularly the larger powers — to the war itself; in the relations of the American nations to each other as their war policies begin to clash; and in the struggle between Axis and anti-Axis elements within the individual republics.
Whether Brazil’s status as a full belligerent has actually increased the danger of an Axis attack on the South American mainland over the 1600-mile flying stretch from Dakar may be open to argument, but there is no question that in several South American republics it has greatly increased the consciousness of invasion danger. Consequently, in Venezuela, Colombia, and Uruguay, groups favoring war declarations are strengthened. In Chile the movement for a break in relations with the Axis appears to have taken on new energy, while in Argentina the struggle between anti-Axis popular opinion and the increasingly pro-Axis Castillo government is more than ever bitter.
To be sure, there has been nowhere anything even faintly approaching an “invasion panic.” War declarations have been urged on the ground that governments in possession of their full war powers would be able to prepare more efficient defense systems and to discipline pro-Axis agitators. In the two still neutral countries, where the issue is merely one of breaking with the Axis, the argument is simply that, with South America in danger, the time for deciding between friends and enemies has indubitably come.
Progressively, the sense of danger to their mainland is forcing political leaders and informed opinion in the countries below Panama to realize that South America is part of the war, no longer a group of spectator nations.
Brazil speaks out
In Brazil in mid-September, Oswaldo Aranha, the Rio de Janeiro Foreign Minister, made an at first puzzling prophecy. Brazil would be attacked, he said, but not necessarily across the South Atlantic narrows from Dakar. The attack might come from France by plane and parachute troops, he declared, and it would be resisted by “defense in depth” at the Brazilian “bulge.”
Don’t minimize this statement: read it in the light of what we know of an extremely subtle diplomat. In making it, Aranha had two fairly obvious motives: to press home to Washington Brazil’s need of larger allotments and faster shipments of war materials, and to prepare Brazilian opinion for the possible establishment of considerable American forces on Brazilian soil near “the bulge” to assist in the “defense in depth.” His words were also an extremely effective way of warning the United Nations that the Rio de Janeiro government considers Brazil in danger and expects it to be protected.
Dr. Aranha did not speak flippantly. The need of protection for “the bulge" — and it is a legitimate need — seems destined to color from now on the war’s global strategy. Quite obviously, a few American reinforcements to Brazil’s defense forces on the vast land spit will not completely do the job. Already considerable evidence indicates that a plan at least to “neutralize" Dakar is being developed through troop concentrations in British West Africa and possibly Liberia. If it should come to the seizure of Dakar — an operation for which there is precedent in the Madagascar occupation — aims far beyond protecting “the bulge" might seem within reach. From West and North Africa an offensive could be rolled up against Rommel’s rear in Egypt; and with Rommel out of the way, extraordinary things would be possible in Italy and the Balkans.
It is a long way from Moscow to Natal and Recife. But the Air Transport Command has proved that it is a fairly short hop from Natal to Cairo. In this sense, South American tensions over the continental defense problem show a clear relation to every other front, possible or actual, on other continents.
Argentina and the Axis
War tensions between the South American countries revolve mainly about the Argentine attitude. This has grown no better since Brazil has become a belligerent, and for fairly obvious reasons. With Brazil in the war, Argentina can hardly pursue a policy of “prudent neutrality,” or even insist on maintaining the technical rights of her Axis residents as neutrals, without being highly serviceable to the Axis cause. The more she is useful to the Axis, the sharper are her difficulties with a belligerent neighbor, and the more the Buenos Aires government is forced into policies which, in practical net effect, are pro-Axis.
Thus Argentina’s northern province of Misiones, bordering Brazil for hundreds of miles, has become, with its large German population, a communications center for vast spying and sabotage operations which the Nazis are trying to carry on in Brazil. And when a congress of the countries bordering the La Plata tributaries, including Brazil, met in Uruguay during September to consider joint plans for checking these activities, the Argentine delegation quashed effective action by insisting that each separate proposal for coöperation be submitted to the home government.
Diplomats accepted the subsequent collapse of the conference with professional politeness. But, so far as Argentine relations with Brazil and Uruguay are concerned, it was the most serious breach between South American nations which the war has caused.
The feeling is growing up in the more belligerent capitals of the Hemisphere that sooner or later the Argentine bull will have to be taken by the horns. Economic or diplomatic ostracism is not looked on favorably in Washington and Rio de Janeiro as yet, because of the harmful effect it might have on Argentine popular sentiment in favor of the United Nations. But the Brazilian and Uruguayan borders of the republic are fast developing an atmosphere in which incidents could happen that might sweep away these scruples.
Argentina and the neighbors
Meanwhile, in an effort to regain lost prestige among the South American nations, the Argentine government has attempted a hasty improvisation of a “good neighbor” policy of its own. The overtures to date include the sending of a military mission to Peru, the canceling of a large fraction of the more or less uncollectible Paraguayan debt hanging over from the Chaco War of the 1930’s, an economic pact with Bolivia, and a border meeting between President Castillo and Bolivian President Peñaranda.
Chiefly, however, the results seem to show the low estate into which the Argentine has fallen. No military convention has been arranged with Peru, and the Paraguayans have been making difficulties about some minor banking concessions involved in the debt settlement. In Bolivia, while the economic agreement was wholly advantageous and involved new rail connections, 30 out of 90 members of Congress voted against ratifying it. And Bolivia is going ahead with American-sponsored plans for transferring her chief eastern rail connections to Brazil through the port of Santos.
Tensions on the internal fronts of the LatinAmerican states are confined mainly to the countries which have not yet become belligerents. In Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador, the Axis is apparently trying to see what can be gained by arranging a last field day for its partisans.
The Falangists and the Church
A curiously large number of these activities quite evidently have connections with Spanish inspiration or information sources. In Colombia and Ecuador, for instance, a rash of new publications has broken out, edited and written mainly by ecclesiastics known for their partisanship for the falangist movement in Spain since its beginnings. Their arguments, too, are substantially the ones used to win South Americans to the Franco cause during the Spanish Civil War: namely, that the democracies are hopelessly corrupted with “atheism,” “bolshevism,” “freemasonry,” and “Judaism,” and that, as one Colombia publication puts it, “the white flag of Christ” is “honored” only by the fascists.
Into this situation, the Washington government recently launched another project for placating opinion in Franco government circles an official suggestion for using funds from the United States to refurbish Spain’s war-ravaged art treasures. But “furniture polish appeasement,” as a Washington jester christened it, had no effect either on the outflow of anti-American propaganda below the Rio Grande or, for that matter, on the Spanish government, which promptly, after a cabinet crisis, declared itself once more for neutrality and for the New Order in Europe. Appeasement or no appeasement, Spanish falangist activities appear to remain, next to German activities in the Argentine, the most potent force working against a united war effort in the Americas.
Swinging our way
Yet the united effort strengthens. With submarine sinkings reduced almost to a cipher and with the west coast of South America protected by the new naval bases in the Galapagos Islands, it is strengthening more rapidly this autumn than at any other time since Pearl Harbor. The prognosis is for sharper clashes and for sharper decisions in the Latin-American war effort, but also for more active participation on our side.