ON THE WORLD TODAY
DURING the fall and early winter, there were suggestions that the joint operations of the American Republics against the Axis were beginning to sag a little. Economic stresses and strains were beginning to tell. Political discords were developing. A few of the things that the Germans were up to in the lower tier of South American countries — Paraguay and Bolivia, Chile and Argentina — were doing inter-American solidarity no good.
There are still a few difficult spots, out of which fairly serious troubles may come, but in its main joints the Front at present is being staunchly recemented.
The improvement shines brightest in two easily recognizable areas. Chile has worked through her long period of inner discord and made her break with the Axis. And on his way back from the Casablanca conference, President Roosevelt stopped off at Natal for some extremely important discussions with Brazil’s president, Getulio Vargas. Of even greater importance may have been the exchanges of views and of plans which took place at the same time between Mr. Roosevelt’s chief military and naval advisers and their ranking Brazilian colleagues.
Action begins to tell
Certain other developments in the Hemisphere have been less ostentatious but hardly less significant in their effects on the unity of the American Republics. For instance, the decision has apparently been taken to rush the Pan-American Highway as far as Panama in the next few months — instead of letting it drag on for several years at the normal peacetime pace of road construction in the Caribbean tropics. Besides being a tremendous economic convenience to the people of the Central American countries in their present distresses over shipping, the road, if completed during 1943, is bound to impress all the Latin-American countries as a symbol of the power of the United States to defend the Hemisphere. Early completion will be a sign to them that United States resources and energy are not being exhausted.
The United Nations have gained further prestige through the continued concentration of submarine warfare in African rather than American waters even though, as Hitler’s more or less final weapon, the submarine threat may be more dangerous than ever. It helps to have the bulk of the sinkings take place where the results do not so directly concern the ships, crews, and products from the Western Hemisphere.
Finally, the news of the frightful German losses before Stalingrad and elsewhere on the Russian fronts has strengthened Latin-American confidence in Allied victory. In fact, in most of t he American capitals the recent series of blows on the bloody head of the Nazi Wehrmacht has toned down the warnings of the “Germany can’t lose” school of South American politicians and military leaders to a conspiratorial whisper.
The two main events in these fronts-strengthening processes, however, — the Chilean break and the Roosevelt-Vargas conference, — need to be examined further in order to see them in due proportions.
In some respects, the Chilean break came off a little disappointingly. President Juan Antonio Rios seemed almost anxious, indeed, to water down the shock of a rupture of diplomatic relations into a kind of polite parting ceremony.
The night after the Axis diplomats had been handed their passports, the President went on the air in a nation-wide broadcast. He informed the Chilean people that he had brought about the rupture merely as the democratic servant of majority opinion and on instructions from the Chilean Senate, which the previous night had voted 30 to 10 in favor of a break. The whole procedure, Señor Ríos continued, was merely in line with Chile’s tradition of cooperating with the American democracies, and implied no repudiation of the German, Italian, or Japanese peoples. On the contrary, the President concluded, Chile owed all three of the Axis peoples great debts.
To understand the Ríos speech and attitude, one needs to realize that the Chilean President, in actually initiating a break with the Axis, was confronted with some highly delicate problems of facesaving in his domestic practical politics. Chile had been rebuked by no less a personage than Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles in October for being too tolerant of Axis diplomatic espionage activities on her own soil.
Who’s afraid ?
Consequently Señor Ríos had to improvise his break in such a way that no critical faction in Chile, and no rival politician, could effectively accuse him of having made it because he was afraid of harsh words from a Yanqui State Department. From this aspect, both his devices — representing the break as a purely popular decision of which the President was but the instrument, and accomplishing it with an almost gentle casualness toward the Axis — helped to strengthen this extremely useful impression.
The best thing to say about the Chilean break is that, after it was made, Chile took vigorous action. The government promptly closed down the Axis propaganda radio stations and publication centers in the Republic, and began an energetic cleanup of spy rings. Furthermore, Argentina declined to receive any more Axis diplomatic refugees. So Chile got busy immediately on plans for the speedy repatriation of her German and Italian guests and meanwhile, on receipt of news from Tokyo that Chilean legation attachés were being roughly treated there, put the Japanese under strict house arrest.
The Natal conference
While much less is known definitely about the Roosevelt-Vargas discussions at Natal, and the military discussions which accompanied them, all the evidence suggests that an important, forwardlooking conference took place. For example, one piece of authentic information released was the statement that the two presidents are agreed that the question of who holds Dakar after the war is of decisive concern to the security of the American nations. Such a declaration could hardly have been made if Presidents Vargas and Roosevelt had not reached at least a tentative understanding on a common Brazil-United States policy toward West Africa, and one which will stretch far into the peace period.
In a sense, though, Admiral Jonas Ingram, Commander of the United States South Atlantic Fleet, went even further in calling the military talks at Natal the most important ever held in the Western Hemisphere. On the strength of this, perhaps, certain Latin-American radio stations have put out the story that plans were concocted at Natal for seizure of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands from Portugal for bases in the Allied antisubmarine campaign, and of the Canary Islands from Spain. Presumably, according to these reports, the occupying forces would be Brazilian.
One need not take these somewhat fantastic predictions at their face value — they could be Axis propaganda plants to strengthen Hitler’s pretexts for striking into the Spanish Peninsula — to feel that plans for some decisive operations were cooking at Natal. Almost inevitably such plans must have included arrangements at least on an if, as, and when basis, for counter-blows in the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic possessions in the event either of a crucial situation in the submarine warfare or of a Hitler thrust through Spain.
In any case the conference, with its hints of closer military as well as political and economic collaboration between Brazil and the United States, may be accepted as one of the signs of future development of major policies in the Western Hemisphere and in the Hemisphere’s relations to the Old World powers in the peace settlements. It is unlikely that those signs will go unnoticed by governments so interested in questions of Hemisphere politics as those of Argentina and Chile.
A few dark spots
To be sure, not all the developments in the Hemisphere are so promising. A six-man commission under Justice Calvert Magruder of Boston has been sent down to Bolivia to investigate labor conditions which caused the serious strike in the Catavi tin-mining regions. The commission is already under fire from certain ardently nationalistic Bolivian politicians and publicists, on the ground that it is about to interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation and therefore may prove the entering wedge for a new brand of Yankee imperialism. The chances are that the commission may have to conduct itself with so much delicacy that it will neither get much basic information nor settle many labor troubles.
Neither, despite the Chilean break, are United Nations affairs flourishing in the Argentine. Although the count of American Republics which have broken diplomatically with the Axis now stands twenty to one, the Castillo administration in Buenos Aires seems to enjoy its isolation all the more since it has become total. Furthermore, the death early in January of former president Agustín P. Justo, the only strong potential candidate against the Castillo factions in Argentina’s elections next autumn, increases the prospect that either Castillo or one of the big landowner party’s stooges will be able to hold power indefinitely.
But in proportion, as elsewhere, the union of American Nations against the Axis grows stronger. Argentina, by staying out of it, is weakening her All-American influence. The next downward turn in Axis fighting strength may either make that weakness painful or compel a reconsideration.