Latin America


AN INVASION of Spain by Hitler necessarily must throw a good many things in Latin America temporarily off balance; just as the threat of a Hitler drive through Spain necessarily has unsettled certain psychological and political balances in Latin America for some time past.”

These guarded words were spoken recently at an intimate gathering in Washington by a South American diplomat who knows the relations between Latin America and Spain, and between Latin America and the United States, well enough to have some interesting standards of comparison.

His statement delicately conveys this point: Latin Americans regard an invasion of Spain as a potentially serious blow at the security of the Western Hemisphere republics. Such a development would therefore be a considerable threat to the unity of the Latin American countries in support of the Allied cause.

As the Spanish move by Hitler has come to seem more and more logical, it has obsessed a good deal of the unreported thinking of Latin American leaders about the war and its issues and outlooks.

As Latin Americans especially South Americans — view their strategic situation, it is obvious that a successful thrust by Hitler through Spain into Northwest Africa would establish a fighting front in the place where it could do South America the most damage.

Axis underground whisperers in Latin America, certain military men who have been slow in abandoning their thesis that Axis victory is certain, and a few professional gloom prophets in the economically much-tried republics have all been promoting an even more alarming interpretation. They maintain that, by rolling up the Allies’ Tunisian expedition from the African West Coast and thereby cutting its supply lines, Hitler can still win the war.

Latin American nerves tingle

The threat from Spain and from Spanish Morocco automatically revives South America’s jitters about Dakar: about the interesting stretch of the South Atlantic where only 1600 miles of water, come the worst, would separate the South American mainland from Hitler’s bombs, raiders, and even overseas expeditions.

Dakar’s position, in fact, brought about a certain hanging back from commitments to the United Nations on the part of various Latin American political elements a long time before the menace of a Hitler move through Spain seemed imminent. Many Brazilian military leaders opposed Brazil’s declaration of war last August, for instance, on the ground that it would expose the vast eastwardfronting bulge of the Republic to unnecessary strategic dangers. Without a doubt, some of the Argentine generals ardently egging on President Castillo’s policy of neutrality have been motivated, in part at least, by fears of trouble for South America from the West African quarter. Consequently, when Dakar was finally taken over by the Allies in December, a sense of very practical relief spread through several South American foreign and war offices.

In the presidential palaces and political lobbies of various South American republics little coteries of prominent pro-Axis apologists are active once more. One hears little about their activities because, except in the Argentine, press and radio favor the Allies. Nevertheless, under the surface the pro-Axis factions are urging that channels of communication and negotiation with Berlin be kept open — just in case pleas for the Führer’s forgiveness should be in order. Some channels are probably being kept open on a voluntary basis without the formalities of urging.

Fascists on the home front

But there are also domestic political reasons in several South American countries for a degree of obsession with dangers from Spain. Republics with strong or active fascist movements on the home front — Colombia, Argentina, and Chile, for instance - see prospects of stirring up internal disorders through an alignment of Caudillo Francisco Franco with Hitler. A pronounced Hitler success in Spain and Northwest Africa would inspire these elements to throw their political weight around — perhaps even to the point of revolutionary violence.

On the other hand, it is hard to say whether the liberal elements in these and a few other Latin American countries would be more depressed by Hitler’s success in a Spanish venture, or by a shifting to the Allied side on Franco’s part as a means of resisting a Spanish invasion. The Latin American liberals, having been closer to the scene emotionally, take the issues of the late Spanish Civil War more seriously than do all but a few opinion groups in the United States. It would dishearten them to see Franco gain even a temporary success in the wake of Allied appeasement policies.

Likewise, there are diplomatic headaches ahead for the Latin American states in the Spanish situation. There is the question of whether relations should be broken with Franco if Spain should become an active Axis belligerent, for instance; and of how the Spanish diplomats, with their frequently powerful social and political connections in the Latin republics, could be disciplined.

Brazil, Cuba, Mexico

Nevertheless, the difficulties for Latin America in a German invasion of Spain probably look more serious to subtle political minds below the Rio Grande than they are in reality. Actually, fighting over Spain and Spain’s African possessions would probably bring certain Latin American countries more actively into the war. Brazilian troops might make up the occupying forces for the Azores and the other Portuguese Atlantic islands which must not fall into Axis hands. And possibly troops from one of the Spanish American republics Cuba, for example might play a part in the inevitable occupation of the Canary Islands and Spanish possessions in West Africa.

Still another favorable possibility has to do with Mexico. If the struggle for the Iberian Peninsula should become a battle to re-establish a free Spain, Mexico, with her record of consistent diplomatic and humane support for the Spanish Loyalists, might not wish to stay out of it, and might even abandon her program of conducting her mobilization strictly for defensive purposes.

Finally, there is one essentially European factor capable of soothing Latin America’s present jitters as the Spanish situation develops. A broad-scale offensive by the Allies against the Axis in Western Europe, if it served as a counter-blow to Hitler’s ambitions beyond the Pyrenees, would in itself clear away fears both of a new threat to the Americas from West Africa and of Spanish-inspired fascist troubles on the home front.

Apart from this concern over the Spanish danger —an internal worry of the Latin American leaders rather than an overt one — the Western Hemisphere front has stagnated for several weeks.

Argentina’s political prospects

In the Argentine early in February, Allied protagonists got a mild thrill of hope when Justo V. Rocha, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Deputies and a leading member of President Castillo’s National Democratic Party, filed a manifesto with the party’s national chairman calling for a reversal of the administration’s neutrality policy and a break with the Axis.

LATIN AMERICA (continued)

Actually this move indicated a serious split, deep down, between the National Democratic leaders. But the sequel was disappointing. Rocha was merely treated by the President and his personal faction of party leaders like an inconsequential bad boy. His manifesto was received, even by fellow partisans, in deadpan silence.

But almost immediately, to hold the party lines together, Castillo began a highly expert steamroller process of picking his successor for next autumn’s national presidential elections.

The statesman picked is Robustiano Patron Costas, president of the Argentine Senate. Since President Castillo named him — and pledged that there will be no departure from the “prudent neutrality” policy under a Patron Costas administration — the chief executive has mainly been busy high-pressuring Rodolfo Moreno, governor of the politically dominant Buenos Aires province, and himself a presidential aspirant, into accepting Patron Costas. The latest accounts indicate that Moreno has been driven into a corner by various factions in his own political following, and made to say “yes.”

In result, all the present signs suggest that the “neutralists” in the National Democratic camp will control both the party machine during the election year and the administration’s policies afterward. At present the Radical and Socialist parties appear to have little chance of getting together effectively on an “interventionist” candidate, or of getting their votes counted by the Castillo machine if they could.

Worse still, many of Patron Costas’s connections are with the definitely fascist elements in Argentine politics, while President Castillo has managed fairly well to maintain his standing as a reactionary isolationist.

In Brazil, a few overlapping American purchasing agencies have been quarreling about who shall buy what from whom — a southward extension of some of Washington’s difficulties with war management. As a result, some Americans are concerned over the effect the scene and its accompanying confusions may have on the Brazilians. Probably the matter is not too important. Brazilians are charitable people who have seen that sort of thing before.