ON THE WORLD TODAY
THE biggest news break of the war on the interAmerican front was the military putsch which swept out of power the administration of Argentina’s isolationist President, Ramón S. Castillo. But whatever developments the revolution may lead to in the relations between long-neutral Argentina and the nations now fighting the Axis, the fact should be kept in view that South American power politics and Argentine internal stresses had quite as much to do with its origins as the issue of Argentina’s stand on the war.
This situation is evidenced by the fact that the putsch — for the march of 7000 soldiers into the capital city from the suburban garrisons fairly can be described as that — turned out to be nationalist and sharply rightist. It brought to the top of the Argentine political scene a group of military and naval men who immediately showed the type of control they favor. They dissolved the Argentine Congress, banned political party meetings, and suppressed the rather mildly Communist Buenos Aires newspaper, La Hora.
Even the initial difficulties of the revolutionary regime betrayed its political “line” not too encouragingly from the United Nations point of view. Before the government was thirty hours old, its provisional president-designate, General Arturo Rawson of the cavalry, was ousted in a quarrel over whether the cabinet should contain as its civilian members two notorious friends of the Axis. The pro-Axis ministers were discarded. But whatever advantages the United Nations gained by this mild change of front were largely counterbalanced by the succession to the provisional presidency of General Pedro Ramirez — fresh from former President Castillo’s war ministry — German-trained and a long-time believer in Axis victory.
Quite possibly, in fact, what we are witnessing in the Argentine is a political anomaly of which we may see more examples before the war is over: the violent seizure of power by an essentially fascist government willing to go anti-Axis as a matter of practical politics and for due consideration.
Meanwhile the caginess which both the Rawson and Ramirez governments displayed at the outset toward the question of abandoning Argentina’s “prudent neutrality” and breaking with the Axis suggests that politics in Buenos Aires this season are decidedly practical.
Political and military reasons
It is probably a healthy attitude for United States opinion to take—until some stable administration proves otherwise̶that the coup of June 4 was inspired by two purposes: —
First, to get control of the Argentine Republic’s political machinery enough in advance of the September presidential elections to forestall all prospects of either a liberal polls victory in the nation or of a possible revolutionary rising by the liberal elements. The hard-boiled military politicos who put over the June show were, in other words, interested in sitting on the lid of Argentine politics during a time when drastic changes in foreign policy are in the making, and during the economically and socially critical post-war period.
The second objective of the coup, fairly rationally, was to equip Argentina with a government which could jump, at a favorable moment, for the United Nations band wagon — as the Castillo administration could hardly have done wuthout face-losing inconsistency — while at the same time demanding the richest possible bait for making the jump.
We shall know more about how strongly these objectives weigh with the new leaders as the Ramirez administration develops its policies during the next few weeks and gets itself oriented among them. For instance, if the September elections are permitted to be held fairly freely, and come off constitutionally on schedule, it will be a sign that the June 4 junta does not propose to rule Argentina for the economic reactionaries, during the crucial period ahead, by a military semi-dictatorship. Nor should this point be loosely prophesied about until the Ramirez government has made its final decision concerning the elections.
Indeed, from South American standpoints, a military junta in the Argentine has peculiar incentives for wishing to preside over Argentina’s decision in respect to the United Nations and for using that decision as a means of driving a hard bargain with Washington on the question of military supplies.
Argentina’s bad guess
For, in a military way, the war and Argentina’s attitude toward it have weakened the haughty southern republic almost as much as if she had been a belligerent in difficulties. Ever since she declined to observe the Rio de Janeiro Conference recommendation of January, 1942, for a break in relations with the Axis on the part of all the American nations, Argentina has received practically nothing in the way of LendLease war materials from the United States. Meanwhile her near neighbors, Brazil and Chile, have been building up, partly through Lend-Lease aid, the largest and best-equipped armies they have ever had.
Now that a military junta has taken over, the price of full coöperation with the Allies is likely to be — if Argentina can name it — the restoration of the republic’s former military superiority in the continent. If this is the situation, Brazil, Chile, and several other republics will not like it. The United States may easily find it too much of a diplomatic headache to pay in full. There are several counters, in any bargaining game with the Argentine, which a military junta may not have thought of.
One of these bargaining points has developed as a sequel to the recent visit of President Enrique Peñaranda of Bolivia to Washington.
President Peñaranda — a competent one-man military semi-dictatorship in his own person — insisted on reopening the question of a Pacific seaport for Bolivia during his visit to los Yanquis. And he has kept it open through his speeches in a number of Latin American capitals on his way back to the Bolivian homeland.
Furthermore, in spite of official disclaimers from the Chilean Foreign Office, there have been certain persuasive intimations that the question of allowing Bolivia to buy the port of Arica, in Northern Chile (originally transferred from Peru to Chile in South America’s war of the Pacific, 1879-1884) has recently been discussed with a degree of realistic objectivity in the Chilean Cabinet — and in addition to Arica, a corridor to the Pacific coast, along the Arica-La Paz railroad.
Now there could be only one reason for so much reasonableness on Chile’s part: to complete the isolation of Argentina, begun by the anti-United Nations policy of the Castillo administration, and aided and abetted by the retaliatory denial of Lend-Lease help to Argentina from Washington.
Chile, for instance, by “appeasing” Bolivia with a Pacific port, could rather easily convert Bolivia into a kind of corridor of her own, connecting Chile with Argentina’s other chief rival — the great South American geopolitical giant of Brazil. Such a connection, considering the rail contacts of Bolivia with Chile and the equally impressive railway lines being built between the Bolivian mining fields and the Atlantic ports of Brazil, would isolate the Argentine “peninsula” from any South American struggle almost as effectively as the Italian peninsula would be isolated from Europe by, say, a United Nations conquest of the French Riviera, the Alps, and the Brenner Pass.
Nothing, in fact, could overcome the fears of Chile, with a population of 5,000,000, of being some day overrun by Argentina, with its growing population of 14,000,000, so readily as to have a friendly corridor through Bolivia at her disposal.
So if it should come to horse-trading with the new regime in the Argentine about the price of full coöperation with the United Nations, Chile’s and Brazil’s and Bolivia’s stake in keeping Argentina from obtaining Lend-Lease allotments from Washington, above and beyond the call of duty, might prove an interesting counter-bargaining instrument.
Vargas debates a finesse
Meanwhile, there is another suggestive symptom, which appeared on South American political horizons even before the putsch of Buenos Aires. For several weeks, if not several months now, Brazil’s shrewd dictator. General Getulio Vargas, has had expert political advisers surveying public opinion on the advantages of submitting a democratic constitution to a plebiscite.
A voluntary return to democracy in Brazil would sit well, in the Llnited Nations political ledger, against the apparent choice of a military semi-dictatorship by the pressure politicians of Buenos Aires.
If anything like a new order of power alliances is in the cards for South America in the near future, it would occur to a political expert like Getulio Vargas that Brazil might do well to streamline her institutions for a post-war democratic world — and that a good time to do this streamlining would be while General Vargas still controls the majorities.