Latin America


A REVOLUTION which would transform Argentina from a sullen and politically incompatible nominal associate of the United Nations, favor-seeking and untrusted, into a working democratic ally in the struggle for a freer world, plainly would ease a vast number of nerve strains in the diplomacy of the Western Hemisphere.

It would relieve us and our allies of the embarrassment of having a government of Fascist predilections and practices on our side when we are supposed to be fighting to destroy Fascism. It would remove the constant anxiety of Washington that the Fascist Good Neighbor might be boring from within in the continental politics, seeking to establish Fascist or partially Fascist regimes in other American republics.

But as summer turned toward autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, the ideal revolution seemed far off. There was plenty of violent disturbance, but the only coup that succeeded left the Argentine situation in worse state than before.

This was the still somewhat mysterious Presidential Palace affair of the last week in February, when President Pedro Pablo Ramirez — top dog in the military coup which overthrew the civilian government eight months earlier — suddenly resigned and turned over his office to General Edelmiro Farrell.

Palace squabbles

All sorts of dubious circumstances surrounded this transit of powers. In the first place, General Ramirez’s own title to the presidency derived from a strictly unconstitutional military coup. To be sure, this regime was recognized by the other American powers early in June, almost immediately after the overt performance; so the Ramirez junta had more or less title to diplomatic legitimacy. General Farrell, however, was appointed to the vice-presidency months later, after the previous vice-president died. He had therefore a somewhat sketchy justification for being pushed forward into the presidency.

The Farrell succession smelled strongly of revolutionary violence in a number of American capitals, including Washington. It also smelled of pro-Axis aims and influences. Within two or three days Buenos Aires’s pro-Axis newspaper Cabildo was screaming for suppression of the American news services to Argentina — a ban that was partially imposed and subsequently lifted.

Necessarily, these signs provoked diplomatic action. Within twenty-four hours after the Farrell coup, Under Secretary of State Stettinius announced in Washington that the security of the Hemisphere was involved in the Argentine change to a point where an exchange of information and views was called for among the American republics — obviously on the question of whether or not the Farrell regime should be recognized.

The neighbors cool off

The exchange, though, produced certain difficulties. Not all the Latin American governments were convinced of the wisdom of dropping Argentina from their diplomatic calling lists, regardless of the Farrell regime’s legitimacy or international politics. Chile felt that she had too many vital economic ties with her neighbor across the Andes, and too much to risk in a military and political way by creating a deepseated Argentine grudge against her.

Uruguay feared that expelling Argentina officially from the inter-American concert of powers might lead eventually to some clash between Brazil and Argentina, in which, as a powerless buffer state, Uruguay might have to play the part of a South American “little Belgium.” Paraguay was too dominated by Argentine economic and political pressures to risk any positive opposition, and simply continued her relations with the new regime.

Finally Brazil, as Argentina’s top rival for first place in South American power politics, enjoys keeping the Buenos Aires government in an inter-American doghouse, so that Argentina will continue to be ineligible, among other things, for Lend-Lease arms favors from the Allies.

Hence, Rio de Janeiro’s experts in foreign policy had their doubts about breaking with the Farrell coupists. The action might provoke a revolution in Argentina which would put a pro-Ally administration in power in Buenos Aires, and then Argentina could legitimately claim Lend-Lease assistance. By maintaining some kind of relations with Farrell, the pleasingly bad dog might be enabled to survive in his chains.

Chile, as things turned out, jumped the gun. Her government recognized the Farrell regime early in March with a blast of newspaper publicity sharply insinuating that the United States attitude toward the recognition question threatened an infringement of sovereignty.

Washington compromises

This step, after a fashion, forced Washington’s hand. On March 4, Under Secretary Stettinius announced that the United States for the present was refraining from entering into official relations with the Farrell junta. It was a compromise move — neither an official break nor even a formal suspension of relations — but the stiffest action taken by Washington toward a major South American power in modern history.

Momentarily, at least, the move won some partial rewards. The inter-American power concert had begun to crack with Chile’s recognition of the Farrell group. Temporarily, the crack stopped spreading. Uruguay withheld her decision on recognition for a few days, long enough for the Chamber of Deputies in Montevideo to send a resolution up to the president recommending a suspension in relations. In Brazil the leaders puzzled further over the question of how to play their cards in the growingly complex game of South American power politics.

Unquestionably, though, the test was not finished. The Farrell regime, if it could hang on long enough, might yet seriously weaken, if not positively destroy, the unity of the Americas by detaching a number of powers from full collaboration with the Allies.

The Argentine army and navy

Nevertheless, in Argentina itself, the crack-down menace produced certain nervous tremors. In the army, various elements wondered whether the game of playing the Axis for a victory, and authentic Fascism for survival in the Western Hemisphere, was worth the candle.

The Argentine navy — South America’s strongest — was still more enraged. For two or three days, at the turn of the month, a mere general — whom the Ramirez regime had pulled out of the hat and put in charge of the Federal Agricultural Department — was named Minister of Marine. During this brief period the navy seethed close to the rebellion point.

Eventually the Farrell junta managed to find an admiral whom they could bluff into accepting the post — which Buenos Aires wisecrackers christened the “Ministry of Embarrassment" and the “Ministry of Seasickness.”But meanwhile certain offended navy chiefs and disaffected army elements managed to talk together. Some sort of plot seems to have been arranged — to wit, that certain army detachments would attack Buenos Aires from the suburbs on the land side, while the navy moved up the La Plata estuary to bombard from the water.

The plan was plausible, but the timing was bad. A military unknown by the name of Lieutenant Colonel Tomas Duco led a single regular army regiment out into a suburb ten miles away from the capital and took up battle positions. But other regiments either did not get the signal at the proper time or ignored it. The navy, tipped off that no effective shore revolt had occurred, held its fire and accepted the Farrell sop of an inconspicuous admiral’s appointment to the Marine Ministry with the best grace it could muster. Lieutenant Colonel Duco dramatically surrendered to the Farrellistas.

Who’s bullying now?

To outside elements deeply concerned with the Argentine situation, especially the State Department in Washington, the whole Buenos Aires performance since last June has advertised the difficulties of trying to play power politics in the Western Hemisphere on any basis calling for unanimous decisions on policy by a concert of American republics.

The Argentine situation brings to the surface all that is artificial in the inter-American relationship — all that, by being artificial, helps to poison the strong elements of genuineness in it. Under either Ramirez or Farrell, Argentina, Fascist in political technique, embittered, plotting either to do damage or to win undeserved concessions at bargain prices, is unquestionably a menace to the security of the Hemisphere.

Argentina cannot strike directly at the United States. But no power is in a better position to undermine the solidarity of the inter-American movement, or to lure other countries away from the project of building an understanding and rationally cooperating continental neighborhood. The present indications are that, as long as her present government lasts, Argentina will continue to help the enemy by concentrating on these enterprises.