ON THE WORLD TODAY
A DAY or two after ill health forced Cordell Hull to retire from the State Department late in November, a top Latin American diplomat in Washington had this to say of his successor: “Your Mr. Stettinius may live to make a reputation for more spectacular achievements, but if he succeeds in streamlining inter-American relations and holding the American republics together as a unified bloc of powers during the post-war period, he will have proved himself your most competent Secretary of State in history.”
There may have been a shade of Latin overemphasis in such a statement. But Secretary Stettinius and the staff of Assistant Secretaries he is bringing into office with him must know that they have no more complicated problem than that of improving interAmerican relations.
Undoubtedly the great shake-up in Assistant Secretaryships which Mr. Stettinius is carrying out will strengthen the State Department for its Hemisphere responsibility. Putting Latin American matters in charge of an Assistant Secretary provides, for example, a kind of protocol promotion to all diplomatic activity within the Hemisphere.
But in spite of this improvement in the setup for conducting inter-American business, the new Secretary and the new team at the State Department face four difficult assignments: —
1.Solving the question of Argentine recognition so that the political and diplomatic status of the Argentine Republic will no longer be an outstanding influence for division and suspicion among the American republics.
2.Uniting the American republics in a reasonably coherent agreement on world peace plans and on the part the republics are to play in the organization of world peace.
3. Keeping supplies flowing from the Americas to our allies up to the last stages of the wars in Europe and the Pacific, and for the needs of the nations abroad as they are liberated.
4. Preventing American countries from “going fascist” in the transition period between war and peace, and so undermining American continental solidarity or even precipitating war.
Reaction in Bolivia
Mr. Stettinius will have his share of trouble with fascism in this hemisphere. A few days before Secretary Hull decided on his resignation, an attempted revolution by leftist and middle elements in Bolivia was put down with fascist severities by the ruling government of the MNR — Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario. As a result the reactionary government is more strongly in control of the situation and more openly fascist in purpose than ever.
Because of the government’s secret service and precautions, the Bolivian rebellion never, in a military sense, came to more than a flash. Garrisons at such distances from each other as Oruro near the Chilean border and Trinidad in the rubber country near Brazil revolted for a day. But Bolivia — a republic whose constitution forbids capital punishment for political offenses — came out of it with three former cabinet ministers and eight prominent military and civilian leaders slain without trial by firing squads — including former Foreign Minister Carlos Salinas Aramayo, who had a good deal to do a year and a half ago with Bolivia’s joining the United Nations.
With these shootings out of the way and with hundreds more of the MNR party’s enemies either in jail or rushing into exile, the MNR and Major Gualberto Villarroel, its president, naturally felt stronger immediately. Before November was out they were already talking of putting into the foreign office Professor Victor Paz Estenssoro, who, before the United States extended recognition to the MNR regime last June, was dropped from the cabinet because of his proNazi connections.
Argentina bargains for recognition
Practically every government in Latin America considers it desirable that the American nations hold a general consultation before they proceed to any peace conference or to any meeting of the United Nations to plan a world organization for peace. But Argentina has thrown a monkey wrench into the program for an all-American preliminary session by demanding a formal conference of American foreign ministers, at which her own case for diplomatic recognition by the sister republics will be judged.
The present indications are that no conference will take place in the way that Argentina has suggested. But it is becoming more and more doubtful if a successful inter-American conference can be held to discuss peace problems without settling the Argentine matter first. Argentina is unofficially threatening the drastic step of withdrawing from the Pan American Union if her position is not clarified, and many of the other American governments, especially Argentina’s near neighbors, are showing signs of feeling jittery about all their inter-American commitments until they know what Argentina’s standing is.
The net result is that, on top of all the uncertainties about Argentina, a rising number of discords are developing among the American republics over the peace question. Several powers, including friendly Uruguay, have objected to the world peace organization plans submitted by the Dumbarton Oaks Conference of the four chief war powers, and have offered specific suggestions for changes. Others have simply complained — the burden of the complaint being that they were not sufficiently consulted on the Dumbarton Oaks recommendations, especially those concerning the relative place of the large and the small nations in the world organization.
Despite the efforts of Argentine diplomacy to fan them, there is little in these resentments which full and intimate discussion among the American foreign offices — not necessarily all of it in public — could not cure. But the Argentine question, with its embarrassments to many of the Latin states and its liabilities to the whole system of Pan-American cooperation, tends to bar the way to a conference at which such a discussion could take place.
The Buenos Aires government could conceivably be driven from power by stern economic sanctions which deprived it of its outlets for Argentine meats and grains in Europe.
Food comes first
But the British are unlikely to support any program that would deprive them of their wheat and what they have left of their beef rations merely to satisfy Washington’s whims — as they must seem to British households — for a united American continent. Nor is it likely that the American public would support sanctions if, merely to bring Argentina into line politically, they were asked to devote a large share of their beef, wheat, and corn stocks to making up British food deficits. Obviously, an American policy which kept Argentine food from their larders for an extra hour would hardly appeal to the liberated countries, with their virtual starvation demands for any kind of rations from anywhere.
The harsh fact which Secretary Stettinius has to face, then, is that the very policy which offers the best hope of overcoming fascism in Argentina is one which threatens with serious internal political troubles practically every country involved. The situation might wind up with the United States and most of the Western European allies fighting each other in an international breadline.
Meanwhile nothing is being eased for the new Secretary by developments within Argentina. The republic distinguished itself during the last few weeks of 1944 by worrying its neighbors, Chile and Paraguay, with minor military and diplomatic pressures, and with a sudden decree ordering military training for all classes of the population between the ages of twelve and fifty. The civilian departments at Buenos Aires tried to explain it away as a national health measure, but the War Ministry, through Vice President and War Minister Juan Perón, frankly declared that it was a preparedness measure for future wars.
In short, the problem as Mr. Stettinius took office was simmering down to a question of adjusting to Argentina’s isolation from the rest of the Americas until some mood of better behavior returns — and at the same time drawing the rest of the American nations closer to us by a more sympathetic diplomacy in Washington. There was some hope in the Capital, as the year drew to a close, that new diplomatic arrangements — granting the Latin American governments, except Argentina, fuller confidence, quicker access to the top authorities, quicker action, and more consideration for their vital interests — might achieve the desired result.
In any case, Secretary Stettinius’s first inter-American job is to break a log jam. If he breaks the one piled up by Argentina, no other on the international horizons is likely to prove too complicated for him.