Latin America


SINCE the beginning of World War II, much of the political life of Latin America has been frozen. But with the coming of peace in Europe, watch out for a thaw.

The unrest begins with Brazil — the nation most active in the Allied cause. Getulio Vargas, who seized the Presidential power by revolution in 1930, has ruled 40 million Brazilians and a country larger than the United States as a dictator since 1937. But ever since Brazil declared war on the Axis in August, 1942, there has been a rising popular demand for the restoration of free elections and the country’s democratic institutions. During the past year, several astute members of the Vargas government have deserted the Dictator for the democrats.

Late in February Dictator Vargas made two major concessions to the opposition. First, he revoked official decrees prohibiting press criticism of the government. Less than a week later he announced that within ninety days he would set the date for Presidential and Congressional elections, and that the voting would be direct, instead of through an elaborate system of electoral colleges provided for in the Vargas-proclaimed, but still inoperative, Constitution of 1937.

Despite their ingratiating intentions, these moves failed either to satisfy the opposition or to restore Brazil’s pre-1930 democratic rights effectively. For instance, all political parties and party activities have been banned since 1937 under decrees of the Dictator. The Vargas promise of eventual free elections failed to lift the ban on General Eduardo Gomes, chief of the Brazilian Air Force, the outstanding Liberal candidate against the Vargas regime. Consequently he has been forced to proceed in his campaign without any legalized party organization. Again, although the press opened up after its seven years of suppression with a fireworks display of antigovernment sentiments, it was suddenly discovered that no provision had been made for free speech on the radio. In the practical politics of a country with as many illiterate voters as Brazil, a free radio is important. And the exuberance of the press may lead to further suppressions.

Dictator Vargas announced dramatically that he is “not a candidate” in the coming elections — but like ourselves, the Brazilians take the phrase with a pinch of salt. The declaration does not preclude the Dictator’s eventually being “drafted” as the man to succeed himself. And since a newspaper owned by the President’s brother continues to urge the “drafting” process, the Brazilian public remains suspicious. The Dictator’s main difficulty is that a grossly controlled election in Brazil this year carries with it the risk of revolt and even civil war.

Argentina changes her shirt

Argentina lost no time in accepting the invitation extended to her by the Inter-American Conference in Mexico City early in March, to qualify for participation in the inter-American system and for eventual acceptance as a member of the United Nations family.

By the end of the month the Argentine government had performed three acts in the qualifying process: 1. It declared war on Germany and Japan, in what was in some respects the most curious war declaration in history. More than two thirds of the text was taken up with a recital of the recommendations of the Mexico City conference requiring the action. Only toward the end did the Argentines get around to the fact that their government was outraged by the attack on a fellow American nation and therefore declared war on Japan, and on Germany because she is Japan’s ally. But technically the declaration of war put Argentina on the side of the angels not quite forty months after Pearl Harbor, and technically the republics found it acceptable.

2. President Edelmiro Farrell officially announced Argentina’s willingness to sign and to adhere to the Act of Chapultepec, endorsed at Mexico City, and pledged the Buenos Aires government to act in concert with the other American republics in preventing aggressions within the Western Hemisphere.

3. Similar willingness to sign the United Nations Declaration was also indicated. Consequently, on March 31 a special meeting of the Governing Board of the Pan American Union in Washington declared Argentina eligible to sign the Act of Chapultepec and the other agreements of the Mexico City conference, and the somewhat complicated diplomatic business of making and accepting the signatures was begun. Now that it is finished, American ambassadors from the other American republics will resume their posts at Buenos Aires, and Argentina will start attending inter-American conferences again.

In its quest for the restoration of Argentina’s former standing in world affairs, the Farrell-Peron military dictatorship has taken the first hurdle — acceptance by the Americas. Within six months of the time when President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Hull were publicly denouncing the regime as fascist and upbraiding it for assistance to the Axis, it has regained respectability for itself as a government.

It has brought this change about without abating to any degree the fascist practices in its governing methods, without convincingly restoring any of the Argentine people’s democratic institutions, and without making any major changes in the top personnel in the government. Certainly no difficult service to the Allied war cause is involved, nor — except in the matter of face for the dictators — any serious sacrifice. Declarations of war at this late date can hardly be more than convenient diplomatic fictions.

In the sense, then, that they bought their interAmerican standing back for a cheap price, the Argentine dictators have won a neat diplomatic triumph. They have wangled themselves into a position where, from any realistic present outlook, they can benefit from inter-American solidarity and have their fascism too.

Nobody is pleased

But it would be inaccurate to represent the new concordat with Buenos Aires as a diplomatic stroke which has spread joy very widely. Argentina’s dictators themselves can hardly like it. They know that they lost face to make their bargain, and that, if it cannot be followed by Argentina’s full admission to the United Nations Conference at San Francisco as an important secondary nation, they may lose more prestige than they can spare.

The liberal elements in Argentina and all the resistance and underground movements now working against the government do not like it at all. They see the dictatorship strengthened by its capture of diplomatic respectability. They have an unpleasant suspicion that they may have been let down by their democratic well-wishers in the United States and elsewhere.

Nor are the State Department and the Latin American leaders who initiated the reconciliation wholly pleased with the outcome. A family reunion with the Farrell-Peron gang has not ended their difficulties. They must now test out by concrete experience their theories that Argentine fascism can be cured by intimate association with more virtuous fellow republics, and that Argentina’s recent notorious tendencies toward militarism and aggression in South America can be checked merely by getting her to attach her signature to the Act of Chapultepec. Some of the more serious fighting powers will not relish sitting down with so old a friend of Franco’s Spain and the Axis at San Francisco.

Peru looks for a commander

Peru is also facing a Presidential election with the polling date legally set for June 10. But prospects for liberalization of the republic are less encouraging than in Brazil. As late as Easter, the hand-picked deputies and senators of President Manuel Prado’s administration prevented any relaxation of longstanding decrees forbidding public or press discussion of political questions and party activities.

So tightly had the lid been held down, in fact, that no candidates to succeed President Prado saw fit to announce themselves up to the end of March. So far the election appears likely to drift by a kind of default into the hands of General Eloy G. Ureta, top Army commander, a horseback politician favoring government by harsh military discipline.

The long-suppressed but growing liberal element in Peru seems less inclined than for many years to take a controlled election lying down. Too much is at stake in allowing Peru’s destinies to be fixed during the post-war period by a politician of Ureta’s type or by one of his stooges. Consequently a coalition of democratic and radical elements, built up around the remnants of the old leftist APRA party of the early 1930’s, is demanding fair elections and political activity from now until June, and threatening revolution if its demands are not granted.