Nationalism in Latin America
Nationalism in Contemporary Latin America
The Red, White, and Black Continent
In an editorial comparing United States policy in Latin America with Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution of 1956, a leading Brazilian newspaper, the Correio da Manha, recently wrote that in Latin America, the United States had “constituted itself into a mainstay of everything that is oligarchic, reactionary, stubbornly anachronistic, submissive, and sad.” This comment is typical of a vitriolic anti-Americanism which in Latin America is by no means confined to Communists and their friends. Similar opinions are voiced daily in left-of-center nationalist newspapers; and even newspapers that are otherwise quite conservative often carry huge banner headlines about such matters as Soviet successes in space-travel, race riots in American cities, or De Gaulle’s denunciations of the Vietnam war.
This anti-Americanism is usually attributed to the dominant role of American capital in the Latin American economy. The real explanation is somewhat more complicated. If anti-Americanism were simply a matter of resentment about exploitation, it would be strongest among the masses, particularly the urban working class. Actually, working-class anti-Americanism is widespread only in Argentina, where American economic influence is weaker than elsewhere in Latin America. Among the peasantry, anti-Americanism is rare. Nor does it appear to any large degree in the entrepreneurial class. The Communist propaganda thesis that there is in Latin America a “national bourgeoisie” whose interests are diametrically opposed to, and whose very existence is threatened by, “Yankee imperialism,” does not stand up to close examination. Domestic Latin American industry and trade coexist quite peacefully with foreign capital; in cases of friction, their ties with government circles usually enable them to defend their interests very effectively.
ON THE OTHER HAND, anti-Americanism is rampant in certain Latin American social groups not directly concerned with the economy—university and high-school students, intellectuals in general, and among the professional politicians who constitute the cadres of parties representing middle-class and working class interests. It is thus a phenomenon of the political and not the economic sphere, and of the elites, not of the masses. Its basic element is resentment of the lack of neutrality displayed by the United States in the power-struggle between the oligarchic elites and the counter-elites of nationalist middle-class intellectuals, which has been going on in Latin America since the early years of the century.
The Latin American oligarchies may be described as planters’ and ranchers’ aristocracies which have branched out into industry, commerce, and finance. These highly conservative groups obviously represent the static element in Latin American politics. The dynamic element is composed of the counter-elites of middle-class intellectuals pledged to programs of nationalism, modernization, and industrialization. In a number of countries, the counter-elite has been able to organize political parties which have won the support of large sectors of the urban middle and working classes, and the peasantry. These “populist” parties are invariably left-of-center; their ideology is anti-capitalist and often influenced by Marxism, which renders them highly suspect to observers who apply the standards of the Cold War to Latin American reality. Parties of this type are today apparently firmly ensconced in power in at least three countries: Mexico, Venezuela, and Chile. In several more, such as Peru and Guatemala, their hold on power is precarious. In some countries, the counter-elite has not yet proved able to form an effective political instrument of its own, while in others its advent to power has been blocked by the intervention of a third group—the military.
Advocates of American support for military dictatorships in Latin America often point out that the officers’ corps of the Latin American armies are not recruited from the oligarchy, but from the middle and lower middle classes, and that their spirit is frequently anti-oligarchic and reformist. This may well be so; but again and again, military dictatorships have proved incapable of any sweeping social reforms for the simple reason that they lack the popular support needed to overcome the resistance of vested interests. The one military dictator who managed to win a large civilian following was Perón, and his example is far from encouraging. To this day, Argentina’s economy has not recovered from the effects of his rule, nor has the country regained its political stability. As for the much-advertised role of the military as “guardians of stability,” who step in whenever law and order are imperiled, and bow out again once the situation has returned to normal, this in practice only undermines the position of civilian regimes, which must operate with the utmost caution in order to avoid military intervention.
It would of course be too much to expect the average American business man in Latin America to remain neutral in the struggle between the oligarchies, the military, and the nationalist counter-elites. Although there are exceptions, business men as a group are not remarkable for a high level of political sophistication. They are unlikely to back a rabble-rousing Leftist in the hope that once in power, he will provide a bulwark against the very Bolshevism which he now appears to represent. Nor can one rightly ask them to cultivate the friendship of bearded Castroite students instead of bankers and plantation owners. Business men need political stability for the satisfactory conduct of their affairs, and they need it at once, not in some unforeseeable future. It is thus perhaps inevitable that they should take a short-range view.
What is less inevitable, and far more harmful, is that the Latin American policy of the United States should so often have been determined by this same short-range view; that is, by the opinions and prejudices of the American business community in Latin America. It is not the link between the local oligarchies and American business circles alone, but the apparent ability of these business circles to determine Washington’s Latin American policy which has given the United States the unfavorable image of being “a mainstay of everything that is oligarchic, reactionary, stubbornly anachronistic, submissive, and sad.”
THE ALLIANCE FOR PROGRESS was an attempt to change this image. It failed because it asked too much, not of the Latins, but of American policy makers. In order to ensure its success, Washington would have had to take serious political risks. It would have had to bludgeon conservative Latin American governments into implementing social reforms, or even to encourage their overthrow by ceasing all political and financial support if they failed to do so. Such behavior was of course unthinkable. It would have violated the basic principle of American foreign policy, which is to avoid anything that might lead to a Congressional investigation.
Today, Washington no longer makes its aid contingent on the implementation of programs of social reform. It merely eases the financial situation of existing governments in order to enable them to stay in power. American aid is thus an instrument for the maintenance of the status quo—surely the very opposite of the original purpose of the Alliance. Of course this confirms the impression of the Latin Americans that the United States is the friend and ally of the oligarchies.
It would be unfair to state that the present Latin American policy of the United States works uniquely in favor of the oligarchies. Not only conservative regimes and military dictatorships of various hues, but also some democratic left-of-center governments are backed by Washington. But these latter know full well by bitter practical experience that if they were toppled by a military coup the United States would accept this as a fait accompli whereas any attempt of theirs to regain power by a counter-coup would throw Washington into hysterics and might well lead to intervention by the Marines, as it did in Santo Domingo. The only guiding principle of Washington’s present Latin American policy appears to be an obsession with the danger of a Communist take-over in some Latin American country where things are not kept firmly enough under control. This fear is shared by few observers on the spot, and since the missile crisis of October 1962, Latin Americans tend to regard it as a mere pretext for interference in the internal affairs of their countries.
For even if a Communist regime were established in some South American country, what would be its chances of maintaining itself in power without Soviet military, economic, and political support? How long would even Castro have been able to hold out without this support? The missile crisis has demonstrated that the Soviet Union was not strong enough to defy the United States in the Western Hemisphere. This makes it appear highly unlikely that Moscow would risk another show-down on the same scale in order to protect an incipient revolutionary regime in that area.
That being so, the United States could well afford a consistent policy of non-intervention in Latin America, at the same time reducing its aid programs to such humanitarian projects as the building and maintenance of schools and hospitals.
In working to preserve the status quo, the present American policy in essence, though not in every individual case, favors the static element in contemporary Latin American political life. A consistent policy of non-intervention would inevitably work in favor of the left-of-center nationalist movements which constitute the dynamic element. Since the social and economic trend in Latin America is the constant growth of the urban middle and working classes which are the mainstay of these movements, their victory on a continental scale is in any case only a matter of time. It would thus be intelligent politics not to put any obstacles in their way.
It is an indication of increasing interest in the subject that two books on Latin American nationalism have recently appeared on the American market. Unfortunately, one of these is not a reliable guide to the matter, while the authors of the other appear to regard the problem of relations between the United States and Latin America—although it is surely pertinent to their subject—as too painful to be discussed at any great length.
GERHARD MASUR’S Nationalism in Latin America describes the development of nationalist ideas and policies since Bolívar. Professor Masur has some interesting observations to make, but his work is marred by a strange disregard for the need to check his data. In consequence it is full of elementary errors of fact. Masur appears to be astonishingly ignorant of economic history. He asserts (on page 63) that in Latin America, production for overseas markets only became a profitable venture in the period from 1850-1914. Before that, he claims, Latin Americans “geared their activities to a subsistence economy rather than to market production.” In fact, colonial Latin America was geared to production for the European market from the very years of the conquest onward, and this was a decisive influence on its social and economic structure. It was in order to work in mines and plantations producing for overseas markets. or on estates producing food for the mines, that the native Indian populations were reduced to serfdom and myriads of slaves imported from Africa.
One instance of Masur’s disconcerting ignorance of more recent Latin American history is his account of the two-year guerrilla war waged by the famous Prestes Column on the Brazilian high plateau from 1925-27. This column, under the command of the Sao Paulo police major Miguel Costa and an active officer of the federal army, Captain Luis Carlos Prestes, grew out of a large-scale military revolt of the Sao Paulo garrison under General Isidoro Dias Lopes in 1924. Some years later, Prestes joined the Communist Party. But this was a personal decision. The Communist Party of Brazil, which had been founded as early as 1922, had nothing to do with the revolt or with the subsequent guerrilla war, and Prestes’s fellow officers did not follow his example. Yet Masur represents the whole episode as a Communist-inspired attempt by “a former army captain, Luis Carlos Prestes” to seize power with “a motley force of enthusiastic partisans” who then retreated “into the lowlands” in order to continue their resistance for more than two years. His account is wrong in every detail; Masur evidently wrote it without consulting either a history of twentieth-century Brazil or Robert J. Alexander’s Communism in Latin America. It is distressing that a professional historian, the author of a biography of Bolívar, should think it permissible to write in this manner.
Nationalism in Contemporary Latin America by Professors Arthur P. Whitaker and David C. Jordan, is a serious and well-informed book. It represents an earnest effort to bring the American reader to an understanding of the phenomenon of Nationalism, and to make him realize that nationalism is “a normal and essential feature of development” (p. 203). The authors distinguish two main categories of nationalism, a “domestic variety” which according to them “is often relatively pacific and benign,” and “foreign-oriented nationalism,” often marked by “xenophobia and aggressiveness.” They add that they wish to stress the importance of the domestic variety “in order to redress the balance of much recent discussion of nationalism which, through an obsession with the horror of Hitlerism, has greatly overemphasized the aggressive variety” (p.6).
THE INTENTION IS LAUDABLE; the method is not. For in order to de-emphasize the less amiable aspects of Latin American nationalism, or those less palatable to the American reader, the authors omit certain important details from the picture.
Thus they avoid any discussion of the criticism by Chilean and Venezuelan moderate nationalists of the Latin American policy of the United States. They merely state that “the absolute Inter-American rule of non-intervention is the quintessence of political nationalism” (p. 12), and that this is “a formidable bar to effective international cooperation in the field of security” (p. 194). The Dominican events of 1965 came too late to be treated in the book, but surely the admittedly CIA-inspired coup against the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954 did not. Yet the authors do not mention this coup, nor the wave of protest demonstrations that swept Latin America at the time; nor the fact that one of the leaders of the Chilean protest demonstrations was the present President of Chile. Nor is there any mention of the “Betancourt Doctrine,” whereby the Venezuelan government refused to recognize any Latin American regime that came to power by a coup against a constitutionally elected government. This policy was clearly intended as an example to be followed by the other Latin American states, with the final aim of forcing the United States to discontinue its practice of condoning such coups.
The authors admit that anti-Americanism has unquestionably been “a major ingredient of Latin American nationalism in this century” (p. 188). Yet the book’s index contains only five references to “anti-Americanism” and “Yankeephobia.” Four of these are very brief. The fifth deals with pre-Castro Cuba. But neither in the seven-and-a-half pages devoted to Castro and his regime, nor anywhere else in the book, does one find a single mention of Castro’s February 1962 “Second Declaration of Havana,” that strident call for anti-imperialist guerrilla war on a continental scale, nor to Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare, first published in 1960. The omission is inexcusable, since several books that have had far less influence on contemporary Latin American nationalism are discussed at length. The authors do not even mention the recent, famous, and widely read manifesto of Latin American nationalism and anti-Americanism. The Shark and the Sardines by J. J. Arevalo, the former President of Guatemala.
To write about the extreme “foreign-oriented” variety of Latin American nationalism without mentioning The Shark and the Sardines, Guerrilla Warfare, and the Second Declaration of Havana is like writing about German National Socialism without mentioning Mein Kampf. The authors would have done better to limit themselves entirely to the subject of moderate, constructive, “domestic” nationalism which is more congenial to them. Or better still, they might have taken the bull by the horns by offering their readers a comprehensive discussion of the anti-Americanism or Yankeephobia which they themselves declare to be such an important ingredient of Latin American nationalism in this century. This would have been wiser as well as more courageous, and it would have produced a more important and more topical book.
Herbert Wendt, the author of The Red, White, and Black Continent, is an able and experienced German travel writer, and he is exceptionally well-served by his translator. But covering the vast area from the Rio Grande to Cape Horn, his book is inevitably somewhat uneven; the chapter on British Guiana, for instance, appears to have been written on the basis of a very brief visit and seems completely out of focus to this reviewer. The book is also not free from snap judgments. Its estimate of Red Chinese influence and prospects in the area is certainly exaggerated, and one may doubt whether such democratic politicians as the Peruvian Haya de la Torre and the Bolivian Paz Estenssoro, let alone the Ecuadorian Arosemena, are quite the knights in shining armor described by Mr. Wendt. Wendt is also too ambitious in going far back into Latin American history instead of concentrating on his impressions of the present. It is particularly unfortunate that in dealing with the Wars of Independence he should have relied so heavily on that vicious product of Spanish chauvinism, the two-volume attack on Bolívar by the otherwise distinguished writer, Salvador de Madariaga.
In spite of these shortcomings, Wendt does give a vivid picture of the problems of contemporary Latin America, including the problem of nationalism. He stresses the strength of extreme nationalism, Castroism and Communism in the Latin American universities, a matter on which Whitaker and Jordan hedge. He deals extensively with the Guatemalan coup of 1954, mentions the nationalist guerrilla movements in several countries, and describes in detail the power struggles between the oligarchs, the military, and the nationalist middle-class intellectuals, as well as the role of foreign companies and of the US government in these struggles. In brief, it is to this unpretentious travel book rather than to the two books by academic writers that the reader must turn for a picture of Latin American anti-Americanism and of the troubled relations between the Latin American nationalists and the United States.
Painful Subject April 6, 1967