• U.S.

SOUTH AMERICA: Gentlemen, Be Seated

5 minute read

The long finger of Cuba poked itself compellingly into the world’s ribs last week. Scores of Lions swarmed into Havana for their international conference, found themselves in the middle of a Cuban Presidential election. Amid the traditional Latin-American accompaniment of sporadic shooting scraps, stocky Colonel Fulgencio Batista scored a thumping triumph as expected, complacently proclaimed “overwhelming victory is assured in all six provinces.”

But biggest news in Havana was the arrival of delegates from the 21 American republics to open the Inter-American Conference. Principal problems on their agenda were economic and military defense of the hemisphere and disposition of European-owned New World colonies. Under fire even before the conference were several proposals, chief among them the U. S.-sponsored trade-cartel plan, and Cuba’s strong suggestion that a joint Pan-American protectorate be established over all foreign-owned islands in the Western Hemisphere.

While the Americas prepared to discuss plans for a western hegemony, the shadow of an uninvited guest fell ominously across the conference city. Dr. Otto Reinebeck, German minister to Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, delivered a note to the five latter Central American Republics (Panama was excluded), warning them that the conference would move Western Hemisphere nations away from neutrality, that the Nazis would retaliate (by unannounced means) should the delegates act against Germany. And Secretary of State Cordell Hull, head of the U. S. delegation to Havana, promptly barked back. (see p. 14).

The Honduras Foreign Ministry declared that Germany’s demands would not change the attitude of Central America in their policy to act as a unit in support of the U. S. program.

The Panama American defiantly applauded Hull’s action, praised him for “tweaking the nose of Reinebeck, who is notorious for his interference with matters not his concern.”

Like the Isthmus Republics and Mexico, embroiled last week in its own election turbulence, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador lie directly within the U. S. orbit and on their friendliness depends the security of the canal.

Venezuela, represented at the conference by its Ambassador to Washington, Dr. Don Diogenes Escalante, once served as a successful proving ground for the Monroe Doctrine. The occasion: when Great Britain grew choleric over a contested boundary line on the British Guiana frontier in the ’90s.

Colombia. Though Colombia has not forgotten the rape of its northern province by Roosevelt I for the Panama Canal, its emotional antagonism to the U. S. has diminished with the notable rise of U. S. imports from Colombia, which has made the U. S. its best market for coffee, petroleum and bananas. At the head of its Havana delegation is Foreign Minister Luis López de Mesa.

Ecuador. Despite Nazi-inspired editorial condemnations, Ecuador has expressed wholehearted enthusiasm for continental commercial interchange. But Foreign Minister Dr. Julio Tobar Donoso will be grinding his own Ecuadorian ax at the conference, will attempt to solve border differences with Peru.

Below the southern boundaries of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador the problems of the U. S. increase in direct proportion to the distance from Washington. Dominated by the ABC republics (Argentina, Brazil, Chile), this area lies beyond the zone of U. S. military and naval effectiveness, is consequently less willing to base its economic and political future on U. S. protection.

Argentina. Wariest of all is balky, recalcitrant Argentina, the bad boy of Pan-Americanism. Though linked by cultural and historical ties to its Yanqui neighbor to the north, Argentina would rather manage the southern theatre itself, has a dread of U. S. dominance.

Last week Argentina shifted uncomfortably on the fence, nervously tried to guess the winner in the Anglo-German struggle. With a foreign-trade policy based on reciprocity, Argentina has consistently attempted to buy from its best customer. In the past Argentina has found an excellent complement to its own economy in that of Great Britain, has sent beef, wheat and maize to the British Isles in return for manufactured goods.

But in the event of a German victory Argentina must turn either to the U. S. or a Nazi-dominated Europe, and has listened with unfeigned interest to Nazi overtures, realizing that a Hitlerized Europe would include 70% of pre-war Argentine markets. (see p. 19).

Unwilling to make any definite commitments about the conference, cagey Argentine Foreign Minister José M. Cantilo cautiously proclaimed a policy of “continental solidarity and autonomy of action,” carefully remained in Buenos Aires on a plea of pressing domestic problems. In his place bald, scholarly Dr. Leopoldo Melo, onetime Minister of the Interior, will head the Argentine delegation, accompanied by Felipe A. Espil, Argentine Ambassador in Washington.

Brazil. Unlike Argentina, which has been zealously plumping for a South American bloc, Brazil is the logical keystone for any Pan-American structure. The U. S. has long been Brazil’s customer for coffee, its rival in world cotton markets. Brazilian Foreign Minister Oswaldo Aranha has come out loud and often for the U. S., is a firm believer in hemispheric economic and military cooperation, but Brazil’s President Vargas sometimes plays a different tune.

Chile. Riddled with political disunity, honeycombed with Nazi propaganda, harassed by dwindling markets, Chile faced the conference with conflicting feelings. Within its Popular Front Government the Socialists expressed confidence in U. S. trade and defense plans, but the Communists promptly denounced them as “imperialistic.”

President Pedro Aguirre Cerda’s La Hora put full responsibility for success of the plan up to the U. S., declared that democracy, as based on “existing economic, financial, commercial and industrial regimes,” was less important to Latin America than to the U. S., since “these countries have not been able to change their position as countries producing and exporting raw materials and consuming, of necessity, foreign manufactured articles.” Therefore, it concluded, the U. S. must be prepared to “finance the development of our republics—and without any charge whatsoever—in necessary amounts to give shape to the suggestion of a common defense of the political and economic interests of our Continent.”

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