Pan-Americanism - Pan-americanism, 1900–1945

In this fashion the institutionalization of the International Conferences of American States developed. To reduce the appearance of U.S. domination, the conferences were held in the various Latin American capital cities, with the presumed hope of meeting in all of them. The record of attendance was very high, frequently unanimous, and only once were as many as three states absent (from Santiago, Chile, in 1923). The frequency of the sessions varied because of world wars, but four-or five-year intervals were the norm.

The second through sixth conferences (Mexico City, 1901–1902; Rio de Janeiro, 1906; Buenos Aires, 1910; Santiago, Chile, 1923; Havana, Cuba, 1928) experienced minimal success. The issues recurring most prominently at these meetings were arbitration, hemispheric peace, trade, the forcible collection of debts, U.S. dominance of the organization, and intervention by one state in the affairs of another (and, in the 1920s, arms control). Specific accomplishments of these many conferences were more modest. Resolutions, conventions, and treaties were often debated, but compromise was endless, and major solutions were rarely reached or ratified. One exception was the 1923 Gondra Treaty, designed to create machinery for the peaceful settlement of American disputes. This treaty served as the basis for similar machinery in the later Organization of American States. Major alterations included the substitution in 1910 of the name Pan-American

First Washington, D.C. 1889–1890
Second Mexico City 1901–1902
Third Rio de Janeiro 1906
Fourth Buenos Aires 1910
Fifth Santiago 1923
Sixth Havana 1928
Seventh Montevideo 1933
Eighth Lima 1938
Ninth Bogota 1948
Tenth Caracas 1954

Union for the Commercial Bureau, and in popular usage Pan-American Conference replaced International Conference of American States. From time to time some delegates expressed their dismay that Pan-Americanism was taking no steps toward the confederation so often praised, but the majority clearly preferred the use of the Pan-American Union as a sounding board for international public opinion and an agency that moved slowly in the settlement of specific problems.

The growing U.S. presence in the circum-Caribbean region after 1898 gave the Latin Americans cause for concern, and they used the Pan-American forums as the vehicle to chastise Washington's imperialistic policies. Before World War I, at Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires, the Latin Americans insisted on recognition of national sovereignty as a means to thwart U.S. intervention. For the same reasons, they joined the League of Nations following the end of World War I, hoping to use that international forum to curtail U.S. ambitions south of the Rio Grande River. When the United States failed to join the league, the Latin Americans lost interest in the organization, and by the mid-1920s their attendance at annual meetings had dwindled greatly. At Santiago in 1923 and again at Havana in 1928, the Latin Americans vociferously protested the U.S. domination of the hemispheric agenda and its continued presence in several circum-Caribbean countries. Only the efforts of former Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes prevented the passage of a resolution declaring that "no state has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of another." This was the last major U.S. stand on behalf of its interventionist policies.

In addition to the growing Latin American pressure, other factors influenced the United States to abandon its interventionist policy, and with it bring to an end the era of the "new" Pan-Americanism. The roots of the U.S. policy change can be traced to the end of World War I, which left Europe incapable of threatening the Western Hemisphere. Also, within the State Department since the early 1920s there was a growing frustration about the failure of the numerous interventions. The 1924 Democratic Party platform criticized the interventionist policy, a position repeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, writing in Foreign Affairs in 1928. What did the United States have to show for its interventions in the circum-Caribbean region? the critics asked. As secretary of commerce, Herbert Hoover argued that the larger and more prosperous Latin American states refused to purchase U.S. goods as a protest against its Caribbean presence. And as president-elect in 1928, Hoover embarked on a goodwill tour of Central and South America, a harbinger of forthcoming change. Subsequently, State Department official Joshua Reuben Clark's Memorandum on the Monroe Doctrine renounced U.S. interventions in Latin America's domestic affairs under the terms of the Monroe Doctrine.

The policy shift climaxed on 4 March 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt, in his inaugural address, promised to be a "good neighbor." Originally intended for all the world, in application it came to apply to Latin America. A further indicator of Roosevelt's intention not to interfere in Latin America's internal affairs was the selection of Sumner Welles as assistant secretary of state, a man who believed that hemispheric relations should be conducted on the basis of absolute equality. The policy shift was completed at the 1933 Montevideo conference, where the U.S. delegation approved the Convention on Rights and Duties of the States. It affirmed that "No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another." The Latin American delegates at Montevideo were equally pleased when Secretary of State Cordell Hull announced that their countries need not fear intervention during the Roosevelt administration. Still, the Latin Americans needed to be reassured. Not sharing Washington's concerns about the rising European war clouds, they were not interested in discussing hemispheric defense at the 1936 Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace held in Buenos Aires, and in 1938 at the Lima Conference. Instead, they pressed for, and received, additional U.S. pledges of nonintervention. With these pledges, the "new Pan-Americanism" passed into history.

Roosevelt's words were followed by pragmatic actions. American troops were withdrawn from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. The United States did not interfere in either the Cuban or the Panamanian political turmoil of the 1930s. In fact, a new treaty with Panama provided additional advantages to the isthmian republic. Nor did the United States act when Central American dictators Tiburcio Carías, Maximiliano Hernández-Martínez, Anastasio Somoza, and Jorge Ubico illegally extended their presidential terms. A potentially explosive question raised by Mexico's expropriation of vast foreign oil holdings was treated by the Roosevelt administration as a matter of concern between the Mexican government and the oil companies.

Contrasted with the "old," the "new" Pan-Americanism was marked by more concern for nonpolitical objectives, both technical and social. The "old" had been geographically more restrictive and often purely Spanish; the "new" was deliberately hemispheric in scope, and the leadership clearly rested with the United States. Just as the "new" Pan-Americanism was passing into history, the trajectory of inter-American relations took yet another turn, and again the United States took the leadership role. Confronted with international crises—the Great Depression, World War II, and the cold war—the United States attempted to incorporate the Pan-American movement into its international policies.

The world was staggering under economic collapse when Franklin D. Roosevelt took the presidential oath in March 1933. World trade had declined by 25 percent in volume and by 66 percent in value since 1929. At the same time, U.S. trade with Latin America had declined more drastically: exports, by 78 percent in value and imports, by 68 percent. Convinced that economic nationalism exacerbated the depression, Secretary of State Hull sought the liberalization of trade polices. Congress consented in 1934 with the passage of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, which enabled the U.S. government to strike beneficial tariff agreements with trading partners. Latin America fit neatly into the plan because it did not have a competitive industrial sector, nor did its major exports compete with U.S. commodities. In comparison, the United States was in a stronger position because it could serve as Latin America's chief supplier of manufactured goods, and given the fact that reciprocal trade agreements ments favored the principal supplier, tariff negotiations would focus only on products that constituted the chief source of supply. In sum, the act gave the U.S. a favorable negotiating position.

The Latin Americans understood the U.S. position, and that understanding contributed to the refusal of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay to reach trade agreements with the United States. The United States managed to conclude agreements only with countries that were heavily dependent upon its markets for agriculture (usually monoculture) exports: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In the end, the reciprocal trade agreements with these countries had little economic impact, but for the Central American dictators the agreements provided an air of legitimacy for their illegal regimes.

Negotiations with Brazil illustrated the need to address another international issue: the threat of Nazi Germany to the Western Hemisphere. In addition to Brazil, influential German communities were located in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, and Paraguay. Over the course of the 1930s the United States viewed these communities as threats to hemispheric stability by spreading German propaganda, sending funds back to Berlin to be used for Nazi purposes, and engaging in espionage and, possibly, sabotage. The increased U.S. concern with Axis influence prompted Washington policymakers to commence western hemispheric defense plans in 1936. For the most part, Latin America's political leadership did not share Washington's concerns, and believed that Roosevelt was using the European troubles to circumvent the nonintervention pledge made in 1933 at Montevideo. Only after the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the fall of France in June 1940 did the Latin American nations feel a sense of urgency about hemispheric defense. Until then, the United States obtained only an innocuous agreement at the 1936 Buenos Aires conference, reaffirmed at Lima in 1938, which called for consultation when an emergency threatened the hemisphere. The Lima conference was the last regular meeting of the American states until after World War II, but on three occasions the foreign ministers convened to confront wartime issues. Their work proved essential to the continuity of Pan-Americanism at a time when world-scale military agreements took precedence.

The first meeting of the foreign ministers took place in Panama City after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. To protect hemispheric neutrality, the ministers agreed upon a safety zone south of Canada, extending an average of three hundred miles out to sea around the remainder of the hemisphere. Belligerent nations were warned not to commit hostile acts within this zone. Within a matter of weeks the zone was violated by both the British and the Germans, and frequent ship scuttlings in American waters in 1940 made the zone something of a nullity. More important, however, was the unanimity of the Americans in their resolve to keep the war away.

The second meeting of the Consultation of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs (the full title of these sessions) followed the fall of France to the Germans in June 1940. Again at the urging of the United States, the ministers met at Havana, Cuba, in July to discuss the question of European colonies in the Western Hemisphere and the danger of their falling into German hands. They agreed upon the Act of Havana, which provided that if a non-American state (Germany) should attempt to obtain from another non-American state (France, for example) any islands or other regions in the Americas, one or more American states would step in to administer such territory until it was able to govern itself freely or had been restored to its previous status. Fear that the Axis powers might attempt to occupy some of the many possessions in America was real enough; however, no such attempt was made. The ministers also affirmed the Declaration of Reciprocal Assistance and Cooperation for the Defense of the Nations of the Americas, the gist of which was that an attack upon the sovereignty of any American state was to be treated as an attack upon them all, a further broadening or multilateralizing of the Monroe Doctrine in process since 1933.

The third and last wartime meeting of the foreign ministers convened at the request of Chile and the United States as a consequence of the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The statesmen met at Rio de Janeiro in January 1942, by which time ten American nations, including the United States, had declared war upon the Axis powers. The U.S. military services were not anxious for the participation of underequipped and poorly trained Latin American forces in a global struggle. U.S. military officials agreed with many of the ministers that the proper gesture would be the severing of diplomatic relations, which would eliminate the Axis influence in the Americas, and thereby help to reduce the flow of classified information to those governments. However, a strong declaration requiring the American states to break relations (favored by Secretary Hull) was so rigidly opposed by Argentina and Chile that the U.S. delegation, led by Sumner Welles, settled for a milder version that merely recommended such an action. The issue was deeper than one of semantics, for the Argentines were doing more than expressing their usual reluctance to appear to be following U.S. policy. The Argentine military was actually pro-German and gave considerable assistance to the Axis in the war.

The most important agreements at Rio dealt with the elimination of Axis influence in the Americas. With the exception of Argentina and Chile, the Latin American governments agreed to cooperate with the United States in deporting selected German nationals and their descendants back to Germany or to internment camps in the United States. Those who remained behind would be subject to tight supervision of their properties and greatly restricted freedoms. With a few exceptions, such as Brazil, Chile and Mexico, the war impacted adversely upon the Latin American economies, setting the stage for postwar political and social upheaval.

The United States also spread its ideals, values, and culture throughout Latin America via the wartime Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA), headed by Nelson A. Rockefeller. OIAA proselytized the war's democratic objectives through educational programs and dissemination of propaganda literature and Spanish-language Walt Disney films. It sponsored visits by U.S. artists, writers, and athletes to Latin America, and brought many Latin American students and professionals to U.S. institutions for advanced training. Of course, this was Pan-Americanism as seen by the United States, and it did not always achieve universal acceptance. Sometimes too glossy, and frequently expensive, it was reasonably sincere even when some cultural programs insulted the intelligence of the Latin Americans. But under the veneer was a solid construction of goodwill, and the U.S. policymakers—Sumner Welles, Cordell Hull, Nelson Rockefeller, and Franklin D. Roosevelt—understood the Latin American need for equality and dignity.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:


Pan-Americanism forum