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Are the Americas Ready?

ISSUE:  Winter 1940

It is impossible to predict, at present, the development and the consequences of the situation through which the world is passing. It is a situation unlike any the human race has known, different even from that of the first World War. Combinations of international forces are altered with a celerity unknown in history, and events succeed each other with the same surprising rapidity.

These circumstances accentuate the dramatic tone of the hour; they give an uncertain character to the reverberation of the events in our Hemisphere; they demonstrate that we live under a potential threat to the security and peace of the New World, and they warn that we must be in a position— at least economically and politically—to defend our sovereignty and integrity. Are the Americas ready?


Let us first examine the internal economic situation. The increasing process of concentration that has been evident in our economic structures cannot be overlooked in any critical judgment. A great part of the vital centers of production of America are now controlled by powerful private economic centralizations. In the United States the manufacturing establishments whose output is valued at more than one million dollars per year constitute less than six per cent of the total, but they employ more than fifty-eight per cent of the workers and produce almost sixty per cent of the national output.

The process of centralization has been going on in Latin America also, but the pace is less rapid than it is in the United States. The concentration is being intensified in important branches of primary production, in manufacturing, in commercial and financial activities, and in communications and transportation. Furthermore, the number of the great rural estates is increasing in Latin America, and mineral sources are exploited by a small number of private enterprises. The export trade of the principal raw materials and foodstuffs is practically monopolized by limited groups. In the import trade competition is not so circumscribed, but the firms that participate are being reduced noticeably. Financial functions tend to be concentrated, and new establishments are finding that the authorities are setting up more and more pronounced obstacles to their development. The great public services are taken care of by strong private enterprises. As industry develops, the important establishments oust the small producers.

An essential difference should be noted between the systems of ownership and control of the means of production in the United States and Latin America. In the former the means belong to native capital; in the latter a very important part of the capital belongs to foreign interests.

It is well known that in the Western Hemisphere are found nearly all of the raw materials and foodstuffs indispensable for the development of society. Moreover, the two continents together produce a little more than thirty per cent of the annual value of the primary production of the world. The position of the Hemisphere is, in truth, a privileged one; to take care of the necessities of slightly less than twelve per cent of the population of the globe, it annually produces almost one third of the world’s basic products. In manufacturing, or secondary industry, the Americas control almost thirty-seven per cent of the world’s production. The Hemisphere lacks nothing in this field to insure the protection of its independence.

In export trade we do not have so many advantages, but our position is favorable when compared to our demographic density. The immense diversity of our export products is likewise to our advantage.

In regard to international investments, the United States occupies a privileged position, although the last world figures available place it after Great Britain. These resources may eventually constitute a valuable bulwark for the task of defending the Hemisphere’s security. Also, the gold reserves of the United States represent a powerful weapon and an extraordinary guarantee of the defensive power of the New World. The Latin American reserves are small as compared with those of the United States, but they occupy third place among the continental groups.

It is clear that the productive forces of the Hemisphere easily suffice to create a powerful defensive organization for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the American nations. But it is also clear that the United States and Latin America are not in the same situation. Only in regard to primary industry is it possible to compare the wealth of both. Although the value of the annual production of the United States is at present greatly superior to that of Latin America, the latter possesses incalculable reserves. In technical and efficient organization, however, Latin America lags far behind.

Latin America has made surprising progress in secondary production since the last war. Nations that comprise almost the entire Latin American population possess secondary industries which supply at least a great part of their internal necessities in light products and consumers’ goods. In the manufacture of producers’ goods the development of Latin America is recent, and is significant only in the countries of most advanced economic evolution. Nevertheless, nothing can now stop the development of manufacturing in Latin America.

The intensification of economic concentration in the Hemisphere holds grave importance for the independence of the Americas. At this moment in history this offers a serious threat against our security. In the United States the centralized corporations are preparing to exert all their power to snatch the governmental control from the democratic and progressive forces. In Latin America these business firms stimulate the formation of governments which conspire against the principles of democracy and the liberties of the people. The security of the Hemisphere demands that we be alert against the social and political activities of concentrated wealth. We must not allow such interference to be expressed in international acts detrimental to the sovereignty of the Hemisphere.


The political conditions on the American continents cannot be defined in generalizations because they are not uniform. In the United States the government has adjusted its conduct to democratic and progressive standards. In Mexico collective interests and ideals inspire the action of the state. But in the rest of the Hemisphere the situation is quite different. A few examples exist that do honor to South America, notably in Chile and Colombia. In general, however, the political situation is gloomy: democratic institutions have been more or less damaged; individual rights suffer oppressive abuses; and the prospects of the reconstitu-tion of democratic methods are still vague.

Of course, the functioning of anti-democratic governments anywhere on the Hemisphere constitutes a continuous danger of their connivance with Old World autocracies. Before the beginning of the present war that danger expressed itself in actual deeds in several of the Latin American countries governed by authoritarian regimes. Moreover, countries in Latin America are known whose international conduct drew them near, politically and commercially, to the great autocratic powers. With the outbreak of war, the possibility of such connivance has disappeared—at least for the present—but it is because the international circumstances which made possible these rapprochements have also disappeared. The reconstitution of the conditions existing prior to the conflict would draw together again the Latin American dictatorial regimes and those of other continents. It is therefore to the interest of democratic Americans that anti-democratic governments should not be allowed to exist anywhere on these continents.

It has really been a blessing for the peoples of the Hemisphere that the government of the United States has assumed so firm an attitude in defense of democracy and the sovereignty of the people. That attitude has made it impossible, even before the present war, for Old World totalitarian influences to find an open road in America. And that attitude is responsible for the decision of the twenty-one American states to seek a general understanding for the defense of the common security.

The elections of 1940 in the United States must be considered, then, as one of the gravest problems confronting all the Americas. Whatever may be the defects that can be pointed out in the conduct of the present government in the United States, if the democratic tendency does not triumph in those elections, the entire political set-up of this Hemisphere may be transformed immediately. The most powerful force now restraining autocratic tendencies would disappear. If a reactionary government is elected, it cannot be stated to what extent the American scene would be darkened.

Heartening indications of political cooperation in the Hemisphere have been given in recent conferences, notably those of Montevideo (1933), Buenos Aires (1936), Lima (1938), and Panama (1939). The conferences of Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Lima confined themselves to inviting the nations represented to suppress restrictions on trade on the basis of mutual concessions, and to arrange pacts containing the principle of equality of treatment. But the conference of Panama took a more important step. It created an Inter-American Economic and Financial Advisory Committee, composed of twenty-one experts, one designated by each of the republics, to prepare a vast plan of continental economic cooperation.

Also from the conference of Panama came the most important agreement for the defense of the common security. Two essential measures were adopted: one to establish neutrality in the European conflict; another to create a maritime zone—that is to say, an American Sea—within which the participants in the European conflict must not carry out hostile acts or belligerent activities. The defense of the zone is entrusted to the individual or collective action of the American nations.

The hope of promoting an understanding and a uniform course of action among the political organizations of the Hemisphere has been cherished for many years without definite results. There have been proposals for a great assembly to bring together direct representatives of the peoples of both continents. Today that idea is no longer a mere project. It has had a magnificent initial realization in March of this year at Montevideo, when the International Congress of the Democracies of America met. The Congress was an exceptional and resounding success in the number of countries and parties represented, the extensive personnel of several delegations, the presence of distinguished personalities, the harmony that reigned in the debates, the sense of responsibility evidenced at every moment, and especially the high importance of the work accomplished. The most valuable work done by the Congress was the discussion of the possibility of joint action by the states in defense of common security, and the creation of the Confederation of the Democracies of America, consisting of the democratic parties of all the continent.

At Panama a further attempt of the American governments to organize a common defense of the security of the Hemisphere was made. However apparent may be the gaps and deficiencies of the agreements, the fact that twenty-one governments are trying to adopt common measures for safeguarding the Hemisphere makes significant the success of the Congress of Montevideo, which first considered the joint action for security. The conclusion reached by the political parties at Montevideo likewise shows that every concerted action of the states tending to unite them for a task of common defense can rely on the support of the popular forces of the Hemisphere.

It is worthwhile to list here the full aims and principles of the Confederation: to keep watch over the rule of democracy, social justice, prosperity, economic autonomy, and the dignity of man in the Hemisphere; to condemn all aggression against the territorial integrity and political independence of the nations, as well as the use of force (including any coercive act, whether or not considered an act of war) to settle international disputes without having previously resorted to arbitration; to judge as a personal grievance any inflicted upon any members of the Confederation, thereby causing a unified reaction; to stimulate reciprocal action between the democratic political parties of the Hemisphere.

The last item is destined to have far-reaching importance. It is easy to understand that it is not sufficient to bring together the states of the Hemisphere in conference in order to obtain an effective solidarity among the American peoples. In our times the conduct of governments does not always offer the necessary guarantees of stability, especially in Latin America. The uncertain bonds of unity can and must be strengthened, and even superseded, if events demand it, by the spontaneous, vital ties of the popular forces of the Hemisphere, represented by the democratic parties. The Congress of Montevideo was correct in maintaining that the popular forces of Latin America and the United States are moved by common ideals and interests; that all are affected by the development, in any country on the Hemisphere, of movements contrary to those ideals and interests; that the isolation of the democratic forces of the Latin American nations and the United States increases the dangers that lie in wait for all; and that, consequently, the popular forces of the countries of Latin America must see to it that the conduct of their respective governments adjusts itself to these principles, and the governments of English-speaking Americans—especially that of the United States —must act to prevent moves which may make difficult, directly or indirectly, the struggle of the Latin American peoples for prosperity and liberty.

By virtue of this reciprocal action, the great parties of Latin America will have to select delegations for the United States in order to establish contact with the popular forces of that country, and to make clear, in a direct form, the reality of Latin American conditions, and the way by which the peoples of both continents may obtain effective and reciprocal economic, political, and cultural benefits. The same must be done by the parties of the United States in regard to Latin America. From that labor may arise new bonds of American solidarity, which, being founded on really popular bases, may constitute a considerable obstacle against any act that may threaten the security of the Hemisphere.

The viewpoint that inspired the economic conclusions of the International Congress of the Democracies of America considers, with realistic discernment, important interests of the United States and Latin America. It starts from the principle that the industrialization of the nations is the indispensable basis of their economic autonomy and therefore a requisite for social progress and political independence. It rests on the fact that the process of industrialization depends upon the contribution of means of production to national income, and that this contribution in Latin America is insignificant, since the development of its economy is practically limited to the production of raw materials and to light secondary production and consumers’ goods. On the other hand, it is well known that the United States possesses the most powerful manufacturing equipment in the world, and is in a position to provide Latin America with the machinery necessary to organize the industry of capital goods. The deduction is that the commercial current between the United States and Latin America should be intensified, with the latter exporting its basic products to the former, and that the exports of the United States to Latin America ought to consist of articles of heavy industry and machines for the production of machines. These conclusions envisage common interests of the Americas, because they foster the commercial exchange necessary for the two regions of the Hemisphere.

It is folly to think that the imports of light manufactures into Latin America may increase. The strongest Latin American states—those that control the greater part of the foreign trade—have already enough equipment for the manufacture of these goods, and it is impossible, at this stage of their economic development, to make them abandon the policy of protection of their secondary industries.

In this connection it is significant to note that the International Congress of the Democracies of America resolved that the first Assembly of the Confederation should meet in Washington next year, when the Confederation will designate its executive authorities and consider the questions brought up by the associated political parties. The Assembly will be an answer to the proposal for an immediate beginning of the work of mutual understanding and the joint defense of continental democracy. In the Assembly of Washington, for the first time in the history of America, the representatives of the great popular forces of the United States and Latin America will be able to enter into direct relations and work around the same table for the common welfare. For the first time, also, public opinion in the United States will be in a position to witness an authentic congress of the peoples of the whole continent.

Today, when vigorous attacks are being made against the sovereignty of peoples and national security demands strong material bases and firm moral unity, the economic and political situation of Latin America calls forth this judgment: from the point of view of their own defense, the nations of Latin America do not constitute individual positive forces; acting together they may have a certain significance; in cooperation with the United States, they would be invincible powers. At the same time, because of the evident unbalance between the productive forces and the political power of some vigorous states and also of the easy and rapid changes in the military alliances of the great powers, it is safe to state that not even the United States can be considered totally invulnerable. Acting alone, the United States, despite its immense power, runs risks of jeopardizing its security. The eventual enemies of that power would try to create bases of action in propitious zones of Latin America, and if they succeeded the risks to the United States would be multiplied.

An economic and political concert between the twenty-one states of the Americas, taking into account the authentic principles and interests of the people; an accord of the popular forces of America calling forth a unified action to assure the reign of democracy in all the Hemisphere; in short, an Alliance of the Americas: this is the instrument that would make the Hemisphere ready, economically and politically, for the defense of American peace and security.


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