When General Arturo Rawson with the Army behind him marched on Buenos Aires last June 4th, everybody in the Western Hemisphere, including most Argentines, greeted the revolt as a democratic one. At last the “pro-Axis” President Castillo was removed 1 Now Argentina, the most powerful, most advanced Latin American nation, could take its honorable place among the Allies! Rawson resigned two days later and General Pedro Ramirez, former Minister of War under Castillo, took his place. The enthusiasm of the hemisphere had quieted down a little, but many quarters were still jubilant. Everybody had been so annoyed with President Castillo’s stubborn “prudent neutrality” stand that they were cheering his removal from the political scene, rather than applauding the new government. No one seemed to realize that a stubborn, conservative old man had been swiftly replaced by an iron-clad military dictatorship and that an Argentine neutrality of some honesty had given way to a bona fide Argentine; fascism.
General Ramirez’s first official acts as President were contradictory but typical of similar acts by Mussolini and Franco. In the same way, these acts definitely indicate the direction of his government. During the first month after he took power he pledged himself, through his Foreign Minister, to “fulfill all-—I say all—of the Argentine Government’s international obligations.” This statement was greeted with cheers by the press of the democracies. The assumption was that Ramirez would meet the obligations created by the Rio Conference: a complete break with the Axis and a genuine solidarity of the American nations. Shortly afterwards, however, the new President declared that Argentina would remain neutral, but that it would be a “true not fictitious neutrality for the present.” This dampened democratic enthusiasm somewhat, although the press again pointed out that such a neutrality was intended to favor the United Nations. The phrase “for the present” was interpreted to mean that sometime in the near future Ramirez would certainly call for a diplomatic break with Germany, Italy, and Japan. Several Argentine liberal newspapers thought the same and said as much editorially. They were padlocked the day their editorials appeared. Nevertheless, no one seemed to read anything other than hope into Foreign Minister Storni’s statement regarding the new government’s international obligations. Yet Admiral Storni’s stressing of that small word “all” is significant. He meant literally what he said. This suggests that Argentina will not abruptly favor the United Nations in its foreign policy: it will favor internationally those nations which can help it internally. What is good for it internally will be determined by Brigadier General Pedro P. Ramirez, whose personal background has conditioned him to be more friendly to Nazi Germany than to the United States, Great Britain, or Russia.
Ramirez is a thorough militarist. (He is the first president of this kind to have an almost completely military Cabinet for support.) His entire educational background is military. He thinks and plans, therefore, as a general. He has proved by past acts and recent statements that he respects neither the people’s ability nor the intelligence of the civilian, of whatever social position, to govern the country. He has faith in the Army alone.
Obviously, he has been waiting for an opportunity to establish a military dictatorship in Argentina for a long time.
In 1930 he participated in the first military revolt against a government of the -Argentine Republic. The revolt was led by General Jose Uriburu and was directed against the Radical Government of Hypolito Irigoyen. There had been a split in Irigoyen’s own Radical Party, with the opposition faction going over to the conservative National Democrats in order to create a strong coalition party for defeating Irigoyen. This did not succeed and at last the Concordancia, the new coalition, was forced to make use of the Army through General Uriburu. A rather harmless revolution was the result and the Radical President was ousted.
The military dictatorship of Uriburu lasted almost two years. It was voted out of power. This is important to note. Elections were re-established after a comparatively short time because General Uriburu was not the real leader of the revolution. He was only the military leader. The conservative Concordancia Party was the actual power behind the scenes, and naturally the Concordancia had no intention of letting the military rule the country. They wanted to do it themselves. The wealthy agricultural interests behind them wanted to do it. They had carefully arranged in advance to have controlling interest in the revolutionary government. Their men were in key governmental positions. When they were ready they sent Interventors into the provinces to regulate the voting. They elected their own. Congress and put their own president into the Casa Rosada. There was no opposition from the traditional Radical Party; its leaders were in prison or exile.
Ramirez was Chief of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment at the time of the Uriburu revolution. For his worthy actions he was abruptly made Chief of the Section on Reports of the Army’s General Staff. Shortly afterwards he was sent to Rome as Military Attache. (When the Concordancia took the presidency away from Uriburu, Ramirez was recalled from Italy.) Now, thirteen years later, he is in the same position of potential power as Uriburu was then and.
he is determined to consolidate this power. In a recent speech in Cordoba Province, he said to the people: “You must have faith. The Revolution will not fail. I shall never betray the confidence that the June 4th Uprising placed in my hands!” To date he has done so remarkably well in this respect that it is doubtful if Argentina will ever again have a civil government unless he wills it, or unless there is a third revolt—a people’s revolution.
General Ramirez’s most bitter and often stated criticism of the failure of Uriburu to hold power was uttered publicly a few days after his own coup was accomplished. He said the reason the revolt of 1930 had failed was that the President had weakened it by permitting civilians to occupy important governmental positions.
Ramirez himself made sure that this mistake would not occur again. He and several other high ranking Army officers forced General Arturo Rawson to resign when they learned of the “two day” President’s plans to form a Cabinet composed of certain civilians. Ramirez had been planning to prevent this years before there was any hope that he or Rawson could successfully lead the Army to the steps of the Casa Rosada,
In collaboration with General Juan Bautista Molina he organized the Guardia National, a nationalistic military group, that only last December combined with the Unidn National Argentina, a violently nationalistic political organization, to form the Recuperacion National, the first real Argentine fascist political party. Recently, General Molina voluntarily liquidated this party since “the aims of the new Government coincide fully with the aims of the Party and there is no longer any serious need for it.” Strangely enough, General Molina has as yet received no appointment to the new Government. Perhaps this is because Ramirez is not yet entirely sure of his strength. Molina is too notoriously well-known for his fascist sympathies and for his anti-United States, anti-Semitic, and pro-Axis activities.
For one thing, he had been charged with treason by the late liberal President Ortiz; for another, he is the leader of the Alianza de la Juventud Nacionalista, the Argentine Nationalist Youth Movement. But he and Ramirez are old friends. The new President has taken action in several instances where there was criticism of Molina. It is hardly worth the guess to assume that somewhere behind the scenes General Juan Bautista Molina has a finger or two affectionately clutching governmental strings. Ramirez no doubt feels that Molina will be more valuable to the new Government in an anonymous capacity.
This attitude was well demonstrated in the forced resignation of General Rawson. Aside from four civilians (one of them the proprietor of the firm that prints the Nazi-subsidized El Pampero) that Rawson had chosen for his Cabinet, were also four ultra-conservative nationalistic generals. This was an insult to the Navy, as well as being too obvious an attempt to set up a fascist government immediately. There were criticisms from important government officials of neighboring countries. Ramirez, who engineered the whole revolt quietly, had more subtle plans.
His own Cabinet was hand-picked. It was composed at first of four Army officers, three Navy men, and one supposedly reliable civilian. This was Dr. Jorge Santamarina, President of the Argentine National Bank. He was given the post of Minister of Finance, which, at any rate, does not have too great an, influence on the creation of government policy. However, after three and a half months in office, Dr. Santamarina was discovered to be more or less sympathetic with the group that favored a diplomatic break with the Axis. On October 15th, he and two other Cabinet Ministers with similar sympathies “resigned.” This occurred just a few weeks after Foreign Minister Storni was forced to resign because of a note he had sent to the United States Secretary of State. Minister Storni had suggested, with almost childish simplicity, that President Roosevelt “make a gesture of friendship toward the Argentine people” by providing “planes, armaments, machinery, and other equipment” which is urgently needed in order to “restore Argentina to the position of balance to which she is entitled in respect to the other South American countries.” Secretary Hull’s reply pulled no punches and frankly informed Storni that Argentina is the one country in South America with communications still open to the Axis, that because of this alone many United Nations merchant ships have been torpedoed and many seamen and much material lost. There could be no arms, said Mr. Hull, for Argentina, which had failed to fullfill her obligations to the rest of the Americas. Mr. Hull’s note proved to be a bombshell that caused a shake-up not only in the Ramirez Cabinet but also in the diplomatic service. The changes in personnel that have resulted, however, can hardly be called an improvement, from the point of view of the United States, although they do strengthen the position of Ramirez.
The new Minister of Finance, Cesare Ameghino, has a reputation for being pro-Axis. The new Minister of Education and Justice, Gustavo Martinez Zuviria, is completely a Nazi. He has a long record as Jew-baiter and hater of the United States. He is the popular novelist whose pen-name is Hugo Wast and whose fascist sympathies are spread plainly throughout many of his works. His appointment as Minister of Justice and Education is very significant, since in this post he will have almost complete control over public education in Argentina, as well as over the Civil Courts. The new Foreign Minister is General Alberto Gilbert, formerly Minister of the Interior, and a militarist of the same cloth as Ramirez. The new Minister of Public Works is Naval Captain Ricardo Vago, about whom little is known. It is safe to assume, however, that he is not a liberal. As the Cabinet now stands, there are two civilians in it. This time they are actually reliable civilians, who see eye to eye with Ramirez. Also, the former Army Chief of Staff was replaced by a one hundred per cent Germanophile, who is himself German by descent, General Carlos von der Becke.
The shuffling in the diplomatic service was equally disturbing. The Argentine Ambassador to the United States, Felipe Espil, who has a North American wife and is friendly to the United States, was recalled; thus far he has been given no other diplomatic post. In his place, Dr. Adrian Escobar was sent to Washington as the new Ambassador. Escobar was former Ambassador to fascist Spain, during the Civil War and after, and is Franco’s favorite foreign diplomat, as well as being an intimate friend of the Spanish dictator. He is an active Falangist sympathizer. Furthermore, he cannot speak a word of English. Other Ambassadors were recalled from Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Spain. The new Ambassador to Spain is Sr. Ruiz Guinazu, former Foreign Minister under Castillo; he is a man with a bitter hatred for the United States and an open admiration for Franco and Mussolini. (Ramirez has been trying to encourage closer economic and cultural relations with Spain, as well as with all of South America.) The former Ambassador to Spain, pro-Falangist Ludovico Loizaga, has been transferred to Mexico, where, although the Government itself and a majority of the people are democratic, there is nevertheless a Falangist movement with nearly a million members, perhaps half of them armed, called the Sinarquistas, Other Ambassadors have been either strategically shifted or replaced.
From the first Ramirez methodically set about consolidating his power before the people would realize what he was doing. His earliest steps were to add to the general political confusion by “unearthing” several corruptions of the Castillo regime. The most prominent of these, and the one which caused the most public indignation, was the national lottery scandal.
The Argentine Government ran a weekly lottery that was patronized by hundreds of thousands of citizens. The expose was that the prizewinning numbers were known to a few people before they were made public; these people were then able to buy up all the winning tickets in advance. Since the poor and underprivileged not only make up nine-tenths of the population but also the greatest majority of lottery enthusiasts, it is easy to see why almost the entire Argentine population was oblivious to Ramirez as he went about entrenching his military dictatorship. During the publication of these scandals Ramirez promised the people that he would clean up corruption in politics. (Proof that the new Government actually bears no ill-feelings toward Castillo is the recent pension of 42,000 pesos annually granted the ex-President.)
At the same time the new military dictator stated that his Government was merely provisional and that free elections would be held as soon as the country’s politics were ready for them. He also promised that he would balance a shaky budget, wipe out profiteering, and restore prosperity to Argentina. Similar promises on a similar basis had once been made by Mussolini and Franco.
Above all else, the new President dedicated himself to waging an inexorable war against “Communists.” In Argentina the Communists are a very small minority. They are neither recognized as a political party nor have they the right to vote. Their active membership in the trades unions is thoroughly negligible. The most active political elements here are adherents to the Radical Party, with some union leaders inclined toward the Socialists. Ramirez has already wooed and won the more nationalistic factions of the Socialist Party. He has also “purified”—to use his own term— the Radical Party of its “dangerous” elements.
General Basilio Pertine, pro-Nazi Mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, has issued a statement praising Alfredo Pal-acios, the President of La Plata University and a leader of the nationalistic members of the Socialist Party. This unexpected praise of a Socialist served the twofold purpose of helping to clear Pertine’s name of the Nazi taint while simultaneously gaining the confidence of Palacios’ Socialist followers. Also, the same General Pertine called a meeting with the Radical Senator Gabriel Oddone and a Party Governing Board to suggest a “purge” and a “reconstruction” of the Radical Party under a new committee with “complete authority.” This Governing Board had been elected over much opposition immediately prior to the June 4th Army revolt. It represents the extreme right-wing and dissenting elements of the most progressive major political group in the country.
The new President’s statements to the radio and press were designed to give a picture of himself as the saviour of his country.
Even as he talked like this, however, Ramirez was swiftly replacing civilians with military men in every important and strategic government office. The Interventors he sent into the province to replace provincial Governors were, in eleven cases out of fourteen, Army men with exactly the same kind of background as Ramirez himself. (The other three were high-ranking Naval officers, again a concession to military unity.) These Interventors immediately began to appoint majors and colonels to replace the provincial chiefs of police,
Both the new Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires and the new acting Governor of Buenos Adres Province are known in private circles to have unaffected Nazi sympathies. The Province of Buenos Aires is the strongest and most important in the nation. General Armando Verdaguer, the new acting Governor, had been Chief of the Argentine Army Air Force in 1937, and in that year also he had visited Germany and Italy on an official visit to inspect the Nazi and Fascist Air Forces. The following year he was decorated by the Nazi Government as a Grand Officer of the Order of the German Eagle. (This decoration is usually awarded only to persons who have performed highly valued services to the Nazi State.) He received a similar decoration from Italy. General Basilio Pertine, the new Mayor, is one of a few Argentine Army officers who studied at the Spandau School of Firearms in Germany. He heads several Nazi-controlled and blacklisted firms in the Argentine, particularly the electrical trust of Siemens Shuckert.
Some of the other Generals (including Pertine and Ver-daguer) that President Ramirez appointed to office are in their private lives of such frankly Nazi sympathies that the newly appointed Minister of War, General Edelmiro Far-rell, who is now Vice President, succeeding the late Admiral Saba Sueyro, was forced publicly to refute charges made against them last January by the Congressional Committee Investigating Anti-Argentine Activities. Farrell, however, is himself a thorough militarist, who spent two years attached to the Italian Army and was decorated by Mussolini.
Simultaneously, as he maneuvered military men such as these into the Government, Ramirez gradually withdrew the people’s civil liberties. His declaration that “for the present there would be a true not fictitious neutrality” gave him a good excuse to enforce the state of siege with an iron hand. Pro-democratic newspapers were padlocked wholesale. Three liberal radio stations were shut down for announcing that the new Government would soon break with the Axis. One of these, Radio Mitre, was the most progressive radio station in South America. Argentine Nazis were released from prison, while Argentine anti-fascist leaders were held. It was announced that one of them, Victorio Codovilla, who had fought in Spain for the Loyalists, would be sent back to Franco, who was waiting to have him executed. The censorship on all outgoing news or messages was made even tighter by an added restriction on use of “obscenities” or “vulgarisms.” Finally, a pro-Allied women’s organization, the Junta Femenina de la Victoria, that had been raising funds and food for aid to Russia, England, and China was closed down without immediate explanation. (Later the Government accused the organization of having a large Communist membership.) The Federaci Democrica de Ayuda a los Pueblos Libres was also shut down. This group made bandages and gathered medical supplies for the United Nations. The English-language, British-owned Buenos Aires Standard was padlocked for over thirty-six hours. The reason? It had printed an editorial attacking Herr Goebbels three months before Ramirez came to power!
While these assaults, and many more too numerous to mention, were being made upon Argentine civil liberties, Ramirez was trying to suggest that he wanted to co-operate with the democracies. These suggestions were made in the form of several apparently anti-Axis decrees, such as the announced enforcement of the Rio Conference ban on all outgoing diplomatic messages in code. Although the enforcement of this ban was protested by the Japanese Ambassador in Buenos Aires, it is really a small blow at the Axis. One may still telephone Berlin from Buenos Aires and have an “innocent” little chat.
Another suggestion was later beamed at the United States by the controlled shortwave radios of Spain and Vichy. These were news items reportedly received from the now controlled radios of Argentina. Both items stated that General Ramirez would permit the normal presidential elections to be held in September, since by that time his military Government would have Argentina politically stabilized. The Vichy report named the date as September 5th; the Spanish radio said September 20th. It is early November as this is being written and Ramirez has given not the slightest sign that he would ever permit another election to be held.
Not too long before these reports were beamed at North America, Ramirez had declared his Government no longer provisional. He received the moral backing needed to do this when his military dictatorship was formally recognized as the legal Argentine Government by the United States and Great Britain. This came forty-eight hours after the Axis recognition, which was almost immediate. General Arturo Rawson had previously liquidated the Argentine Congress, the majority of which was composed of Radical and progressive Socialist deputies. Ramirez made no attempt to form a new Congress.
Although there can be little question of the new Argentine Government’s fascist internal policies—conditioned by the need for internal “unity” so that it may be free to attempt the realization of its foreign aims—its foreign aspirations are obscured in a storm of contradictions. It seems to be neither for nor against the United Nations; neither for nor against the Axis. Anti-United Nations decrees made by it have been counterbalanced to an extent by anti-Axis decrees. If it has shut down democratic newspapers, it has also taken away the mailing privileges of El Pampero, the Nazi-owned paper in Buenos Aires. It has outlawed the Junta Femenina de la Victoria, a powerful pro-Allied women’s organization, because of “active Communistic elements,” but it has also liquidated all German cultural and beneficial societies. It has cracked down on Free French organizations and the pro-De Gaulle magazine, Francia Libre, but has prohibited the use of coded messages to Axis diplomats. The fact that every step taken against the Axis came after a serious and damaging step against the Allies (which caused much concern and criticism in the hemisphere) is significant but not important. Nor is it important that acts against the Axis number less than half a dozen at this writing, while those against the United Nations run into many dozens. This can be explained away. There are many more pro-United Nations organizations in Argentina than Axis ones; they are all active—or have been before the Ramirez regime. Therefore they are a bigger threat to Ramirez’s proclaimed “true not fictitious neutrality.” Yet the new President does not explain things in this manner. He claims, instead, that his reason for dispersing these groups is the danger of Communism. These organizations are honeycombed with Reds, according to the General. He makes no mention, of course, that these “Reds” have thus far sent three large boatloads of food and medical supplies to England, two to China, one to Russia. It may be repeated, however: these acts are significant but not important. What is important may be found in the reason underlying all of them: a planned campaign to make Argentina a dominant world power.
Argentina has long been the economic and cultural leader of Latin America. All the other Spanish American countries have looked to Buenos Aires for moral guidance. She is the nation among them with the best and largest number of publishers, newspapers, and magazines. She has the biggest and most cosmopolitan capital city and the largest number of great historical, popular, and intellectual leaders. She is also the one nation with a purely white population, undiluted by Indian or color strains. The Argentines are naturally proud of their leadership in the Spanish-speaking New World. Brazil, with roots in Portugal, is another matter. Culturally she is at odds with Argentina, economically she is inferior; in South America they are competitors, with the Argentine generally victorious because of her unity of language with the rest of South America and her superior economic strength. Since war began, however, Argentina has been losing ground economically and even her cultural prestige has been threatened, mainly because of the stubbornness of former President Castillo.
Argentine pride expresses itself in various kinds of nationalism. Each Argentine considers his country a growing adolescent with a tremendous future. Literally dozens of books and hundreds of stories and poems have been written on this theme. Many of them are of inferior literary quality but have achieved a permanent place in the country’s literature because of their theme alone. The Argentine author who has not used such a theme at one time or another is rare indeed. It is an actual state of consciousness of the nation. This national self-consciousness takes a healthy form among the professional and laboring classes; among the military elements, however, it becomes almost an obsession of vanity, a desire to place Argentina on the world map in so prominent a position that every great power in the world must respect her. The military dictatorships in other Latin American countries, such as Paraguay and Bolivia, do not know this kind of an obsession; theirs is mainly a one-man show, a strong man, with a small group of friends, out to get as much as he can for personal profit. The Argentine military secretly hates the United States more than any other country because we are the greatest stumbling-block to its dream of power in the New World. J
Obviously, however, Argentina cannot stand alone against the United States. There is only one way in which she can hope to cope with us. That is by creating an economic union of all South American countries, with Argentina herself in control. The idea of an economic union of South American countries is not new. It has been championed occasionally by writers in both the Argentine and Chilean press. It is always based on the fear that the United States cannot be trusted in a postwar world, that “Yankee Imperialism” will show its true colors then, more brightly than ever, and that Lend Lease itself may be just a means for United States Big Business to establish its economic control over the resources of South America. Once this coalition of economic power is accomplished it would be an easy matter to appeal to the rest of Latin America both economically and culturally and draw it into the Rio de la Plata orbit. Then the dream of the Argentine militarists would be realized, for then they would be in a position to make demands on the United States and Europe, and would be able to control hemisphere policy.
Does this seem like a wild-eyed dream? Does it appear to oversimplify a complex economic and political situation? Perhaps. But if the facts are inspected carefully it will no longer seem so naive. Who, for instance, would not have laughed at Hitler’s plans for the conquest of Europe back in 1933 when that little mustache called a man took power?
President Ramirez has the internal situation well in hand now and has begun his moves abroad. Thus far they have been innocent little moves in the name of “true” Pan-Americanism. They have consisted of publicly praising the Brazilian Government for declaring the seaport of Santos free and open to Bolivia, of stating to the Brazilian press that in the name of true Pan-Americanism it is important for Brazil and Argentina to strengthen their ties and build now toward a postwar South America. Ex-Foreign Minister Storni added that Brazil, by this act, was setting “an example of Pan American co-operation to increase trade.” And in a speech broadcast over five Brazilian radio stations he said: “Brazilian-Argentine friendship is the cornerstone of our [future] foreign policy.” Storni also hinted that western Argentina hopes to obtain similar grants from Chile for the use of the Chilean ports of Valparaiso and Antofa-gasta. (Argentine ships are the only ones at present able to run a regular schedule around the South American coast.) The Argentine Foreign Minister then met with a commission of Brazilians to plan closer economic co-operation.
These were all apparently patriotic moves, with postwar inter-American solidarity in mind. But when one understands that Brazil and Argentina have been traditional enemies in a South American economic struggle over Bolivia, with Argentina always the winner, the issue becomes at first puzzling, then revealing. Bolivia has been mainly under Argentine economic control for a long time. Bolivia’s oil, silver, and tin have been transported on Argentine railroads for years. Brazil went to great expense and built what she hoped would be a competitive road that connects northeastern Bolivia with the Amazon River. The route is rarely used and is thoroughly unprofitable to Brazil. Also, Argentina’s interest in Bolivian oil is great; it is commonly known that the Argentine state oil trust played more than a casual role in 1937 when the Bolivian Government expropriated the two and a half million acres of oil lands controlled by Standard Oil. Yet the new Argentine Government has made a big point of praising Brazil’s action in stealing the economic show from Argentina herself! To anyone who knows the Argentines, this just does not seem to make sense. Furthermore, Brazil is making the port of Santos available to Bolivia by helping to build a railroad from the coast into Bolivia. All this was unquestionably made possible by Lend Lease aid from the United States, for we have contracted all of Bolivia’s mineral output.
However, a pattern that does make some sense is revealed when one becomes aware of the following facts: Argentina controls Paraguayan railroads (as well as Bolivia’s), shipping on the River Parana, and Paraguayan agriculture; she is a traditional friend and collaborator of Chile; Uruguay, a buffer state between Brazil and Argentina, is more independent, but Argentina, under Ramirez, has been making overtures to her in addition to Brazil. (The first step in this direction was the appointment of an Argentine delegate to the Emergency Committee for the Political Defense of the Hemisphere in Montevideo. This delegate, Sr. Guillermo Acheval, stated that Argentina would co-operate in every way possible with the other Spanish American nations. However, not only did he specify Spanish American nations, but later in the closed chambers of the Committee he said that his statement represented no promise of any radical change in Argentine policy.) Then, too, five out of seven neighboring governments in the general region of the River Plate are dictatorships. Three of these are military dictatorships: Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Brazil and Peru are the other two. Within this closed circle of strongman governments lie Chile and Uruguay. The pattern is there for Ramirez—the strongest dictator of them all, with inherited control of Paraguay and partial control of Bolivia—to lay his plans for a postwar economic coalition of all these countries.
The pattern also calls for a basis of inter-South American trade, which would upset both British and United States trade systems, thereby increasing the power of the South American coalition. This might be difficult but not impossible. Brazil is already a big purchaser of Argentine wheat; Argentina buys oranges, tropical fruits, cotton, sugar, iron, and other products from Brazil. Industry is growing in both countries and metallic ores may be obtained from Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. (Brazil’s iron mines are being modernized and railroads constructed to them for the transportation of ore. United States Lend Lease money is being used for this.) In turn, Argentine and Brazilian industry could supply each other’s country, Chile, Peru, and so forth. Since the United States and Great Britain import much from the South American countries and will need to import even more after the war, a South American coalition would be able to obtain materials from us in exchange to help strengthen itself increasingly.
The seeds of such a future coalition have already been sown. Last August 24th three agreements were signed by the Governments of Argentina and Chile. The first of these called for the setting-up of a Customs Union between the two countries. The purpose of a customs union is to balance the rates on import taxation between the countries participating, so that trade will be stimulated and move freely. The second agreement provided for the improvement of communications between Chile and the Argentine, mainly through an improvement and repair of the railroads and highways. The third stipulated that new norms be established for the transportation of merchandise, that there be lower freight rates, and so forth. All three of these agreements were inspired by the Ramirez Government and comprise the first successful step toward an economic union of South America, with Argentina at its head. Four days later a similar arrangement was made with Ecuador, which went into effect September 1st. Paraguay, already under Argentine economic control to a great extent, since then has created a Paraguayan-Peruvian Cultural-Economic Institute, the real purpose of which is openly stated in the Peruvian newspapers to be “the furtherance of economic relations between Peru and Paraguay.”
The Argentine magazine of finance, Veritas, ran a feature editorial in its September 15th issue praising these concrete moves toward economic union. It traced the idea back to Friedrich List, an early nineteenth-century German, who thought of the plan as a means to oppose “the tyranical supremacy of England.” Veritas, however, sees this as a self-defensive nationalistic gesture; at the same time it calls Ramirez’s plans “international” and “liberating.” Such free trade among South American nations, says the editorial, “cannot but help affect the America of the future.” The editorial, however, neglects, or perhaps forgets, to mention that most of the past exponents of the Custom Union idea in South America argued for it as a means to combat “Yankee Imperialism.” And right now “Yankee Imperialism,” which has pulled its full quota of boners, is willing to co-operate honestly with South America. It urgently needs support in its effort to crush fascism.
It is quite important to Ramirez’s plans that Argentine neutrality remain intact. This neutrality will be one of his strongest bargaining points for control of postwar South America. In effect he will be able to say to the other countries around him: “Our pure Spanish tradition remains unblemished by contamination with Yankee Imperialism. We knew that the Colossus of the North could not be trusted. It was an Anglo-American war alone, a war in collaboration with Communist Russia. And you were exploited as always under the pretext of the Four Freedoms !” Whether the situation belies this attitude or not, he will be able to use it advantageously.
In the faintly possible event that Ramirez is forced to break with the Axis—through indirect economic pressure from the United States—he will still have the argument that Argentina remained faithful to her pure Spanish blood longer than any other Spanish-American nation. The likelihood in this case is, however, that he may break only with Japan, a country that normally has little trade with the Argentine. This might even strengthen his argument for economic union in South America; he could exaggerate the danger of the economic power of the United States by explaining that even so proud and great a Latin nation as Argentina was practically helpless standing alone against it.
The Latin-American Governments, with few exceptions, are no friendlier to the United States now than they were before the Rio Conference. The majority of them merely made an arrangement of convenience. They are still willing to hate us when the opportunity arises. Their people, with the contradictory exception of Argentina, are still full of old prejudices and misconceptions about us. There are many individuals, of course, all over Latin America who are genuine friends of ours. But the majority of them look at the war as something that will bring prosperity to their various countries. In fact, the agreements reached at Rio de Janeiro have, in rare instances, even added to their prejudices about us. In Paraguay, for example, where there is an oppressive dictatorship if ever one existed, the people watch the United States strengthening with Lend-Lease aid a Government that they hate, that operates a Gestapolike police organization which will not permit more than six citizens at one time to attend a wedding or a party unless a few police officers are in attendance also, a Government that has exiled, jailed, and executed everybody who has dared to express a progressive or liberal thought. It is pretty difficult for the ordinary Paraguayan to associate the Four Freedoms with the United States.
Our own Government, however, unquestionably feels that it will be able to meet any or all eventualities in the postwar Western Hemisphere. And why not? Aren’t we a great power, capable of playing power politics? Capable, too, of taking advantage of the many economic contradictions that exist, much more so than a mere Argentine general like Ramirez? We are, of course. But Ramirez has several things in his favor that we can never touch: the traditional ties—even apart from language—that exist among Latins, for one; for another, the traditional mistrust of the U. S. A.; and a third, the economic contradictions themselves, which might easily get out of hand.
As a casual example, the United States recently lent Brazil fourteen million dollars to rehabilitate 365 miles of railroad between Victoria on the Atlantic Coast and Itabira in the State of Minas Geraes, a rich iron ore district. This money will further be used to develop the mines and ore-loading facilities. It is to be repaid from the sale of ore to the British Government and the Metals Reserve Company. But concessions in the Itabira district are owned by the Compaa Brasileira de Minerao e Sidergica, of Rio, which is composed of the Itabira Iron Ore Company and the Brazilian Steel and Iron Company, this last being owned by United States business interests. Also, the Export-Import Bank of New York has backed Brazil to the tune of twenty million dollars for the development of the country’s steel industry. There also exists a contract between the Compaa Brasileira de Minerao and Bethelehem Steel. With clever groundwork it would not be impossible for a Spanish-American dictator like Ramirez to spread a propaganda scare that United States Big Business is threatening to take over Brazil, that Brazil is getting herself so firmly into the grasp of the United States that Bethelehem Steel will’ soon find a way to control Brazilian national steel production, And if Ramirez has no such similar situation in his own country, if he has bartered instead with the United States and has equipment to show for it without being in our debt, then he will have a powerful argument. After he has created a certain amount of confusion and fanned old suspicions into flame, he will be able to propose a series of trade agreements to “circumvent this insidious Yankee Imperialism.”
In addition, there are further complications in the attitude expressed by some commercial interests in Great Britain and the United States, which feel that Argentine neutrality throughout the war would be far more healthy for postwar trade. Such an attitude, of course, plays right into General Ramirez’s hand, even though it is based on the fact that Argentina’s normal peace-time trade is with Europe, mainly England and Germany, and if her trade patterns change— as they would if she broke off relations with the Axis and came into the United Nations fold—there would be an economic unbalance affecting both the United States and Britain.
But if this is truly a war to establish the Four Freedoms, such a consideration would be unthinkable. If this is a war to liberate the oppressed peoples of the world, then in spite of all economic and political complications the Ramirez regime should merit no official recognition from the two leading democratic powers. A withholding of recognition in the beginning would have forced Ramirez to move more cautiously, might have given the Argentine people the necessary impetus to make a counter-revolt against their new military government. It would certainly have made them at least suspicious of Ramirez and in turn they could have offered resistance to his consolidation of military power. If this is a war to destroy fascism forever in Europe, Africa, and Asia, it might be wise to give increasing importance to the fact that it has begun to blossom in America.