Skip to main content

Getting Acquainted With Latin America

ISSUE:  Autumn 1941

Good Neighbors. By Hubert Herring. Yale University Press. $3.00. A New Doctrine for the Americas. By Charles Werten,baker. The Viking Press. $2.00. Hands Off, A History of the Monroe Doctrine. By Dexter Perkins. Little, Brown and Company. $3.50. Axis America. By Robert Strauss-Hupe G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $2.50. Dollars in Latin America. By Willy Feucrlein and Elizabeth Hannan. Council on Foreign Relations. $1.50. Reportage on Mexico. By Virginia Prewett. E. P. Dutton and Company. $3.00. Many Mex-icos. By Lesley Byrd Simpson. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $3.00. Zapata, the Unconquerable. By Edgcumb Pinchon. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $3.00. Central America—Challenge and Opportunity. By Charles Morrow Wilson. Henry Holt and Company. $3.00. A History of Chile. By Louis Galdames. Translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox. The University of North Carolina Press. $5.00. Chile, Land of Progress. By Earl P. Hanson. Reynal and Hitchcock. $1.75.

If Latin America was once regarded as the Dark Continent of the Western Hemisphere by subjects of Uncle Sam, the Good Neighbor policy and Herr Hitler’s threats have brought about a most decided change in the situation. Senhor Arafiha of Brazil is said to have remarked jokingly as he recently left Washington that he would suggest that a statue be raised to Hitler in Rio, because it was he who brought Brazil to the attention of the United States. But a better method to foster our acquaintance with Latin America is the recent remarkable increase of publications here that touch every phase of life as it goes on among our neighbors to the south.

Some of the current volumes possess a very high degree of excellence, and among the best is Hubert Herring’s “Good Neighbors.” This study, which is devoted primarily to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, with a section on the seventeen other republics south of the Rio Grande, is brilliantly written with complete objectivity. The chapter on Argentina explains clearly and cogently why the Argentinians suspect and dislike the Yankees. The debate between a fictitious gentleman from Washington and a fictitious gentleman from Buenos Aires presents the whole problem in a most picturesque and convincing manner.

The book is a mine of information on every phase of economic and political life in the “ABC” powers. The sections devoted to the Germans, Italians, and Japanese give a very clear picture of the totalitarian menace. The relations of these powers with the United States are treated frankly and intelligently—the author prefers stark realism to honeyed phrases. For the reader who wishes a clear bird’s eye view of Pan America drawn vividly and realistically in its latest colorings, no better study is available.

As an excellent companion volume, “A New Doctrine for the Americas,” by Charles Wertenbaker, foreign news editor of Time, is heartily recommended. The author concedes that his is not a book for scholars; his aim is to tell about the recent policy of the United States towards Latin America by narrating the events that made that policy in terms of the men that made the events. The pages of the book are enlivened with the personalities of Dwight Morrow, Sumner Welles, and Cordell Hull, who, in the words of an Argentine journalist, “tore down the traditions which for the past fifty years have separated Latin America from Anglo-Saxon America, souring fears and grudges.” The Monroe Doctrine becomes in this exposition a dynamic living force which, in spite of its metamorphosis, is a potent lode-stone towards collective action—a real doctrine of and for the Americas.

With these volumes serving as toothsome hors d’oeuvres, the reader desirous of solid nourishment may next digest Dexter Perkins’ history of the Monroe Doctrine, “Hands Off.” Professor Perkins is the author of three monographs on this subject, and he has incorporated his findings in more readable and popular form for the general reader in this single volume. The bibliographical note appended to the book indicates the vast ramifications and extent of his researches. The title of the volume is not only a red light signal to nonAmerican aggressors but also to future students contemplating this subject as a field of research.

If the reader wishes condiments or spice to stimulate his appetite for Latin American fare, Robert Strauss-Hupe’s “Axis America” may qualify. Basing his findings upon documents and quotations from Axis sources, the author presents the ultimate program of the Axis powers for the United States and the Latin American republics. Their intention is the destruction of the United States and the complete domination of South America. Here we find “bona fide” records proving that President Roosevelt is a descendant of Jacob Rosenvelt whose son Isaac took the name Roosevelt in 1752; that Benjamin Franklin called for the Constitution to exclude Jews from the United States. As Colin Ross sees it in “Unser Amerika,” “. . . the situation [in present-day America] is not dissimilar to that after the Battle of Lexington. A second Thomas Paine is needed—a Thomas Paine from abroad . . . .” Although most Americans will hardly be much disturbed by these totalitarian threats and taunts, Mr. Strauss-Hupe has given us an excellent opportunity to see ourselves as others see us,

At opposite poles from this rather sensational volume is the scholarly scientific study made for the Council on Foreign Relations by Willy Feuerlein and Elizabeth Hannan, entitled “Dollars in Latin America.” The problem discussed concerns the investment of United States government funds on a huge scale in Latin America on the grounds of hemispheric defense at a time when billions of Latin American dollar bonds are still in default. After summarizing past defaults, the reasons for them, and the fate of direct investments, the authors outline a possible formula for the future based upon the negotiations between the Mexican Ambassador and Mr. Donald R. Richberg in reference to expropriated oil properties—that is, a system of joint control ultimately reverting to the national government but which in the meantime protects the foreigners’ investments while at the same time recognizing the social development in the nation.

Of all the countries of Latin America, our next door neighbor Mexico has received the most attention at the hands of American writers. Nevertheless, there never can be too many interpretative studies. Virginia Prewett’s “Reportage on Mexico” and Lesley Byrd Simpson’s “Many Mexicos,” although entirely different in their approach, throw new light on many phases of Mexican history and development. “Reportage on Mexico” is primarily a study of present-day Mexico with emphasis upon political and economic problems. One short chapter covers the period from 1519 to 1910, and another from 1910 to 1924, thus giving the author an opportunity to discuss the period from Calles to Comacho in greater detail. This she does with keen insight and critical penetration. The analysis of the oil expropriation by President Cardenas and its disastrous results to the economic situation of Mexico; Mexico’s swing towards the orbit of the Axis powers; the machinations of the Nazi propaganda machine; the election of Avila Comacho, who was forced to take over his rival candidate’s conservative policy and to depend upon government armed forces to win the campaign; the dastardly murder of Leon Trotsky; all these matters are portrayed with sympathetic understanding after a careful winnowing of the facts. No better account of recent political events in Mexico has yet appeared.

“Many Mexicos,” by Professor Lesley Byrd Simpson, is more concerned with the social aspects of Mexican life than with the political. The book offers a series of brilliantly drawn vignettes of the institutions and problems of Mexican life which particularly appealed to the author. The biographical studies of the early conquerors and priests, Cortes, Zumarraga, Mendoza, and Velasco, will shock the reader who has the preconceived notion that naught but evil flowed from Spain. No one at all familiar with Mexican history will fail to enjoy the sprightly chapter entitled “Santa Anna’s Leg” and the penetrating analysis of two Indians, Juarez and Diaz. Professor Simpson, like reporter Pre-wett, jumps with sardonic glee upon the American Ambassador, Henry Lane Wilson, for his so-called meddling and failure to support Madero. It is to be hoped that Ambassador Wilson’s son, who is today an able member of the career diplomatic service, will someday give the world the story of that troubled period which will change some of the misconceptions of the role which his father played.

There is no better way to present history vividly than to portray the lives of men who have made it. Edgcumb Pinchon has accomplished this task just as successfully in “Zapata, the Unconquerable” as he did in his “Viva Villa.” Zapata, long regarded even in Mexico as an heroic but irresponsible bandit, is here shown to be one of the really great leaders of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The strength of character shown by Zapata in sending away from him the beautiful Helene Pontipirani, who had twice given him invaluable information regarding the enemy forces, indicates a love of country rare in any patriot. Hollywood may find this picturesque biography just as adaptable to the screen as it found “Viva Villa.”

Central America still remains the part of Latin America which has received the least attention at the hands of the writers. The little volume entitled “Central America,” by Charles Morrow Wilson, makes no pretense of doing more than a guide-book survey of the republics of that region, together with Colombia, Cuba, and Jamaica. But as an expert agriculturist, Mr, Wilson is particularly interested in the crops and future agricultural development of this region. As a result, the best part of the book is devoted to discussions of coffee, bananas, coconuts, chocolate, chicle, and rubber. His program to bring back to the New World the production of commodities which formerly flourished here and can do so again may prove to be vital in the future policy of hemispheric defense.

As an aid to better understanding of the two Americas, an Inter-American Historical Series has been undertaken by the University of North Carolina Press. The purpose is to present single-volume translations of the outstanding histories of the Latin American republics. “A History of Chile,” by Louis Galdames, is translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox as the fourth of this series. This history, which not only covers the political history of Chile but also its economic, social, and intellectual life, has had eight editions in its original Spanish. Dr. Cox has added notes and a biographical appendix which contribute materially to the value of the volume for the North American reader.

Earl P. Hanson’s “Chile, Land of Progress” gives a brief but sympathetic survey of the Chilean nation today. In the words of Arribal Jara, Consul-General of Chile in New York, “The brief and sharp historical summary in the beginning of the book is a brilliant piece of synthesis which makes our most important historical events stand out in bold relief while at the same time presenting them in their true perspective.” It may also be said that the descriptions of the scenery and the interpretations of the cultural development are equally excellent. For the reader desirous of a guide to Chile the book is just what is required.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading