Por: Alejandro Cardozo Uzcátegui y Luis Ricardo Dávila*


Latin America Is a Regional Bloc for the First Time

The  Cold  War  is the  most  global  geopolitical, cultural,  and  ideological trance  in history.  It was not the first war involving ideological,  economic,  cultural,  and social model crises – any international crisis from the Peace of Westphalia to World  War II involved these factors.  Nevertheless, that  conflagration’s globality  is unprecedented. So global that  it even extended  into outer space.

During  the  Cold  War,  Latin  America’s  role,  as an  area  of influence of the United States, could be compared, not without risk, with Eastern Europe,  however,  only in geographical and  historical  proximity to one of the hegemons.  Nonetheless, it was not  of total  acquiescence  within the  “great  strategy” (Venkatshamy 2012)  of the  Soviet Union,  as was Eastern Europe.  The Soviet Union achieved ironclad  control  over its satellites through the Warsaw  Pact (military and economic cooperation but endorsed  by Moscow’s control  over  the  signatory  countries). In Latin America, the geopolitical  paradigm will be the old Inter-American System, with  unambiguous terms  of self-determination and  sovereignty  of each member  country  through soft balancing mechanisms  mediated  by multilateral diplomacy  (Russell and Tokatlian 2013,  165).

Once the system consolidated in the American States’ Organization in 1948,  the signatory  countries  were free to choose up to what  level they would commit to alliances with the hegemonic nation  of the system, the United States. For example,  not all members signed the military alliance (Inter-American Treaty  of Reciprocal  Assistance  in 1948)  or withdrew without consequences, a situation unthinkable in the Warsaw  Pact area (except Albania in 1968).  In any case, if it seems a forced comparison, it is only to underline  the importance of the geopolitical  scope of the zones of influence during the Cold War.

In  that  sense,  Latin  America  is  the  United  States’  influence  in  its natural zone.  This  fact  grants  notable   comparative characterizations of  the  southern  region’s  role  during   this  period   (circa  1947–1991). The  background was a “closed  hemisphere  in an  open  world” (Green 1971,  156–162). Latin America’s history  is subject to that  of the United States in terms of its trade relationship, political alliances, and Washington’s willingness and intent  toward each nation  in the hemisphere, and vice versa. The US-Latin American  inter-American relations  have never been  homogeneous, hegemonic,  or  in  blocs.  Never  in  200  years,  the southern region  achieved  political  integration dealing  with  the  United States as a regional  bloc, nor has the United  States engaged with Latin America as a single bloc. Most  of the time, the dialogue  has been unilateral of each country  with the United States within a strategic game of autonomy and withdrawal (Russel and Tokatlian 2013).

Likewise, the United States’ relationship regionalized  with the Caribbean,  and  it had  a more  interfering  and  geopolitically  realistic  foreign policy.  The  control  of Caribbean navigation, the  treatment of Puerto Rico  as a strategic  enclave,  and  its significant  influence  on  the  Caribbean and Central American countries describes a different foreign policy from that of South America. This reason responds to each country’s structures, its internal  political  system,  its institutions, the  density  of its correspondence with Washington, and the economic  conditions and potentialities of each area.

This  regionalization of  foreign  policy  and  inter-American relations changes in the course of the Cold War toward some extent, the region enters into a logic of “superior strategy” to orient  its resources  toward the achievement of political objectives within the conflict (Liddell 1967, 322), objectives  determined by the primary  policy of the Cold  War  and  the risks associated  with Soviet interference  in the area.  Nor  does it agree, entirely,  on foreign policy with Latin America as a single bloc. The period  is long enough,  and  overlaps,  divergences,  and  different  situations arise throughout the Cold War’s historical  process.

However,  the  United  States  undertakes more  or  less consistent  initiatives  toward the  whole  region  – as if it were  a bloc  – to  curb  “international communism” (the Inter-American Conference  of Caracas  in 1954),  supporting investment  and economic integration in the Americas (the Inter-American Development Bank in 1959) or mitigating  economic chasms and social gaps – as communism motives – employing  agrarian reforms and economic incentives (Alliance for Progress 1961–1970).

This rhythm  is imposed by the evolution  of local, inter-American, and international events  of the  Cold  War,  as well as in the  United  States itself: Democratic and  Republican legislatures,  militarization, then  democratization, remilitarization, and counter-insurgency in different phases; thus, the converge within the United States and tactical changes intrinsic to the great Cold War strategy.

Latin  America  will also  be seen as a single bloc  in hemispheric  security  problems,  creating  the National Security Doctrine  (NSD) in the 1950s. The implementation of concrete expressions  of the NSD for Latin America  was  tentatively   placed  around 1960.  Faced  with  the  Soviet Union’s foreign policy and its Cuban  satellite for ideology, propaganda, and guerrilla export, the NSD was sponsored from the United States, triangulating from the Southern Cone to Central America for the rest of the region.  A single  “counter-revolutionary transnational political  space” was then  created  (Sala 2018,  140 –169);  the containment and  offensive maneuver at any revolution sign were regional. The United States financed and  directed  the operations – through its intelligence  services with  the National Security  Council  and  the  State  Department’s permission  –, Honduras provided  the operational bases,  and  most  of the instructors were from Argentina1 (McSherry 2009,  271).

The  regional  response  to  “international communism” was  more  or less in bloc, unified (since 1954),  understanding that  the Cold  War  dynamics  drove  a relatively  cooperative behavior.  Although  without ever overcoming  the obstacles  of regional  integration, such as the NSD, initially favoring allied dictatorships; however,  there were also local initiatives such as Venezuela’s Betancourt Doctrine  – widely supported by the United States – to foster greater democratic density in the inter-American forum.  Since the presidency  of John F. Kennedy,  there was a shared  interest  with  the United  States,  with  a tactical  turnaround on removing incentives  for social revolutions by repairing  historical  debts  with  land reform,  development credits, and support for emerging democracies.

* El Dr. Luis Ricardo Dávila es Miembro Correspondiente Estadal de la Academia de Mérida.

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