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.