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Since the end of the Second World War relations between the United States and Latin America have been rocky. With the start of the Cold War, the U.S. had found its new enemy, and would do anything to stop the spread of communism into Latin America. The best possible way the United States conceived of doing this was through economic, and social development, and intervention in state behaviors.
The beginning of the division between the eastern and western hemisphere started with the Truman Doctrine in 1947, which marked the clear partition of the two sides.
That same year, George Kennan published an article in Foreign Affairs, which would be the basis U.S. containment of the Soviet Union. The majority of Latin American countries considered themselves to be democracies with the exception of Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Paraguay who remained authoritarian. These “democratic” countries started to become more complex with lawyers, doctors, teachers, students, laborers, and small businesses that were starting to form associations and unions1. Many social reforms began to take place and citizens began to promote social health care, and the passing of laws for the protection of workers. Leaders of Latin America such as Guatemala’s Juan José Arévalo began to admire the United States New Deal and wanted one of their own to help spark much needed change.
With the United States fight against fascism, and militarism during WWII it only strengthened the progressives of Latin America. Many believed in the words of President Roosevelt and sought to overthrow the tyrants that he had talked about, specifically Anastasio García.
The Roosevelt administration had also hinted to the Latin American people that it preferred democratic leaders. An example of this would be the overthrowing of the dictator Getúlio Vargas in Brazil1.
In 1947, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance better known as the Rio Treaty was signed. The focus of the treaty was to let the world know that an attack against one country is to be considered an attack against them all. It was a sort of hemispheric defense doctrine for the western hemisphere. The Rio Treaty had reflected President Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy and wartime solidarity1.
In 1948, the Truman administration had accepted the Organization of American States (OAS), which prohibited any state from intervening “directly or indirectly, for any reason, whatever, in the internal or external affairs of another state” (Article 15). The purpose of OAS was to help support the American continents by eliminating extreme poverty, To promote, by cooperative action, their economic, social, and cultural development, and many more factors.
With Latin America beginning to achieve its organizational goals, countries began to feel distressed with the United States emerging from WWII a super-power. Unlike President Roosevelt, President Truman showed little interest in Latin America. Truman did not speak any native languages of Latin America and failed to appoint any influential people to help lead Latin America in the US State Department. While Roosevelt was still president he had expressed interest in an economic conference with Latin America, which the Latin Americans wanted to discuss international commodity agreements, prices of raw goods, and economic aid. After Roosevelt’s death though the Truman administration had come up with every excuse in the book not to meet with this inter-American economic conference.
When Truman had taken over wartime contracts between the United States and Latin America. This lead to the exhaustion of more than $3 billion in credits and lead to a loan looming over the United States that would never be repaid. The United States answer to this loan was that it had “repaid Latin Americans by sacrificing men and materials protecting them from totalitarianism”. With the repeated denials from the US for economic support faith, and the dreams of Latin American reformers vanished. The Truman administration was to blame.
The OAS had gone into full effect by 1951, which the United States considered and celebrated another step forward to the defeat of communism, Latin Americans saw it as a victory over US interventionism. The agreements of OAS did not appease Latin America who begged for a program similar to the Marshall Plan. Latin Americans strongly denounce White House priorities, especially US emphasis on the cold war. In 1953, the now President Eisenhower’s brother Milton, traveled to Latin American on a mission proposing price stabilization, public loans, stimulation on private investment, and increased technical assistance under the Point Four program, which was a development program for developing countries. This trip to Latin America by Milton Eisenhower failed to meet the need and further swelled the growing nationalistic feeling to a combustible level2.
By 1954, Guatemala had become a major concern for the US. The US was convince President Jacobo Arbenz was a communist because of his beliefs in massive land reform, though no link to communism could be made by the United States. In 1953, The Boston based company, United Fruit Company, was expropriated 400,000 acres without providing the company compensation2. The United Fruit Company had told the State Department that Arbenz had succeeded communism would spread throughout Latin America. The first measure against Arbenz was cutting off economic aid to Guatemala, which failed to undermine his regime. Eventual upheaval came when CIA pilots bombed Guatemala City, forcing Arbenz to flee the country, which lead to the United Fruit Company gaining back their land2. Carlos Armas, an exiled Guatemalan Army colonel took control of Guatemala. With Armas now under control hundreds were executed but the Eisenhower administration saw this as a victory over communism and Arbenz. This intervention over Guatemala not only broke Article 15 of OAS, but also damaged the economic, social, and political situation destroying US-Guatemalan relations2.
After multiple failed attempts to overthrow Castro, in March of 1961, Kennedy issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. This new group sent American teachers, doctors, agricultural technicians and advisors to help general community development in Africa and Latin America. The Kennedy administration, in an even larger act of ambitiousness created the Alliance for Progress. The objective of the Alliance of Progress was to “bring a better life to all the people of the continent”3. In 1961, Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon informed the Inter-American Economic and Social Conference that $20 billion of assistance who be spread out over the next decade. With hopes set high for Latin Americans the Alliance for Progress never met expectations. Over the first two year the US fronted nearly $2 billion in improvements but desired economic and social change was not reached. The damage had already been done and no amount of money could take the resentment of the United States from the people of Latin America. Over the decade that the Alliance of Progress was in effect it had eventually died out with continuous military coups that took place.
During the Carter administration between 1977-1980, human rights had become a major issue in Latin America. In Carters debate against Gerald Ford, Carter mentioned Chile eight different times. Carter stated that “our commitment to human rights must be absolute” and “human rights is the soul of our foreign policy”4. One of Carters main focuses was Argentina. Thousands of Argentinians had been executed or disappeared become los desaparecidos, six months before Carters inauguration. To combat the human-rights violations, President carter began cutting funding to Argentina, specifically a $270 million dollar bank loan that would fund a hydroelectric plant. Scholars have examined Carters human-rights policies believing it had a significant impact. Though no military regimes had fallen, human rights violations drastically had4.
With all the good that had been started with Carter administration, President Reagan would take over in 1980. Between 1981-1986 the Reagan administration had been secretly supporting the counter-revolution (contras) against the Nicaraguan Sandinista government. Reagan pursued a strategy, which he called “symmetry”, which the US would treat the Sandinista government the same way they were being treated. This was sparked with the assassination of US military advisors in El Salvador. The Reagan Administration had decided to support the Contras who were attempting to oust the Sandinistas who were in turn trying to overthrow US supported President Alvaro Magaña of El Salvador5. President Reagan appointed former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to be in charge of a bipartisan commission to develop a long-range policy in Central America5. The plan was to send a career battle group down the coast of Nicaragua to flew the US muscles in order to force a ceasefire, negotiations, and democratic elections.
In an effort to send a message to the Sandinistas the United States invaded the small island of Grenada in 1983. It had been heard that Castro was helping the people of Grenada who were constructing an “international airport”. The problem with this airport though was that a treaty had been signed with Moscow allowing them to land long-range recon planes5. The Reagan administration expressed it concern with this by invading the island and securing it in six days. This Invasion of a Grenada sparked the argument of several Latin American countries that the US was reviving “gunboat diplomacy”. This invasion was opposed by the UN but vetoed by the US.
In 1986, the Iran/Contra secret had been exposed. It was found that the US had been selling weapons to Iran to help support the efforts of the Contras in Central America. A US cargo plane had been shot down by Nicaraguan government soldiers that was carrying military supplies, the only survivor Eugene Hasenfus was taken into custody. A month after the shoot down the secret was exposed6.
In the winter of 1989-1990, President George Bush ordered “Operation Just Cause”. President Bush the deployment of 27,000 US troops to Panama whose objectives were to safeguard the canal, citizens, and stop the passage of drugs by unseating Manuel Noriega. Noriega had been a secret employee of the CIA since the 1960s and by the time Bush had become president there is no doubt that he was aware of Noriega had been up to. Noriega had been indicted in the 80s for drug running, money laundering, and permitting Colombians to produce cocaine in Panama. By April 1992, Noriega had finally been captured and stood trial and was sentenced to jail.
For 45 years the United States has promised the Latin Americans the world and has given them nothing, promises of economic and social reform just to leave the high and dry. With treaties like OAS promising not to interfere with state issues, and secret assassinations it’s no wonder why Latin America has a trust issue with the United States. US presidents who promise something the successor does not keep had a huge factor in upsetting Latin America who wait for change but do not see it in their future.
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