U.S. Relations in Latin America Respectable

Frederick Pike, Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and internationally recognized authority on Latin America wrote the following for The Observer, the campus newspaper. Professor Pike was responding to a condemnation of the invasion of Grenada by the Kellogg Institute. The Kellogg Institute is a leftist, para-academic organization located at Notre Dame. This appeared in the November 22, 1983 issue of The Observer.

Published in the November 15 Observer was a statement signed by a group of intellectuals, some of them affiliated with Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute. Among other things, the statement attributed much of Latin America’s ills (including fascist dictatorships) to U.S. intervention. By implication it would follow that Latin Americans enjoyed a relatively Edenic existence from the 1820’s, when most of their republics gained independence from Spain, to the 1890s.

During this period, except for the Mexican war, the United States seldom intervened actively in Latin America. Instead, the United States devoted itself to a task that Latin Americans have eschewed through the years: internal development resting in part on the efficient and relatively honest use of foreign capital. Rather than thriving during the extended period of freedom from U.S. intervention, Latin America in general alternated between being a jungle and a zoo, and produced a sorry spectacle of squabbling neighbors as the more powerful plundered the lands of the less powerful.

In many ways, Latin America has presented a rather less sorry spectacle since consistent U.S. intervention began, although I would not necessarily argue a cause-and-effect relationship.

Through the years, Argentina has been the Latin American country freest from U.S. intervention. Yet, since the 1950s, Argentina, politically and economically, has been one of the worst basket cases in the entire international community. The fault, I think, can scarcely be attributed to the United States.

Furthermore, the current Latin American dictatorship that is most effective in stripping citizens of political freedom is Cuba. In many ways Cuba is as much a fascist as a communist dictatorship. Here is one fascist dictatorship that the United States can scarcely be blamed for having imposed upon Latin America. Any impartial observer must surely recognize that Latin Americans have not consistently required outside help in taking to dictatorship.

By blaming all their ills on the United States, Latin Americans hope to inspire hair -shirted U.S. liberals to more prodigious acts of charity. The Latin Americans have always understood that charity begins in the United States. But they have seldom faced up to the reality that autonomy begins at home. Latin Americans and third-worlders in general can never escape underdevelopment until they face up to the fact that the fault lies not in the United States, but in themselves, that they are underlings.

While certainly not unblemished, the U.S. record of relations with Latin America through the years is, on balance, one that I find defensible. Furthermore, U.S. domestic institutions, while always in need of ongoing reforms, merit admiration. Their security deserves to be defended when threatened, especially when the threat arises within the vital Central American and Caribbean region.

However, if ever evidence develops that anti-democratic and anti-capitalist models result, overall, in demonstrably better societies than that of the United States, then I may join in the chorus of those who condemn the United States for taking adequate steps to safeguard the security of its democracy and capitalism.

Meantime, I’ll hope the United States continues to take effective measures to protect itself from risks arising in contiguous areas out of the utopian dreams that Latin America seems to inspire in intellectuals, whether they are themselves Latin Americans or only U.S. observers of the Latin American scene.


  • Frederick Pike

    Frederick Pike was a professor of History at The University of Notre Dame and an internationally recognized authority on Latin America.

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