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The Dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy by Bryce Wood (University of Texas: $27.50; 290 pp.)

October 13, 1985|Blase A. Bonpane | Bonpane is director of the Office of the Americas. and

This volume of well-documented archival research describes the Good Neighbor Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an integral program of non-intervention and non-interference which began to fade in the Truman years and was definitely reversed in the subsequent Republican Administration. Bryce Wood explains how the CIA overthrow of Guatemala's government in 1954 marked the demise of a progressive period of diplomacy that followed the continuous U.S. interventions of the first three decades of the 20th Century. Later democratic Administrations did not resurrect the hemispheric relations of the New Deal.

The book contains a great deal of primary diplomatic correspondence and comment. In setting the tone for his work, Wood states: "The policy of non-intervention was from 1936-1954 regarded as admitting of no exceptions. The policy of non-interference was only fairly strictly adhered to by U.S. diplomats between 1936 and 1944."

The author would be better in touch with diplomatic and military history, however, if he did not claim "no exceptions" and did not attempt to distinguish between non-intervention and non-interference. His central thesis is all but indefensible.

Sumner Welles, Roosevelt's secretary of state, was indeed responsible for the non-intervention of the United States when Mexico nationalized its oil industry in 1938, and Welles was also personally responsible for the abrogation of the Platt Amendment in Cuba in 1934; Welles personified the best in the Good Neighbor Policy. However, the same Sumner Welles who opposed "intervention" was not opposed to "interference" that amounted to intervention. The noted Latin Americanist Hubert Herring once confronted Welles with the sentiment of many Cubans and stated, "They say they are going to throw out your man Cespedes and put in Grau San Martin." Welles spiritedly replied, "They will do no such thing!"

The point is that Carlos Manuel Cespedes was the selection of Welles and Roosevelt in 1933. Their intervention led to the revolt of Sgt. Fulgencio Batista, who then appointed "the man of the people," Grau San Martin, to the presidency of Cuba. In Washington, Sumner Welles would not give diplomatic recognition to the Grau San Martin government. The result was that Batista himself took over with a full-scale dictatorship that lasted from 1934 until 1959. Such manipulation by the United States was common in the Good Neighbor era. Wood is mistaken in calling this period one of non-intervention.

The Cuban case is not unique. The New Deal sustained and encouraged various other dictatorships that could not have existed without U.S. support. To name a few; Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez in El Salvador from 1930-1944, Tiburcio Carias Andino in Honduras from 1932-1948, Jorge Ubico in Guatemala from 1931-1944, Arnulfo Arias in Panama from 1940-1948, Anastasio Somoza Garcia and sons in Nicaragua from 1933-1979.

The very father of the Good Neighbor Policy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was heard to say, "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." While we tolerated and encouraged sons of bitches even in the days of the Good Neighbor, we sank a bit lower in the Eisenhower period of "Good Partners."

This book gives laboratory proof of our slap-on-the-wrist policy for hemispheric fascists and demonstrates our near-hysterical over-reaction to socialists. The Guatemala case is a classic and is well-documented. Nothing in Latin America's history was a better imitation of the New Deal than Guatemala's program of "spiritual socialism" of 1944-1954. But McCarthyism in the United States was out to destroy New Deal "communism" in Guatemala by the violent overthrow of the constitutionally elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. Now it was no longer a matter of sustaining, supporting, directing and (if they were out of favor) eliminating dictators. This was far more virulent. Our author correctly marks this infamy as the end of the Good Neighbor Policy.

Bryce Wood proves inductively that the United States has been consistently soft on fascism in the Western Hemisphere and that we were even soft on fascism during the height of World War II. England wanted meat from Argentina regardless of relations between Buenos Aires and the Third Reich.

Democratic Administrations following Eisenhower offered no relief. Anti-communism as an ideology bears, alas, no necessary relationship to democracy. It is an ideology compatible with the dope trade, the Mafia, and a wide variety of dictatorships. The enemy of my enemy is not always worth having as my friend.

This work suffers from its failure to view Latin America through the eyes of the Latin American as well as the North American academic community. It is a U.S. analysis of U.S. policy, and it suffers as such. To prepare diplomats for a 21st Century of peace, the authors of books like this one must know Latin American scholarship on the matter of intervention.

And yet, in spite of my differences with Bryce Wood's assessment of it, I long for the days of the Good Neighbor Policy. Certainly Sumner Welles would turn over in his grave were he to know of the mining of the harbors of Nicaragua, the payment and direction of the mercenary Contra army there, the financing and direction of indiscriminate bombing in El Salvador, the militarization of Costa Rica, the de-nationalization of Honduras, and complicity in the massacre of Guatemala's Indian population. What may have been called intervention or interference in the Roosevelt era can only be called imperialism in our own.

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