Hating America: A History » Chapter 5-Yankee Go Home!
YANKEE GO HOME!
While Europe was the area of the world where anti-Americanism was most comprehensively developed, South America was the place more identified with that doctrine, especially between the 1950s and 1980s.
Indeed, Latin Americans did have a far more negative encounter with U.S. policies than did Europe but many of the key elements of anti-Americanism there were often identical. Like their European counterparts, Latin American intellectuals–the group that was always the main propogators of anti-Americanism–saw the United States as an inferior society, were skeptical about its democracy, concerned that it would be a bad role model for their own countries.
Of course, the difference was that Latin America, not Europe, was the area most exposed to American power. In both Europe and Latin America there was a belief that the United States might dominate the world politically and culturally. In Latin America, unlike Europe, there was a material basis for that fear and anger.
Both the United States and Latin American states shared the experience of waging independence wars against European colonialism, Britain and Spain, respectively. Yet almost from the start, Latin Americans reestablished their identification with Spain and shared much of the European anti-American critique. They did not welcome U.S.-style liberal democracy or its anti-traditional approach. Their society was based on big estates, oligarchy, centralization, and a very strong church. But while they rejected the mass industrialized society built in the United States, they were also envious of that country, all too conscious of their own failure to make dramatic progress.
Two themes intertwined in the long history of anti-Americanism there. First, Latin America believed itself to be culturally and morally superior to the United States, which made its relative weakness all the more frustrating and hard to explain. Second, the failure to catch up or surpass the United States was blamed on American policy.
Conservatives in the ruling oligarchies and army shared the sentiments of the European right, including a suspicion of America as too secular, soulless, modernist, and Protestant. The left’s emphasis was on U.S. imperialism was the source of all their problems. Yet each side used all of these themes. A sense of superiority coupled with one of victimization would always characterize Latin American anti-Americanism across the political spectrum.
Still, American behavior toward Latin America would often be of an imperialistic nature and constituted an important factor in anti-Americanism. Arguably, no anti-Americanism in the world was more rational than that arising in Latin America. Yet even this objective situation left much room for interpretation. The distinction most important regarding anti-Americanism was between those who criticized specific U.S. policies and those who made a blanket condemnation of that country.
As many Latin Americans recognized, American power and progress was more a humiliating reminder or scapegoat than a cause for the fact that the region was often bogged down in military juntas, bitter factionalism, repression, instability, weak economies, and social repression. At the most basic level, the roots of anti-Americanism in Latin America arose from the encounter between a united, successful and powerful country with two dozen divided, weak and frustrated ones. The anti-American standpoint, especially among intellectuals, however, would reflexively interpret events and American actions in the most hostile sense possible.
From the very start, Latin America was at pains to distinguish its identity and strategy for progress as being different from that of the United States. Simon Bolivar, the general who did the most to lead South American armies to victory in the independence wars, was called the “George Washington of South America.” But, unlike Washington, he favored highly centralized political systems with strong presidents, perhaps chosen for life, and he seriously considered establishing a monarchy. So antagonistic to the United States was Bolivar that he sarcastically remarked that it would be better for South America to adopt the Muslim holy book, the Qu’ran, rather than U.S.-style institutions. As early as August 5, 1829, in a letter to a British diplomat about the unsuitability of the American system, Bolivar asked whether the United States was destined to plague South America with misery in the name of liberty.
Indeed, the old colonial power, Spain, and Europe generally would remain the role model for Latin American politicians and intellectuals. In 1845, for example, former president Joaquin Pinto of Chile said: “We will never use the methods of democracy as practiced in the United States of America, but rather the political principles of Spain.” Yet Spanish institutions were anti-democratic, highly centralized, monarchist, and inhibited progress, helping to ensure that country fell steadily further behind the rest of Europe.
When Latin Americans remarked on visits to the United States in their writings they sounded quite similar to contemporary European counterparts. The conservative Mexican writer Lucas Alama´n was quite sarcastic about any U.S. claim “to be in the vanguard of nineteenth-century civilization.” After all, that country lacked morality, order, and good customs. Even American diversity provoked his scorn, “We are not a people of merchants and adventurers…and refuse of all countries whose only mission is to usurp the property of the miserable Indians, and later to rob the fertile lands opened to civilization by the Spanish race….We are a nation formed three centuries ago, not an aggregation of peoples of differing customs.”
Like Europeans, South Americans saw the United States as merely materialistic while they occupied a higher spiritual plane. Benjamin Vicuna Mackenna, the Chilean statesman and writer, thought Americans put too much emphasis on making everything the biggest and best. MacKenna’s 1856 travel book duplicated many European criticisms with only slight variations. Thus, while Europeans were scandalized by tobacco-spitting he was dismayed by the way Americans ate apples.
As in Europe though slightly earlier, the fear of a threatening United States also arose. The first dangerous omens were seen in the revolt of American settlers to win Texas’s independence from Mexico in the 1830s, followed by its incorporation into the United States, and the U.S. defeat of Mexico in the 1848 war, leading to annexation of California and other territories from that country.
Francisco Bilbao, a Chilean, wrote America in Danger in 1856, including a remarkable prophecy that the two great future empires would be Russia and the United States, with the latter trying “to secure the domination of Yankee individualism throughout the world.” Their proximity made the Yankees most dangerous for South America. Already it “extends its talons…against the south. Already we see fragments of America falling into the jaws of the Saxon boa…as it unfolds its tortuous coils. Yesterday it was Texas then it was northern Mexico and the Pacific that greets a new master.”
Bilbao’s proposed solution was to imitate the secrets of U.S. success, “Let us not scorn, let us rather incorporate in ourselves all that shines in the genius and life of North America. We should not despise under the pretext of individualism all that forms the strength of the races.” A similar point was made by a contemporary Guatemalan leader, “It’s curious that in the heart of the United States, the source of our pain is also where our remedy is.” But few Latin Americans agreed with that assessment.
Not surprisingly, it was in Mexico, the only Latin American country bordering the United States, where the greatest suspicions developed toward the United States. It was Porfirio Di´az, Mexico’s dictator during most of the nineteenth-century’s second half, who supposedly coined the famous lament, “Poor Mexico, so far from God, and so close to the United States.” In 1877, the Mexican poet Guillermo Prieto, after a visit there, rejected the idea that anything good could come from the United States. He wrote bitterly,
“They can do everything;
they can change the shreds
of my unhappy country
into splendid nations,
booty of deceit,
victims of outrage!”
Already by 1893, the Brazilian Eduardo Prado claimed quite inaccurately, “There is no Latin American nation that has not suffered in its relations with the United States.” The Spanish-American War of 1898 marked a decisive escalation of such sentiments. U.S. forces defeated Spain and gave Cuba independence, though bypassing the Cuban nationalist movement already fighting for that cause. The defeat of the oppressive mother country, Spain, however, stirred more sympathy in Latin America than the however imperfect liberation by the United States.
Immediately after the war, a spate of novels was published throughout the region attacking the United States. One of them, El Problema by a Guatemalan, Maximo Soto-Hall, defined Latin America’s problem as the penetration of North American companies anxious to grab its oil, mineral resources or fruit. Those responsible were heartless Yankee businessmen or managers who worked with servile local overseers. They seduced maidens while colluding with politicians to steal the nation’s resources. At the same time, they represented a cultural invasion armed with whiskey, aspirin, their strange language, and immoral ways.
One of the most outspoken critics of the United States and supporters of Spain in this period was Jose´ Santos Chocano. Born in Peru in 1875, Chocano was a poet who so expressed continental sentiments that he was hailed as “Poet of America.” He wrote of the glories of the Incas and the Spanish race, ignoring the fact that the latter had committed genocide on the former. “My blood is Spanish and Inca is my pulse,” he wrote in one poem. On two occasions, in 1894 in Peru and 1920 in Guatemala, Chocano’s involvement in failed revolutions ended with imprisonment. The second time he was saved from execution only by the intervention of the king of Spain among others.
Yet Latin America’s most popular poet viewed the conflict with the United States in racialist terms, as a battle for dominance between Anglo-Saxons and Latins. He wrote in his poem “The Epic of the Pacific (Yankee Style)”:
[Latin] America must, since it longs to be free,
imitate them first and equal them later….
Let us not trust the man with blue eyes,
when he wishes to steal the warmth of our homes….
Our Andes ignore the importance of being white,
Our rivers disdain the worth of a Saxon….
Chocano had predicted that the North Americans, “the race with blonde hair,” would not succeed in building the Panama Canal. Only Latin Americans “with dark heads” could do so. But he was wrong. The U.S. building of the Panama Canal showed the gap in effective organization and institutions could not be banished in poetry. Even the idea of racial solidarity was disproved as Panamanians used U.S. backing to seize independence in their own interest against a Colombian regime that had so long neglected their isolated province.
Both Bilbao, who was basically a liberal democrat, and Chocano, a romantic nationalist, agreed very much on one point. To maintain their sovereignty and ward off the U.S. threat, their people would have to learn from what their rival had done, certainly through technological progress; possibly by social modernization. Yet it was Latin America’s failure to do so, its inability to stamp out chaos and put its own house in order, which invited U.S. intervention. In that sense, Latin America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century would most resemble the Middle East in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Also in both cases, the frustration of local failure produced a high level of anti-Americanism and the notion that—in addition to all its other sins–it was actually the United States’ fault that they had not succeeded.
One of the earliest and best-known such arguments came from Rube´n Dar´io the Nicaraguan poet, journalist and diplomat who repeatedly expressed his distaste for civilization North American style. After an 1893 visit to New York he had called that city, “The gory, the cyclopean, the monstrous capital of the banknote.” Five years later, he wrote that Americans were “red-faced, heavy and gross…like animals in their hunt for the dollar.”
Responding to the canal issue, Dar´io composed a 1904 poem “To Roosevelt,” which became one of the best-known works of Latin American literature, assigned to generations of students to memorize. Indeed, it stands as the clearest statement of the Latin American critique of the United States. The United States is “the future invader” of the innocent America that has Indian blood, speaks Spanish, and practices Christianity. True, the United States is powerful as a lion and rich, too, but this is merely crudeness. In contrast, Latin America was heir to the great ancient cultures and a mass producer of poets. It was a place of light, fire, perfume, and love. In comparison, the people of the United States were “men of Saxon eyes and barbarous soul” who “lack one thing: God!”
But like some other anti-Americans Dar´io would change his mind about the country he initially so reviled. Only two years later, in 1906, Dar´io would write another poem urging his brothers to learn “constancy, vigor and character” from the Yankees. On a later visit to New York he described it as a city of happy laughing boys and bright girls. Dar´io even wrote a friendly tribute to the United States and called for a union of all the American republics. These lesser-known statements show that, despite objections to U.S. policy and fear of future American intentions, the Latin American response was far from exclusively one of resentment. But these were not the images which would dominate the anti-American side of the Latin American intellectual tradition.
Joining the wars of 1848 and 1898 and the canal issue as anti-American grievances was added the growing U.S. power in the area. U.S. involvement and control over the region’s economics and politics was proportionately greater than it has ever been in any other area of the world. U.S. Marines intervened more than a dozen times in Caribbean states from 1905 through the 1920s at times of civil war or social disorder. American companies owned large tracts of land in some countries, controlling the key products for export and even determining—in the case of the United Fruit Company–who governed such states as Honduras and Guatemala.
The anger of Latin American intellectuals at U.S. economic power was most clearly expressed by Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, diplomat, and Communist who won the Nobel prize for his poetry and the Stalin prize for his politics. In “The United Fruit Company,” he sarcastically suggested that the corporation had benefited from God’s partition of the universe among big American corporations. There, the company killed the heroes who harassed it, chose the dictators, carried off booty, and oppressed the workers.
It rebaptized these countries
and over the sleeping dead,
over the unquiet heroes
who won greatness,
liberty, and banners,
it established an opera buffa:
it abolished free will,
gave out imperial crowns,
encouraged envy, attracted
the dictatorship of flies.
In a similar poem, “The Standard Oil Company,” Neruda wrote:
Its obese emperors
Live in New York, they are suave
And smiling assassins,
That buy silk, nylon, cigars,
Small tyrants and dictators.
They buy countries, towns, seas,
Foreign commerces where
The poor guard their corn.
There were valid complaints about the brutal behavior of these powerful companies, which often enjoyed U.S. government backing. But they also contained the basis of an idea both radical and conservative Latin American intellectuals often accepted: that American influence was to blame for everything, that dictators and injustice would not have existed if there had been no such U.S. presence, and that such behavior was innate in the U.S. system.
Yet while such sentiments were incorporated into the rhetoric of Latin American anti-Americanism, they took a place alongside such other factors as the idea that the United States was inferior on racial and religious grounds or that its system, apparently so successful, was evil in itself. This kind of thinking was manifested in a belief that Latin Americans had been endowed by the culture of the pre-Columbus inhabitants and Spain with qualities superior to the materialistic, vulgar culture of America which disrupted family, tradition, religion, and all the things that made Latin America unique.
As in Europe, such ideas were embraced by both leftists and rightists. Many of the region’s greatest intellectuals and cultural figures expressed such concepts endlessly throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “If there is real poetry in our America, it is to be found in things refined…in the legendary Indian, in the subtle and sensual Inca, in the great [Inca Emperor] Montezuma of the Golden Throne. The rest I leave to you, Oh Democratic Walt Whitman,” wrote Nicaraguan poet Dar´io in 1896.
One of the most important such anti-American works in Latin America was Ariel, by the Uruguayan critic, essayist, and philosopher, José Enrique Rodo´. Its publication in 1900 was hailed as the continent’s definitive manifesto as it called on Latin Americans to reject the materialistic values represented by America and hold true to their own superior civilization. The book’s similarities to European anti-Americanism are striking but not accidental since Rodo´, like many of his compatriots, combined a mystical celebration of the pre-Columbian heritage with an impassioned admiration of French culture.
In his prologue to a later edition of Ariel, Carlos Fuentes, an important anti-American writer in his own right, made this connection clear. France, “gave us culture without strings and a sense, furthermore, of elegance, disinterestedness, aristocracy, and links to the culture of the classics solely lacking in the vagabond, unrooted, homogenizing pioneer culture of the United States….” PLEASE CHECK THIS FOOTNOTE FOR STYLE No Frenchmen could have more elegantly put the case for French superiority and American inferiority.
In Ariel, Rodo´ identifies the spirit of Latin America with Ariel, who symbolizes the “noble, soaring aspect of the human spirit. He represents the superiority of reason and feeling over the base impulses of irrationality. He is generous enthusiasm, elevated and unselfish motivation in all actions, spirituality in culture, vivacity and grace in intelligence…the ideal toward which human selection ascends.”
In contrast, the United States is the brutish Caliban, a “spirit of vulgarity” who cannot “distinguish the delicate from the vulgar, the ugly from the beautiful,” and certainly could not tell “good from evil.” These traits arise inevitably in a democratic society like the United States which enthrones a “code of conduct by utilitarianism in which our every action is determined by the immediate ends of self-interest.” In short, Rodo´ concluded, basing his case on quotations from French philosophers, “Democracy is the…dominance of a mediocre individualism.” Americans achieved wealth “but good taste has eluded him.”
While the United States appeared to be winning as it accumulated money and won wars these triumphs were meaningless. Latin America represented a highly cultured Athens while North America was merely the incarnation of materialistic Phoenicia and militaristic Sparta. It would fail and leave no heritage.
Rodo´ warned that “left to itself–without the constant correction of a strong moral authority to refine and channel its inclinations in the direction of exaltation of life–democracy will gradually extinguish any superiority that does not translate into sharper and more ruthless skills in the struggles of self-interest, the self-interest that then becomes the most ignoble and brutal form of strength.” America merely represented an empty pursuit of well-being as an end in itself.
The complaint of most anti-American intellectuals during the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century was not that the Yankees inhibited democracy or progress in Latin America—as later leftists would suggest–but rather that they were offering a bad model of excessive democracy and too much change, a system that neither worked well nor fit with the continent’s own heritage.
An interesting detail about Rodo´s work was his use as the story’s hero of Ariel, a character from William Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest.” In Shakespeare’s tale, Prospero, an Italian ruler fleeing a coup, and his daughter are washed ashore on an island. There they meet Ariel, a spirit with magical powers, and Caliban, an ignoble savage who Prospero makes his servant. Prospero uses Ariel to rule the island.
Rodo´ identifies the spirit of Latin America with the noble Ariel and that of the United States with the brutish Caliban. Democracy in the United States is no more than the “enthronement of Caliban.” Yet a century later, Latin American and European anti-Americans had completely reversed this metaphor. Now the evil United States was portrayed as Prospero in its insatiable thirst for domination, while Latin America–or the Third World, or the entire world–was embodied in the unjustly repressed, falsely slandered Caliban. Ariel was merely a dupe of imperialism, a collaborator with imperialist domination.
The contradictory use of these images shows well the mixed strands that merged under the banner of anti-Americanism. Conservative and romantic thinking viewed Latin America and Europe (and later the Middle East) as superior, aristocratic cultures dragged down by racially inferior and crude American upstarts who represented a decadent democracy and a society with too much freedom. In short, America was too radical and modern. From the leftist perspective, though, Europe and Latin America (and later the Middle East) were portrayed as weaker, oppressed societies facing domination by a reactionary, anti-democratic United States which allegedly considered them inferior and inhibited them from changing and viewed them as inferior. These conflicting ideas often existed in the same thinkers or movements with no sense of their opposite origins or implications.
This theme of Latin American superiority proved persistent as the message of countless Latin American literary and non-fiction works like the 1917 prose-poem of Jose’ Vargas Vilz , a Colombian novelist, who branded North Americans as “barbarians,” “drunken mobs,” “a voracious, unfriendly, disdainful race,” committed to the “doctrine of plundering, robbery, and conquest.” The United States was no more than “a burly bandit” cutting the throats of other nations.
One of the best embodiments of the Europe-Latin American and superior-victim themes for anti-Americanism was Manuel Ugarte. Born in Buenos Aires in 1878, he went to Paris after graduating college and became a noted cultural figure there. On visiting the United States and Mexico in 1900 and 1901 he became convinced that the United States was seeking to dominate Latin America. He began a campaign of writings and lectures, supported by French and Spanish intellectuals, in Europe and Latin America to rouse people against the Yankee peril.
His 1923 book, Destiny of a Continent, was part-travelogue, part anti-American indictment, coupling anti-imperialist rhetoric with the older themes of Latin American cultural superiority. The United States was following the tradition of the Romans, Napoleon’s France, and other peoples “overflowing with vigor” to seek empires. By not opposing this threat more energetically, his fellow Latin Americans were giving “proofs of an inferiority” that the Americans then used to justify their expansionism.
Ugarte angrily claimed that Americans looked down on their neighbors to the south. Most Americans, he wrote, viewed Latin Americans as “savages, ridiculous phenomena, degenerates.” But, sounding like the French intellectuals who so influenced him, Ugarte made it clear that this was the way he felt toward North Americans. The United States was “great, powerful, prosperous, astonishingly progressive, supreme masters of energy and creative life, healthy and comfortable.” But its people were also too practical, proud and unprincipled, having the mentality of a “cowboy, violent and vain of his muscles, who civilizes the Far West by exterminating simultaneously the virgin forest and the aboriginal races in the same highhanded act of pride and domination.”
At the U.S.-Mexico border, Ugarte explained, one could clearly see the difference between the “Anglo-Saxon…hard, haughty and utilitarian, infatuated with his success and his muscular strength,” who dominates nature and uses other races as servants in exchange for some “crumbs of the feast.” In contrast, Mexico’s people had “easy-going customs,” were closer to nature and had “contemplative, dreamy tendencies” which made them generous.
One of Ugarte’s ideas, a forerunner of contemporary anti-American thinking, was that the very fact that the United States did not act like other imperialistic states proved it was even worse than they were. By not seeking full or permanent political control of Latin American states the United States showed that it was more subtly dangerous. “Only the United States,” he wrote, understood how to be expansionist by using alternative tactics, “At times imperious, at other times suave, in certain cases apparently disinterested, in others implacable in its greed….North American imperialism is the most perfect instrument of domination.”
In fact, the U.S. refusal to incorporate Latin America into a political empire was said to show clearly how devious, racist, and aggressive it was. The Americans did not want to annex people it viewed as inferior to avoid “any impairing or enfeebling of the superiority which he claims.” In other words, Americans looked down on the peoples of the south so much that they would not even taken them as subjects. In later decades, this need to explain the imperialism of a country that consciously rejected such methods would spawn all sorts of theories of neocolonialism, whose supposed tools included cultural exports as well as economic investment and political plots.
Even many of those noting that local problems, not foreign oppression, was the real reason for the region’s difficulties still made clear their disdain for the overwhelming, overbearing neighbor to the north. One example was Gabriela Mistral, an esteemed Chilean educator, writer and poet who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1945. Her work focused on practical progress for her society. Even when she called for continental unity against the Yankee menace, she emphasized the need for higher standards and harder work as the key factor needed.
It was necessary, she wrote in “The Scream,” to fight “the invasion of blond America that wants to sell us everything, to populate our lands and cities with her machinery, to use our resources that we don’t know how to exploit.” But she also claimed not to hate the Yankee:
He is winning…because of our fault–for our torrid weakness and for Indian fatalism. He is crumbling us by virtue of some of his qualities and because of all of our racial vices. Why do we hate them? Let us hate what is in us that makes us vulnerable to his…will and to his opulence….We talk tirelessly while…meanwhile he sees, he founds, he saws, works, multiplies, forges, creates…every minute, believes in his own faith and because of his faith, he is…invincible.
Despite all this talk, however, there was surprisingly little action by Latin American states. Perhaps that was largely because in most countries the local factors of factional conflict and civilian-military rivalries determined matters and the United States was of little importance. In a few places, mainly in Central America, U.S. influence was indeed powerful enough to ensure that no hostile political movements succeeded and could be held responsible for repressive regimes at various times in the past.
In this context, then, it is not surprising that the most significant anti-American revolution was waged in one such country, Nicaragua. Under the leadership of Augusto Ce´sar Sandino, the flag of revolt was raised in 1927 against what he called the “drug dependent Yankees,” “Yankee cowards and criminals,” and “adventurous Yankees who are trampling Nicaragua’s sovereignty under foot,” These people were nothing more than “blond beasts,” “blond pirates,” and “piratical assassins.” Sandino’s country had suffered far more than most from American depredations and he himself was killed by a U.S.-backed army which soon backed the corrupt Somoza dynasty.
But Sandino, later hailed as a progressive (so enshrined by the Marxist Sandinist movement) expressed a racialist anti-Americanism consistent with the most reactionary traditionalist forces in the region. His view of the United States as evil, innately aggressive, and inhumanly greedy made him identify all Americans as the enemy. “The North American people,” he said in 1930, “support and will always support the expansionist policies of their unprincipled governments,” On another occasion Sandino explained, “The North American people are as imperialistic as their own leaders.”
When later developed by radical intellectuals in Latin America and elsewhere, this kind of thinking would blame America for the failure of their own utopian revolutions. This view would also justify anti-American terrorism, since all citizens of that country were complicit in its profiteering and thus legitimate targets. In addition, the idea that everyone was suffering because of America made a good ideology for mobilizing an entire national or religious community. Everyone from the “victim” country could unite in their hatred for everyone in the “imperialist” state. Thus, Marxism, a supposedly class doctrine, became adapted for effective use by nationalist (or even radical Islamist) movements or demagogic dictators.
Two new developments helped put anti-Americanism at the center of revolutionary ideology in Latin America during the middle years of the twentieth century. One was the growth of what had hitherto been a small intellectual class there. As universities expanded in the 1930s and thereafter, students were attracted to new mutations of Marxism, often indoctrinated in radical views by their professors. Anti-Americanism, which had previously been spread largely by random literary works, now was spread by institutions to large elements of the elite in every country.
The other new development was the Cold War. In earlier decades, the United States had been little concerned with Latin America except where some collapse or short-term crisis forced involvement in a specific country. President Franklin Roosevelt had even ended interventions in the 1930s with his Good Neighbor Policy. But with the worldwide U.S.-Soviet conflict beginning in the late 1940s, and especially after the Cuban revolution opened a new Cold War front in 1959, the United States became concerned with a potential Marxist revolution in every country. Consequently, it also became more likely to back local military and right-wing forces who promised that they would forestall this danger if only given American help.
The first victim of this new situation was Guatemala where the CIA helped overthrow a left-wing populist, but non-Communist, government in 1954 and replaced it with a military junta. That regime’s previous president had been Juan Jose Arévalo who expressed his bitterness in a 1961 book, The Shark and the Sardine. In contrast to Sandino, Arévalo took a different approach. “The great North American people” were unaware “of how many crimes have been committed in their name.” They were also “victims of an imperialist policy” steered by big business. Originally, the United States had been “inspired by ideals of individual freedom, collective well-being and national sovereignty” but in the twentieth century this “grandeur of spirit was replaced by greed” and the government became the “protector of illicit commercial profits.”
Yet even he did not forego all the long-standard clichés of Latin American anti-Americanism. In his fable, America, represented by a shark, is a great beast “that dismembers all, destroys all, and swallows all, in sporting slaughter.” It is amused when it passes a sardine which trembles in fear. A serpent sees the scene and proposes they work together as brothers, a parody on the spirit of Pan-American or Cold War cooperation. The shark would use its money, power and ferocity to help the sardine, which would be a good servant, applaud his speeches, and spy on others to make sure they are the shark’s friends. The shark agrees but then whispers to the sardine, “Just wait till I catch you alone!”
But the man who was caught alone, in the most celebrated anti-American incident of the time, was Vice-President Richard Nixon when in 1958 he visited Latin America. At the University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, he was confronted by an angry crowd which threw stones at him. Returning to his hotel, Nixon was spat at by another mob. In Caracas, Venezuela, his motorcade from the airport was attacked by an angry crowd using both rocks and spit. The latter flew so freely his driver had to turn on the windshield wipers and the chanting crowd almost overturned his car. In Venezuela, aside from all the long-term causes of antagonism, and perhaps deliberate Communist efforts, there were two grievances against the United States: the unpopular military junta enjoyed U.S. support and the United States had just imposed restrictions on oil imports from that country.
This was only the beginning. Latin America was about to become the location of the world’s second major state sponsor of anti-Americanism. The U.S. relationship with Cuba had long been one of the most complex in the region. While the United States had freed Cuba from Spain and then given it independence, there had been many U.S. interventions in that unstable country motivated by a high degree of investment in the sugar industry, tourism and other areas. Still, there were also strong currents in American policy that believed democracy and reform were the best ways to fight Communism. Thus, even after Fidel Castro overthrew the incumbent, U.S.-backed dictatorship on January 1, 1959, the United States tried to build a good relationship with him.
But revolutionary Cuba, soon transformed into a Communist state, was a new phenomenon in Latin America: a country dedicated to a continent-wide revolution against America. The Cuban regime called its land the first territory of the Americas liberated from the United States. The price for this step, though, included an economic and political dependency on Moscow, a typical (except for its rhetoric) Latin American dictatorship, and a degree of conflict with the United States far higher than if Castro had been an independent nationalist.
The main policy statement of Cuban foreign policy, the February 1962 Second Declaration of Havana, constituted a declaration of war on the United States and the enshrinement of a new theory of anti-Americanism. Latin American states had failed to develop and were even becoming poorer, it charged, because they were in thrall to American imperialism. “Like the first Spanish conquerors, who exchanged mirrors and trinkets with the Indians for silver and gold, so the United States trades with Latin America.” According to the declaration, only the United States was holding back the solution of such Latin American problems as unemployment, inadequate housing, shaky economies, and a sagging infrastructure.
The whole purpose of American diplomacy and military policy was said to be maintaining this system which, according to the declaration, could only be overturned by revolution. This struggle would provoke U.S. countermeasures but by the same token it would ensure a spreading anti-Americanism which would fuel its triumph: “Even though the Yankee imperialists are preparing a bloodbath for America they will not succeed in drowning the people’s struggle. They will evoke universal hatred against themselves. This will be the last act of their rapacious and cave¬man system.”
This basic approach to anti-Americanism would continue to dominate the Latin American left for many decades, and for good reason. It proposed that all local problems and rivalries were to be subsumed into a unity of the people against the United States. By this means, the limited appeal of Communism would be greatly extended by dressing it up as nationalism. Expelling U.S. influence was presented as a magic elixir which would quickly and decisively solve the region’s long-standing problems. Anti-Americanism was no longer one feature of regional ideology, it was to be the centerpiece.
Moreover, unlike earlier intellectuals who only wrote books or poems, the Cubans tried to put their theory into practice. Che Guevara, Castro’s lieutenant who was assigned the leadership role for the hemisphere-wide revolution, explained in 1961 that though the United States imposed its “domination over every one of the twenty republics,” American imperialism was on its way into the dustbin of history.
But Guevara was wrong. Choosing Bolivia as the first place to test his revolutionary theory, he launched guerrilla war there in 1967. But he underestimated his adversary while misunderstanding that country’s people and society. Thanks to a U.S. counterinsurgency effort, it was not long before his bullet-riddled body was being displayed. The war unleashed in Bolivia by Cuba and its followers did intensify anti-American hatred in Latin America yet this strategy also blew up in their faces. There were no Communist revolutions but plenty of hard-line military regimes which seized power and repressed opposition in order to prevent such an outcome.
A score of radical groups with the words “People’s,” “Revolutionary,” and “Army,” in their names fought local regimes throughout the late 1960s and into the 1970s in almost every Latin American country. Even in Chile, where the elected government of President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a brutal coup, the army did not need much more encouragement than the knowledge that the United States would not oppose them. The battles were fought out mainly among forces. The resulting costly violence in so many countries simply became one more factor holding back the continent’s development.
Other than kidnapping a few Americans and attacked some embassies, they did little damage to U.S. interests. Anti-Americanism, though, depended less on weapons than on words, a tool more easily wielded by Latin American intellectuals. Dozens of writers emerged to bash the United States with varying degrees of literary skill, to repeat the charge that it was to blame for everything. Their ideas had far more impact on fellow intellectuals—including those in Europe and the United States–than on local workers and peasants. But ironically, while they decried American culture, it was the ideas of such intellectuals that dominated American thinking about Latin America on campuses, in publishing houses, Hollywood, and much of the media.
Such anti-American intellectuals, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa wrote sarcastically, took grants from American institutions while endlessly proclaiming “that American imperialism–the Pentagon, the monopolies, Washington’s cultural influence–is a source of our underdevelopment.” They detected CIA plots in everything from “tours of the Boston Symphony [to] Walt Disney cartoons.” This also gave them the ideal tool for delegitimizing critics by branding them as American agents. Such was the charge, for example, against even the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez when he resigned from the Communist party. No accusation was considered too extreme or undocumented, as with claims the United States advocated population control in Latin America to get rid of competing peoples, an imperialist measure just one step short of genocide.
The radical intellectuals and revolutionary activists thought they had permanently changed how Latin Americans view reality but in fact their ideological hegemony lasted only about a quarter-century. On the political level, the revolutionaries could not win and—whatever their intentions—only generated more misery and instability. On the economic plane their proposed solutions did not work. Only in the realm of words, where theories don’t have to meet the test of reality, did they continue to ride high.
At the same time, leftist anti-Americans often simply refurbished the old conservative anti-American arguments, based on civilizational complaints rather than Marxist analysis. They spoke of the masses, imperialism, and liberation but like European counterparts, their arguments rested on a perspective that was elitist, traditionalist, and culturally conservative. Thus, the Mexican writer Octavio Paz, one of the most articulate of the critics, explained in 1978 that the innate nature of U.S. society ensured that its behavior would be a “mix of arrogance and opportunism, blindness and machiavellianism.”
There was, however, an important new element in anti-Americanism in this period that would have a tremendous impact on that doctrine down to the present day. The United States was said to dominate the terms of trade since it could price manufactured goods higher while devaluing the Third World’s raw materials. Latin American countries could only develop by breaking this system. This standpoint was promoted by the UN Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA) and most notably by the Argentinean economist Raul Prebisch, who headed that institution from 1948 until 1962. A more radical edge was provided in 1966 by a book, The Development of Underdevelopment, by the Marxist economist Andre Gunder Frank, a U.S.–trained refugee from Nazi Germany who taught in many Latin American countries,
Frank’s title was a perfect expression of his thesis. Underdevelopment, he claimed, was not the result of archaic social structures, lack of education, low agricultural productivity, reluctance to embrace innovation, political instability, and a score of other such causes. Rather it was an artificial creation of malevolent imperialists. Just as traditional Marxism argued that overthrowing capitalism would allow rapid progress and the creation of a utopia, the new anti-Americanism made the same claim for getting rid of the United States.
The solution was to be statist economies, high import barriers, and deemphasizing the market by the government setting of prices. This strategy was basically a collection of all the mistakes being made elsewhere in the Third World as well as in the Soviet bloc. Moreover, the money borrowed to finance industrialization and import substitution would be lost in failed schemes and corruption, producing mountainous debts.
Nevertheless, this belief swept through Latin American universities as unquestionable truth and continues to this day to be accepted by many in academia and the left, though not Latin American policymakers or the general public. As one critical Venezuelan observer put it in the late 1970s, “There is an almost general belief in Latin America today that the United States has siphoned off the wealth which could have led to the Southern Hemisphere’s development [by saying] `They are rich because we are poor; we are poor because they are rich.’”
The only reason Latin America was not like the United States, the theory claimed, was because that country has stolen all of its resources. And these same resources were said to be the basis for the success of the United States. As Eduardo Galeano, whose book, The Open Veins of Latin America, was a huge best-seller, puts it, “Our wealth has produced our poverty. In the colonial alchemy, gold turns to lead and food to poison….The North American economy needs Latin American minerals like the lungs need air.
Promoting anti-Americanism, then, was an act of self-defense and an absolute necessity. It was an absolutely central and essential doctrine. And this ideology was based not on any specific U.S. policy or intervention but on the supposed essence of the United States itself in both its domestic and international aspects.
At the same time, though, many Latin Americans could not ignore the local causes of their problems and the unworkability of the radicals’ proposed solutions. Using another old Latin American theme which often accompanied hostility toward the United States, they understood the need to imitate that country in order to achieve their own success.
By 1977 the reaction against radical anti-Americanism had taken hold. Domestic reform and moderation was a more likely path to democracy, stability, and economic development than a revolution against foreigners based on radical doctrine. The Venezuelan writer Carlos Rangel argued that the left’s more useful complaint toward the United States would be to demand it did more to help Latin American progress rather than blaming America for everything and trying to drive it out of the region.
What was the true function of anti-Americanism? According to Rangel it was both an excuse and a useful political tool in the hands of dictators and demagogues. Such scapegoating, Rangel warned, was paralyzing, a way of perpetuating stagnation. For if the fault lay completely with the Yankees, there was no need to change one’s own society especially when these arguments were cynically used by repressive governments to conceal their own incompetence and misrule.
It was a costly mistake, Rangel warned, to refuse to “admit that the reasons for North American success and Latin American failure are to be found in the qualities of North Americans and in the defects of Latin Americans.” There was much to be learned from the U.S. example. True, America was an overpowering, often harmful neighbor. Yet it also had saved the continent from European colonialism, showed the way toward modernization and development, and offered democratic traditions. Why, when the main damage to Latin America for most of its history had been European influence from Spain, Britain, and France was there no antagonism toward those countries?
The answer, Rangel suggested, was that Latin America view itself as an extension of European culture. Since America was considered to be so inferior, its success must be attributed to exploitation and evil actions. But by the same token, Latin Americans were frustrated “since we cannot not explain satisfactorily why we have been unable to capitalize on the advantages we have over the Third World.” Everyone thus resents their “failure to reach the level of the United States.”
No country was more tempted by this attractive yet poisonous view than Mexico, which always regarded itself as victim number one of U.S. perfidy. And yet, aside from the war of 1848, how much harm had the United States actually done to Mexico? Certainly far less than the accusers would have it and than virtually every Mexican seemed to believe.
While U.S. and Mexican interests differed on various issues, the United States had no deliberate intention of harming or dominating Mexico. In the twentieth century, there were few American interventions in Mexico’s internal affairs. One would never guess this from the tone of Mexican politics. In March 1975, President Luis Echeverría Álvarez visited the Autonomous University of Mexico. In revenge for past government attacks on students, several hundred demonstrated and threw stones at him. Police opened fire killing several of them. Mexico’s president justified this response by saying they were naïve youngsters manipulated by the CIA. In the mid-1980s Mexican officials and newspapers even accused the United States of stealing rain by diverting hurricanes from Mexican shores and thus contributing to the country’s worst drought in twenty years.
The crown jewel of Mexican anti-Americanism is the National Museum of Interventions, opened in 1981. But though Spanish colonialism had lasted 300 years, the focus is mainly on the depredations, real or imagined of the United States. American hostility is a constant. After all, in the exhibit on the Monroe Doctrine, Mexico’s first ambassador to the United States, Jose´ Manuel Zozaya, is quoted as saying, “The arrogance of those republicans does not allow them to see us as equals but as inferiors. With time they will become our sworn enemies.” The relationship is portrayed as an immutable enmity, one for which the ups and downs of policy were merely punctuation marks.
Thus, too, in 1987 the Mexican historian Gastón García Cantú claimed, “From the end of the eighteenth century through 1918, there were 285 invasions, incidents of intimidation, challenges, bombardments of ports and [theft] of territory….No people in the world have had their territory, wealth, and security as plundered by anybody as Mexico has by the United States.”
Young Mexicans, wrote Jorge Castãneda, “Learn almost as soon as they can read [that] the United States has always had designs on our country, either through direct territorial ambition or by seeking to influence our affairs to make Mexico more amenable to American interests and wishes.”
Consequently, in a 1986 poll, Mexicans considered American business, government, and media all allied to promote U.S. control over Mexico. “Even the modern Mexican middle classes continue to harbor deep feelings of resentment and anger against the United States, explained Castãneda, “their penchant for American lifestyles and products should not be mistaken for an ebbing of traditional suspicion and hostility toward the United States.”
Yet while such attitudes would be understandable if coming from, say, El Salvador or Guatemala, they had little to do with the reality of U.S.-Mexico relations which had involved few confrontations for many decades. Rather, such feelings stemmed more from a hurt pride at being so behind a more advanced, powerful neighbor, and a resulting ultra-sensitivity to imagined slights.
The Mexican media was aware that its job was to find more items for this list, no matter how twisted or sensational. Journalists know that a report with an anti-American angle has a better chance of making the front page. Obscure Americans are quoted if their remarks can be portrayed as anti-Mexican or threatening future problems in the relationship, while Mexican officials or academics are pressed to criticize U.S. deeds or statements.
Partly through the clever use of the anti-American card, Mexico’s ruling—and appropriately named, Party of the Institutionalized Revolution—stayed in power for more than eight decades, a world record. The country suffered under a statist and corrupt system justified by the need to keep American control at bay. In the 1970s and 1980s, four straight Mexican presidents failed to improve relations with the United States due to their personal resentment as they, in Castãneda’s words, picked fights with the Yankees “over innumerable major and minor issues, resorting to traditional, nationalistic postures and maneuvers, and listening to veteran intellectual, diplomatic or political establishment ‘gringo bashing.’”
Believing that relations were inevitably going to be bad because Washington was determined to weaken and dominate Mexico became a self-fulfilling, self-victimizing policy. By purveying this fear, Mexican intellectuals and leaders were themselves making their country more feeble by putting the emphasis on foreign guilt rather than the kinds of reforms Mexico needed in order to modernize itself. Equally, these changes could be denounced as imitations of the hated United States or the kinds of policies Washington wanted Mexico to follow.
While this explained why the leaders fanned anti-American sentiments, Castãneda suggested that the people embraced these feelings because the two countries were so unequal in power, had such a complex history of relations, and such different interests that “if one problem is solved, another will surface.” And yet anti-Americanism was also a shield behind which Mexicans believed they had to stand because otherwise they felt defenseless and feared that their national identity might be overwhelmed and their sovereignty lost. Unable to compete, they had to wage combat; but unable to win such a competition the struggle had to be limited to angry words.
Often, too, as in Europe, anti-Americanism was more the sport of intellectuals and opportunistic politicians than the sentiment of the masses. Polls conducted in 1992, 1995, and 1996 showed that 87 percent of Hondurans, 84 percent of Guatemalans, 83 percent of Salvadorans, 73 percent of Bolivians, 70 percent of Peruvians, 65 percent of Mexicans (though 55 percent said the U.S. government had too much influence there ), 57 percent of Colombians, and 55 percent of Venezuelans held favorable views of the United States. This was despite the fact that in a 1994 poll majorities—for example, 80 percent in Panama and 71 percent in Colombia—thought the United States would demand that it get its way in any dispute.
In general, the late 1980s and afterward saw a major decline of anti-Americanism in Latin America. The radical solutions had not worked and, however one portrays them, the American model with its culture and material wealth seemed closer and more attractive. The Cold War’s decline also reduced U.S. intervention in the region and even transformed it into support for democracy as perceptions of a Communist threat receded. The number of Latin American dictatorships fell until, ironically, only Cuba remained firmly in that category.
Free market economic ideas challenged the radical dependency theories. In addition, a declining status for intellectuals and discrediting of the panaceas offered by the left–in Latin America as in Europe the main purveyors of anti-Americanism–also undercut that argument’s popularity. With the growth of mass media, consumerism, and the hope of better living standards, Latin America became more like the United States or at least openly aspired to that goal.
One of the countries that prospered most of all was Chile, which had been a victim of American intervention in the 1970s. While Le Monde had featured a cartoon showing a plane crashing into a World Trade Center labeled Chile–implying it had been U.S. support for a coup there in 1973, almost thirty years earlier, that was responsible for the September 11 attack–there was very little anti-Americanism in Chile itself. As shown by the polls cited above, even in countries like Panama and Nicaragua—which had also suffered direct U.S. interventions—anti-Americanism was low.
Aside from political shifts and rethinking, cultural changes also contributed to a decline in anti-Americanism. Historically, the United States was viewed as an alien, non-Spanish-speaking culture. Now, material from the United States was increasingly in the Spanish language, produced by recent Latin American immigrants with the flavor of that region, from such stations as Telemundo and Univision based in Miami as well as CNN in Spanish.
The growing population of Latin American immigrants in America from every country in the hemisphere is another factor. Many people now knew others living in the United States and find it easier to get first-hand more accurate information on that country. Members of the elite may own homes in the United States or at least visit there frequently. They also know that the United States is the most likely place to find investment, technology, educational opportunities or aid. Poorer people may hope to go there themselves.
Anti-Americanism had a lasting place in Latin American political culture for a variety of “local” structural and ideological reasons which transcended any current U.S. policy toward the region. As happened elsewhere, its causes had as much or more to do with the problems and nature of those societies than it did with the United States itself. Even when these attitudes were related to U.S. policies, attitudes toward the United States were reflected through the lens of a particular self-image and world view with a long tradition. As the Mexican writer Octavio Paz: admitted, the United States was simultaneously, “The enemy of our identity and the secret model of what we wanted to be” but were unable to become.