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The Americas 61.2 (2004) 324-325

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Democracy and U.S. Policy in Latin America during the Truman Years. By Steven Schwartzberg. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2003. Pp. xvi, 311. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $55.00 cloth.

This book investigates the roots and effectiveness of the stated desire of U.S. policymakers and Latin American leaders to encourage democracy during the years between World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, a period that saw Latin American democrats replace dictators in rapid succession. Schwartzberg boldly holds that U.S. policymakers who worked on Latin American affairs during these years displayed "civility," or a genuine sense of civic responsibility. They sincerely encouraged both "democratic solidarity and respect for the national sovereignty of other peoples" (p. xii). In short, he foregrounds the optimism and successes of U.S.-led democratization.

Main protagonists include U.S. diplomats who worked on Latin America but also Latin Americans such as Peru's Raúl Haya de la Torre, Venezuela's Rómulo Betancourt, and Costa Rica's José Figueres. The best chapters of the book describe how these moderate leaders often overcame youthful communist flirtations with anti-imperialism to then admit that a measure of foreign investment and Yankee intervention in their countries might possibly bring development and democracy. On the U.S. side were "Cold War liberals," who challenged the Good Neighbor pledge of non-intervention—but in favor of democracy—as well as "Cold War conservatives," who placed the sovereignty of nation-states above democracy and so more easily accepted dictators (but not communists) as counterparts. The author shares the "faith" of the liberals (p. xi). The hero of these liberals—and of the book—somewhat unexpectedly is Spruille Braden. Most historians have not yet forgiven Braden for publishing his "Blue Book," an accusation of Nazi collaboration, weeks before the election of Argentina's Juan Perón in 1946. Schwartzberg, however, excuses the open intervention as pro-democratic and furthermore credits Braden with laying the foundations of an aggressive democratizing push throughout Latin America.

Democracy and U.S. Policy brings to life a unique group of diplomats who, Schwartzberg effectively demonstrates, believed that the time was right for cooperation between hemispheric governments on the basis of the ideology that had just won World War II. Furthermore, the scope of the book is impressive, presenting case studies of most large Latin American countries. Unfortunately, Schwartzberg's highly selective evidence and arguments leave much out. He uses almost exclusively State Department correspondence, supplemented only by a few memoirs and public writings from Latin Americans. Depending on their words—often in long block quotes—is misleading, because they of course believed broadly in democracy and said so repeatedly. The author fails to measure lofty words against the real policy neglect of Latin America by Truman himself, his secretaries of state, and the Pentagon; the anti-imperialist or anti-democratic activism of groups of peasants, unions, and the military; and the economic practices of U.S. corporations. The book's narrow story of what one diplomat said to another also allows little to no space for cultural meanings or alternative readings of diplomatic texts. Finally, [End Page 324] structural economic factors—unequal terms of trade, poverty, inequality—that helped bring down democrats despite their best intentions are largely absent.

Schwartzberg is thus left to explain the demise of the democratic approach by the late 1940s merely as a result of changes in personnel at the Department of State, missed opportunities, and "pessimism"—not as a result of the more obvious rise of anti-communist paranoia and persistent class antagonisms. George Kennan thus gets a quick mention as a "conservative" and not as the author of a policy review in 1950 that saw Latin America as culturally doomed to mediocrity and that recommended "harsh governmental measures of repression" to forestall a supposed "communist attack." The book will be of use mainly to those interested in a Truman counterpart to Stephen Rabe's more well-rounded books on Eisenhower and Kennedy policies...


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