- ¡Américas unidas! Nelson A. Rockefeller’s Office of Inter-American Affairs (1940-46) Edited by Gisela Cramer and Ursula Prutsch
Scholarly interest in U.S. cultural diplomacy vis-à-vis Latin America during World War II has brought increased scrutiny of the programs of the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA), founded in 1940 and headed by Nelson Rockefeller. An outgrowth of a 2005 workshop at the Rockefeller Archive Center, the current volume represents the work of a multinational, multidisciplinary group of authors from Austria, Germany, the United States, and Mexico, among them scholars in history, art history, international relations, and film and communications studies. In their introduction the editors briefly review the history of the OIAA, which sought to develop Latin American support for U.S. policies during the war and to encourage U.S. appreciation of its hemispheric neighbors. The emphasis of the essays is on the agency’s efforts to win the hearts and minds of its target audiences, mainly through the press, radio, and film. The editors also attempt to place the OIAA within various interpretive frameworks, such as historical materialism and soft power, and discuss long-standing doubts about the OIAA’s effectiveness.
Eight chapters follow, some more successful than others. In chapter 1, Uwe Lubken discusses the embrace of cultural diplomacy in the context of alarm over the Nazi threat to Latin America at a time when the U.S. commitment to the Good Neighbor policy barred more overtly interventionist initiatives. Chapter 2 examines 77 documentary films about Latin America sponsored by the OIAA and intended only for U.S. audiences, mainly in schools. The author of this chapter, Pennee Bender, also examines the explicit and implicit messages conveyed by the films. Chapter 3, by Catherine L. Benamou, explores the fate of two films coproduced by the OIAA: Walt Disney’s Saludos Amigos and Orson Welles’s It’s All True, the completion of which was halted by RKO.
Chapters 4 and 5, by Catha Paquette and José Luis Ortiz Garza respectively, deal with Mexico. Paquette discusses exhibitions of U.S. and Latin American art organized under OIAA auspices and concludes that art played at most a minor role in shaping or altering convictions. Chapter 5 traces German, British, and U.S. efforts to harness the often venal Mexican press and the use of advertising and newsprint imports by the Britons and the Americans to ensure positive coverage of the Allied cause. Like Paquette, the author is skeptical about the efforts to influence hearts and minds.
In chapter 6 Gisela Cramer tells a somewhat similar story, but with a focus on radio in Argentina. She shows that the Allies diminished the Axis presence on the airwaves, but that their efforts faced censorship and other restrictions from Argentina’s military government. However, she cannot “provide direct empirically substantiated insights into the OIAA’s effects on the audiences it sought to reach and influence” (p. 234). In chapter 7 Ursula Prutsch addresses the full range of OIAA activities in Brazil, stressing “the characteristic interconnectedness” of the agency’s “economic, political, and cultural [End Page 370] initiatives” (p. 250). Some Brazilians fretted about the “Americanization” of their country during the war, but Prutsch concludes that the Vargas government used the wartime alliance to its advantage. She also discusses coordination committees established in Rio de Janeiro and other cities by the OIAA. The work of these committees in Central America is the subject of chapter 8 by Thomas M. Leonard. Composed of prominent, locally based American businessmen, the committees engaged in a wide range of activities, such as distribution of press materials, radio programs, and films and the purchase of books for schools and libraries, though the extent of committee work was affected by conditions in each country.
The volume gains cohesion from the authors’ efforts to assess the reception of OIAA programs in their respective countries. Other aspects impede cohesion. Both Ortiz Garza and Leonard show how conflict...