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Pan-Americanism is a term that first appeared in the New York City press in the period immediately preceding the 1889–1890 Inter-American Conference held in Washington, D.C. According to Joseph B. Lockey, a leading historian of the movement, Pan-Americanism from that time forward could be described as the cooperative relationship of the sovereign states of the Western Hemisphere, a relationship based upon the principles of law, nonintervention, and equality. Lockey's assessment, of course, represents the Pan-American ideal. Efforts on the part of the American states to achieve these goals in the wake of the Washington Conference were not always successful.

Much the same can be said for the years before 1889 as well. The period from Independence to the late 1880s, depicted in most studies as the "old" Pan-American era, witnessed a series of conferences involving a number of Spanish American nations. Inspired by a fear of foreign aggression, the main objective of these conferences was mutual security. The agreements negotiated at these meetings, however, were never ratified. Moreover, representatives of the United States never attended the conferences. Indeed, these gatherings were at least partially inspired by the Latin American nations' fear of their northern neighbor.

With the convening of the 1889–1890 Washington Conference a second phase of Pan-Americanism began that would last until the early 1930s. The emergence of the United States as a major power provided the opportunity for that country to sponsor this phase of the movement. The agendas for the conferences during this period were carefully orchestrated by North American policymakers to preclude the consideration of so-called "political" topics. Instead, the U.S. government preferred to deal with economic, scientific, and cultural topics that did not lend themselves to confrontation and polemics. The Latin Americans, on the other hand, endeavored to use the Pan-American conferences as vehicles for promoting the concepts of equality, respect for the rule of international law, and adherence to the principles of sovereignty and absolute nonintervention within the hemispheric community.

Ironically, in the years following World War I, when the United States enjoyed seemingly uncontested domination in the Americas, Latin Americans obtained their greatest success in forcing discussion, if not resolution, of political issues at Inter-American meetings. Proposals at Santiago in 1923 for an American League of Nations, an Inter-American court with mandatory arbitration, and the restructuring of the Pan-American Union, combined with the call at Havana in 1928 for the acceptance of the principle of nonintervention, demonstrate the persistence of Latin Americans to develop an Inter-American system governed by the rule of law and bound by the principle of international equality.

The third ("Good Neighbor") phase of the Pan-American movement developed following the 1933 Montevideo Conference. After years of passionate, yet in the final analysis fruitless, advocacy of a wide range of political issues, the Latin Americans were at last able to witness the U.S. government's public adherence to most of these very same principles—the most important, of course, being the principle of nonintervention. The lessening of tensions within the hemispheric community led in turn to the development of solidarity both before and during World War II. The postwar era has formed the latest phase of Pan-Americanism, dating effectively from the signing of the 1947 Rio Treaty and the subsequent 1948 Bogotá Conference. The establishment of the Organization of American States at Bogotá laid the groundwork for the development of the current Inter-American system. Although the postwar conferences initially focused on economic issues, they increasingly turned to anti-communism during the cold war. The end of the cold war in the early 1990s roughly coincided with the rise of democracy in Latin America. Consequently, the OAS began to focus on supporting democratic institutions in the region.

See alsoGood Neighbor Policy; Inter-American Organizations; Organization of American States (OAS); Pan-American Conferences: Bogotá Conference (1948); Pan-American Conferences: Montevideo Conference (1933); Pan-American Conferences: Rio Conference (1947); Pan-American Conferences: Washington Conference (1889).


For the origins of Pan-Americanism, see Joseph B. Lockey, Pan-Americanism: Its Beginnings (1970) and Essays in Pan-Americanism (1967). Periodization of the movement is well developed in John Lloyd Mecham, The United States and Inter-American Security, 1889–1960 (1961). Analysis of the important Santiago and Havana Conferences can be found in Richard V. Salisbury, Anti-Imperialism and International Competition in Central America, 1920–1929 (1989). For a Latin American perspective on the movement, see Alonso Aguilar Monteverde, Pan-Americanism from Monroe to the Present: A View from the Other Side (1968).

Additional Bibliography

Bouvier, Virginia Marie. The Globalization of U.S.-Latin American Relations: Democracy, Intervention, and Human Rights. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

Cooper, Andrew Fenton, and Thomas Legler. Intervention without Intervening?: The OAS Defense and Promotion of Democracy in the Americas. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Marichal, Carlos. México y las conferencias panamericanas, 1889–1938: Antecedentes de la globalización. México: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 2002.

Sheinin, David. Beyond the Ideal: Pan Americanism in Inter-American Affairs. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

                                     Richard V. Salisbury