Sumner Welles to Eleanor Roosevelt

views updated

Sumner Welles to Eleanor Roosevelt

5 February 1947 [Palm Beach, FL]

Dear Eleanor:

I am glad to have your letter of February 2. Aunt Susie seemed like a new person until last week. She came to have tea with us here at the house one afternoon and when I took her home she told me that it was the first time in some years that she had gone to anyone else's house, that she had enjoyed it very much, and that she had not felt in the least "nervous." After that she saw several friends at her own hotel each afternoon and I suppose got overtired. She subsequently had two or three bad days, but her nurse told me yesterday that she had gone out again and once more felt very much better. I will give her your message the next time I see her.

The question in your letter interests me very much. I will try to answer it as clearly and briefly as I can, given the background and the inherent complexities in the issues which your question raises.

I do not have to tell you that the policy of the United States toward the Latin American Republics until 1933 had been a policy predicated upon the thesis that the Monroe Doctrine established a United States sphere of influence within the Western Hemisphere and that the United States possessed the right to impose its will upon all of the other supposedly sovereign American Republics. At times our policy resulted in open military intervention; at other times in dollar diplomacy of the rankest variety; but at all times in an unconcealed determination to impose our own will upon our neighbors.10 Nor do I have to tell you that the end of this era only came when the President made the Good Neighbor Policy possible through the participation of the United States Government in an inter-American treaty which specifically provided for the renunciation by every American nation of all attempts to intervene "directly or indirectly" in the internal or external affairs of any other American state. Subsequent inter-American agreements which year by year gradually built up a regional system of the Americas transformed the Monroe Doctrine as a unilateral instrument into a multilateral instrument. The existing body of inter-American agreements in their present form provides both in spirit and in letter for inter-American action, and not for unilateral action, whenever the interests of the Hemisphere are jeopardized.11

Notwithstanding the tremendous growth of inter-American solidarity from 1933 to 1944, there is still no nerve in Latin America which is more sensitive than the nerve which responds to the slightest indication that the Government of the United States is reverting to a policy of dictation, of domination, or of unilateral imposition. That is the key point to be borne in mind when we study our present relations with Argentina.

There is no country of the Western Hemisphere more traditionally antagonistic to the United States than the Argentine Republic. The first time that a real change in Argentine popular opinion took place was when the President was in Buenos Aires in 1936. He represented to them a symbol of the democracy for which they themselves hoped.12

I will not attempt even to list the chief developments in the Argentine picture since that time. I will only remind you that President Ortiz, whom the President met in Buenos Aires when the former was President-elect, who was determined to advance the cause of true democracy in his own country, and who was a convinced believer in full cooperation between the two countries when the war broke out, died about the time of Pearl Harbor and was replaced by a Vice President who was not only hopelessly isolationist but also a reactionary of the worst type.13 The corruption of his Government, as well as the unsatisfactory international situation in which Argentina found herself, were in part the cause for the military revolt which took place in June, 1943.14 I should also remind you that Argentina has been until now a country which has in reality been feudal, where except for very brief periods the Government has been in the exclusive control of a few great land holders, where the conditions of industrial and agricultural labor have been appalling, and where the local and national elections have almost invariably been rigged.15

At the same time I should stress the fact that there is no country in the Western Hemisphere which is more exaggeratedly nationalistic and where the reaction of the people as a whole against any attempt on the part of a foreign power to infringe their sovereignty more rapidly becomes a truly national resentment.

During the past three years this Government has lost no opportunity to injure the national susceptibilities of the Argentine people, first, by bringing open pressure to bear in order to bring about a change in their Government's policies and, second, by interfering officially in their internal affairs, particularly at the time of the national elections a year ago.16 The result has been, as could have been anticipated by anybody who understood Latin American psychology, that Perón is regarded by the rank and file of the Argentine people as a defender of their nation's sovereignty, and has attained a measure of popular support which he would otherwise never have possessed. At the same time the friendship for the United States which the people of Argentina really had during the President's term of office has been transformed into a bitter and sullen hostility.

It is entirely true that German influence has been greater in Argentina than in any other part of South America, except perhaps in southern Brazil, but it is not true to say, as you do in your letter, that "the Germans are the predominating influence at the present time."17 The influence which is predominating at the present time is Argentine nationalism, and it is only preponderant because of the policies which we ourselves have recently pursued. The last vestiges of German influence would have disappeared long before now if Perón and his leading henchmen had not felt that they would gain "face" by refusing to give in to United States imposition.18

What Messersmith is trying to do is the only intelligent policy we can properly follow in view of the recent past. That is to convince the Argentine Government that it is in its own interest to eliminate the last remaining vestiges of Nazi influence, to help the Argentine Government to do this within the framework of Argentina's laws and Constitution and to terminate a long-protracted campaign of public and official insults which are only conducive to an accentuation of the existing antagonism between the two countries. And above all else to operate jointly with the other American Republics, and not unilaterally. He will succeed in achieving every one of these ends if he is given the chance.19

Finally, I think I should emphasize the fact that, notwithstanding all of the many disquieting aspects of much of what Perón is doing, his policy is based upon an effort to construct a new social system in Argentina which will bring about decent living standards for labor, social security, and a reasonable division of the vast areas of land now held by a few individuals.20 That he has real popular support cannot be questioned. Nor can it be questioned that the national elections which brought him to the Presidency were the first really fair elections that had taken place in more than thirty years. He is governing under the existing Constitution with a Congress in which he has a large majority. He is ignorant, a demagogue, and probably wholly unscrupulous, but his Government cannot yet accurately be classified as a dictatorship.

I know Señora de Martinez Guerrero and Señorita Maria Rosa Oliver with whom you may have talked. They are both, I think, wholly sincere in their democratic beliefs and in their feeling that the influence of the United States should be exercised in order to bring about an overthrow of the present freely elected and Constitutional Government of their own country.21 Leaving aside the question whether any decent international order can ever be created if the more powerful nations, merely because their influence is potent, assume the right to determine what the governments of other independent and sovereign peoples should be—provided the existing governments of such peoples do not jeopardize the security of other nations and the maintenance of world peace—I can assert from the experiences of thirty years that I have never yet seen the United States undertake to interfere in the political concerns of another American Republic without thereby creating bitter feeling against it on the part of the peoples of such Republics. I can equally assert that I have never yet seen any lasting good result from such interference and that the very representatives of the political parties or factions that have been brought into power by such acts of interference on our part have invariably thereafter turned against the United States.

This explanation of my own beliefs is longer than I had intended, but I am very anxious indeed to make you understand why I feel as I do. I believe that every one of the problems we face in Argentina can be solved by resorting to the inter-American machinery which exists and by inter-American rather than unilateral action. I also believe that, if we continue the policies of the past three years, we will utterly destroy the inter-American system and the foundations of the Good Neighbor Policy which the President built up.

I am following with the closest attention and with the deepest interest the work you are doing in the Human Rights Commission. I most earnestly trust that you will have the drafts completed by June.22

My best remembrances to you, and believe me, as always,

                                    Yours most sincerely,


Welles did more than express his opinion to ER. He publicly defended Messersmith and obliquely criticized Braden, writing in his February 12 syndicated newspaper column that Messersmith's efforts were being "deliberately sabotaged" by "persons" who "have tried to make American public opinion believe that the Ambassador's endeavor … represents the 'appeasement' of a 'Fascist dictatorship.'" Welles then called on members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to investigate "every aspect of this situation in order to ascertain with entire precision who the individuals and influences may be that are responsible for a campaign which jeopardizes the highest interests of this country and of all the Americas."23

About this article

Sumner Welles to Eleanor Roosevelt

Updated About content Print Article