832.50 JTC/12–2448

The Co-Chairman, Joint Brazil–United States Technical Commission (Abbink) to the Acting Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: The statement by the Department on December 21 of its concern over the instability of political conditions in Latin America encourages me to write you to express some thoughts that have been in my mind for a long time.

At the outset let me emphasize that I am not one of those who believe in a “Marshall Plan for Latin America”; nor in an Inter-American Bank or Development Corporation; and I never have.

What I do believe is that high officials in the Department, and elsewhere within the United States Government, have been so preoccupied with urgent problems in Europe and Asia that an unfortunate impression of neglect of Inter-American relations has gained considerable headway throughout the hemisphere, but particularly in Latin America.

This feeling perhaps is emphasized by the fact that no officer above “office” level in the Department of State recently has provided the leadership in hemisphere relations that Latin America has come to expect, and wants. The contrast in this respect is great when compared with the war years and with our present interest elsewhere as evidenced by ECA operations, and their world-wide attention-getting publicity. As a result, other countries, within and without the hemisphere, have attempted to usurp part of our influence in Latin America, with indifferent but sometimes irritating effects.

I am convinced also that too much emphasis in the Department has been on political affairs in Latin America, too little on the economic side. Political unrest usually is a symptom, rather than a disease in itself. It was inevitable that the post-war period in Latin America would be difficult, but adjustment has been delayed through absence of vision and inspirational leadership on the part of the United States, which has had its damaging effect on our diplomatic missions as well as on the countries to which they are accredited.

An illustration was the frustrated attitude displayed by the economic officers of our various diplomatic missions in Latin America at a meeting held in Rio in November. All of them felt that something must be done; but what? The suggestion that a new approach was possible, and could be made effective, had electrifying results on their morale, though the plan put forward had not been given sufficient [Page 374] consideration by its proponent. Development of the idea since in conversations with Brazilian officials by United States members of the Joint Brazil–United States Technical Commission has demonstrated its effectiveness.

The program tentatively proposed at the Rio meeting emphasizes the importance of greater self-reliance in carrying out economic development plans by countries in this hemisphere, and points out the possible danger of eventual charges of imperialism by political agitators where there is too much dependence on outside help. This leads to the suggestion that the people of the United States, already heavily taxed, are not likely to look with favor on financial assistance for development in countries whose tax systems impose burdens that are less onerous; but that they would consider sympathetically the demonstrated needs of any neighboring country which resolutely faced and attempted to solve its financial problems through rigid economy and comparable temporary sacrifice of luxury expenditures. Citing Canada, and the relations existing between that country and the United States, has provided an excellent example.

I will not burden you with further details of the plan, excepting to point out that emphasis on self-reliance has an inspirational effect whose political value should not be overlooked. Properly used, it is an antidote to nationalism, whether provoked from the right or the left. That fact is now realized here in Brazil, but it will need frequent reemphasis.

The next few years will be critical in Inter-American relations. If economic conditions are allowed to deteriorate, as they seem to have done recently, we may find ourselves at the end of five years forced to take action which would not only be distasteful, but expensive.

The beginning of a new administration is always the occasion for review and planning. The United States is fortunate at this particular time that no change in top-level personnel is contemplated. But I do hope that a new orientation in our relations with Latin America will be included in over-all planning, and that stress will be on the economic rather than the political approach.

I can report that as the result of our experience in Brazil, a new appraisal of pressing problems has been undertaken here, an appraisal which encourages realistic thinking, and discourages the expectation of large governmental loans from the United States. The concern manifested in the work of the Joint Commission by the diplomatic missions of other Latin American countries accredited to Brazil is indicative of a growing interest in the new approach.

But the start we have made will be nullified unless there can be continued and sympathetic follow-up at high official levels in the United States. I hope the President’s forthcoming message to the Congress will [Page 375] contain a reference that will indicate we have not completely forgotten the problems of Latin America. So little as that will help in the present state of affairs!

With assurances of my highest respect, I remain

Yours truly,

John Abbink