The Acting United States Representative in the Third Session of the Economic Commission for Latin America (Ravndal)1 to the Department of State


No. 164

Subject: Confidential Report on the Third Session of the Economic Commission for Latin America2

In accordance with the Department’s confidential unnumbered instruction of June 5, 1950,3 there is submitted, in addition to an unclassified report on the work of the Session, a confidential report on the attitudes of other delegations and on the only political problem which arose during the course of the Session, namely, the future status of the Commission.

It is recommended that copies of this report be distributed to the Missions in the other American Republics, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

[Here follows the section on the attitudes of other delegations to the session.]

Future Status of ECLA

The Delegation devoted its representation allowance to a series of small luncheons and receptions at the Embassy residence, during the course of which virtually all of the principal participants at the Third Session were entertained. The Delegation took advantage of these occasions to discuss informally the future status of the Commission and, in accordance with the Department’s position paper,4 to urge that this question not be formally discussed during the official debates of the Third Session. As a result of these conversations, which supplemented and supported the Department’s confidential circular airgram of May 223 on this subject, the question of the future status of the Commission was hardly mentioned in the formal proceedings of the Session.

The Delegation made a special effort, on a purely personal and informal basis, to exchange ideas with the other participants on this question. Members of the Delegation pointed out that a merger of the ECLA Secretariat and the IA–ECOSOC Secretariat would appear to be advisable in the interest of efficiency and economy.

The four delegations with whom this question was discussed at greatest length—Argentina, Chile, Cuba, and Uruguay—expressed, [Page 683] likewise on an unofficial basis, the warmest appreciation of the research work of the ECLA Secretariat and their desire that this work be continued. They agreed that amalgamation of the two Secretariats was generally desirable. They advocated, however, that the Secretariat should be located in Latin America. The Cuban Delegation was particularly insistent that, if the Secretariat and the deliberative Council or Commission were to be completely independent and to be free to make full and frank analyses of the Latin American economies, they would have to be located outside of Washington, where they would inevitably be subject to pressures and the general influence of the Washington scene, even though this might not be intended by the United States. Indeed, Ambassador Machado5 contended that it was very embarrassing for a Latin American to debate an issue in IA–ECOSOC one day, especially if he had to oppose the United States, and then to come to the Secretary or Under Secretary the next day and ask for a loan or some other favor. The obvious implication was that the Council as well as the Secretariat was inevitably subject to the political atmosphere of Washington, but the Cuban Delegation did not press the point that the Council should meet regularly outside of Washington.

No clear consensus emerged as to how the Council and Commission should be combined, nor as to how the relationship of the future body to the United Nations and the Organization of American States should be defined. Several of the Latin Americans remarked that as long as a United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and Asia existed, there would have to be one for Latin America.

The Netherlands Delegation agreed with the idea of a single Secretariat, but indicated that the Netherlands desired to be represented in whatever future commission emerged because of its large interests in the Western Hemisphere.

The Delegation also discussed this question with Mr. Hernán Santa Cruz,6 President of the Economic and Social Council, who confirmed the “gentlemen’s agreement” which he had made in New York with Mr. John C. Dreier7 of the Department to the effect that neither the United States nor Chile would raise this question formally at the Third Session. Mr. Santa Cruz argued vigorously that the Commission should be continued. He maintained that the ECLA Secretariat was far stronger than that of the IA–ECOSOC and that the Commission represented the principal remaining interest of the Latin American countries in the United Nations (this argument is somewhat belied by the fact that three of the Latin American countries were not [Page 684] represented at the Third Session and that about nine others participated through very small delegations in some cases consisting of only the local representative in Montevideo). Mr. David Owen, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations for Economic Affairs, who attended for the first few days, agreed that the two Secretariats could be merged, provided that the resultant body should be part of the United Nations Secretariat and subject to its direction. Dr. Amos Taylor,8 Executive Secretary of the IA–ECOSOC, did not appear to wish to commit himself very strongly on the question of a merger, and indicated his belief that the two Secretariats were effectively coordinating their work without duplication.

As a result of its informal conversations the Delegation believes that a merger of ECLA and the IA–ECOSOC would probably be acceptable to the Latin American countries and to the three European powers, provided that the following conditions are met:

There should be retained a single, strong, and independent Secretariat. Dr. Prebisch9 is obviously held in the highest esteem by the Latin American governments and constitutes an unusually able champion of their economic views. The research work produced under his direction is welcomed and endorsed by many who might be suspicious of facts and conclusions presented by economists in Washington. It was interesting to note the manner in which many of the Latin American delegates, by the end of the session, had adopted as their own much of the thinking and even the technical phrases used by Dr. Prebisch in his central thesis on Latin American economic development.
The single Secretariat should be located in Latin America. It is obvious that many of the Latin Americans distrust the Secretariat of the IA–ECOSOC and feel that any Secretariat located in Washington is subject to political pressures.
Any future organization should be related in some way with the United Nations and should receive financial support from it. It would probably be possible to provide that a single Secretariat should submit reports to a single commission or council which would report, on one hand, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and, on the other, to the Organization of American States. (Whether the combined body should be called IA–ECOSOC or something else may become a point of dispute. Perhaps a new title could be devised for the Council.) It is recognized that this relationship will not be easy to devise, and will require thorough consideration in Washington and prolonged negotiations with the other members of ECLA.
If a merger of the Secretariats takes place, the future Council need not necessarily be limited in site to Washington. At the very least, it would be essential to hold an extraordinary session once a year in a Latin American capital.
Some provision should be made for the participation of the three European powers in the work of any future organization. These [Page 685] powers will probably insist that they should be represented in any successor to ECLA if that body is related to the United Nations … It is suggested, therefore, that the Department consider procedures by which the three European powers could participate in IA–ECOSOC after the merger of Secretariats, perhaps through participation on special problems or at extraordinary sessions.

General Comments

The Third Session of the Economic Commission for Latin America got off to a slow start, due chiefly to the late distribution of many of the documents, and in fact nearly ten days had elapsed before the principal committee (on Economic Development) really began its detailed work. From this committee emerged the one resolution of substance10 of the meeting, which was developed in a group on which the United States was not represented. This resolution was thrown together rather hastily from individual projects introduced by several Latin American delegations, and great pride was taken in its ten sections by its authors as representing a sort of “decalogue” of Latin American economic independence. In its final form the document was perhaps not contrary to United States policies, but the United States group felt that the important matters of policy involved in it should not have been treated so hurriedly or without careful study in relation to other inter-American or international agreements. Comments to this effect, with the suggestion (in accordance with the Department’s instructions) that matters of substance growing out of the Prebisch report11 should be submitted to the Governments for study, were made by the United States Delegation. This suggestion, however, was not accepted by the other delegations, which were apparently determined that some sort of policy statement based on the Prebisch report should emerge from the meeting. Finally, as noted elsewhere in this report, the United States Delegation agreed to go along with the resolution subject to later study by its Government. This move was rewarded by a round of applause by the other delegations, the only such action at the meeting on a matter of substance.

The meeting was to a considerable extent dominated, among the Latin American delegations, by the groups representing Chile, Cuba and Uruguay. The United States Delegation, following the spirit of its instructions, played largely a passive role, especially at the beginning of the meeting, and were in fact criticized in a private conversation with the head of the Chilean Delegation for not taking a position of leadership at the meeting. Mr. Baltra expressed criticism also to the United States group for “continuing its campaign of trying to [Page 686] sabotage ECLA.” It was explained to Mr. Baltra, however, that the private, off-the-record conversations between the United States Delegation and his and other delegations were solely for the purpose of determining whether there was a consensus among the delegations as to the future of ECLA and its relationship with the IA–ECOSOC.

The meeting produced about what might have been anticipated, the main result being to request the Secretariat to continue and broaden its studies of Latin American economic problems. It was commonly recognized, however, that the studies called for by the resolutions of the Third Meeting, coupled with the unfinished work which had been requested by the Second Meeting at Habana, would be beyond the capabilities of the Secretariat during the coming months. At the suggestion of the United States Delegation, therefore, the Executive Secretary consulted with the heads of the principal Latin American delegations, and a schedule was drawn up and approved by the Commission establishing an order of priority in which the requested studies should be undertaken.

On the whole, it is believed that the United States Delegation, while not taking a position of prominence at a meeting which was primarily Latin American and at the same time trying to be helpful on technical matters and in coordination of the work, was able to maintain friendly relations with the other delegations and operate within the terms of the Department’s instructions.

C. M. Ravndal
  1. Christian M. Ravndal was also Ambassador to Uruguay.
  2. Held at Montevideo June 5–21, 1950.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Of March 27, p. 673.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Luis Machado, Ambassador of Cuba to the United States.
  7. Ambassador Santa Cruz was also Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations.
  8. Director of the Office of Regional American Affairs.
  9. Of the United States.
  10. Raúl Prebisch of Argentina, Executive Secretary of ECLA.
  11. Details of resolutions adopted at the Third Session are given in United Nations, Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, Eleventh Session, Supplement No. 9, “Economic Commission for Latin America: Report for the Period 15 June 1049–21 June 1950,” passim.
  12. Economic Survey of Latin America, 1949 (E/CN.12/164).