340.210/11–2751: Circular airgram

The Acting Secretary of State to Diplomatic Offices in the American Republics 1


Continuation of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America

It will be recalled that prior to the Fourth Session of the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) in Mexico City in June,2 the Department had been considering a plan for the possible merger of ECLA into the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (IA–ECOSOC), or, if this could not be agreed, for the holding of annual simultaneous sessions of the two bodies.3 The Department is in receipt of a despatch from the Embassy at Quito4 inquiring with regard to [Page 1073] the Department’s current views in connection with this matter, and considers that the following information may be of general interest.

It will be recalled that after the Second Session of ECLA in 1949 at Havana, members of the delegation concluded that a merger of the two organs might be desirable, on the grounds that there was no need for two Multilateral economic organs in the same region. Several influential Latin American Delegations had indicated that they might accept some solution along these lines, and it appeared that such a step might be taken in 1951, which was time-when the UNECOSOC would be considering the reorganization of its three regional commissions, including ECLA. However when the matter came up for reconsideration early in 1951, the situation had changed. By this time, Dr. Raoul Prebisch,5 who had taken over as Executive Secretary of the Commission, had built up a very considerable degree of support in Latin America both for his own work, and for the Commission itself. When, therefore, the matter was discussed informally with some of the Foreign Ministers of Latin America while they were in Washington in April,6 although there was some support for the idea of a merger from some countries including Colombia and Venezuela; nevertheless, Brazil and Chile were opposed to the plan; the Mexican attitude was cautious and certain other countries were non-committal. In view of these facts, it became clear that general agreement to a merger could not be obtained.

The U.S. Delegation was accordingly instructed to seek a solution to this problem at the Fourth Session of ECLA, in Mexico, on the basis of simultaneous sessions of the two bodies. A suggestion to that effect was advanced by the Mexican delegation. In spite of the apparent logic of this solution, it met with determined opposition. Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Cuba were strongly opposed. Mexico indicated that it did not wish to press the matter against determined opposition. Colombia and Venezuela did not attend the session. Personal conversation with influential delegates indicated that many Latin Americans suspected that the U.S. desired a merger of the two bodies as a means through which it could dominate both. Several delegations stated that ECLA was the only economic organ in Latin America which was genuinely Latin American in sentiment. The delegate from Brazil stated privately that he was under personal instructions from the President7 himself not even to admit the existence of the problem of coordination at a governmental level. As the Mexican delegation stated at a closed session, the problem was fear and suspicion and such feelings could not be dealt with by logic.

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As a result of this, the Commission adopted a resolution which calls for the establishment of a Committee on Coordination between IA–ECOSOC and ECLA which will be made up of the Executive Secretaries of both bodies and other secretariat officials. This Committee would handle coordination of effort between the two secretariats.

In addition the resolution designated Dr. Prebisch to consult with an official of the Organization of American States (presumably Dr. Lleras) to work out measures which they consider adequate to deal with the problem of coordination “at the governmental level”.

The U.S. Delegation did not feel too dissatisfied with the above result for the following reasons among others:

The resolution adopted does face the problem of coordination at a governmental level and it is hoped that Messrs. Prebisch and Lleras may come forth with a realistic solution since both are fully conscious of the nature of the problem; and can be expected to attack it in good faith.
The Delegation was much impressed with the work of ECLA and of its Secretariat, and particularly with Dr. Prebisch himself. The Delegation felt that ECLA is building up a body of Latin American thought in the fields of economic development and trade which is essentially realistic and useful. As is pointed out in the last few pages of the Delegation’s report which was circulated to Embassies in the region, it was felt that Dr. Prebisch is in a position to bring home to Latin American officials economic truths which they would not accept on the basis of any statement made by U.S. representatives.

The present policy of the Department is set forth in the following statement by the U.S. Delegation to the Fourth Session of ECLA at Mexico City:

“The Delegation of the United States declares that the Government of the United States is profoundly impressed with the high quality of the work being carried out by ECLA; that it wishes to see this work continued; and that it will give it its sincere and strong support.

“My Government, of course, will continue to maintain its interest in the coordination of the work of ECLA and the Inter-American Economic and Social Council at all levels but it will await the report of the Committee, which it is proposed to create, before supporting any specific method for realizing that coordination.”

At the Second Extraordinary Meeting of IA–ECOSOC held at Panama in August 1951, the Council took note of the resolution passed by ECLA and (1) agreed to accept ECLA’s invitation to form a coordinating committee composed of the Executive Secretaries and other officials of ECLA and IA–ECOSOC and (2) agreed to designate an OAS official to study, jointly with the UN officer referred to in the ECLA resolution, the measures necessary and appropriate for coordination on government level and to submit their decisions to subsequent meetings of ECLA and IA–ECOSOC.

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The Department feels that a basis will be worked out for avoiding any important duplication of work between the two organs. This may be based upon an understanding under which ECLA would assume responsibility in the field of long-term studies while IA–ECOSOC would concern itself principally with short-term matters. In this connection it will be noted that Dr. Prebisch has already suggested to UNECOSOC that the next plenary session of ECLA be postponed until the Spring of 1953, and has stated that he would prefer to have the Commission meet only every other year. It will be noted that, since the first year of ECLA existence, cases of actual duplication between the two Secretariats have been rare.

Finally, the UN Economic and Social Council has just voted with strong Latin American support to continue ECLA indefinitely with essentially its present terms of reference.

  1. Sent also to diplomatic offices in London, The Hague, and Paris.
  2. The Fourth Session of ECLA was held in Mexico City from May 28 to June 16, 1951. Documentation on U.S. participation in the session is in decimal file 340.210 and Lot 60 D 665. For additional information, see the Department of State Bulletin, June 11, 1951, pp. 955–956.
  3. For previous documentation on the status of ECLA, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. ii, pp. 672 ff.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Raúl Prebisch was an Argentine economist.
  6. Reference is to the Fourth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American States, held in Washington, March 26–April 7, 1951. Documentation concerning the meeting may be found on pp. 925 ff.
  7. Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, President of Brazil.