The Attaché in Argentina (Martin)1 to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann)


Dear Tom: Seldom do I express opinions without being asked, but the spirit moves and I do not resist. Jack Pool’s policy despatches, particularly no. 1262 of February 26,2 have aroused a great deal of discussion in the Embassy. While I can hardly believe that we are going to reverse at this critical time a policy of collaboration which has been so fruitful, Birgie3 writes that Jack’s despatches have rung the bell, and Mr. Miller’s remarks of March 12 concerning La Prensa4 suggest that he may have heard it. With Jack’s knowledge, I should like to impose upon you long enough to present a few considerations on the other side, albeit hastily and in an informal fashion—to you who know so well the background from which I write. Although I hope to be as brief as possible, I must enter into some detail to avoid the appearance of dogmatism.

[Page 1092]

[Here follows a personal reference.]

Jack’s thesis is cogently expressed in the subject caption which he has given to despatch no. 1262: “If a hot war comes, Argentina will have to collaborate with the western powers.” Jack argues that he was speaking in his despatches only of a possible war-time policy, but at least his last two paragraphs were misunderstood here and may have been misunderstood in the Department. I do not agree with his thesis, but even if it should be accepted as correct, it does not seem to be a reason for a change in present policy. War may not come and our policy should be designed to ensure Argentine collaboration whatever the event. To me the eventual achievement of Argentine collaboration is one of the most constructive accomplishments possible in our inter-American relations. To Jack it means considerably less.

What do we want from Argentina as we revert to a defense economy and face the prospect of war? You and I pondered this question many an hour several years ago, and I do not see that the answer has changed. We want Argentine collaboration on three different planes or of three different types which might be described as general collaboration, specific collaboration and the supply of goods.

Considering these types of collaboration in reverse order, Jack effectively demonstrates that we can probably get goods anyway. Economic laws will certainly direct the trade in our direction. This was the conclusion reached by you and Mr. Braden5 in 1946, and I have little quarrel with it as now presented by Jack. But Jack again is speaking in terms of open hostilities and ignores, I think, that even in relation to the supply of goods, we may want more in peace or war than the economic laws will deliver. We may soon be unable to supply Argentina with goods in the quantities in which she can purchase them. To persuade Argentina, merely in order to accumulate credits in the United States, to increase production, to ration domestic consumption, or perhaps ultimately to sell at all to a country facing national extinction—to persuade Argentina to do these things, we might well need the maximum of collaboration.

Equally important from the point of view of policy, we need Argentina’s collaboration in specific undertakings. The extent to which we get it will depend on Argentine interest, on the climate of our relations, and on what we can offer in the way of quid pro quo’s. Where there is an Argentine interest, as in the control of local communistic activities, collaboration should come without too much effort, provided that the general climate is not adverse. We should continue to try to extend, however, the ground where Argentine and U.S. interests are mutual, through the long and dreary and discouraging process of [Page 1093] cultivation and education. If the general climate should be adverse, we are not likely to get more in the way of specific collaboration, such as control of trade with Russian satellites, etc., than selfish national interest demands. Even in a favorable climate of relations, Argentina can be expected to request quid pro quo’s in some instances, and in fact has already requested them. This should not surprise us. Even the British ask for quid pro quo’s, and we in the same position would be obliged to seek them. In a favorable climate it should not be too difficult to bargain satisfactorily. Argentina herself has not suggested quid pro quo’s for normal exports but only for commodities of an especially strategic character. Reciprocally, supplying her with her minimum needs on a nondiscriminatory basis, we might bargain with the special favors which she is likely to need and request. We should certainly yield no special favor without something in return and we should always bargain with a smile. The only objection to bargaining, as I see it, is that we might permit ourselves to resort to coercion.

To me coercion means in the circumstances a threat of being deprived of minimum quantities of essential goods or of being made the subject of discrimination. What coercion means to Argentina and to other Hispanic-American countries was clearly stated at Bogotá:6 “No State may apply or encourage coercive measures of an economic and political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and to obtain from the latter advantages of any nature.”7 That Argentina would regard denial of minimum quantities of essential goods as coercion is already indicated by press interpretations of Mr. Miller’s statement of March 12.

If we succeed in achieving collaboration in the supply of goods and in specific undertakings, general collaboration should come easily. I have in mind, for example, support of U.S. positions in the United Nations and in the councils of the OAS. George Kennan emphasized when here how important support in the United Nations is, and we know how important Argentine support in the OAS might be. Our present programs and policies are certain to cause dissention and contention between ourselves and the other American republics. If Argentina should be collaborating with us, the dissidents will be without leadership and the dissention will come to nothing. If, on the other hand, Argentina should have to bargain with us for every consideration [Page 1094] and the spirit of collaboration should not prevail, she will be eager to comfort other dissidents and, ostensibly or in the background, encourage them and guide them, and the hemisphere will be divided.

Although much more can and should be said by way of demonstration concerning the three types of collaboration and our need for them, I do not want to burden you further. Let me close with just a few personal observations:

Jack Pool has spoken of Argentina’s need for the United States. Quite properly he did not attempt to assess the U.S. need for Argentina but, after all, it is the latter which must determine our policy. Not Argentina but the United States faces war. Not Argentina but the United States may soon be fighting for national existence. If Argentine collaboration was important in 1947, it must be important now, for the situation cannot be said to have improved. I do not pretend to foresee that continued cultivation of Argentina will realize all our hopes, but I am hesitant to risk losing in a moment of national crisis the gains of the last two years won at such a sacrifice of high moral and political principles by both the nation and individuals. The policy of cultivation seems to ensure the minimum that Jack promises in event of war, and in addition offers the possibility of securing somewhat more, come what may—of all of which we may shortly stand in dire need.
Our policy of cultivation of the Argentine Government, despite the aberration of ECA in 1948 and 1949,8 has been eminently successful, particularly under Mr. Miller. He has accomplished much that was believed to be impossible. Where we have failed the Argentine Government has been unwilling or has found it impossible to change public policy. We ourselves have not been able to change public policy in order to meet Argentine requests.
When a totalitarian Government suppresses the press, there is occasion for sympathy and whatever assistance can practicably and properly be rendered, but there need be no surprise. When our Government decided in 1947 to welcome Perón into its bed, it deliberately accepted the possibility of certain consequences. As I recall, you personally outlined these consequences for Secretary Marshall.9
[Here follows a personal reference.]
And what of the difficulties which Perón faces in following a policy of collaboration with us? To many of his followers we are as contemptible as he is to us. Their personal interests and public policies are frequently opposed to ours. And the Opposition? Within a week I have attended two public meetings of the Radicals, the only organized opposition party with any appreciable strength. Attacks upon the United States in general, upon foreign capital, upon the Rio Treaty, upon Perón’s momentary thought of sending Argentine soldiers to Korea aroused the loudest applause. Leaders of the Radical Party stated as firm principles that the Party is neutral in the present world situation. There was not a single reference to Communism or Russia in the first meeting where attacks on the United States were so bitter [Page 1095] as to embarrass the Argentines whom I had accompanied. When one of their most prominent leaders, Frondizi,10 accused Perón of having obligated Argentina at Rio to send Argentine boys overseas, the applause was general and the loudest of the evening. The people as a whole, individualistic, proud, and stubborn, seem determined upon neutrality, much like the people of the United States from 1914 to 1917 and from 1939 to 1941. If, as Jack states, “thinking Argentines” doubtless realize that a victorious Russia would present a threat to their sovereignty, whereas they know that no such danger is inherent in victory by the West, there appear to be very few “thinking Argentines”. Many may well prefer a balance between East and West of which they might take advantage. The East is still further away, and many are none too certain that victory of the West would present no threat. In fact the way in which we deal with Argentina in the present circumstances and during a war might well be taken as indicative of what a victory of the West would mean. Despite all of the ridiculous talk of Argentine independence, she is certainly independent at least in one respect: She thinks independently. The amazing thing is that Perón has gone as far as he has; and on one occasion, when there was thought of sending troops to Korea, he went too far for his own good but may have demonstrated his way of thinking.
Words in the press worry us. This is natural, for the press is controlled by the Government and we can assume that the words are approved by the Government in advance. I don’t like the words of course, but in 1939 and 1940 Roosevelt himself backtracked many a time and played to the public. Perón may be doing the same. What concerns me is action and not words, and the action seems to be generally in our favor. You will recall that we went through the same thing with Spain during the last war. The Spanish press was filled with attacks upon the Allies and catered to the Nazi information office, but we got the action. All during the period of the bitter press attacks Spain released British and American aviators so that they might fight again, permitted transit of more than 25,000 volunteers for Allied armed forces, limited the amount of wolfram going to the enemy, supplied Britain with vital goods, and performed many other significant favors. Let us seek first the action, and later worry about the words. Maybe after the elections of 1952, even words will change.
You observed to me in 1947, I believe, that the great danger in the pursuit of policy toward Argentina by the United States was not that we would follow a policy of coercion or a policy of collaboration but that we would follow neither. To change the metaphor, you anticipated that we might fall between the two chairs, that is, by mixing coercion with collaboration, destroy the effect of either. In 1948 and 1949 ECA knocked us between the chairs. Resorting to rhetoric, let’s not speak of comparative need but of mutual assistance, let’s not speak of depriving one another but of supplying one another; let’s not suggest a change to a policy known as anathema in Argentina, but affirm continuance of a policy which has already won Argentine favor; let’s not risk our gains, but conserve them; let’s not coerce by denying essentials to one another, but let’s bargain for special favors. If our actual needs are not urgent, let’s feign indifference to strengthen our bargaining position, but let’s not adopt indifference as a basis of policy. Above [Page 1096] all let’s be patient as long as we get results and cultivate friendly relations with this difficult and impossible people, a policy which is so fundamentally inter-American that we need feel no shame if results invariably fall short of desires.

Well, that’s it. If I’m merely reiterating arguments already considered and discounted, I can have only the satisfaction of getting them off my chest and apologize for troubling you with them. If I can only cause a moment’s pause before we risk so much, your time spent in reading them may not have been wasted. The length of this letter must surely recall other letters of similar vein which you used to receive regularly from Buenos Aires. I am of course showing this letter to Jack, Joe,11 and Les,12 and they will no doubt comment in any manner that the arguments seem to require.

Best regards,

T. R.
  1. T. R. Martin was the Attaché responsible for matters relating to technical assistance, Argentine trade with the Communist bloc nations, and the importation into Argentina of motion pictures produced in the United States.
  2. In this despatch Mr. Pool had suggested, inter alia, that the United States should demonstrate a “little indifference” toward Argentina, and that relations between the two countries should proceed “purely on a quid-pro-quo basis.” (635.00/2–2651)
  3. Clarence B. Birgfeld, Officer in Charge of River Plate Affairs.
  4. In a press conference on March 12, Assistant Secretary Miller had made the following statement:

    “In my speech before the Inter-American Press Congress in New York last October, I expressed what I believed to be the views of every American on the subject of freedom of expression. It follows from what I then said that I, like every believer in a free press and as a true friend of Argentina, must feel deeply concerned over the situation of La Prensa and its employees.”

    A memorandum of the press conference is in the Miller Files, Lot 53 D 26. Mr. Miller’s statement appeared in the New York Times, March 13, 1951, p. 25.

  5. Spruille Braden was Ambassador to Argentina from May to August 1945, and Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs from August 1945 to June 1947.
  6. Reference is to the Ninth International Conference of American States, held at Bogota, Colombia, March 30–May 2, 1948. For documentation on the conference, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. ix, pp. 1 ff.
  7. This is not the precise language of Article 16 of the Charter of the Organization of American States (Bogotá Charter), which reads as follows: “No state may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and obtain from it advantages of any kind.” For text of the Charter, which was signed at Bogota April 30, 1948, and entered into force for the United States on December 13, 1951, see United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (UST), vol. 2 (pt. 2), p. 2394.
  8. For documentation on the activities of the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) with respect to Argentina in 1949, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol ii, pp. 473 ff.
  9. George C. Marshall, Secretary of State, 1947–1949.
  10. Arturo Frondizi, a member of the Argentine Chamber of Deputies.
  11. Joe D. Walstrom, Counselor of Embassy for Economic Affairs.
  12. Lester D. Mallory.