The Department of State to Diplomatic Offices in the American Republics 1
Propaganda Campaign of the Argentine Government
The Secretary of State informs the officers in charge that the problem posed by the hostile propaganda disseminated in Latin America and certain extra-hemisphere countries by official and semi-official Argentine information media is the subject of continuing study in the Department. One effect of the increasingly provocative character of this anti-United States campaign has been to rouse varying degrees of interest in third countries with regard to this Government’s possible reaction. It may be useful, therefore, to outline in general terms the attitudes which we can constructively express towards Peronista propaganda, and some of the considerations that shape them.
For the past year and a half the Department has pursued a policy of strict correctness towards Argentina in the face of an ever increasing barrage of Peronista propaganda attacks. It was known that the Peron Government for its own political purposes desired the United States to counter attack, and it has been the Department’s policy not to be drawn into a polemical exchange.[Page 424]
In the present conditions of political and economic strain that obtain in Argentina, there is a considerable likelihood that any form of open retaliation on the part of the United States would be seized upon as the excuse for action that might so affect relations between the United States and Argentina as to precipitate the major problem of a recognized intra-hemisphere schism. It is also likely that open retaliation on our part would strengthen the hand of Argentine extremists.
There is, of course, a possibility that the Peronistas may resort to such action without any outside stimulus, citing some wholly imaginary pretext. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the United States would have little to gain, and much to lose, in supplying an excuse.
Evidence from nearly every other Latin American country indicates that the literate, knowledgeable people know how to appraise Argentine propaganda. It is reasonable to hope that this will create a body of opinion which, if not in itself a satisfactory defense, will lay a foundation for whatever countermeasures might become expedient. The attitude of the United States and of its representatives abroad can help or hinder this development.
1. It should be our objective, in contact with the nationals of other Latin American countries, to: (a) Underline, by the marked contrast of our own demeanor, the gratuitous aggressiveness of Peronista propaganda; and (b) Promote consciousness of the areas of difference between the aims and interests of the Peron Government and those of the Continent as a whole.
2. We should focus attention on the phenomenon of Peronista propaganda rather than on the content of its attacks. As these, almost without exception are not peculiar to Peronista sources, they must be dealt with, not in this particular context, but as part of the larger problem of Communist-nationalist distortion.
3. We should neither be drawn into betraying anger over the Peronista campaign, nor should we scornfully dismiss the whole subject: the first of these reactions would place us in the eyes of observers in the position of a frustrated second party to a “cold war”; the second might encourage others to take the Peronista drive lightly. Rather, it should be our aim to disarm the half-malicious interest that sometimes underlies the condolences of onlookers, and to induce Latin Americans to go much farther than we can in repudiating Peronista methods and calumnies against the United States.
4. A long-standing resentment of Argentines predisposes many Latin Americans to criticism of Argentine policies. However, it would be unwise to play upon that resentment by joining in detraction of the Argentine people or of the country itself; first, because it is not our purpose to encourage cleavages among the peoples of the hemisphere, and secondly, because that resentment in many cases is complicated by [Page 425] an underlying admiration of Argentina which would assert itself in reaction to American criticism. Furthermore, there is a well-known tendency of the Latin American countries to go to the support of any one of them unfavorably treated by the United States.
5. We should be extremely cautious in imputing Communist orientation to the Peron Government on the evidence of its propaganda. While the content and apparent strategy of its anti-United States attacks are to us highly suggestive of Communist influence, it would not be good tactics for United States officials to make this charge. This does not mean that we should not on appropriate occasions comment privately on Peronista furtherance of the Communist line or the appeal to Communist sources by Peronista publications; but for the present we should not emphasize this theme or place any final interpretation on it.
We wish to avoid any overt or concerted response to anti-American propaganda by Argentina. However, as circumstances permit and particularly if other diplomatic officials should initiate a discussion of our attitude towards Argentina, our diplomatic representatives abroad should in private conversation develop any or all of the following points:
1. We have no fight with the people of Argentina. We have always esteemed the contribution that the Argentines could make to the progress and welfare of the American community, and hoped for more whole-hearted participation from them. Geographically Argentina is one of the most isolated countries in the world and its self-sufficiency in food has intensified the effect of its physical position. It has not, like most countries, been forced to learn how to live with others. Thus, for example, the Peron Government does not appear to value the concept of cooperation among equals or to be willing to accept a share of the common responsibility for safeguarding the Americas.
While the Peronistas usually object to any cooperative project undertaken by others, they never seem to have anything genuine to put in its place. Back in 1948 they talked of aiding other countries in economic development, sent Senator Molinari around the continent as a Special Ambassador for Trade Promotion, and announced plans for a Cuban-Argentine bank of commerce—but nothing has come of this. Recently they propagandized in favor of a Latin American trading bloc, to handle sales to the large consumer countries; but as they now have virtually no surpluses for export, that proposal cannot be serious—unless they think of marketing other peoples’ products. Argentina is, in fact, much less important economically, politically and militarily than her ego permits her to believe, and it would be useful for this idea to have more general currency. Any comment on the subject should subtly point out the ridiculousness of some of Argentina’s bombastic claims.
2. We believe that most Argentines are unaware of the external activities of Peron’s propaganda machine, and we should be reluctant to [Page 426] see the entire nation penalized for the actions of a government that makes policy in so arbitrary a manner.
3. A very serious aspect of Peronista propaganda is its attack upon truth.
One phase of this attack is the constant effort to discredit journalists and the free press; the other is the attempt to poison the sources of information by such measures as subsidization of the unscrupulous news agency, Agenda Latina, falsification of datelines and misrepresentation of news sources in the Government-controlled press, and publication within Argentina of wholly false news which is then disseminated throughout the continent by press and radio. Such practices, which threaten to discredit and undermine the ethics of journalism, are a more radical threat to freedom of information than is censorship or persecution of newspapermen, and they reinforce upon our own shores the attack waged from behind the Iron Curtain upon the great Western institution of the free press. It behooves free men—and especially publishers and journalists, since their survival is directly involved—to defend the bases of freedom of information by repudiating falsified news and exposing its purveyors.
4. As to why the Peron Government should make a systematic practice of methods so out of keeping with the traditions and culture of the nation, that is of course a matter of speculation. However, as is common knowledge, the economic life of Argentina has deteriorated to an appalling extent and it obviously must be increasingly difficult to prevent the electorate from awakening to their real position.
Hence, to preserve the illusion of Peronista success, it becomes necessary to elaborate the machinery of fiction, carrying it beyond the confines of domestic press and radio. This explanation would also account, perhaps, for the hysterical tone of the propaganda and for the huge expenditure upon international meetings at Buenos Aires and shows of all sorts considered likely to give the people an impression of triumph and dynamism. The external policy of obfuscation may have the same motivation as the repeated “discovery” of “foreign plots”, which—in theory at least—at once diverts public attention from genuine problems and provides the regime with a scapegoat.
5. The priority given the United States as the target of insult is apt to obscure the fact that Peronista propaganda is a problem for the countries it is penetrating. (It is not in the United States that Peron is setting himself up as the deliverer of the people, nor are American workers being organized by the Argentine labor attachés.) Reaction to the problem appears to be mounting in many parts of the continent: one government (Ecuador) recently declared the Argentine Ambassador persona non grata for intervening in internal affairs; another (Panama) has forced the withdrawal of the Labor Attaché; others have placed Argentine diplomats under surveillance; one of the unions that entered the new Peronista-sponsored labor confederation has withdrawn its affiliation because of interference in its local affairs. Editorial opinion in various countries indicates resentment over Peronista penetration through the CGT.
This instruction should be discussed with those officers who are most in contact with the public and, therefore, apt to encounter questions or comment on this subject.[Page 427]
It should be emphasized that the purpose of this instruction is to give the chiefs of mission, and such other officers as they may desire to indoctrinate, background material with which to deal with the Argentine problem in discussions on appropriate occasions with nationals of the country to which they are accredited and diplomatic colleagues. This instruction should, however, under no circumstances be construed as an incitement to our diplomatic establishments to take the initiative in any frontal attack on the Argentine Republic or his government. The matter should be treated as one of extreme delicacy where the utmost tact and discretion are required. Crusading fervor and heavyhandedness should be avoided at all costs. It would, for example, be far better if the subject could be discussed when others take the initiative in raising it. The judicious use of humor in dealing with the problem would probably contribute to the success of any efforts on our part.
- Drafted by Katherine Keany of the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs; cleared with the Bureau and the Office of South American Affairs.↩