New Perspectives on United States-Latin American Relations during the Cold War

AHA Session 254
Conference on Latin American History 50
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Boylston Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Justin Wolfe, Tulane University
The Audience

Session Abstract

New Perspectives on United States-Latin American Relations during the Cold War

This panel explores United States-Latin American relations in Peru, Mexico, and Nicaragua between World War II and the 1961 Alliance for Progress. This regional diversity within the chronology of the Cold War allows the panelists to address important questions not only about Washington’s historically heavy footprint in the region, but how Latin Americans have interpreted and engaged that hegemony. This topic is especially relevant in light of recent academic studies that take North America’s behavior in the Western Hemisphere as an entry point into understanding the U.S.’s robust foreign policy in the post-9/11 era (Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop, Gretchen Murphy’s Hemispheric Imaginings, Fred Rosen’s edited volume, Empire and Dissent, and Grace Livingstone’s America’s Backyard). The panelists question previous views that characterize past and present U.S. foreign policy as somehow predictable and teleological. They provide new perspectives on U.S. policy and local dissent by grounding abstract currents within specific historical, political, and social contexts. The panel will appeal to an audience interested in United States foreign policy, Latin America as a Cold War battleground, and twentieth-century social, cultural, and political history in Peru, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

In “Nazis in the Amazon: U.S. Paranoia over Axis Infiltration in World War II Peru,” Willie Hiatt (Rhodes College) examines the United States’ obsessive attention to Peru as an unlikely World War II battleground. Fears of Nazi spies, Japanese militias, Italian financiers, and potential attacks on the Panama Canal using retrofitted commercial aircraft were very real to U.S. officials. Although this preoccupation with the Andean country foreshadowed the apocalyptic concerns that characterized Cold War foreign policy, Peru did not simply relent to Washington bullying, as seen in its decision in 1941 to thumb its nose at the U.S. and go to war with Ecuador. Instead, the sometimes tumultuous relationship between the two countries was as beneficial to Peru as it was to the United States.

Julia Sloan (Cazenovia College) examines how the Cuban Revolution resonated within a Mexican revolutionary nationalism of a half-century earlier in “Revolutionary Nationalism, Anti-Americanism, and Bi-Polarity: Mexican Relations with the United States during the Cold War.” Although the Mexican government and public acted against the United States’ Cold War interests, the two counties privately maintained cordial relations, and the U.S. sometimes responded with nuance and pragmatism, a break with its hard-line stance in other contexts. Mexico demonstrated that it could work against the U.S. to achieve political legitimacy without damaging relations with North America.

Using Nicaragua as a case study, John-Paul Wilson (St. John’s University) examines U.S. foreign interests through the Alliance for Progress, President Kennedy’s initiative to foster economic cooperation between the United States and the rest of the Americas. His paper traces the Cold War conditions that led to the initiative, its appropriation by Nicaraguan elites to advance their own interests, and the failure of the plan to provide economic prosperity and economic reform to Nicaragua.

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