1 FEBRUARY 1963, Page 23

Latin America for Adults

LATIN AMERICA is increasingly in the news, which means among other things that more nonsense will be written about it. Political commentators here will project their unsatisfied political fan- tasies on to the faraway continent, creating new stereotypes far more misleading and dangerous than the traditional Pedro-Sombrero-mailana variety. I can think of no better antidote—for all but the most compulsive stereotype addicts —than Adolf Berle's pithy 150-page survey. • Berle is essentially adult. He came into politics and administration—in their American mix— with Roosevelt, and was later Special Assistant on Latin American affairs to President Kennedy. He remains the epitome of the successful academic who entered politics on the left of centre, and learned to synthesise political know- how with social theory. Equally important, his approach and conceptual framework are those of the present administration, and therefore ought to be known and understood as factors in the equation even by those who disagree.

Latin America: Diplomacy and Reality has a number of major theses. First, that • Latin America is bound to undergo 'major or rapid evolution' or revolution, and that many of the social systems which emerge as a result are bound to be unfamiliar to North Americans, whose overriding criterion in judging them must be the safety of the United States. Provided that a regime is not implacably anti-US, maintains a minimal standard of human rights, and does not undertake aggression against its neighbours, it should be given wide, but not unlimited, understanding and tolerance. (The limitation stems, among other things, from the fact that dictatorships do not last for ever, and that the United States must look ahead to its standing after the dictators' downfall.) Secondly, that the United States has the same right to be heard and to defend its essential interests in inter- American affairs as the Latin Americans. Thirdly, that the Communists and Castrists are primarily negative and destructive, not constructive, and that the American States have a perfect right to fight back against Castro-Communist aggression, incitement, gun-running and other activities de- signed to sabotage the democratic solution of the region's problems.

So far, so good. Berle admits that the Charter of the Organisation of American States adopted at Bogotd in 1948 may have been over-ambitious in some features, and in need of modification in order to bring it closer into line with present needs. But his defence of US policies at the OAS Punta del Este Conference of January, 1962, which expelled Cuba, against criticisms that they pushed Latin Americans farther than they were prepared to go, though vigorous, is not particularly convincing. There is little cause for the satisfaction he expresses that only four or five nations abstained from supporting US pro- posals, when these powers account for two- thirds of Latin America's inhabitants and have considerable prestige throughout the continent. The book was completed in March, 1962; it would be interesting to know whether sub- sequent experience of Latin American reactions to and after the missile crisis has not convinced the author and his colleagues in Washington that though many American governments and political milieux are exasperatingly slow in facing up to unpleasant truths, they tend to do so eventually, and that there seems to be a point beyond which they cannot profitably be chivvied.

These occasional outcrops of self-righteous- ness are not enough to mar the book, but they are a warning of what US policies could become if things went the wrong way. The author offers many valuable insights into problems like eco- nomic development, land reform—which is too often bandied about as a slogan by people who know nothing about the problem—labour, the universities and students, which could profitably be studied by the leader-writers of some of our dailies and weeklies. The fact that he should consider it necessary to point out that demon- strations, organised violence and sabotage do not necessarily represent the feelings of the majority is a reminder that the Anglo-Saxon countries have their own problems of adjustment to the changing world. An encouraging feature of the book is the author's—and hence the circles' for whom he speaks—recognition that Latin Ameri- can affairs are far too big and important to the West as a whole to be left to the United States. He gives several good reasons why Europe should play its part, including the fact, so often forgotten here, that intellectual life in Spanish America is still largely oriented towards Europe. But then, his awareness of the shortcomings of his fellow-Americans and the virtues of other nations is a characteristic of the 'New Deal' type of intellectual cum politician cum administrator cum diplomat which has always been omitted from the British stereotype of the North Ameri- can in his relationship with the Latins.