Fabián Herrera León
At the moment of its founding in 1920, the League of Nations enjoyed the solid support of Latin American countries, whose early and extensive participation helped legitimize the new international system and facilitate the functioning of its institutional representation. While this support was tremendously valuable for the Geneva-based League, it continuously suffered temporary, though significant, lapses on the part of nations that were particularly representative of the region, such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Despite the characteristically pacifist rhetoric enunciated by this group of states, Latin American support cannot be called disinterested or sincere. Indeed, their collaboration with the multilateral and universalistic pretensions of the League was notoriously reserved, to such an extent that in the 1920s the organization’s General Secretariat granted them special treatment and prerogatives, while simultaneously ensuring that the League would continue to exert its influence in the Western Hemisphere. This reality was confirmed, sadly, in the context of two conflicts, the Chaco and Leticia wars, during which Latin American loyalty to the League became seriously questioned. With few exceptions in the decade that followed—one characterized by complicated crises that would lead to a new worldwide conflagration—the general tendency with respect to the system of collective security described in the Society’s Charter was scarred by dissatisfaction, incompliance, and increasing disillusionment that undoubtedly contributed to the weakening and eventual collapse of this organization so emblematic of the interwar period.
Friedrich E. Schuler
The English-speaking world awaits its first detailed study examining Latin America during World War I. Many historical events of the era remain little-known, as does much of the region’s military history during this period. While key chronologies, personalities, groups, and historical avenues remain unidentified, researchers must draw knowledge from existing texts. The authors cited in this article for further study cover only a small fraction of the myriad topics presented by the war.
World War I set in motion a unique power readjustment in Latin America, the likes of which had not been experienced in the region since the 1820s. Most significantly, the temporary suspension of economic ties with Europe disrupted everyday processes that elites and commoners had previously taken for granted. Changes in economy and finance triggered a struggle between indigenous Americans, peasants, workers, elites, and immigrants, setting the stage for the social and political changes of the 1920s. Amidst the upheaval of World War I, non-elite Latin American groups successfully focused national politics on regional and ethnic issues, while elite Latin Americans weighed the potential advantages of ties with Spanish and Italian authoritarianism. World War I ended European financial dominance over the region, and the destruction of Europe reduced export markets to a point where Latin America’s economic relations with the United States gained new significance. U.S. military advisors took their places alongside European trainers, and many different “U.S.” actors emerged on Latin American soil, acting out rivaling understandings of appropriate U.S. activity in Latin America. The war heralded the end of Belgian influence and of significant French power in the region, British acceptance of U.S. financial preeminence, and questions as to how Prussian military expertise could be leveraged to Latin America’s benefit in the future. The creation of the League of Nations, a development alien to Latin American political culture, caught the region off guard. And yet it laid the foundation for global Latin American diplomacy in the 1930s and after World War II. In the end, the search for a new understanding of a Latin American nation’s place on the changing world stage led to the elevation of the institution of the national army as a social and political arbiter. The myth of the army as embodiment of national essence would last until the 1980s.
During the Mexican Revolution and the long period of reconstruction that followed, successive Mexican presidents navigated the stormy seas of international relations. Though forced to manage repeated cases of foreign intervention in its internal affairs, the government actually enjoyed considerable freedom of action during and after the Revolution because of the world historical context. From the First World War to the Second, heightened tensions and mounting international conflicts worldwide diverted the attention of foreign governments and enabled skillful Mexican diplomats to take advantage of world conditions to advance their own agendas for international relations and domestic reform on the international stage as they sought to establish Mexico’s place within the international states system, and world history, as the first social revolution of the 20th century.