Latin America in World War I
Summary and Keywords
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.
Keywords: World War I, economic warfare, finances, secret war, indiginismo, Hispanismo, labor, social regeneration, identity, right-wing organizations, raw material exports, national essence, authentic visual representation
Latin American Experiences
The Inaudible Beginning: 1912
The opening “shots” of World War I in Latin America were transmitted by undersea cable: orders to sell stocks and bonds of Latin American utilities and infrastructure projects. Contemporary observers missed the significance of these sales, yet as time went on their consequences were felt loud and clear. In October 1912, European elites, facing another, limited imperial war, began recalling their overseas investments, pulling out of Latin American projects. Until that month, Latin American elites had thought European money would always be available to fund their oligarchic, capitalist development projects. That this was an illusion became clear when the 1912 Balkan Wars caused a sudden, painful contraction, drying up the financial liquidity of national economies. As positivist development lost funding, so too did urban workers and peasants lose their jobs and income. Until this economic crisis, the Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian, and Bolivian economies had hobbled along on refinanced debt again and again, preventing the enactment of sociopolitical reform. But the practice of using international debt to buy a government out of a national economic crisis became limited after 1912. Common people experienced this change as yet another confirmation that oligarchy-driven capitalist development would continue to obliterate the social ties of their non-capitalist cultures and economies in boom and bust cycles. Local rebellions ensued.
In Mexico, the 1907 economic crisis had already offered an opening shot for revolution. In Bolivia and Peru, the events of 1912, on top of the earlier financial crisis, began to move the governments toward collapse. In Brazil these events ushered in the nation’s deepest crisis in sixteen years. By 1914 the falseness of Brazil’s supposed early-19th-century stability was unmasked as the young republic moved down the road to bankruptcy. Consequences for regional cliques were unclear. Would the British keep the Brazilian republic afloat? Venceslau Brás’ government dispatched to London an official who found himself confronted by an unprecedented united front of British, U.S., French, Belgian, and German bondholders, ready to take hold of a portion of Brazil’s national income. For the small Caribbean nations, the financial news of 1912 was even worse, provoking fears that it might trigger the next cycle of domestic financial collapse, leaving already weak nations vulnerable to occupation by outside interests—and their navies.
European imperial conflict opened the door for U.S. businesses, banks, and military advisors in a way that peacetime competition never could have. As the only remaining country where the financial and civilian sectors overshadowed the military and naval ones, the United States and its business, financial, and commercial practices were bound to see their interests increase, despite all Latin American cultural reservations. Europeans were sleepwalking into imperial self-destruction and remained focused on their own continent. No schemes or political manipulations were required to allow the United States to expand its interests in Latin America.
In the summer of 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo—along with Austria-Hungary’s reaction, backed by the German emperor Wilhelm II—confirmed that a new, frightening era had indeed begun in Latin America two years before it hit Europe. Even worse, the “limited continental adjustment” in Europe slid out of hand and became a global war immediately, militarizing Latin American coastal zones and ports and forcing a reorganization of export relations.
Open Military and Naval Battles
Ferdinand’s assassination emboldened Wilhelm II, the Austrian-Hungarian leadership, and German military leadership to initiate a limited continental war of imperial adjustment. But, contrary to plan, the British entered the war, and the German military failed to conquer Paris quickly. All bets were off. The conflict was becoming a world war.
From the very beginning of fall 1914, events on European battlefields were complemented by naval battles off Latin American coastlines. Cruiser warfare designed to make British trade difficult became a global matter as British, Canadian, and Japanese ships searched for German raiders and cruisers off Pacific coastlines.1 On November 1, 1914, the German navy won a victory at the battle of Coronel, painfully wounding the British-Japanese naval flank and provoking fears that British trade and shipments of saltpeter, used for ammunitions manufacture, from Chile, might be permanently endangered. Months later, British scouts detected a German squadron near the Falklands, off Argentina. On December 8, 1914, the British sank most of Count Maximilian von Spee’s squadron in the Battle of the Falklands. The SMS Dresden escaped, only to scuttle itself off the Juan Fernandez Islands on March 14, 1915. These naval clashes left 215 surviving sailors behind in Argentina and the Dresden’s crew in Chile. Later, a Dresden crew member, Wilhelm Canaris, who deepened his experiences in Latin America before managing to escape and return to Germany, became Hitler’s head of military intelligence. These events provided his initial contacts with military officers who would lean pro-fascist in the 1930s.
Other military-related activity in Latin America included the gathering of German passport holders in Chilean and Argentine areas where German emigrants had settled.2 These emigrants were prepared for transportation back to European battlefields to perform their conscription duty. The German naval leadership also decided to ship some reservists to South Africa to fight the British in their South African colonies.3 At the same time, Argentine and Chilean military stocks acquired for national use prior to 1914 sparked great interest for their potential use on European battlefields. An unprecedented reverse flow of European supplies began: Mauser guns, coal, and draft animals were purchased from Latin America and shipped to Turkey. The tide of supply needs in Europe reached all the way across the Atlantic, into the ports of Panama, Valparaiso, Buenos Aires, and Santos, Brazil.
Hidden Battles: Intelligence Work Creates the Precedents for World War II
Open, organized state violence in Latin America during World War I was confined to the seas. But the war also enmeshed the entire continent in smaller-scale secret warfare that brought unprecedented violence to the region. Secret warfare battles among Germany, Britain, and the United States were fought not only in the Ottoman Empire, Ireland, Africa, India, and the Far East but also in the Americas. Initially covert warfare focused on disrupting the flow of commodities between Latin America and Europe. This meant destroying the engines of ships ready to transport wheat, tin ore mixtures, coffee, rubber, frozen beef, and raw materials to British or French ports. Biological warfare came in the form of vials of poisons and anthrax cultures being carried to Buenos Aires to kill draft animals that were ready to be shipped to the British in the eastern Mediterranean.4 Germany built a blue print for a secret submarine base in Mexico by 1917. But Berlin never ordered the construction of a physically visible dock.
Secret war also brought continued efforts to transport gold from Spain via Buenos Aires to Mexico. The gold was meant to stock a Mexican central bank, the first that would not depend on U.S. dollars or the British pound.5 The creation of such a bank would allow President Venustiano Carranza more freedom of action, supposedly encouraging his benevolent neutrality and thus promoting German war goals. A German-Mexican miner was selected to lead a team to dynamite one door of the Panama Canal lock in case Great Britain decided to ship Japanese soldiers to Europe.6 Germany feared the British would use the Japanese to reinforce their troops, which had been decimated by trench warfare. In 1914 and 1915 a German-Mexican company was used to support the revolutionary activities of anti-British forces in India.
In the case of Mexico, national revolution was a matter of concern to German war makers, who intended to use it to prevent supplies from being sent to Europe for the British, French, and Russian militaries. From 1915 on, Mexico’s many regional revolutions became, indirectly, battlefields in the global war. Even though the dictator Victoriano Huerta had left Mexico for Spanish exile in 1914, German naval intelligence participated in funding his return to stage a comeback.7 However, the Berlin foreign ministry rejected two other requests from Mexican factions to finance former power holders’ returns to office. Not until 1917 did German Undersecretary of State Arthur Zimmermann embrace the spirit of those offers and propose to Venustiano Carranza an alliance in the event of a U.S.-Mexican war. The goal was not to take territory but to create a conflict that would keep U.S. forces in the Americas, far away from French battlefields.8 Indeed, most military efforts in Latin America were timed to coincide with new German offensives in Europe. The goal was always the creation of a warlike disturbance in the Americas in order to divert hardware and soldiers from deployment to Europe.
German planners were likewise eager to exploit U.S. racial divides, hoping to weaken the U.S. Army’s morale. Thus the Sonoran revolutionary Plutarco Elías Calles made available Mexico’s northern communication infrastructure and promised to organize Yaqui Native Americans to staff raids across the border into the United States. Carranza aided the German agent Kurt Jahnke’s efforts to invite African American U.S. soldiers to engage in a mutiny in Texas. But the soldiers remained dedicated and loyal to their country. Repeatedly, U.S., British, and Canadian counterintelligence prevented the realization of terrorist sabotage inside the United States.9
In 1918 German naval agents lost their employer as the Imperial Navy collapsed in Berlin’s November Revolution. In Peru, a Japanese intelligence service hired the unemployed German agents to serve Imperial Japan during the postwar period. Mexico’s Carranza added his agents to this new war alliance in South America.10 At first their work consisted of convincing Latin American governments to reject Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations as a viable world governance structure during the 1920s. Their efforts later reverted to espionage against U.S. naval forces in Latin American ports, in part as preparation for a plausible U.S.-Japanese naval clash.11 The lessons of this alliance came to influence U.S. policy makers during World War II and the Cold War.
Another troublesome legacy of the war years was the ease with which excellent German communications technology, designed to convey economic information, had switched from telegraphing trade information to transmitting battlefield-related news. Therefore, after 1918 the U.S. and British militaries distrusted German submarine cables and wireless ship communications technology and began to supervise global German communication. Trade rivalries had always encouraged the spread of divisive rumors and untrue business news, but after 1914 international rivalry meant placing portable transmitters in coastal coves to report enemy ship movements and locating observers in ports to announce incoming ships so that they could be sabotaged. The infrastructure of German trade houses forwarded critical military strategic information, just as the British did. At least one hundred core individuals, with and without German passports, worked for Wilhelm II’s secret service in Latin America. The acts of his navy cast a lasting and dark shadow of suspicion over hundreds of thousands of immigrants, and their families and livelihoods, for the rest of the 20th century.
1914: An Initial, Temporary Collapse
In 1914 no handbook could guide a Latin American president on how to manage a national economy during a global war. Certainly nobody expected the collapse of the German Empire and the end of its economic relationship with Latin America. The first months of the war brought a temporary collapse of most of the familiar infrastructure of commercial exchange. Insurance rates skyrocketed, and the initiation of economic warfare increased shipping rates. Civilian European ships began to operate under naval warfare rules, and the coincidental 1914 opening of the Panama Canal hastened a change in transport patterns as Panama became a location where deliveries from South America were repackaged onto other ships going north and direct ship traffic became more difficult.
Once it became clear that the envisaged “quick imperial adjustment” would be drawn out, European credit and investment flows were disrupted, nobody knew for how long.12 War made reimbursements from German, French, and British banks more difficult to obtain. New orders slowed down. At first, Japanese manufacturers took advantage of the situation and brought much-appreciated cheap and low-quality manufactured goods to select markets along the Pacific coast for the first time.
Ironically, the war emergency and the need to keep Brazil close to Great Britain saved the Venceslau Brás government from the imposition of draconian conditions by an unforgiving alliance of international banks. Once again state and oligarchic groups were prevented from facing the serious political consequences of harsh economic restructuring at the hands of international creditors.13 In contrast, financial ties between Latin America and the United States continued to function without interruption and even deepened. After a change in U.S. regulations, First National Bank opened a dozen new branches in Latin America, and Wall Street banks established themselves next to British, French, and German banks. The war also brought about the opening of the first Japanese bank in South America, though not until 1919. On March 12, 1915, the U.S. administration invited Latin American representatives to a pan-American financial conference held on May 25, 1915. Previous proposals for the creation of a distinct Western Hemispheric law of trade and commerce now became viable for adoption. Yet President Woodrow Wilson went further, and at the conference Latin American economists were invited to adopt notions of competitive self-reliance. Latin American leaders experienced championing simple capitalism devoid of any Hispanismo or Native American social values as an insult, along with the idea that Latin American nations should simply fall in line and support partial governance by an unknown League of Nations. A postwar order à la Versailles seemed so ahistorical and so antagonistic to established forms of social organization that Mexico, Argentina, and Chile joined Germany and Japan in a propaganda campaign to defeat it. These last twitches of German military-sponsored propaganda were broadcast from Spain, hiding behind Hispanismo.14 Latin American presidents accepted the new importance of Wall Street and U.S. dollars, but not Wilson’s Fourteen Points.
In Argentina the British state began to demand the monopolization of all meat purchases. From January 1915 on, Britain began to buy for France as well. Demand for Argentine canned and frozen beef grew, and slaughter for export doubled between 1914 and 1918. Speculation was helped by a liberal credit policy. Until mid-1916, packers earned staggering profits. Meanwhile in Chile, from 1915 on, the never-ending exchanges of explosives in Europe triggered a heightened demand for saltpeter, essential for making black powder. Financial backing from the Guggenheim family’s bank and the Bank of Morgan furthered Allied domination over the industry. The Allies then moved to state management and created the Nitrate of Soda Management to supervise Allied exports of Chile saltpeter. But when the pressures of German explosives manufacturing brought the scientific innovations of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch to profitability, the advent of the manufacture of artificial compounds ended this unique European–Latin American supply chain.15 The resulting catastrophic unemployment among saltpeter workers hurried the rise of political and labor activism among common people in Chile after 1919.
To the north, in Ecuador the cocoa trade weakened at the same time that Australian ships ceased to deliver coal. This lack of coal provided a strong stimulus for Ecuador to create a national forest-fuel industry. In neighboring Colombia, the export of both platinum and bananas became as important as pre-war commerce in gold and coffee had been. The search for petroleum wells gained momentum as well. At the end of the war, two-thirds of Colombian goods were exported north to U.S. ports and only one-third to European countries, a reversal of the flow that had existed before the war.16
A Battle for Latin American Hearts and Minds: Propaganda Wars
With the advent of World War I, European powers discovered the value of propaganda—and began to deploy it systematically. Ever increasing in strength, the barrage of propaganda forced U.S. policy planners to take the side of the Allied powers. In Latin America, though, social groups—mostly urban—needed explanations as to why they should not join the enemy. Were these Western Hemisphere nations to abandon neutrality, or even enter into the war, they would offer much-needed access to the raw materials and agricultural products the armies on the European battle fields craved. But a country’s change in legal status in the war would also limit trade and use of ports and intelligence networks.
The watershed event was the 1914 German invasion of Belgium and the ensuing atrocities committed against Belgian civilians. Politically minded urbanites were well aware that Belgium—like Latin American nations—was neutral, and they could identify with the traumatization of the citizenry of a neutral country in a conflict not of their own choosing. Studying events in Belgium forced the question of whether neutral Latin American nations could also become stages for battle between European imperial powers. Latin American diplomats reading diplomatic cables chronicling the transformation of the nationalist Mexican revolution into such an international battlefield harbored additional worries regarding the openness of their own national politics to foreign manipulation.
European propaganda flowed through existing commercial channels that before 1914 had been used for purposes of entertainment and advertisement. Best established was the French company Pathé, whose film distribution network provided any city dweller possessing enough money to buy a movie ticket with the first moving images of parts of the conflict on European battlefields. British commercial channels initially preferred print media, but after 1916, as the British high command learned to deliver one centralized message about the war, newsreels brought an additional British perspective to cities with transatlantic shipping service. The German message too followed established telegraph and undersea cable delivery routes. German propaganda too created new avenues to battle for urban Latin American hearts and minds. Instead of harnessing the power of the movie, German propaganda deployed the power of free print material to Latin American newspapers publishers eager to keep expenses down.
After the 1916 Battle of Jutland: The War Continues
In 1916 the inconclusive naval battle of Jutland signaled a continuation of global economic warfare and a deepening of economic change. From the macroeconomic point of view, Latin American production grew due to the war, although in individual economic sectors the war depressed domestic demand. In Argentina, for example, overall economic production grew by 9 percent, yet the export of frozen and preserved beef to feed British and French soldiers restricted domestic demand for meat.17 The war realigned decades-old patterns; suddenly stockmen and packers found common interests, but railroad investment came to a halt. Tensions in Argentina also worsened due to drought. In Brazil output grew to a similar extent as in Argentina.18 There small repair shops added new services and branched into new tasks. In some of the sectors where economic depression did occur, governments failed to intervene. Among these were Peru and Columbia’s manufacturing sectors, which deepened their ties with U.S. suppliers and imported more. Central American economies were unequipped to exploit any opening the war economy might have provided them.
1917: Two New External Shocks
The year 1917 was a watershed, with Latin American economies hurt anew by two external shocks. First, January 1917 finally brought the feared unconditional submarine warfare. This development solidified changes in the composition of imports. As it became impossible to maintain predictable shipping schedules, the banana trade declined. Skilled merchants throughout urban Latin America came to accept U.S. manufacturers as permanent sources for their imports, replacing prewar German and French suppliers. The second external shock was the application of the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act. At the same time, British black lists were starting to be implemented outside of Europe. Economic intelligence systematically collected by the Allies and the Entente forced Latin America’s commercial, financial, and transport sectors into war economy measures.
Leadership of a German, French, British, or U.S. company now became an extension of economic warfare management, not simply a profit-making endeavor. Commerce became ethnically charged to an unprecedented degree, and the punishment of individuals and restriction of property rights simply due to ethnic affiliation created lasting damage and resentment. Many companies in Latin America hid their German ownership behind new Spanish or Latin American owners. German-owned utilities in Chile and Argentina were hidden under the Spanish name CHADE to escape confiscation under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.19 The end of the war did not bring commercial peace but instead saw preparations for survival of the next “imperial adjustment,” as Latin American nations were certain they would be pulled into economic warfare measures in future conflicts.
Latin American businessmen of German ethnic background successfully defended their market share by forming the German Chamber of Commerce (DHK). Not a single commercial house collapsed due to Allied pressure. In Argentina the founding of dummy organizations intensified as ethnic German companies hid behind Argentine, Spanish, or Lebanese front men. Unintentionally, such centralization and improved representation helped the community to attract new postwar business rapidly. Another unexpected side effect was intense pressure by ethnic German traders in Latin America to force the German foreign ministry to reform its consular and diplomatic service: aristocratic representatives were replaced with diplomats trained in professional and commercial skills. This included the ability to speak foreign languages and the provision of official funds to pay for receptions.20 Merchants close to Hamburg and Bremen’s Hanseatic trading culture had rejected Wilhelm II’s aristocratic outlook before the 1918 November Revolution brought down his German Empire for good. And ethnic German communities had to rebuild on their own what Wilhelmian imperialism had destroyed.
By the time peace was established in November 1918, British industrial sales in Latin America had also lost ground. Though the British pound remained a key currency on the continent, the United States was now the most significant net long-term creditor.
Uneven development of war economies based on raw material exports motivated labor groups to insist on gaining control over their part of business profits. In Mexico, unrelated to the war, the labor code of the 1917 Mexican constitution introduced far-reaching protections that echoed the labor demands to which the Wilson government in the United States was forced to accede due to wartime production needs. At the same time, President Venustiano Carranza turned on the anarchist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and persecuted them. Nevertheless, the Mexican and U.S. labor movements continued to cross-fertilize each other.21
As Argentina’s workers could no longer migrate back and forth between Spain, Italy, and Latin America, they used strikes to make small-scale improvements to labor conditions. The goal of destroying the capitalist state faded into the background. At first in 1916, Hipólito Yrigoyen’s election as president was perceived as an indication that the Argentine state might provide a small opening for greater labor protection. Strikes shut down British-owned meatpacking plants, and the seaman’s union expressed solidarity, boycotting cargoes designated for U.S. and British companies. When the British and U.S. ambassadors demanded interference for the sake of feeding Allied troops, Yrigoyen sent in the navy to break the strikes. Disappointment was considerable, and it became apparent that democratic politics had not led to an increase in pro-labor policy. It also became clear that, in Argentina, labor activity was a transnational exchange, with strikes involving Spanish, Italian, and German labor leaders.
In Chile, workers in ports, in the nitrate sector, and in urban manufacturing in Santiago contributed from their specific sectors to the evolution of labor culture.22 The IWW founded its first Chilean chapter in Valparaiso in 1918. In Brazil, Sao Paulo was confronted with a general strike in 1917. In Bolivia, the tin king Simón Patiño’s intensification of raw material extraction for the Allies led to exploitation and violations that fueled more organized militant Bolivian labor activity immediately after the war. In Colombia, urban people suffered under inflation, low wages and inflated prices, and they expressed their frustrations through dock and railway worker strikes in 1917. During the war, workers confronted entrenched oligarchic structures. Once the tsar fell in Russia, immigrant newspapers reported the seeming victory of workers in Europe, using it to strengthen their position and demands in South America.
Latin American Reactions
Elites Deal with European and U.S. Political Expectations
Overnight, Latin American governments were challenged to apply rules and agreements reached at the 1907 Hague Convention Concerning the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers in Naval War for the first time. Nationalist leaders were asked to apply new international laws while continuing their own nationalist politics of armed peace against each other. Not a single head of state had experience in navigating such contradiction, nor desire to move in this direction. The question of whether to stay neutral or declare war was of great significance, as it would determine the continuity of important privileges related to trade, diplomacy, and travel. Therefore, depriving other nations of these privileges, commercial supplies, and access to raw materials quickly became a most important matter. The loss or maintenance of relations meant losing or keeping access to telegraph facilities, diplomatic buildings that provided safe haven, and telephone cables connecting continents across oceans.23
Mexico, a territory already ripped apart by domestic revolutions, had to take two complicated stances: first as a nation defending sovereignty in its own right, and second as a neighbor to the United States, with all of the security expectations this entailed. In 1914 the Berlin government had rejected Victoriano Huerta’s feelers about pulling Wilhelm II into nationalist politics against the United States,24 and in 1915 Berlin rejected Pascual Orozco and Félix Díaz’s requests to finance a conservative coup against the Constitutionalistas. But in 1917 Mexico’s president Venustiano Carranza attempted a brilliant manipulation to gain political room for his revolutionary government to maneuver. He stepped between the expectations of Washington, DC, and Berlin and extracted concessions for Mexican nationalism from both sides while pleasing neither power. Such brinkmanship fooled the German undersecretary of state, Arthur Zimmermann, into inviting Carranza to join a hypothetical alliance against the United States. Carranza was cognizant of the limits of such German offers, and indeed the Germans failed to pull off either a political alliance or the delivery of arms or gold from Spain via Argentina to Mexico. Still, Carranza’s brilliant manipulations proved sufficient to consolidate his revolutionary state, protecting Mexico’s neutrality to the end of the war.25 U.S. secretaries of the navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Josephus Daniels observed these Mexican machinations with great worry, and Carranza’s actions came to influence U.S. policy during World War II.
Like Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil began the war as committed neutrals. Colombia faced a unique situation. Because the U.S. Senate had not yet ratified the Thomson-Urrutia treaty, Colombia’s leaders maintained a rigorous neutral stance and continued to imagine what the treaty’s $15 million compensation payment for Panama’s independence could do for the Colombian nation following signature by U.S. legislators. Thus real and imagined fears of Central Powers machinations along Colombia’s Pacific and Atlantic coast lines remained the central concern of Bogota’s elites, as they did not want to send any wrong message to Washington, DC. Still, it took U.S. senators until 1921 to ratify Thomson-Urrutia and forward the funds.
In August 1914, Brazil confronted a drastic demand for financial restructuring, in addition to being cut off from its regular European supply of industrial and manufactured goods. The London-based Bank of Rothschild rescued Brazil’s government from insolvency in order to keep the nation and regional oligarchies pro-British. In 1916 France and its investors attempted to call in their Brazilian loans with little success, signaling a permanent end to the large prewar French investment flows. Once the United States joined the Allies, Brazil’s leaders tried to follow U.S. preferences while protecting Brazil’s internationalist contacts as much as possible. Secretary of State Lauro Mueller, of German ancestry, was forced to step down even though he had been more than loyal. Despite increasing German unconditional submarine warfare, Brazil only broke off diplomatic relations with Germany and refused to declare war until October 26, 1917, when the German navy’s continued torpedoing of Brazilian ships made a declaration of war unavoidable.26 From then on the Brazilian military gained strength as a national institution that influenced foreign affairs. Thus a symbolic hospital unit was dispatched to European battlefields, and a few volunteers proved eager to join them.
German unrestricted submarine warfare sank three Argentine ships in April and June 1917, moving Argentina away from neutrality and from support for Germany and Austria-Hungary. The selective leaking of the German ambassador Karl von Luxburg’s offensive thoughts moved public support even further away from Germany.27 Yet in the end, German naval leadership recognized the damage being done, and committed, behind closed doors, to save whatever German influence could be maintained. Thus Argentina became the only South American country exempted from further unrestricted submarine warfare. In 1917 President Yrigoyen temporarily moved Argentina closer to Mexico and Venustiano Carranza and his policy of neutrality. For months it appeared that Latin American leaders would gather at a conference of neutrals and develop further policy independent of Allied power, but eventually the need to preserve access to British and U.S. funds and markets convinced Yrigoyen otherwise.
In contrast, Central American nations were exposed to unrelenting U.S. pressures. In Nicaragua, the 1916 Bryan-Chamorro Treaty cemented the quasi-protectorate of the United States over the country and gave U.S. corporations a ninety-nine-year lease to build a canal. Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras protested this violation of territorial rights, and the Central American Court of Justice affirmed them. When the Wilson administration in the United States refused to accept the judgment of this independent multilateral body, the court collapsed along with its potentially positive future impact. In December 1916, U.S. Secretary of War George Washington Goethals called publicly for Panama’s full annexation, but in the end Goethals remained focused on developing limited, improved commercial activity in the Canal Zone.
In the Caribbean, U.S. troops occupied Santo Domingo late in 1916. Any German naval effort to build a submarine base in the region in future years was to be thwarted.28 Unlike their continental neighbors to the west, citizens of Haiti and Santo Domingo had no access to confidential information about German naval designs on the Panama Canal in case of a partial peace agreement. Thus they understood U.S. naval interventions exclusively through the lens of ultranationalist anti-Yankee rhetoric—and imperial Germans and Spaniards did everything they could to inflate such hysteria.
Nevertheless, Cuban and Panamanian elites declared war against Germany on April 7, 1917, the day following the U.S. declaration of war. The remaining Central American elites held out until the following year. Guatemala entered the war on April 23, Nicaragua on May 8, Costa Rica on May 23, and Haiti on July 12. Honduras waited until July 19, 1918, four months before the war’s end.
Countries of the Pacific South American realm, where the legacy of the 19th-century War of the Pacific remained unresolved, linked their politics of neutrality to their postwar needs in future territorial mediations. Bolivia hoped to curry U.S. favor and so declared war against Germany seven days after the United States did. Peru waited until October 6, 1917, hoping to clinch an advantage vis-à-vis Chile, which refused to enter the war on the side of the Allies. On the other side of the continent, Uruguay followed Peru the next day, and Ecuador declared war on December 7, 1918. Chile sustained its neutrality throughout the entire war period, hoping to solidify its position as the leader of a more independent South America after World War I. Instead, a German breakthrough in the manufacture of artificial nitrate cut one of Chile’s most critical earning and export relations with Europe. By the end of 1918, Chile was left dangerously isolated. As the war came to an end, Chilean leaders faced the fact that European powers would no longer be able to mediate its critical issue of control over the provinces of Tacna and Arica. And benefiting from closeness to Germany was also no longer possible. Becoming friends with the United States, fast, was a must.29
Non-elites React through Culture: A Quest for a New, Authentic Latin American Core of Identity
The war affected average Latin Americans only if they worked in a raw material sector that supplied the war, or in the large ports that served traffic to Europe or the United States, or if they could read and had money to buy a newspaper. To put it differently, the vast majority of people were not directly affected.
As people learned about the horrific technological modernity that the military culture of World War I was creating, the news proved only the need for its complete rejection. Nobody wanted the horrors of the new Europe: corpses in trenches, houses in ruins, and maimed soldiers. Affirming real folk and indigenous values was an obvious first counter-discourse. A quest began for a new, authentic Latin American core identity, intended to fill the void created by the loss of idealized French, German, or British cultural models.
The option that appealed to the largest number of people was a focus on nationalist Catholicism. That meant first rejecting the Italian anti-modern stance that the pope maintained inside the Vatican in favor of Catholic parties and social aid groups that were expected to expand participation in electoral politics. Chileans spearheaded this development. In Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, revivals of Spanish-led Catholicism would produce the Christo Rey movements of the 1920s that placed Christ figures on mountaintops, as well as demands for more Latin American cardinals, one hundred years before the election of a pope from Argentina.
Mexico’s radical anti-Catholic constitution of 1917 was merely the other side of the same coin. Its hostility to religion indirectly confirmed the continuing potency that folk Catholicism would pose to any and all modernizations, including Mexico’s revolutionary version. Mexican revolutionary leaders misread public sentiment when they thought they could quickly break the societal truce over the role of religion, established in the 1890s, and finish off Catholic influence for good. Beyond theological dogmas, Mexican peasants were fervent about not abandoning their folk spiritual syncretism, regardless of what the intellectuals who drafted the constitution thought would be good for them.30 And they persisted, non-elite Catholicism also thrived in select Brazilian cities, with Recife counting a membership of six thousand men in Catholic worker circles in 1915.
Whatever new nonreligious technological and scientific “gods” Europeans accepted due to World War I, Latin Americans would choose another path. The results of the Versailles peace negotiations once more confirmed the apparent irrelevance of Italian Catholicism: the pope in the Vatican would not even be allowed to sign the Treaty of Versailles. The U.S. and European winners of the war no longer accorded him any spiritual leadership over western politics. Now he had to sign concordats just like any other statesman. Folk and Spanish Catholicism, in contrast, remained vibrant, brimming with spirituality and rituals, ready to serve as a core of existence in the 1920s. Spanish and Native American lay Catholicism offered spirituality outside of papal control, often expressed in celebration by women, as the most obvious answer for a new, non-European system of social values.
The student strikes that began in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1918 added a generational response to changing social values. A new generation of youngsters demanded two advancements. First, they demanded autonomy from church- and government-inspired educational agendas. But they also insisted on receiving a modern education that would put to rest the anti-modernist stances advocated by traditional church educational models. Argentine students wanted to learn the latest insights of modern natural science. From Argentina, this push traveled across the Andes, west to Chile and then north to the Peruvian Royal and Pontifical University of San Marcos. Students who advocated on behalf of this movement also became the supporters of the populist political movements of the 1920s. These movements included fierce autonomous debates about whether an authentic Latin American communism could exist, woven around Native American communalist practices. They challenged the predictions of European Marxist theory, fired up by Lenin’s victory but dismissive of the Bolsheviks’ rapidly emerging paternalistic Eurocentrism.31
In Colombia the rural and indigenous population was increasingly attracted to a rebellion lead by Manuel Quintin Lame Chantre in El Cofre, Canca. No matter how brutally it was repressed, his revolt became the foundation for an expanded indigenous movement that only grew after 1919.
A New Look at Spanish–Latin American Ties: Neo-Hispanismo
Intellectuals and writers influenced Latin America’s small urban, upper-middle-class social sectors alongside teachers and professors. Their contribution to the search for an authentic core was an argument in favor of taking a fresh look at Spain and what it would mean to reconnect with it on a voluntary basis. After 1916 Spain was perceived differently from the previously adored France, Great Britain, or Germany. Spanish men and intellectuals did not consume themselves in the carnage of trench warfare. France and French war society now appeared barbaric, so much the opposite of the nation’s former artistic ideals. In contrast, Spaniards appeared civilized.32 Intellectuals asked if the former Spanish motherland did not have a unique and positive soul after all, one worth reconnecting with. South of the Pyrenees, Spanish civility seemed to hold its own, even as empires previously considered culturally superior imploded. Spanish elites used this flicker of new interest to challenge the Black Legend, and this rewriting of the official story of Spain and Latin America revived Hispanismo, which continued to blossom into the 1920s. In 1917 Javier Prado y Ugarteche emphasized to the Academia Peruana that the Spanish colonial period had not been as backward as claimed. The impetuous former Argentine secretary of state Dr. Estanislao S. Zeballos publicly spoke of Spain’s importance for Argentina and advocated for the former colonial power elsewhere in South America.
An increase in the book trade between Spain and Latin America celebrated Spanish neutrality and, by inference, Latin American neutrality as the beginning of a new age in which Spanish and Spanish American values would be superior. The Conde de Romanones, a leading Spanish political figure, grabbed the political opening and suggested that Spain should again preside over a commonwealth of all nations with Spanish origins. This time, it would be a morally superior commonwealth. Of course, this was an antidote to pan-Americanism and U.S.–Spanish American commercial relations. Rejection of any future French claim to leadership in Latin America was implicit.33 From now on the region was to be called Spanish America, not Latin America.
Such Hispanismo became embodied with the creation of the Día de la Raza, meant to unify the continent around Spanish Catholicism, not biological race.34 Already in 1917 Argentina and Peru had proclaimed October 12 a national holiday, and in June 1918 Spain decreed the date a national holiday called Fiesta de la Raza. Spanish clergy in South America preached such news with enthusiasm: here too Spanish Catholic faith was offered as a continental unifier.
An Unexpected Offer: Welcoming U.S. Students and Artists
The end of worry-free Atlantic crossings quickly led U.S. students, teachers, and professors to substitute love for the French and Paris with a fascination for Spanish-language instruction and trips south of the Rio Grande. Intellectual elites insisting on European highbrow literature found themselves disregarded by a growing mass of teachers and students following pragmatic curiosity. In 1910 five thousand U.S. students were studying Spanish. By 1915 the number had increased to thirty-five thousand. The very first U.S. course in Spanish American literature was taught in Missouri in 1916. Spanish-language teachers soon formed the American Association of Spanish Teachers. U.S. historians of Latin America asserted an alternative discourse of American history as they founded the Hispanic American Historical Review in 1918. Scholarship about Latin America moved next to the study of European and U.S. relations with the region in importance.
Finally, the U.S. archaeologist Zelia Nuttall helped professionalize Mexican archaeology by breaking with the old Porfirian cliques and taking a more scientific approach to practice and knowledge.35 Excavations of Latin American ruins in the Andes or outside Mexico City gained the cachet of digs in Troy, along the river Nile, or in Greece. Upper-class Latin American students reciprocated this fascination, and earning a degree in the United States became more respectable. Chileans snatched up Guggenheim fellowships to the United States.
Among U.S. artists, Mexico’s exoticism was idealized to represent a regenerated, vibrant way of life that in the United States increasingly seemed to be lost to Taylorism and industrialization.36 From joining Pancho Villa’s revolutionary factions in Chihuahua to crafting pottery in Mexico, “Destination Latin America” moved next to the European trip in desirability. Latin American rural life was becoming a spiritual commodity, an alleged reservoir of human authenticity. It preserved cultural features that not only the United States to the north but also Europe had destroyed by starting World War I.
Finding a New Visual Expression
French and German painters created a new form of artistic expression during World War I. This impelled Latin American painters to make a final break with the traditional French salon.37 The horrific aesthetics of trench warfare could not be a model. Mexico’s Diego Rivera remained most famous for making such a break. The muralist fused Italian fresco technique with outdoor painting and portraits of indigenous peasants. This new aesthetic went hand in hand with a communalist revolution visually built around the display of everyday life, the dignity of rural workers, and Native American culture. Before Rivera, Dr. Atl, Julio Torri had created images based on national, Latin American truths. Still, this was not exclusively a Mexican phenomenon. In Bolivia Arturo Borda Yariti painted themes of indiginismo.38
In other countries, Latin American artists broke with the French salon by experimenting with European cubism, dada, and surrealism. The Argentine painter Emilio Pettoruti’s commitment to cubism during World War I made him a leading figure after the end of the war. The writer Jorge Luis Borges experienced World War I in France and carried the idea to Buenos Aires that reality did indeed defy rational or logical explanations. Painters and writers created the foundations for a Latin American modernism that was very different from contemporary U.S. or European styles.
Ethnic Remaking in the Latin American Setting
War propaganda and economic warfare practices challenged the meanings of ethnicity, citizenship, loyalty, and identity in areas of Latin America where immigrants lived and worked. These issues were raised vis-à-vis white upper-class social sectors but also affected Native American and African Latin American populations. In Mexico City, Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians found themselves lumped together in one camp. French propaganda grouped Syrians in Mexico with their country people in the United States. In Guyana, the British and Germans manipulated Indian populations with propaganda barrages. Italian news propaganda directed toward Buenos Aires was intense. In Peru the ethnic Japanese community organized under a single umbrella organization named Peru Chuo Nihon Jinkai. U.S. and Mexican opposition to further Japanese immigration confirmed Brazil’s Sao Paulo as the number-one destination for Japanese immigration to Latin America after 1918.39
German communities all across Latin America were torn apart internally by the war, depending on political affinity, date of immigration, and social and economic class.40 British and U.S. propaganda spread so many half-truths about German intentions in South America that, even today, it remains difficult to distinguish truth from fiction. In turn, German propaganda vilified all things U.S. and British in such a way that it nourished anti-Yankee hatred, even when the facts supported the opposite conclusion.
In the United States, volunteers of Latin American descent who sought to enlist suddenly found themselves evaluated in terms of pseudoscientific racial classifications put forward by recruitment centers. Their racist parameters attributed to people of Hispanic origin a lower I.Q. and general inferiority. On the other hand, Mexican president Venustiano Carranza used the cover of the war to call for race wars in the southern United States, reopening barely covered wounds from 19th-century quasi-genocidal clashes in Texas.41
Experimenting with Paramilitary Social Structures
Throughout history people have assured themselves that the world develops according to some plan, however opaque. Such ideas combined with the German military leadership’s decision in 1917 to sponsor the return to Russia of Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries produced far-reaching psychological consequences in Latin America. As Berlin had hoped, Lenin’s militant agitation and organizational skill caused the collapse of the Tsarist empire and ended a four-hundred-year-old society based on a system of social classes. As the victorious Bolsheviks invoked a communist rhetoric, experimented with the formation of Soviets, and launched fierce propaganda, sympathizers and organizers carried the news to South America. Certain that in the Russian case an ironclad law of history had manifested itself, workers and labor leaders wanted to know if and how Latin America’s militant worker culture was related to the Russian trajectory.
In South America, the Russian Revolution elevated socialist movements above mutualist, anarchist, or social democratic ones. In Chile the Socialist Party took control over the Federación Obrera de Chile and turned its focus toward class struggle. Between 1917 and 1921, 229 strikes took place in Santiago and Valparaiso alone. It appeared plausible that the “laws of history” that had caused such an upset in Russia would also be applicable in the Western Hemisphere. In Argentina the result was militarization and intense mobilization of groups. However, the groups mobilized were ligas patrióticas, designed to counter international labor agitation with militarized cultural nationalism.42 Their goal was to “Argentinize” Argentina’s transnational immigrant labor sector. Five hundred fifty male brigades with eleven thousand permanent members were spread where socialist-inspired unionism was thought to have endangered the nation. Even though this nationalist civic organization was obsessed with order, it shattered traditional gender arrangements. Through the back door, women could become self-determined leaders of middle-class female brigades, escaping the limited paternalist realm of the home. These ligas saw themselves as mediating between unrestrained capitalism and labor radicalism. Of course, they borrowed from experiences of social Catholicism. Most importantly, they became the training ground for Argentine fascism of the 1930s.
The Army: The One Solution That Might Fit All
A final, key conclusion brought about by the war was the suggestion of the Brazilian military leadership that, in the future, it was a nation’s army that would embody the nation’s essence. In 1915 the events in Europe had convinced the Brazilian Congress to appropriate money for real military reform, and a rare strengthening of a Latin American army took place in the midst of war.43
At first this meant that observers looked at how French and German methods, strategy, and hardware fared on the battlefields. Then the German army collapsed, and South American militaries saw the wisdom of accepting an expanded role for U.S. naval forces. U.S. naval missions in Peru and Brazil became accepted as equals to European advisers. Most importantly, however, revolution in Germany and the collapse of the Russian, Austrian-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires reinforced the role of the army as a nation’s leading reliable political institution. The army thus became more than the organization that held the monopoly on legally sanctioned violence or served as the defender in times of war. In the Brazilian, Argentine, and Chilean cases it became the embodiment of the very best a nation had to offer. Art, indiginismo, commerce, union struggles, Hispanismo, scientific university education, and communalism each served only some subset of an entire nation. The elevation of the institution of the armed forces promised one institution that all citizens could unite around. It would defend all sectors of a post–World War I Latin American nation. In an era when the policy of armed peace promised to be the continued model—at least if Latin American elites had their way—placing the army at the center of the nation promised the best solutions to the shattering of society that had occurred with the opening of Pandora’s box during World War I.
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Rausch, Jane M.Colombia and World War I: The Experience of a Neutral Latin American Nation during the Great War and Its Aftermath, 1914–1921. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Lexington Books, 2014.Find this resource:
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Sadler, Luis R.The Archaeologist Was a Spy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009.Find this resource:
Sadler, Louis R., and Charles Harris III. The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue 1906–1920. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009.Find this resource:
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(1.) Ernst Raeder, Der Kreuzerkrieg in den auslaendischen Gewaessern (Berlin: Mittler und Sohn, 1927).
(2.) Holger M. Meding and Georg Ismar, Argentinien und das Dritte Reich (Berlin: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Berlin, 2008), 80.
(4.) Friedrich E. Schuler, Secret Wars and Secret Policy in the Americas: 1842–1929 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010), 144.
(7.) Michael C. Meyer, Huerta: A Political Portrait (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972), 212.
(8.) Schuler, Secret Wars, 96.
(11.) Louis R. Sadler, The Archaeologist Was a Spy (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003), 165.
(12.) Rosemary Thorp, Progress, Poverty and Exclusion: An Economic History of Latin America in the 20th Century (Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank, 1998), 64.
(13.) Robert L. Scheina, Latin America’s Wars, Vol. 2, The Age of the Professional Soldier, 1900–2001 (Washington DC: Brassey’s, 2003), 35–41.
(14.) Schuler, Secret Wars, 267.
(15.) Stefan Rinke, “Die Chilenische Salpeter Wirtschaft zwischen auslaendischem Kapital, Wirtschaftseliten un Staat, 1880–1930,” in Auslaendische Unternehmen und einheimische Elite in Lateinamerika, ed. Thomas Fischer (Frankfurt: Verfuehrt Verlag, 2001), 199.
(16.) Jane M. Rausch, Colombia and World War I: The Experience of a Neutral Latin American Nation during the Great War and Its Aftermath, 1914–1921 (Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Lexington Books, 2014), 112.
(17.) Jonathan C. Brown, A Brief History of Argentina (New York: Checkmark Books, 2011), 168.
(18.) Thorp, Progress, 63.
(19.) Stefan Renmicke, Siemens in Argentina (Berlin: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2004), 84.
(20.) See Kurt Doss, Das Deutsche Auswaertige Amt im Uebergang vom Kaiserreich zur Weimarer Republik: die Schuelersche Reform (Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1977).
(21.) John Mason Hart, Empire and Revolution: The Americas in Mexico since the Civil War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 361.
(22.) Frederick M. Nunn, Chilean Politics, 1920–1931: The Honorable Mission of the Armed Forces (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1970), 16.
(23.) See John A. Britton, Cables, Crises, and the Press (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2013).
(24.) Friedrich E. Schuler, Murder and Counterrevolution in Mexico: The Eyewitness Accounts of German Ambassador Paul von Hintze, 1912–1914 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), 165.
(25.) Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 387.
(26.) Scheina, Latin America’s Wars, Vol. 2, 35.
(27.) Schuler, Secret Wars, 229.
(28.) Scheina, Latin America’s Wars, Vol. 2, 48.
(29.) Brian Loveman, No Higher Law: American Foreign Policy and the Western Hemisphere since 1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 232–233.
(30.) Stephen J. C. Andes, The Vatican and Catholic Activism in Mexico and Chile: The Politics of Transnational Catholicism 1910–1940 (Oxford: Oxford Historical Monographs, 2014), 41.
(31.) John A. Britton, Revolution and Ideology: The Image of the Mexican Revolution in the U.S. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995), 88.
(32.) Frederick B. Pike, Hispanismo, 1898–1936: Spanish Conservatives and Liberals and Their Relationship with South America (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1971), 196.
(33.) Pike, Hispanismo, 382.
(34.) Pike, Hispanismo, 172.
(35.) Helen Delpar, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican: Cultural Relations Between the United States and Mexico, 1920–1935 (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press), 96.
(36.) James Oles, South of the Border: Mexico in the American Imagination, 1914–1947 (Washington, DC, and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993), 49.
(37.) See Pete Hamill, Diego Rivera (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999).
(38.) Edward J. Sullivan, Latin American Art in the 20th Century (London: Phaidon, 1996), 283.
(39.) Daniel M. Masterson and Sayaka Funada-Classen, The Japanese in Latin America (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 51.
(40.) See Silke Nagel, Ausländer in Mexiko: die Kolonien der deutschen und U.S. Amerikanischen Einwanderer in der Mexikanischen Hauptstadt, 1890–1942 (Frankfurt and Madrid: Vervuert, 2005), 210; and Ronald C. Newton, German Buenos Aires, 1900–1930 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977).
(41.) Louis R. Sadler and Charles Harris III, The Plan of San Diego: Tejano Rebellion, Mexican Intrigue (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), 227.
(42.) Sandra McGee Deutsch, Las Derechas: The Extreme Right in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, 1890–1939 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 84.
(43.) Frank D. McCann, Soldiers of the Patria: A History of the Brazilian Army, 1889–1937 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).