September 18, 2017

1967. Leaders Gather for Inter-American Summit in Uruguay

Addressing the North-South Divide
Conference table at the meeting of American chiefs of state at Punta del Este in Uruguay, April 12, 1967 (Photo by Yoichi Okamoto - source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

April 16, 1967

The general geography of the world has presented mankind with a paradox.

We commonly think of our globe as being divided by the equator into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. However, the geopolitical experts here in Washington and in other major capitals around the world point out that the astronomers correctly made this division for the sun's-eye view of earth, but not for the people's-eye view of its inhabitants.

By what supernatural or accidental design, the population division of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is on the Arctic side of the equator, and from an economic and sociological viewpoint, the dividing line varies somewhere between the 30th and 45th parallels above the Tropic of Cancer.

By accident of history, the sociologists agree that the people who live north of this arbitrary line include the most advanced, industrialized, and developed nations of the globe, while those who live south of this zonal latitude generally include the so-called "have-not" nations awaiting development; areas which may be rich in natural resources but which history has passed over.

We hasten to point out that there are exceptions to this generalized view of the world. For example, Mongolia and mainland China are the exceptions in the Northern Hemisphere, while Australia and New Zealand disprove the rule in the Southern.

However, during this second half of the twentieth century the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and the Soviet Union are confronted with the problems of poverty and ignorance and social unrest of such magnitude in the have-not areas of the world that, unless the wealthy attempt to tackle and solve these problems in the poverty-stricken Southern Hemisphere, there is danger that all will be dragged downward into a morass of starvation and chaos.

Many sociologists and economists here in Washington and elsewhere in the Free World say that the twin problems of population explosion and diminishing world food production form a more serious and imminent threat to modern mankind than do all the nuclear weapons in all the military arsenals in the Northern Hemisphere.

So as this week in Washington ended, it was against this background that President Johnson concluded his meetings with a score of Latin American leaders at the Punta del Este resort area in Uruguay, an inter-American summit conference which some cynics said was unnecessary and foredoomed to be a failure. So little enthusiasm was there for the meeting here in Washington, that the president's anti-Vietnam critics in the Senate joined in a move to withhold a Congressional resolution backing the high purposes and goals of the United States' participation in the conference.

However, as assessments of the Punta del Este meeting—and the Latin American reaction to it—still are being made, there is every indication that Mr. Johnson's mission developed into something far more significant and important than even the most optimistic diplomats had hoped. Notably, that the president of the United States voluntarily took time out from pressing domestic problems and the Vietnam War to confer with his neighbors south of the border, and thus had more than expected impact on Washington's Latin American allies.

Secondly, Mr. Johnson deliberately played down his role as the most powerful man at the conference, thus emphasizing the initial point of United States policy, originally made when the late President Kennedy inaugurated the inter-American Alliance for Progress back in 1961, that the success of this alliance would depend upon the Latin American nations' own desire and initiative to help themselves.

In his opening speech last week, Mr. Johnson said that if his Latin American colleagues could make the next ten years "a decade of urgency," then together they could create a new international America. The Punta del Este meeting should make a realistic assessment of the past six years of achievement, and by that Mr. Johnson implied they should also look at the failures and lack of achievement. But more important, the twenty heads of state at the conference should look to their own common obligations to the future.

All of this high-sounding rhetoric would have little meaning if the words were not followed by deeds, of course. And no one at Punte del Este was claiming that the six year history of the alliance for Progress had solved many of the major problems of population—lack of education and sanitation, the prevalence of disease and poverty, of blatant economic injustice and absentee landlordism, of traditional fears of agricultural diversity, suspicions of modern methodology, and in some Latin American countries, the burden of economic and political dictatorship.

What the alliance appears to have done since the inspirational proclamations of John F. Kennedy was to get a larger and wider recognition of those age-old problems among the countries themselves.

It is a cliche of modern government that the definition of the problem is the first step toward its solution. But, again and again, President Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and the members of the United States delegation emphasized that the urgency and initiative to find the answers must come from the Latin American governments concerned.

Consequently, the Punta del Este summit conference ended its session on Friday by approving a long-range program of economic and social development for the American peoples living in the geopolitical Southern Hemisphere of our globe. The formal document included a declaration of principles and a plan of action.

This plan called for the establishment of a Latin American common market by 1970 and specifying that it should be in full operation by 1985, some eighteen years from now. The common market would lower protective tariffs among its members. It would create a common currency to further alleviate barriers to inter-American commerce. A Latin American banking system would be established to permit inter-market movement of capital, and even of labor.

Secretary of State Rusk and his Washington economic experts had proposed this new approach to the economic problems of the alliance during the preparatory sessions the week before the arrival of the chiefs of state. Consequently, the adoption of the common market principle was a Rusk victory, but one that no one bothered to claim, so sensitive are the Latin American countries to the "Big Brother" from the north.

As The New York Times today explained the State Department's arguments, Rusk emphasized that, without economic integration, Latin America could not possibly hope to compete with the rest of the world as an equal. However, with a Latin American common market, the so-called "have-not" region could confront the world with a waiting market of nearly 250 million people, and with an economic capacity that, combined, would be far above today's gross national production of some $75 billion.

Secretary Rusk pointed out that United States aid to Latin America represents only a two percent contribution to the overall economy of the area, and that trade with the alliance represents the remaining 98 percent. Thus, the secretary reasoned, the answers to the southern continent's problems are contained in trade, not aid.

The Secretary of State was also expressing a political fact of life emanating from conditions in the United States, which is currently preoccupied with the war in Southeast Asia. As President Johnson later was to indicate, the Administration could not pledge in advance any increase in economic aid to the alliance, not while the conflict in Vietnam continues to intensify.

Only President Otto Arosemena G√≥mez demurred and refused to sign the Punta del Este "Declaration of the Presidents of the Americas." Arosemena said he rejected the document because "we consider that it does not satisfy the aspirations of our people..." The Ecuadorian chief of state charged that the United States was neglecting Latin American democracy while allegedly defending democracy in Vietnam. Arosemena has long been an advocate of a kind of US-financed "Marshall Plan" for South America, a proposition which Washington economists say would be inordinately costly and impractical at this stage of the game.

By contrast, President Johnson's final speech to the Uruguayan summit meeting sought to emphasize the "grand design" envisioned at the conference.

"The leaders of the Americas met in Punta del Este," he said, "to inaugurate one of the most audacious programs in the annals of mankind...The goal was to demonstrate that massive social and political transformation can be accomplished without the lash of dictatorship or the spur of terror..."

But again, the drive and initiative must come from enlightened leadership of the south-of-the-border governments concerned, and this means the hard task of breaking through ancient traditions and superstitions and the imposition of social and economic reforms. It means greater efforts to improve the living conditions, education, and health of more than 400 million people. It means land reform and programs for economic as well as social justice. It means common action against the present and the would-be dictators who still plague the southern continent. And it means meeting the political challenge of the Communists, including the Castroites, with democratic performance.

President Johnson said he would recommend to the US Congress that Washington make a substantial contribution to a fund designed to ease the economic birth pangs which may come with the creation of the common market for Latin America. He pointed out that his Administration already has asked Congress to increase the bilateral US aid to agricultural and educational projects in Latin America.

And then Mr. Johnson offered something new. The industrial and developed nations of the world—meaning the more fortunate peoples living in the geopolitical Northern Hemisphere of the globe—should act together to help the so-called "developing" nations of the world—meaning the "have-not" nations in the geopolitical Southern Hemisphere—not only in Latin America, but the underdeveloped countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

The United States and Canada, the prospering Marshall Plan nations in Europe, the economic giant that is the Soviet Union, and the miraculously wealthy postwar nation of Japan; in other words, the rich and successful nations should get together to find ways to give temporary trade and business advantages to the have-not countries now struggling to raise their economies to a level where they can engage in mutually profitable international commerce.

Just as the United States and Western Europe now are attempting to alleviate international tensions across the Iron Curtain by increasing commerce between the East and West, on a larger scale, the same thing might be done between the geopolitical Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

How far President Johnson will be able to advance his international trade and tariff policies in the economic councils of the United Nations, in Geneva, and elsewhere remains to be seen.

And here in Washington, the traditionally suspicious conservatives in Congress already are questioning the wisdom of so-called "unrestrained trade" with the Communist bloc. Ironically, they have been joined by some of the so-called liberals who object to the United States getting itself into a position of what they call "over-commitment" around the world.

While the conservatives argue that relaxed tariff agreements might mean unfair competition by the Communists which could threaten domestic industry—on the other hand, their Congressional allies in this argument seem to be developing what might be called a "liberal isolationism," claiming that United States generosity, plus a pathological aversion to Communism, has led this country into untenable positions and commitments; specifically, the war in Vietnam.

As viewed across this ABC microphone here in Washington, there does not seem much chance that the United States will suddenly "go isolationist," as it were, and try the impossible contortion of withdrawing to a defensive continental position behind our Atlantic and Pacific shores.

But there is a kind of "psychological isolationism" at loose in this country which might endanger the hopeful and idealistic programs outlined this past week in Punta del Este.

Meanwhile the rich nations will get richer, and the geopolitical southern half of the globe will grow poorer, more hopeless and desperate. And in this condition, both hemispheres of the earth face doom.

The doom can, of course, be avoided—say, by the holocaust of nuclear war. But the scientists and diplomats are making gradual progress against the threat of annihilation. They can do the same to prevent the slower death from overpopulation and starvation.

This is Bill Downs for ABC in Washington.