Latin America during the Second World War

De Baripedia

Latin America is rarely mentioned in the Second World War; this silence corresponds to a certain reality, Latin America stood on the sidelines of the war without fighting or destruction, very few men were mobilized except for a few thousand Mexicans and Brazilians.

The courage of Cardenas in Mexico, who saw the danger of the Spanish Civil War, should be noted; in 1938, seeing the help of Mussolini and Franco, Cardenas asked for an intervention refused by France and England at the League of Nations.

It must be remembered that no Latin American country allied itself with the Axis forces during the war, it would take them some time to enter the war.

European Refugees in Latin America: 1934 - 1939[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Before the war, Latin America had repercussions from what was happening in Europe with the arrival of refugees from Europe.

With the rise of the extreme right and anti-Semitism, Germans, Jews, socialists and communists came to take refuge in Latin America.

They are not very numerous refugees, but they will have an impact on culture, education and science in Latin America.

1938 a conference on the fate of refugees[8][9], Roosevelt said he wouldn't receive Jews[10], but curiously enough, the Dominican Republic in Trujillo offers to receive up to 100,000 Jews. The reasons for this generosity are not really humanitarian reasons, but a publicity operation to prevent an American state commission from coming to investigate the massacre of thousands of Haitians; on the other hand, the idea is also to whitewash the population of the Dominican Republic, which he considers too "Africanized".

With the help of American Jewish organizations, a few hundred German Jews came to take refuge there before leaving for the United States.

The great majority of the Jews will take refuge in Argentina, for there is already a large community of Jews from Russia formed around 1900 at the time when there were pogroms in Russia which forced them to flee.

Many socialists and communists will flee political persecution and teach in universities.

Another refugee movement is the Spanish Republicans and Socialists after Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War. The Cardenas government stands out from the rest in order to help the hundreds of refugees in France. Between 1939 and 1942, 12,000 took refuge in Mexico following an agreement with the Vichy government. Many were civil servants from the Spanish republic, 40% of whom were women.

Their influence on Mexican culture was to be important. It should also be noted that the Mexican government refused to recognize Franco's regime while the Spanish government in exile settled in Mexico.

Republican Spaniards will be received by Trujillo in the Dominican Republic who wants to continue to strengthen the white and Hispanic element while making people forget the massacre of the Haitians.

Another part of these Spanish republicans will settle in Chile, Cuba and Argentina.

Economy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Second World War had a very significant impact. The cessation of imports from Europe allowed the start up and expansion of certain industries such as textiles and heavy industry, including metallurgy, especially in countries with large domestic markets such as Brazil and Mexico.

The United States' need for raw materials and agricultural products leads to the export of these products by many Latin American countries. Since demand is higher than production and prices are higher, these countries can accumulate some reserves to boost the economy.

In Latin America, there are no social changes like in the United States, because men do not go to war and do not have to be replaced, so the structure of society is not profoundly changed by war.

Politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Since the end of the 1920s, populism has tended to impose itself and can be right or left wing. The other change that has been taking place since the 1920s is that we are beginning to see a workers' movement forming in these industrial enclaves; with the war, this movement is being boosted in the cities, in industrial and agricultural areas with an increase in trade unionism.

In most countries, trade unions, socialist parties and communist parties under Soviet influence are being formed; the Moscow Kominterm leads these communist parties deciding as a priority to fight against fascism. This order is followed to the letter throughout Latin America and even more so after Hitler's invasion of Russia in 1941.

For the labour movement, this has positive effects in the short term, but negative effects in the long term. During the war, in many democratic countries when liberal governments came to power, these governments associated the communist parties with the government accepting the development of communism.

The communist parties under the Kominterm agreed to reform the trade union movement, which generally allied itself with the party in power, and this was the case in Colombia and Cuba, where in 1940 Batista was elected on a broad platform of national union integrating communists into his regime.

In the long term, this strategy will lose out, because the unions and left-wing parties will put themselves in a position of dependence on the government, leaving the unions to take a much more national and protectionist line that will defend workers and social benefits rather than defending internationalism.

Communist parties under these dictatorial regimes had been banned before the war as in Brazil where trade unionism depends on the government, under Cardenas in Mexico the government forms an Institutional Revolutionary Party and a single trade union. In the long term, the effects are negative, because all labour movements will affiliate with the government and lose their autonomy.

Right-wing tendencies also appeared with Mussolini's fascism, which continued to be emulated, and then from 1933 onwards the corporatist dictatorship of Salazar in Portugal and Franco in Spain were also emulated, especially among the conservative Catholic bourgeoisie in several countries supported by Catholic Social Action, which was directed from the Vatican to create a Catholic workers' countermovement that did not advocate class struggle.

For the conservative elites, they see in the dictatorial regimes of Europe the possibility of economic dirigisme, authoritarianism with the obsession to control the popular masses imagining to apply similar regimes to Latin America and to copy the regimes of order and progress that we saw developing from 1870 - 1880 in order to impose a social order, to control work and to segment the economy leaving the private sector to develop with the protection of the State.

A trend was emerging with a very strong Catholic extreme right that attacked the workers' movement, communism and freemasonry. There are strong political confrontations on the model of Spain during the civil war, which are very strong and often end in very strong repression of the workers' and peasants' movements.

In 1930 and 1940, many Latin American countries were dictatorships. In countries that are not dictatorships, such as Colombia, an ultra-Catholic right-wing is relentlessly attacking the ruling liberal party, which has made an alliance with the socialist party, accusing them of freemasonry, socialism and communism.

From neutrality to war against the Axis[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Nazism after 1933 tried to strengthen its ties with Latin American nations in order to secure a supply of raw materials. They tried to develop an important diplomatic activity especially towards Argentina and Chile because already at the end of the 19th century Prussia had links with these two countries providing military missions in order to train these armies on the Prussian model.

Small communities of German immigrants are found in Argentina, Guatemala and Uruguay forming local Nazi parties estimated to have 8,000 adherents in Latin America, but at the same time it has 25,000 adherents in the United States. However, it was virtually impossible for them to gain a foothold in Latin America, anti-Semitism could find followers, but outside Argentina there were virtually no Jews, while the glorification of the Aryan race was hardly likely in Latin America where the overwhelming majority was mestizo.

In spite of the fact that many leaders are interested in what is being done in Italy, Portugal and Spain, no country allies itself with the Axis countries.

This shows that Europe has lost influence to the United States. The latter is mobilising Latin America under its aegis by developing the principle of non-intervention by one country in another.

At the same time, at the end of 1938 a Declaration of Continental Solidarity was adopted and in September 1939 the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American States adopted a position of neutrality in the war.

In 1940, after the defeat of France and the Netherlands, these same ministers decided to place the colonies of South America and the Caribbean under the trusteeship of the American States in order to preserve the neutrality of the Americas, Germany did not make any attack, particularly against Martinique and Guadeloupe.[11][12][13][14]

Latin America's entry into the war will be in the wake of the United States; it is through the attack on Pearl Harbour that Latin American countries will declare war on Germany and Japan, mainly Central American and Caribbean countries where the United States had intervened in the 1920s. However, this is a statement in the United States movement.

What is most ironic is that almost all of them are dictatorships that are joining the allied forces.

The only countries that have independent policies are Mexico and Brazil, which decided to remain neutral at that time.

In 1942, the United States called a conference in Rio de Janeiro to break off diplomatic and trade relations with the Axis powers. From then on, the United States put pressure on Brazil, Mexico and Argentina to declare war on the Axis.

Some countries have a greater or lesser margin of manpower, including Mexico, with its 2,000 km of common borders with the United States, which declares war on the Axis in 1942 and sends a squadron to the Pacific; it is a decision that stems from the fact that Cardenas has no sympathy with the Axis forces, but it has also just won the arm wrestling over the nationalization of Mexican oil. Roosevelt has agreed that US companies will be compensated by Mexico.

In December 1942, Brazil, then led by Vargas, declared war on the Axis. Like Mexico, Brazil is a force that the United States cannot dominate at will. The United States' other obsession was that Brazil could serve as a bridgehead between Germany and the rest of the world. That is why Brazil carries a certain amount of weight, while the United States decides to use Brazil in its own strategy to take over Europe.

Vargas negotiates with the United States while talking to Germany in order to frighten the United States; when Germany proves incapable of supplying arms and when the United States decides to finance an arms factory, Brazil pretends to attack a submarine in order to declare war on the Axis and send troops to Italy in particular.

Escudo del GOU (águila imperial y al centro imagen del General San Martín).

South American countries usually declare war in 1945, but this does not prevent them from helping the allies by delivering raw materials. The last country to declare war and Argentina in April 1945 three days before Hitler's death, it is to the advantage of the country to maintain neutrality while supplying raw materials to England and the United States.

Perón in Argentina is a late populism. In the early 1940's Argentina was in a political stalemate. Its political system no longer corresponded to society, even the Radical Party and the Socialist Party were still dominated by a land oligarchy and old Argentine families who used electoral fraud to stay in power, at the same time no new parties represented the cities.

Popular discontent mounted and the military watched this with increasing impatience until 1943 when a group of military officers, the United Officers Group, overthrew the civilian government in the name of the people. Immediately, it dissolved the congress and banned all political parties.

Perón is an ambitious trade unionist, trained in the army, having spent time in Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Germany. In 1943, he became Minister of Labour and Vice-President. From this position, he built his political base. The United States viewed this with great concern, as Argentina had still not declared war and in 1943 when the GOU took power the United States refused to recognize him, accusing him of being an authoritarian and pro-Nazi country; however, Perón did not declare war on Nazi Germany until it collapsed.

In 1946, when Perón presented himself as the protector of the poor, the U.S. ambassador led a campaign to denounce Perón as a fascist who reinforced Argentine nationalism and favored Perón's election.

The Roosevelt administration's security program against "dangerous enemy aliens."[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It's a little-known program similar to the one for Japanese Americans. This security program is launched against "dangerous foreigners of enemy nationality".

It is a program that leads 15 Latin American countries to deport Germans to the United States[15], of Japanese and Italians to be interned in concentration camps in Texas. All the property of these enemy aliens is seized and confiscated.

The paradox of this problem is that only a very small part of these minorities have anything to do with Nazism. Of the 4,000 Germans deported, only 8 were later identified as spies in the service of Nazi Germany.

None of the three countries where there are large German colonies participate in this program. Mexico refuses to participate.

These deportees come from countries where Germans are few in number. 50% of Germans from Honduras, 30% from Guatemala, and 20% from Colombia are deported. The overwhelming majority of these deportees are "good neighbours" in Roosevelt's Good Neighbour Policy and many of them are anti-fascist opponents and Jews who fled Nazi Germany.

This has a lot to do with the representations that the American government and American citizens have of Latin America. They are convinced that Hitler wants to use Brazil to attack the United States and that they are unable to resist Hitler's propaganda.

These fears are entrusted by the British services which were intended to force the United States out of its neutrality; all these reports have been recognised as disinformation by England in order to force the United States into war.

This belief was based on contempt for the government in Washington. Propaganda will support this mystification, from this representation the government of Roosevelt asks the countries of Latin America to establish a list of suspects and to deport them to the United States while confiscating their goods, they are Germans, but also all those who own businesses and industries run by Germans, because in the imagination they would be likely to trade with Germany.

The American embassies draw up a list of politically or economically suspect individuals and very often these governments act confidentially, because they do not establish any proven sympathy, but the listed individuals are arrested and their properties are confiscated, and in some cases, such as Somoza in Nicaragua, which responds eagerly to Washington's requests to confiscate the properties of Germans who will later pass into the hands of American companies.

We find ourselves in a situation where these tactics will be used again in the Cold War.

European refugees in Latin America after the war[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Nazi refugees will not be bothered in the Cold War and will be involved in the American dictatorships in the 1960s.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. Aline Helg - UNIGE
  2. Aline Helg -
  3. Aline Helg - Wikipedia
  4. Aline Helg -
  5. Aline Helg -
  6. Aline Helg -
  7. Aline Helg - Google Scholar
  8. La conférence d'Évian sur le site du Mémorial de la Shoah.
  9. La Conférence de la peur, film documentaire de Michel Vuillermet, 68 min, 2009
  10. Greg Robinson « Le Projet M de Franklin D. Roosevelt : construire un monde meilleur grâce à la science… des races », in Critique internationale 2/2005 (nº 27), p. 65-82
  11. Allevi, Jean-Jacques. “Seconde Guerre Mondiale : La Martinique Sous La Botte De Vichy.”, 20 Mar. 2019,
  12. Cantier, Jacques. L'empire Colonial Sous Vichy. Jacob, 2004. url:
  13. Sim, Richard, and James Anderson. The Caribbean Strategic Vacuum. Institute for the Study of Conflict, 1980.
  14. Skelton, Tracey. Introduction to the Pan-Caribbean. Arnold, 2004. url:
  15. World War II related internment and expulsion of Germans in the Americas