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date: 29 June 2022

The Good Neighbor Policyfree

The Good Neighbor Policyfree

  • Max Paul FriedmanMax Paul FriedmanDepartment of History, American University


In the first three decades of the 20th century, the United States regularly intervened militarily in the circum-Caribbean, sending the Marines to govern directly or rule by proxy in Nicaragua (1912–1933), Haiti (1915–1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916–1924). The end of this era of U.S. occupations, and the relatively harmonious period that followed, is typically credited to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, although his predecessor Herbert Hoover began the process and both drew upon Latin American traditions and yielded to Latin American pressures to change traditional U.S. policy. The new approach to relations with Latin America included not only abjuring the use of military force but respecting the full sovereignty of Latin American states by not interfering or even commenting upon their processes of political succession. The Roosevelt administration signed agreements formalizing this new respect and sought to negotiate mutually beneficial trade agreements with Latin American countries. The benefits of the Good Neighbor Policy became evident when nearly every country in the region aligned itself with the United States in World War II. Measures taken against Axis nationals strained the policy during the war. By 1945, and during the Cold War, the policy unraveled, as the United States resumed both interference (in Argentine politics) and intervention (with a CIA-organized coup in Guatemala in 1954).


  • Diplomatic History


Franklin D. Roosevelt’s predecessor had already moved in the direction of improving relations with Latin America. President Herbert Hoover’s interest in Latin America went further than the Republican presidents who preceded him. As secretary of commerce in the early 1920s, Hoover promoted Latin American trade and investment. After his election as president, he devoted ten weeks of the transition period before his inauguration touring the region, giving twenty-five speeches promising to reduce U.S. interference in Latin American affairs. He was surprised at the level of criticism he encountered, from demonstrations to challenges from government officials. President Hipólito Yrigoyen of Argentina was most direct. At a banquet for Hoover, Yrigoyen warned that U.S. power risked becoming “a danger to justice . . . a shadow projected upon the sovereignty of the other states.” In a private meeting, the Argentine president startled Hoover into a brief silence by stating that U.S. intervention on behalf of its citizens’ financial claims had rendered U.S. investment hazardous to national sovereignty.1 Hoover listened. As an Argentine diplomat put it, the president-elect displayed “a lively interest in learning the reasons for this antipathy toward the United States—an interest based in the desire to remove the causes that motivate it.”2

Argentina’s Influence

It was not coincidental that the main challenge Hoover encountered came from an Argentine leader. From the late 1890s to the 1930s, Argentina, the wealthiest Latin American country, undertook a sustained effort to constrain the ability of the United States and European powers to deploy military force in Latin America.

Argentina’s most famous international jurist-diplomats, Carlos Calvo (1824–1906) and Luis María Drago (1859–1921), promoted formal doctrines designed to ban gunboat diplomacy, that is, to constrain the great powers from violating the national sovereignty of weaker powers by using force to collect debts. At the Second Pan-American Conference in 1902–1903, Argentina submitted a version of the Calvo Doctrine, holding that natives and foreigners were equal before the law and foreigners must submit their disputes to national courts, not seek extraterritorial intervention by their home countries. It was blocked by the United States.3 During the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, Foreign Minister Drago wrote a message to the Roosevelt administration calling for an absolute prohibition on military intervention in “the territory of American nations.”4 At the Third Pan-American Conference in 1906, Argentina unsuccessfully sought the adoption of the Drago Doctrine. The Second Peace Conference at The Hague in 1907 did accept a modified version of the Drago Doctrine, but with a loophole allowing for gunboat diplomacy against any country that rejected compulsory arbitration. The campaign would continue into the 1930s.

Mexico’s Influence

Mexico’s interest in constraining military intervention developed not only because of the traumatic loss of half its territory to the United States in the 1848, but because of the U.S. shelling and five-month occupation of the port of Veracruz (1914) and the yearlong campaign by Gen. John Pershing and his army of 10,000 men, who repeatedly violated Mexican sovereignty to try to stop border incursions by Mexican rebels (1916). Even the last pre-revolution autocrat Porfirio Díaz, who welcomed U.S. investment, diverged from U.S. policy in Central America and sought to dissuade William Howard Taft from intervening in Nicaragua.5

After the revolution of 1917, Mexico would present the most thoroughgoing challenge to foreign investment and U.S. interests by asserting, in stages, control over its own mineral resources (in Article 27 of the new constitution); incorporating the Calvo Clause stricture that financial disputes with foreigners must go before Mexican courts; and then nationalizing foreign petroleum enterprises outright in 1938. Those domestic policies were coupled with an ambitious foreign policy agenda aimed at spreading the revolution’s conceptions of international behavior to other states in the Americas. President Venustiano Carranza (1917–1920) issued what came to be known as the Carranza Doctrine in 1918, embodying Mexico’s vision of how international affairs should be conducted: all nations are equal under the law, which meant that there could be no legitimate intervention with no exceptions. Nationals and foreigners are also equal under the law and subject to the sovereignty of the state where they reside, meaning there could be no extraterritoriality or special protections for foreign investors.6

Mexico and Argentina soon became diplomatic allies in pressing these principles against U.S. opposition at inter-American conferences. By 1930, Mexican Foreign Secretary Genaro Estrada extended the goal from nonintervention to noninterference by declaring that Mexico would no longer recognize or make judgments about the nature of foreign governments, whether they come to power legally or extralegally.7 The “Estrada Doctrine” was invoked by other countries following the model. It would become an influential part of the Good Neighbor Policy as well.

Great Depression and Reputational Costs

Besides Latin American diplomatic pressure, another factor moving Hoover toward winding down the U.S. occupations in the Caribbean was the sheer financial cost of equipping an expeditionary force at a time when the Great Depression and the Republican philosophy of frugal government expenditures put a strain on the federal budget. It is significant, however, to recognize how aware he was of the reputational cost to the United States of maintaining military occupations. Domestic critics voiced opposition in the press and in Congress. So did anti-imperialist and nongovernmental peace organizations in the United States and Latin America. Hoover knew that before his own good will tour, Latin American delegations to the inter-American conference held at Havana in 1928 had protested the occupations. Argentina, Mexico, and El Salvador introduced a resolution stating that “no state has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of another.” The U.S. delegation under President Calvin Coolidge’s secretary of state, Charles Evans Hughes, blocked the resolution, reserving the right to intervene to protect lives and property. That made the conference a failure, one of the reasons Hoover placed improving inter-American relations high on his agenda.

Once in office, Hoover decided it was time for a new approach. He gave an address stating that “it never has been and ought not to be the policy of the United States to intervene by force to secure or maintain contracts between our citizens and foreign States or their citizens.”8 He then ordered the gradual withdrawal of the Marines from occupation duty in Nicaragua, where their war against rebels led by Augusto Sandino had long hurt the U.S. image throughout the region. He also set in motion a drawdown from Haiti that would be completed under Roosevelt. Hoover’s secretary of state, Henry Stimson, observed in a 1931 radio broadcast that certain “sore spots” in inter-American affairs “have damaged our good name, our credit, and our trade far beyond the apprehension of our own people” and claimed progress in the U.S. effort “to eradicate the sore spots of Latin-American diplomacy.”9 Mexican diplomats similarly believed that Latin American public opinion and “declarations of an official character, such as those produced in Mexico recently” had caused these changes in “the conduct of the international policy of the United States.”10

The Authoritarian Alternative

An additional factor enabled a shift from intervention to nonintervention in U.S. policy in the region: it was possible to remove the Marines from occupation duty because there were now other forces that could do what they had been doing in their place. The departing Marines did not abandon their posts before training and equipping domestic armed forces, the guardias nacionales, that could put down unrest in their absence. Trained along Progressive lines to be efficient, professional forces that would remain above politics, the National Guards quickly became the route to rule for authoritarian military officers. Throughout Central America and the Caribbean, U.S.-backed dictatorships seized power and maintained order on their own. Héctor Pérez-Brignoli made this point by reeling off the names of the dictators of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba: “Somoza, Ubico, Hernández Martínez and Carías were, like Trujillo and Batista, better guarantors of the Pax Americana than the Marines themselves.”11 This may understate the degree to which Latin American dictators pursued their own agendas within the limits of an asymmetrical relationship with the United States, but it does point to an aspect of the Good Neighbor era that was anything but progressive.12

Enter Roosevelt

Thus, before Franklin Roosevelt took office many currents were already guiding the United States away from its traditionally unilateral interventionist approach to Latin America. Argentina, Mexico, and other Latin American countries had pushed for decades for a formal prohibition on intervention. The Great Depression made more onerous the costs of stationing Marines in restive countries, and the rise of local dictators made the Marines superfluous. Herbert Hoover was beginning to draw these threads together when he reached the end of his single term in office.

Franklin Roosevelt had gone through his own evolution in thinking about Latin America. As Woodrow Wilson’s assistant secretary of the navy, he shared his president’s condescending view of Latin Americans as unprepared for self-government and spoke in favor of a strong U.S. military presence in the Caribbean. By 1928, he had changed his mind. He published an article in Foreign Affairs that acknowledged Latin American resentment of unilateral U.S. intervention and argued that any military action should be taken in cooperation with Latin American nations.13

In the first months of his administration, Roosevelt made evident in his statements and his appointments that he intended to make a definitive change. He announced the new policy in general and specific terms. In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt said, “In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”14 In a speech on April 12 marking “Pan-American Day,” Roosevelt said, “Your Americanism and mine must be a structure built of confidence, cemented by a sympathy which recognizes only equality and fraternity.”15

Meanwhile he appointed as secretary of state Senator Cordell Hull (D-TN), whose main virtue was his prestige among southern Democrats, not any particular experience in Latin America. However, Roosevelt reached beyond Hull to make a critical appointment at the subcabinet level, choosing Sumner Welles to be his key diplomat on Latin American affairs and the architect of the Good Neighbor Policy.

Sumner Welles

Sumner Welles was a career foreign service officer who would serve Roosevelt as assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs (1933–1937), undersecretary of state (1937–1943), and a principal adviser with direct access to the president. After an assignment in 1919 in Buenos Aires, where he overlapped with Yrigoyen’s first term in office, in 1922 Welles went on a special mission as Commissioner to the Dominican Republic to investigate how to end the U.S. occupation. In his two-volume history of that country, Naboth’s Vineyard, Welles argued that the Dominican Republic could govern itself, despite traditional U.S. assumptions about Dominican “immaturity” or the influence of foreign powers. U.S. military occupation, Welles wrote, generated resistance rather than pro-U.S. sentiment or economic development, and he bemoaned U.S. officials’ ignorance of local customs and wishes. Instead of occupation, Welles argued, “friendly cooperation and intercourse” with the American Republics would assure “the future safeguard” of the United States.16

Welles put his experience to work developing the Good Neighbor Policy. Secretary Hull, who claimed credit for the policy, actually focused his attention mainly on obtaining reciprocal trade agreements for mutual tariff reduction with Latin American countries.17 As a liberal internationalist, Hull believed that increased trade would bring additional benefits in fostering international peace. International trade had fallen by two-thirds during the Great Depression as countries around the world raised tariff barriers to foreign goods. By shepherding the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act through Congress in 1934, Hull ensured that the executive branch would have advance authority to negotiate tariff reductions. Hull used that authority to negotiate 11 such agreements with Latin American countries by 1939, mutually reducing some tariffs by up to 50%. Participating nations welcomed the improved access to the U.S. market, as inter-American trade tripled in the years preceding World War II. But some Latin American countries were skeptical of a program that seemed to emphasize increasing U.S. exports and making them even more dependent upon the United States, while a protectionist U.S. Congress shielded domestic industries and agricultural producers from Latin American competition. Argentina, Chile, and Mexico refused to sign. Welles later wrote that Hull was “devoid not only of any knowledge of Latin American history, but also of the language and culture of our American neighbors.”18 It was, in fact, Welles himself who was “the inspiration and guide of our policy,” according to Welles’s deputy, Laurence Duggan.19

Laurence Duggan

Duggan’s Latin American experience began in 1929, when his father Stephen Duggan, who directed the Institute of International Education (IIE), sent Laurence on an extensive tour of Latin America to organize scholarly and professional exchange programs as secretary of the IIE’s Latin American Division. Fluent in Spanish, widely traveled, and personally dedicated to improving hemispheric relations, Duggan advanced quickly after joining the State Department in 1930, becoming chief of the Division of American Republics in 1935, political adviser responsible for Latin America in 1941, and director of the Office of American Republics Affairs in 1944.

Duggan’s influence on relations with Latin America was substantial. As Welles’s closest aide, Duggan persuaded him to instruct U.S. diplomats in Latin America to remain completely neutral on all internal domestic questions. During World War II, he sought to strike a balance between promoting necessary security practices that would reduce the Axis threat while avoiding blatant interference in Latin American affairs.

Misstep on Cuba

Before the main outlines of Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy were sketched out, there would be one more old-style incident. Sent on a mission to Cuba in 1933, Welles veered back toward interventionism when, following the ouster of President Gerardo Machado y Morales, he advised against recognition of the revolutionary government and requested the stationing of U.S. warships in Cuban waters. He even called for the landing of troops, a request Roosevelt rejected. Welles’s actions made him persona non grata in Cuba and led to his recall in December 1933.

The incident confirmed Roosevelt’s determination to avoid unilateral intervention.20 Thereafter, Welles was unerring in helping Roosevelt to deepen the meaning of the Good Neighbor Policy. He encouraged Roosevelt to remove the last U.S. forces from Haiti in 1934 and to abrogate the Platt Amendment, a clause forced upon the Cuban legislature as a condition of ending the U.S. occupation back in 1902. The Platt Amendment permitted U.S. intervention essentially at will, and its termination signaled at least the formal shift from treating Cuba as a protectorate to recognizing it as a sovereign independent nation.

Abandoning Nonrecognition

In the mid-1930s, the State Department officially abandoned its use of nonrecognition as a diplomatic sanction. In 1934, Welles instigated the cancellation of the nonrecognition treaty that since 1923 had bound the United States and Central American nations not to grant diplomatic recognitions to governments that came to power by force. In April 1936, at Duggan’s suggestion, Welles went further, instructing diplomats in Central America to “decline comment” and “abstain from offering advice on any domestic question,” even should their counsel be sought by local politicians.21 The Roosevelt administration thereby adopted the same standard as Mexico’s Estrada Doctrine: governments would be recognized because they held power, not because of how they came to power. This policy rested on the idea that sovereignty lay in the state, not the government. It placed the nonintervention principle on a higher level than the imperative to support pro-U.S. political candidates or to promote democratic rule abroad. And it meant that U.S. diplomats, formerly seen as kingmakers, would remain neutral in Latin American politics. Even after Nicaraguan strongman Anastasio Somoza murdered the rebel leader Sandino, Welles refused a request from the U.S. ambassador to withdraw recognition from Nicaragua.22

Abandoning Intervention

The question of a formal commitment against intervention remained unresolved in the first year of the Good Neighbor Policy. At an inter-American conference at Montevideo in 1933, conferees resolved that “no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.” Breaking with precedent, Secretary Hull signed the resolution. However, he presented reservations, arguing that intervention was not defined, so the United States would continue to pursue its own policy. Over the next few years, Mexico and Argentina worked together to rally other countries behind a pressure campaign to see the resolution strengthened. Then at the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace held at Buenos Aires in 1936, with President Roosevelt himself in attendance (a strong signal of the event’s importance), the United States relinquished its caveats. The conference protocol it signed minced no words: the signatories “declare inadmissible the intervention of any one of them, directly or indirectly, and for whatever reason, in the internal or external affairs of any other of the Parties.”23 Instead, external threats to the hemisphere would be answered through mutual consultation and cooperation.

Mexican Oil Nationalization

Noninterventionism would be put to the test in Mexico. Ambassador Josephus Daniels, who sympathized with the need for reform in Mexico, proved adept at navigating several crises. He helped defused a drive by Catholics and politicians in the U.S. to sanction Mexico over its anti-clerical policies. In 1938, after U.S. and British oil companies refused to abide by Mexican court orders to raise wages and improve working conditions, President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated their holdings. The British government broke relations. Ambassador Daniels, backed by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau and Vice President Henry Wallace, encouraged Roosevelt not to follow suit and instead to press the oil companies to reach a settlement. Despite suggestions from the oil companies that the United States undermine Cárdenas and seek to have him replaced by a more cooperative leader, the Roosevelt administration stood firmly against intervention and increased cooperation with Mexico as the conflict with the Axis powers loomed closer.24

Influence of World War II

Dealing with Dictators

The approach of conflict with the Axis powers made it imperative for the United States to ensure the strongest possible cooperation in the hemisphere. The willingness to tolerate dictatorships turned into strengthened coordination with dictators. Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, having ordered the massacre of at least 10,000 Haitian workers and committed many other outrages, nonetheless received from an invitation to Washington in July 1939, complete with red carpets, twenty-one-gun salutes, and a Marine honor guard. Later that year, Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua enjoyed a more lavish state visit to Washington. For the first time in his presidency, President Roosevelt left the White House to welcome a foreign head of state at Union Station while five thousand troops stood at attention and military planes flew overhead in formation.25 The determination to keep leaders who might have sympathized with the ruling style of Hitler and Mussolini on the side of the Allies led to tighter political, military, and economic cooperation with authoritarians across the region.

A Common Response to the Axis

World War II is widely regarded as the apex of inter-American cooperation. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama declared war on the Axis powers. Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela severed diplomatic relations. In January 1942, at a Meeting of Consultation of Latin American Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Rio, the Latin American nations agreed to increase economic cooperation, suspend trade with the Axis powers, coordinate their censorship of Axis propaganda, and hunt for Axis spies and saboteurs. They also endorsed the Good Neighbor Policy. As a result of the conference, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay severed diplomatic relations with the Axis powers. Mexico declared war in June 1942. Only Argentina and Chile remained neutral. In addition, the participating states created an Inter-American Defense Board to supervise defensive measures and an Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense to prevent subversion.26

Nazis and Good Neighbors

From 1938 onward, U.S. officials were concerned that the communities of Axis nationals living in Latin America, especially among 1.5 million Latin American residents of German origin, would engage in subversive activities such as espionage, sabotage, and pro-Axis propaganda. At Roosevelt’s order, U.S. diplomats and intelligence agents prepared lists of “dangerous enemy aliens” in the region. That led to the first war-related violation of the Good Neighbor Policy: the decision to pursue unilateral economic warfare by blacklisting companies and individuals in Latin America without consulting the governments of the states where they resided. The Division of World Trade Intelligence under the State Department issued the Proclaimed List of Certain Blocked Nationals on July 17, 1941. Technically, as U.S. diplomats assiduously assured their Latin American colleagues, the list was simply a domestic regulation of U.S. firms: it prohibited companies and persons under U.S. jurisdiction from trading with listed firms and individuals. In practice, since any Latin American company that did business with a Proclaimed List firm would itself be listed and thereby excluded from trade with the U.S. and other local firms, businesses of any nationality in all countries were forced to shun listed firms or risk their own demise.27 Duggan’s deputy, Philip Bonsal, argued that the blacklist should be converted from a unilateral measure into a cooperative venture with Latin American participation. At his urging, consultative commissions were created in Latin American capitals to help coordinate the blacklisting process. Rather than providing local governments with a veto over the blacklisting of their own residents, however, the commissions were tasked with enforcing economic warfare measures developed in Washington. Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane in Colombia complained that the blacklist was producing “a spirit of bitter antagonism against the United States which can only result in our losing markets and political friendship when the war is finished.”28

When the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor, the United States went further in taking direction action against suspected Axis nationals in ways that violated the spirit, and sometimes the letter, of the Good Neighbor Policy. Initially, the State Department urged its missions to pressure Latin American governments to restrict the movements of their resident Axis citizens. Since U.S. officials believed that Latin American governments were vulnerable to overthrow or to corruption, they began to appeal to have the individuals on the “dangerous” lists sent to the United States for internment. Various forms of diplomatic pressure, ranging from enticements to economic coercion, were used to induce Latin American cooperation. As a consequence, 4,058 Germans, 2,264 Japanese, and 288 Italians were deported from Latin America to the United States from December 1941 through December 1945. Some of the deportees were expelled by corrupt Latin American governments (especially the dictatorships ruling most of Central America and the Caribbean) so that their property could more easily be seized. At least 81 were Jewish refugees who had escape persecution in Nazi Germany and found asylum in Latin America, only to be interned in U.S. camps alongside their enemies.29

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico did not agree to deliver German nationals for internment in the United States. Less beholden to U.S. influence than the fifteen smaller countries that did cooperate with the U.S. deportation program, each had reasons of its own to choose an alternative policy. Argentina, influenced by historically close ties to the German military and determined to maintain its strong self-image as an alternative pole to the United States, pursued an independent policy during the war that included minimal interference with its German population. Chile, with nearly three thousand miles of indefensible coastline exposed to potential attack, sought while strongly tilting toward the Allies to remain officially neutral in the conflict for as long as possible, comparing its policy to that of the United States toward Britain from 1939 to 1941; the Chilean judicial system dealt with those German residents the government believed to be dangerous. Brazil and Mexico, allied with the United States at an early stage, created their own internment facilities for dangerous Axis nationals and firmly rejected U.S. requests to let Washington handle their internal security programs.

As U.S. officials leaned harder on countries reluctant to violate their own sovereignty by expelling their legal residents, and occasionally their own citizens, in breach of international law, some recognized the potential cost of their actions. John Moors Cabot, chief of the Central America desk at State, worried privately that “behind the façade of Good Neighborship the United States was really interfering in the internal affairs of the other republics. . . . If we really must take the initiative and exert pressure in connection with deportations, it should at least be done with great discretion.”30

The Committee for Political Defense

The Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense (CPD) formed at the January 1942 inter-American foreign ministerial conference was the principal inter-American organization responsible for responding to the internal Axis threat. Based in Montevideo, the CPD was composed of seven representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The Committee, headed by Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Alberto Guaní, was responsible for coordinating inter-American policy on Axis subversion, thereby fulfilling the Good Neighbor Policy’s promise of consultation and mutuality rather than the unilateral responses to external threats that had often characterized U.S. policy in the past.

The main mission of the CPD, however, was to put a multilateral label on the regional deportation efforts, and encourage reluctant Latin American governments to comply with the U.S.-initiated program of expelling Axis nationals for internment in the United States. Secretary Hull had expressed frustration with the recalcitrance of many governments in the region to follow Washington’s guidance on the matter of deporting some of their own residents. U.S. delegate Carl B. Spaeth placed a greater emphasis on achieving U.S. policy goals than on avoiding interference in Latin American affairs. In correspondence with the Department he reported his practice of using cooperative delegates from other countries as fronts to present his proposals, so that these would not seem to have originated with the United States, while suppressing Latin American proposals to the CPD such as calls for enacting intelligence-sharing arrangements that the State Department had promised at the Rio conference but which U.S. intelligence agencies did not want.31

Resumption of Nonrecognition

The year 1943 featured several events that contributed to the decline of the Good Neighbor Policy. Secretary Hull’s dislike of Welles only increased over time, and Welles was forced to resign under the cloud of a sex scandal. In his absence, Hull began to revert to pre-Rooseveltian practices. On December 20, 1943, Bolivian army officers close to the neutralist government of Argentina overthrew the government of Enrique Peñaranda in a bloodless coup. Hull refused to recognize the new government for six months. Laurence Duggan, credited by Bolivian diplomat Victor Andrade as one of the first U.S. officials to understand that what had taken place was not a Nazi coup, tried to dissuade Hull from this direct violation of the Good Neighbor Policy, noting that the new regime’s cooperation with the Allied war effort was an improvement over Peñaranda’s performance, including increased deliveries of strategic materials and the expropriation of major Axis-owned businesses. Hull refused until the Bolivians agreed to hand over their German residents who appeared on lists of suspect enemy aliens drawn up by U.S. intelligence, a quid pro quo Duggan recognized was harming the Roosevelt administration’s standing in Latin America. Within a month of Bolivian recognition, Duggan followed Welles in being forced out of government, accused by Hull of passing secrets to Welles for his newspaper column. (Hull may also have known of a far more serious breach, that Duggan had passed secrets to the Soviet Union.)32

In the aftermath of the war, the deportation and internment program was called into question by evidence that most of the internees taken from Latin America had not actually been dangerous. The FBI identified only eight individuals out of 4,058 German internees from Latin America against whom there was credible evidence of espionage or sabotage.33

From Good Neighbor to Bad Neighbor

Resumption of Interference

After arriving in Buenos Aires as ambassador in May 1945, Spruille Braden waged a highly publicized campaign to prevent Juan Perón from being elected president of Argentina in elections planned for the following year. This was a resumption of the kind of heavy-handed interference in domestic affairs that had so rankled Latin Americans in the old days and that Roosevelt’s State Department had explicitly prohibited. His successor Harry Truman was less concerned about diplomatic niceties and more inclined to confront adversaries directly. That style suited Braden well; Truman’s secretary of state Dean Acheson once remarked that Braden was the only bull to carry around his own china shop. The ambassador gave public speeches and press conferences claiming that Perón would bring fascism to Argentina and continued his campaign after Truman brought him back to Washington in September to serve as Assistant Secretary for Latin America. From there, he organized a report on Perón’s alleged fascist connections known as the Blue Book. Perón responded by turning the election into a referendum on U.S. interference in Argentine politics, using the slogan Braden o Perón, and won in a landslide. Braden’s replacement, Ambassador George Messersmith, suggested a rapprochement with Perón, and he and Braden clashed over the issue until Secretary Acheson eased them both out of the Department. “Bradenism” entered the lexicon to describe undiplomatic treatment of Latin Americans.

Resumption of Intervention

The return of interference in Argentina under Truman was followed by the innovation of covert intervention under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who authorized the CIA’s 1954 overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. President John F. Kennedy followed suit with the CIA-orchestrated invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized an overt military intervention in the Dominican Republic in the midst of a conflict between military coup leaders and defenders of a constitutional order. Once again, Marines were landing on a Caribbean shore to guide the outcome of an internal political dispute. As George Black put it most succinctly, the shift from World War II to the Cold War led the United States to revert from “Good Neighbor” to “Bad Neighbor.”34

Discussion of the Literature

The Good Neighbor Policy has received praise from historians, beginning with Edward O. Guerrant, whose 1950 study acknowledged inconsistencies but concluded that the United States “has never had a foreign policy toward any area that was more successful than the Good Neighbor Policy.”35 Scholars instead debated how to establish when it began. Alexander DeConde credited Herbert Hoover as the policy’s originator for drawing down the U.S. military presence in Nicaragua and Haiti.36 Alan McPherson agreed in a study emphasizing that Hoover was reacting to Latin American protests and resistance to the military occupations. Moreover, Hoover asserted that the United States would not intervene on behalf of its citizens in disputes over their investments in Latin American countries, nor would the U.S. military promise to protect U.S. citizens during unrest.37 Bryce Wood argued that the policy emerged from the combined philosophies and experience of the Calvin Coolidge, Hoover, and Roosevelt Administrations. U.S. influence in Latin American domestic affairs, especially in the circum-Caribbean, was inevitable because of the United States’ size, geographical proximity, and economic ties, and these three presidents sought to manage that influence constructively for all sides. Besides the end of unilateral military intervention, Wood credited the reciprocal trade agreements with contributing importantly to improved inter-American relations.38 In Wood’s second book on the topic, the 1945 confrontation with Argentina was a parenthetical episode after which the Good Neighbor Policy was “reaffirmed” by Truman and Acheson, surviving unscathed into the 1950s.39 Randall Bennett Woods blamed the exceptionally bad treatment of Argentina on an expanded foreign policy bureaucracy that during the war brought in a number of actors with little Latin American experience and no particular commitment to noninterventionism.40

Irwin F. Gellman argued that credit for the Good Neighbor Policy should not be shared with Roosevelt’s Republican predecessors. Neither Warren Harding nor Coolidge evinced much interest in Latin America, and their secretaries of state, Charles E. Hughes and Frank Kellogg, “generally relegated the Americas to an arena of secondary importance.”41 Francis White, the most influential State Department official on inter-American issues as chief of the Latin American Division (1922–1926) and then assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs (1927–1933), retained the long-standing U.S. commitment to unilateral intervention as a necessary response to unrest or the threat of foreign meddling. The partly achieved drawdowns of U.S. troops from occupation duties in the Caribbean before 1933 were a sign of cost-cutting rather than a new respect for Latin American sovereignty. Combined with protectionist economic policies that hurt Latin American economies, Gellman concludes, Hoover’s record of “incoherent United States actions created deep resentment in Latin America.” In contrast, Roosevelt’s commitment to improving relations across the board was deep and sustained. “If any period can be labeled the golden age of Pan American cooperation, the Roosevelt presidency deserves to be so labeled.”42

Revisionist scholars have questioned both the positive outcomes of the policy and whether it was consistently applied during the Roosevelt administration itself. Walter LaFeber observed that the Good Neighbor Policy overlapped with a period of nearly universal authoritarian rule in the circum-Caribbean, which was no accident: the overriding U.S. goal was to maintain stability for U.S. investments and the exclusion of foreign powers or radicals, and the main feature of the Good Neighbor Policy was that stability was maintained by Latin American dictators using U.S.-trained armed forces instead of U.S. Marines.43 Lloyd Gardner, David Green, and Dick Steward argued the Good Neighbor Policy sought to maintain the region’s dependency on the United States by excluding European powers through bilateral trade agreements that disproportionately benefited the United States at the expense of Latin American economic development.44 Max Paul Friedman found that the Roosevelt administration violated its own strictures against interference once World War II began. The United States threatened economic embargoes, engaged in diplomatic nonrecognition, and ignored the jurisdiction of Latin American courts as it extracted suspected Axis nationals from fifteen Latin American countries.45 Friedman and Tom Long credited Latin American diplomacy, especially from Argentina and Mexico, with successfully pressing Hoover and Roosevelt to adopt the Good Neighbor Policy through international agreements.46 Greg Grandin emphasized that Latin American actors developed the Good Neighbor’s core principle of nonintervention, which “represented the central plank in a long-evolving effort by Latin American jurists to remake the philosophical foundations of international law.”47 Such arguments over the origins and nature of the Good Neighbor era are likely to continue.

Primary Sources

  • Braden, Spruille. Diplomats and Demagogues. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1971.
  • Burr, Robert N., and Roland D. Hussey, eds. Documents on Inter-American Cooperation, 1881–1948. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1955.
  • Campbell, Thomas, and George Herring. The Diaries of Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. New York: New Viewpoints, 1975.
  • Hull, Cordell. The Memoirs of Cordell Hull. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1948.
  • Nixon, Edgar B., ed. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Foreign Affairs. 1st series. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1969.
  • Rosenman, Samuel I., ed. The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt. 13 vols. New York: Random House, 1938–1950.
  • Schewe, Donald B., ed. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Foreign Affairs, January 1937–August 1939. 2d ser. New York: Garland, 1979–1983.
  • U.S. Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers [FRUS], 1933–1946. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950–1969.
  • U.S. Department of State. Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense of the Hemisphere. Annual Reports.
  • Welles, Sumner. Naboth’s Vineyard. 2 vols. New York: Payson and Clarke, 1928.
  • Welles, Sumner. Where Are We Headed? New York: Harper, 1946.
Archival Sources

    Archivo del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto (AMREC), Buenos Aires.


    Archivo General Histórico del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (AGHMRE), Santiago.

    Archivo Nacional de la Administración Central del Estado (ANACE), Santiago.


    Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), Mexico City.

    Archivo Histórico Genaro Estrada (AHGE), Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Mexico City.


    Archivo Histórico-Diplomático del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (AHDMRE), Montevideo.

    United States

    Columbia University Oral History Research Project.

    Spruille Braden.

    Nelson Rockefeller.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, NY.

    Adolf Berle Papers.

    Map Room File (MR).

    President’s Official File (OF).

    President’s Personal File (PPF).

    President’s Secretary File (PSF).

    Sumner Welles Papers.

    Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, IA.

    Hoover Presidential Papers—Foreign Affairs.

    Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Washington, DC.

    Philip W. Bonsal Papers.

    Josephus Daniels Diary.

    Cordell Hull Papers.

    Samuel Guy Inman Papers.

    Breckinridge Long Papers.

    National Archives, College Park, MD.

    Department of State, General Records, Record Group 59.

    Central Decimal Files.

    Division of American Republics.

    Special War Problems Division.

    Department of State, Foreign Service Posts, Record Group 84.

    Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, Record Group 229.

    Rockefeller Archive Center, North Tarrytown, NY.

    Nelson A. Rockefeller, personal files.

    Nelson A. Rockefeller, Washington, DC files.

    Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives.

    Arthur Bliss Lane Papers.

Further Reading

  • Bushnell, David. Eduardo Santos and the Good Neighbor 1938–1942. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1967.
  • Cramer, Gisela, and Ursula Prutsch, eds. ¡Américas unidas! Nelson A. Rockefeller’s Office of Inter-American Affairs (1940–46). Madrid: Iberoamericana-Vervuert, 2012.
  • DeConde, Alexander. Herbert Hoover’s Latin American Policy. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1951.
  • Dozer, Donald. Are We Good Neighbors? Three Decades of Inter-American Relations, 1930–1960. Gainseville: University of Florida Press, 1959.
  • Friedman, Max Paul. Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Gardner, Lloyd. Economic Aspects of New Deal Diplomacy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964.
  • Gellman, Irwin F. Roosevelt and Batista: Good Neighbor Diplomacy in Cuba, 1933–1945. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973.
  • Gellman, Irwin F. Good Neighbor Diplomacy: United States Policies in Latin America, 1933–1945. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
  • Green, David. The Containment of Latin America: A History of the Myths and Realities of the Good Neighbor Policy. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971.
  • Grow, Michael. The Good Neighbor Policy and Authoritarianism in Paraguay: United States Economic Expansion and Great-Power Rivalry in Latin America during World War II. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1981.
  • Guerrant, Edward O. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1950.
  • McPherson, Alan. “Herbert Hoover, Occupation Withdrawal, and the Good Neighbor Policy.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 44, no. 4 (December 2014): 623–639.
  • Pike, Fredrick B. FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy: Sixty Years of Generally Gentle Chaos. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.
  • Roorda, Eric Paul. The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930–1945. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.
  • Sadlier, Darlene J. Americans All: Good Neighbor Cultural Diplomacy in World War II. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012.
  • Steward, Dick. Trade and Hemisphere: The Good Neighbor Policy and Reciprocal Trade. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1975.
  • Stuckey, Mary E. The Good Neighbor: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rhetoric of American Power. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013.
  • Woll, Allen L. “Hollywood’s Good Neighbor Policy: The Latin Image in American Film, 1939–1946.” Journal of Popular Film 3, no. 4 (1974): 278–293.
  • Wood, Bryce. The Making of the Good Neighbor Policy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.
  • Wood, Bryce. The Dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985.
  • Woods, Randall Bennett. The Roosevelt Foreign-Policy Establishment and the ‘Good Neighbor’: The United States and Argentina, 1941–1945. Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1979.


  • 1. Hipólito Yrigoyen, Pueblo y gobierno: La función argentina en el mundo [People and Government: The Argentine Function in the World], vol. 8: Americanismo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Raigal, 1956), 111–115.

  • 2. Carlos de Estrada to Oyhanarte, December 18, 1928, Caja 2712, División de Política, Estados Unidos de América, AMREC.

  • 3. Leandro Morgenfeld, Vecinos en conflicto. Argentina y Estados Unidos en las Conferencias Panamericanas (1880–1955) [Neighbors in Conflict: Argentina and the United States in the Pan-American Conferences (1880–1955)] (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Continente, 2011), 110. See also Juan Pablo Scarfi, “In the Name of the Americas: The Pan-American Redefinition of the Monroe Doctrine and the Emerging Language of American International Law in the Western Hemisphere, 1898–1933,” online version, Diplomatic History, December 2014.

  • 4. Luis María Drago, La República Argentina y el caso de Venezuela [The Argentine Republic and the Case of Venezuela] (Buenos Aires: Coni Hermanos, 1903); see also Alberto A. Conil Paz, Historia de la Doctrina Drago [History of the Drago Doctrine] (Buenos Aires: Academia Nacional de Derecho y Ciencias Sociales de Buenos Aires, 1975).

  • 5. Creel to Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, December 25 and December 27, 1909, L-E-1015, Revolución en Nicaragua 1909–1912, AHGE; see also Jürgen Buchenau, In the Shadow of the Giant: The Making of Mexico’s Central America Policy, 1876–1930 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996); Paolo Riguzzi, ¿Reciprocidad imposible? La política del comercio entre México y Estados Unidos, 1857–1938 [Reciprocity Impossible? The Politics of Commerce Between Mexico and the United States] (México City: El Colegio Mexiquense, Instituto Mora, 2003).

  • 6. Isidro Fabela to Eduardo Hay, “La Doctrina Carranza como tema de la conferencia de Buenos Aires,” April 6, 1936, L-E-333, Conferencia Interamericana sobre la Consolidación de la Paz, AHGE.

  • 7. Philip C. Jessup, “The Estrada Doctrine,” American Journal of International Law 25, no. 4 (October 1931): 719–723.

  • 8. Quoted in Alexander DeConde, Herbert Hoover’s Latin-American Policy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1951), 59.

  • 9. Quoted in DeConde, Herbert Hoover’s Latin-American Policy, 62.

  • 10. Estrada to Embamex Washington, “Cambio de política de los Estados Unidos en Nicaragua,” April 30, 1931, L-3423–3428, Secretaría Particular AHGE.

  • 11. Héctor Pérez-Brignoli, Breve historia de Centroamérica (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1985), 98.

  • 12. For a study that emphasizes the relative autonomy of an authoritarian ruler within the inter-American system, see Eric Paul Roorda, The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930–1945 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998).

  • 13. Irwin F. Gellman, Good Neighbor Diplomacy: United States Policies in Latin America, 1933–1945 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 10–11.

  • 14. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1933, Public Papers 2: 11–16.

  • 15. Roosevelt, “The President Begins to Carry Out the Good Neighbor Policy,” April 12, 1933, Public Papers 2: 129–133.

  • 16. Sumner Welles, Naboth’s Vineyard: The Dominican Republic, 1844–1924 (New York: Payson & Clarke, 1928), 936–937.

  • 17. Lloyd C. Gardner, Economic Aspects of New Deal Diplomacy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964), 52.

  • 18. Sumner Welles, Seven Decisions That Shaped History (New York: Harper, 1951), 119.

  • 19. Laurence Duggan, The Americas: The Search for Hemisphere Security (New York: Holt, 1949), 102; Wood, The Making, 340. Other officials who shared the outlook of Welles and Duggan included Duggan’s assistant, Philip Bonsal; John Moors Cabot, Central America desk officer; and the ambassadors Jefferson Caffery and Arthur Bliss Lane. Such men were thoughtful exceptions in a blue blood department still largely in thrall to its tradition of interventionism and instinctive disdain for Latin Americans; see Martin Weil, A Pretty Good Club: The Founding Fathers of the U.S. Foreign Service (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), esp. chs. 2–3.

  • 20. Gellman, Good Neighbor Diplomacy, 20–21.

  • 21. Bryce Wood, The Making of the Good Neighbor Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 145–147.

  • 22. Gellman, Good Neighbor Diplomacy, 31.

  • 23. Robert N. Burr and Roland D. Hussey, eds., Documents on Inter-American Cooperation, 1881–1948, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1955), 112–114.

  • 24. Gellman, Good Neighbor Diplomacy, 51–55.

  • 25. Roorda, The Dictator Next Door, 178–181; “Washington Pomp Welcomes Somoza,” New York Times, May 6, 1939, 1.

  • 26. Thomas Leonard and John F. Bratzel, Latin America During World War II (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).

  • 27. Max Paul Friedman, “There Goes the Neighborhood: Blacklisting Germans in Latin America and the Evanescence of the Good Neighbor Policy,” Diplomatic History 27, no. 4 (September 2003): 569–597.

  • 28. Lane to Welles, March 17, 1943, Box 67, Lane Papers, Yale Library.

  • 29. Max Paul Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign Against the Germans of Latin America in World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

  • 30. Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors, 180.

  • 31. Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors, 121–122; see also Carl B. Spaeth and William Sanders, “The Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense.” American Journal of International Law 38, no. 2 (April 1944): 218–241.

  • 32. Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—the Stalin Era (New York: Random House, 1999), 3–21.

  • 33. Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors, 9.

  • 34. George Black, The Good Neighbor: How the United States Wrote the History of Central America and the Caribbean (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 87.

  • 35. Edward O. Guerrant, Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1950), 212.

  • 36. Alexander DeConde, Herbert Hoover’s Latin American Policy (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1951).

  • 37. Alan McPherson, “Herbert Hoover, Occupation Withdrawal, and the Good Neighbor Policy,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 44, no. 4 (December 2014): 623–639.

  • 38. Wood, The Making.

  • 39. Bryce Wood, The Dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), 132.

  • 40. Randall Bennett Woods, The Roosevelt Foreign-Policy Establishment and the “Good Neighbor”: The United States and Argentina, 1941–1945 (Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1979).

  • 41. Gellman, Good Neighbor Diplomacy, 3.

  • 42. Gellman, Good Neighbor Diplomacy, 7, 227.

  • 43. Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions The United States in Central America (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983).

  • 44. Gardner, Economic Aspects; David Green, The Containment of Latin America; A History of the Myths and Realities of the Good Neighbor Policy (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971); and Dick Steward, Trade and Hemisphere: The Good Neighbor Policy and Reciprocal Trade (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1975).

  • 45. Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors.

  • 46. Max Paul Friedman and Tom Long, “Soft Balancing in the Americas: Latin American Opposition to U.S. Intervention, 1898–1936,” International Security 40, no. 1 (Summer 2015): 120–156.

  • 47. Greg Grandin, “Your Americanism and Mine: Americanism and Anti-Americanism in the Americas,” American Historical Review 111, no. 4 (October 2006): 1053.