Latin America and the League of Nations
- Fabián Herrera LeónFabián Herrera LeónInstituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo
At the moment of its founding in 1920, the League of Nations enjoyed the solid support of Latin American countries, whose early and extensive participation helped legitimize the new international system and facilitate the functioning of its institutional representation. While this support was tremendously valuable for the Geneva-based League, it continuously suffered temporary, though significant, lapses on the part of nations that were particularly representative of the region, such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Despite the characteristically pacifist rhetoric enunciated by this group of states, Latin American support cannot be called disinterested or sincere. Indeed, their collaboration with the multilateral and universalistic pretensions of the League was notoriously reserved, to such an extent that in the 1920s the organization’s General Secretariat granted them special treatment and prerogatives, while simultaneously ensuring that the League would continue to exert its influence in the Western Hemisphere. This reality was confirmed, sadly, in the context of two conflicts, the Chaco and Leticia wars, during which Latin American loyalty to the League became seriously questioned. With few exceptions in the decade that followed—one characterized by complicated crises that would lead to a new worldwide conflagration—the general tendency with respect to the system of collective security described in the Society’s Charter was scarred by dissatisfaction, incompliance, and increasing disillusionment that undoubtedly contributed to the weakening and eventual collapse of this organization so emblematic of the interwar period.
Latin American Participation in the League of Nations
At the moment of its founding in 1920, the League of Nations had the support of a significant number of Latin American countries, which helped substantially to legitimize its existence based on the Allied peace (the Treaty of Versailles) of which it was a product. This frequent, though incomplete, collaboration with the emblematic organization of the interwar period may surprise some who assume that Latin American nations then had no desire to be involved in European issues, much less in postwar problems. This surprise will be even greater for those who interpret as a disadvantage the fact that the Monroe Doctrine is cited and recognized in the League’s Pact (i.e., the first part of the Treaty of Versailles). In effect, Article 21 announces the League’s compatibility with regional intelligences “like the Monroe Doctrine” that exist “to assure the maintenance of peace,” even though that doctrine was often interpreted “at the convenience” of some, and Latin American nations tended to view it negatively or with deep suspicion.1 In contrast, President Woodrow Wilson and his contemporaries sought to understand it—not without serious questioning—as a framework for peaceful collaboration among American nations and a useful model for Europe.2
Although these factors could well have caused discouragement or distrust, they were not a true impediment for most of the countries of the region that agreed to participate in the work of the new organization, whether as founding members, invitees, or potential adherents pending application for admission.3 The last case was represented by Costa Rica in the context of the First Assembly (1920); like Mexico and the Dominican Republic, it had not received an invitation because of its delicate internal situation subsequent to a coup d’état of 1917.4 The Mexican case did not involve, strictly, the so-called Wilson Doctrine and its stricture against recognition of de facto governments; rather, it was a measure comparable to a sanction imposed because of the country’s questionable neutrality during World War I, and the ominous nationalist politics contained in the new 1917 Mexican Constitution with respect to foreign interests and investments.5 Of the three countries, Mexico was the one that delayed its admission the longest (1931). The Dominican Republic, occupied by the United States since 1916, did so as soon as it formed a new government and the North American occupation forces were withdrawn (1924).6
Among the unexpected cases of absence was Ecuador. Though named as an original member of the organization, it did not establish its presence in Geneva until 1934, when it finally ratified the Treaty of Versailles, a formality with which League members had to comply although it was not really prohibitive.7 Argentina at first accepted the invitation contained in the Pact, but abandoned the work of the First Assembly—though without resigning from the organization—in protest when its proposals for structural reform were rejected. It would not send a new delegation until 1934, perhaps as part of a political strategy in the context of discussions in Geneva of the Chaco war with Paraguay, in which it was deeply involved.8
Despite these specific cases, and the entrance and exit of some members (especially from Central America and the Caribbean in the mid-1930s), Latin American nations formally represented one-third of the total membership of the League throughout its existence, though this figure falls to just one-fourth based on the actual presence of delegations at the twenty-five assemblies held (whether “ordinary,” “special” or “second parts”) between 1920 and 1946.9 The substantial Latin American presence that emphasized the League’s Euro-American profile had very positive practical implications with respect to the exercise of multilateral diplomacy, the resulting decision-making processes, and, especially, the institutional relevance and legitimacy of both the central organization itself and its many subsidiary and autonomous agencies of a technical, social, or legal nature which attended to the specific demands of this group of countries, even after the political extinction of the League upon the outbreak of World War II.10
The Specific Form of Latin American Collaboration
In terms of participation, however, quantity does not necessarily equal quality. During its early years, the League was concerned primarily with topics directly related to the postwar period and with enforcing compliance with the peace treaties,; issues from which the Latin American members kept a certain distance. It may well be that these nations remained in Geneva awaiting the definitive admission of the United States into the organization, as suggested by the fact that they remained apart, but never withdrew, from the new international dynamics, and by the significant number of public statements in which they lamented the well-known but paradoxical, stance of the U.S. Senate, which stayed on the margins of the system of international security that it had fostered and, to a great extent, constructed. Without question, from a Latin American perspective U.S. participation in the League would have opened up the possibility of ascending onto an extra-American plane of equality with the hemisphere’s principal power; thus, it was well worthwhile to keep those expectations alive for a time.11
The opportunity to discuss in Geneva inter-American problems associated with territory and frontiers also led some of these countries to maintain their presence, though others opted to withdraw or remain on the margins, depending on how they might be affected, directly or indirectly, by such issues. The League appeared not to be particularly interested in dealing with disputes such as that of the provinces of Tacna and Arica, where Peru confronted Chile, or Bolivia’s demand for a route to the sea under its jurisdiction, which was opposed by Chile. In another case, Bolivia and Peru invoked Article 19 of the Pact and called for the Assembly to intervene and examine the consequences of the Pacific War (1879–1883) because of its potential effects on world peace, circumstances that, according to a formal interpretation of the text of the article in question, made such a review obligatory. Chile responded by citing Article 21 and presenting an exclusive interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine which, according to its diplomats, limited the League’s sphere of influence in American affairs.12 However, Chile’s argument was not accepted, except in an opinion submitted by a commission of jurists who opposed an interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine by the League of Nations. The parties opted to resolve their claims on their own, but the cost for the organization was significant, as Peru and Bolivia remained absent for a few years, though, once again, they did not go so far as to withdraw.13
The case of the district of Coto, a territory claimed by both Panama and Costa Rica, was taken to arbitration but finally disputed on the ground in 1921; it followed a similar diplomatic course after Panama petitioned the League to intervene. At that moment, U.S. diplomacy once again offered its good services to mediate an arbitrated settlement, and Geneva, far from preparing to intervene, expressed its full confidence that an arrangement would be reached that would be in harmony with the League’s Pact.14
The upshot of all these episodes was that there was very little clarity as to how issues concerning America would be dealt with, or what influence the League might bring to bear. These circumstances were exacerbated because the nature of that political arena was somewhat ambiguous owing to the continued absence of the United States and the League’s apparent desire to not do anything that might complicate that nation’s eventual admission.15 However, it cannot be said that the Monroe Doctrine and the United States opposed the League’s involvement in the Western Hemisphere; that, in its simplest form, would have meant that Europe could mediate controversies in the Americas, a role that was by no means exceptional and which in fact it had played after receiving petitions by the North American power.16 Latin America was not an object of dispute between the United States and the League of Nations, since just as the former was well aware of its importance and potential on the continent, the latter never considered extra-European affairs to be of overarching importance.
In any case, the Latin American members opted for a “separate” role or collaboration with Geneva that involved keeping their distance from contemporary issues that they understood as “foreign,” but receiving special treatment from the League. These characteristic features of group identity, typical of a specific type of representation in this scenario of international coexistence, suggested the perception of Latin America as a homogeneous region despite the intrinsic differences and the range of sometimes inharmonious interests among its nation-states.17 An additional factor contributing to this special treatment was the importance that the League—always worried about its relevance and credibility, which depended on universalization—placed on retaining this group of members, even though it has sometimes been compared to a simple “chorus” in a global “concert.”18 Conscious of this institutional need, the Latin American members placed a high price on their collaboration and votes at a time when the League of Nations represented little more than an economic burden owing to the mandatory (though actually subject to exemption or extension) payment of a yearly fee, something that was much more important to them than problems related to Article 21 of the Pact or the Monroe Doctrine.19
An early manifestation of a group with particular ambitions occurred during the League’s first Assembly in 1920 in the form of a Spanish-American initiative, so named because Spain participated, to adopt Castilian as a third official language of the organization, in addition to English and French. That proposal presupposed a concerted preparation process by Spanish-speaking members, the vast majority from Latin America, which had gained the added support of Haiti, Great Britain, Switzerland, and Belgium. However, the demand did not succeed because of the fear that, far from improving understanding, it might well impede communications among League members.20 The importance of the initiative lies in how it was conceived and prepared in the context of a reunión, a typically Latin American political practice which became a tradition that would parallel the development of the League’s own assemblies, both those of a private, exclusive nature and more open ones that included specially invited non-American delegates and international officials.
The peace conference was the European antecedent (as the practice cannot be considered exceptional in light of international American conferences) of such coordinated proposals, but in Geneva it carried great weight, as Thomas Fischer emphasizes with respect to social coexistence:
The Spanish-speaking delegates practiced a lifestyle that conformed to the bourgeois mode of their time, holding their gatherings in the hotels where they stayed, in Geneva’s cafés, or on sidewalks. Together they commemorated emblematic dates of Latin American independence and the victories of national heroes. Another ritual they shared was Catholic Mass. In this regard they stood out, since in the city of [John] Calvin, Catholicism was a minority phenomenon. Of course, wherever they might be they would form circles speaking in Castilian. The wives that accompanied those Latin Americans were mostly from distinguished, affluent families and they tended to stay in close contact. To a certain point, then, they formed a community with a common language and history.21
American Rhetoric and Special Treatment
Though unsuccessful in promoting their issues in the setting of Geneva, the League’s Latin American members often posed before argumentative European members as an example to be followed with regard to the peaceful resolution of differences, based on a purported American diplomatic tradition. This came to constitute the essence of this group’s rhetoric as one that harmonized with the League’s more simple and literal understanding of Article 21 of the Pact and its reference to the Monroe Doctrine; that is, it implied that American issues or problems, when they arose, could be resolved easily by the American countries themselves. This led the Latin American members to insist that their presence in Geneva should be understood as a contribution of nations already experienced in avoiding wars.
Such messages and reminders were often voiced during public presentations by these members, though not infrequently from positions that were practically honorary in nature—for example, when they headed a special commission during an assembly or held some other post granted as in recognition of the Latin American country in question or its representative. The Latin American delegations openly pursued such appointments, and the League’s diplomatic corps, represented in this novel group of international officials organized as a permanent secretariat within the organization, did whatever was necessary to recruit them in acceptable numbers, often heeding the counsel of the League’s principal powers, who saw this as a way to recompense Latin Americans for their support in decisions adopted at the organization’s councils or assemblies.22 Naturally, scaling up to positions of a political character was another matter entirely. Indeed, the likelihood that Latin American countries would accede to positions of true importance in the General Secretariat or gain seats on the Council was always low and limited. In the Council, for example, Latin American nations had one of eight posts between 1920 and 1922, two of ten from 1923 to 1926, and three of fourteen (later fifteen) from then on.23
Though this special treatment contributed in a certain way to marginalizing the Latin American delegations,24 it also presupposed the creation of certain forums and the adoption of extraordinary practices. In 1923, to cite but one example, the General Secretariat decided to create an office in its Information Section that would give special attention to Latin America. Clearly, the goal was to keep alive the interest of these members in the League’s global operations and politics that it represented.25 This scheme was an adaptation of the existing organization based on groups, reunions, and the system of rotating political positions (especially on the Council), which promised a greater incorporation of Latin American specialists into the network of international institutions with their axis in Geneva, as well as into the bureaucracy and the League’s principal decision-making bodies.26 Those were issues to which Latin American members paid great attention as a group, in contrast to the reality that up to that time virtually every petition to clarify Article 21 of the Pact, or to express opposition to the Monroe Doctrine, had been presented by an individual nation without broad support. More importantly, no such petition had been registered since the founding of the League.27
The Latin American members did not openly demand any particular interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, for they were well aware that reference to this famous instrument of U.S. foreign policy had occurred in rather unusual circumstances: after a public pronouncement of the Pact requested specifically by President Wilson in an attempt to counter political opposition in his country to the Treaty of Versailles by introducing a reservation—precisely, Article 21—that would provide the American powerhouse with an extraordinary means to wriggle out of any future commitment to international security that might prove inconvenient. As is well known, not even this adaptation sufficed to convince the United States to join the League, despite the fact that the article was incorporated unchanged so it would not constitute an impediment to that nation’s future, highly desired and long-awaited incorporation.28
As for the office set up to provide special attention for Latin America, it proved to be short-lived, as the decision was soon taken to close it, because, far from resolving the problem of adaptation that had been cited to justify it, there was a paradoxical risk that it might accentuate it. In effect, the Latin American members had begun to see that office as an organization that was parallel to (or perhaps even part of) the League, with its own specific guidelines and working objectives. This group of countries suggested the office should be made permanent and enjoy greater autonomy under the direction of a general sub-secretary who, naturally, would be a Latin American. This particular negotiation with the General Secretariat, which resulted in the closing of the office and returned Latin Americans (at least in theory) to common law, endorsed the League’s commitment to gradually incorporate Latin American nationals into the international bureaucracy in Geneva, until at least one person from the region figured in each of the organization’s sections. The parties also agreed on a more adequate system of linkages based on placing correspondents in some countries of the region and holding regular meetings—the so-called American meetings—with delegates, officials, and directors from the Secretariat in Geneva.29 The commitments related to the Council were somewhat limited, and Brazil’s withdrawal in 1926, after its failed bid to make its seat permanent, and the establishment of three non-permanent positions available to this group of nations, this only worsened the problem.30 The Assembly had never caused offense, for the Latin American countries participated often and visibly in the forefront of its directorship and in the League’s commissions.
Clarification of Article 21
In 1928, the year when the withdrawal of Brazil in June and of Spain in September took effect as reactions to failed demands to gain permanent seats on the Council, this political organ made one last attempt to keep them in the fold. The League issued a sincere petition asking them not to abandon the organization upon completing the two years of mandatory permanence that were stipulated in the Pact. Not desiring to make any exceptions, it included Costa Rica with those two nations in that formal request, because it was also preparing to leave the organization. But this diplomatic gesture provoked an unexpected public challenge for the League of Nations,31 when Costa Rica unexpectedly took advantage of the occasion to demand that the Council accept its understanding of the Monroe Doctrine, which was explicitly cited in the Pact. Costa Rica’s petition echoed the most strident Latin American discourses directed against the United States and the Monroe Doctrine in the context of the Sixth Conference of American Republics held that same year (1928) in Havana.32
Up to that moment the League, and more specifically its General Secretariat, had deftly managed to circumvent requests to explain or clarify the imprecision in Article 21 of the Pact, so it was especially surprising that on this occasion the Council was questioned so directly, a circumstance that forced it to stretch its maneuvering ability to the maximum while also recognizing that its response was urgently required. Costa Rica’s demand was soon bolstered by the group of Latin American countries, making it impossible for the League to get itself off the hook by offering some vague or evasive response.33 As Francis Paul Walters, a former official and author of the classic work A History of the League of Nations, would write: “All America anxiously awaited the Council’s response; for on it would depend not only the future attitude of the Latin American republics towards the League, but also, at least in some cases, their decision with respect to signing and ratifying the Briand-Kellogg Pact.”34 Many elements were thus interrelated and presented an order of priority—so to speak—for contemporary international issues in accordance with their viability, thus revealing the great potential of an international agreement that rejected war as a tool of national politics. In this sense, it indirectly strengthened the position of Geneva and the few nations that favored the eventual incorporation of the United States into the League; up to that time the principal, if not only, reason why the delegations had opted to maintain their explicative and interpretative distance from Article 21 and the implications derived from any mention of the Monroe Doctrine was their desire not to hinder that process.
Finally, on September 1, 1928, the Council of the League of Nations offered a response regarding the scope of Article 21 of the Pact; but it neither contradicted nor limited the rights and obligations of members:
Article 21 gives the States parties to international engagements the guarantee that the validity of engagements that assure the maintenance of peace will not be affected by the admission to the Pact of the League of Nations. In declaring that such engagements are not deemed incompatible with any of the Pact’s provisions, said article refers only to the relations of the Pact with such engagements; it neither weakens nor limits any of the safeguards stipulated [therein]. With regard to the scope of the engagements to which the article refers, it is clear that it cannot have the effect of granting them a sanction or validity they did not previously possess, but limits itself to referring to those engagements, such as may exist, with no attempt to define them: as attempts at definition, in fact, are liable to producing the effect of restricting or enlarging their sphere of application. Such a task was not [conceived by] the authors of the Pact; it only concerns the States that accept inter se engagements of this kind.35
This clarification of Article 21 marked a critical juncture in the history of Latin American participation in the League, for it effectively ended by reaffirming the basis of collaboration between these members and the Geneva-based organization. The unexpected demand of the Costa Rican delegation—which did not change its mind and soon announced its withdrawal—was largely influenced by shifting international winds and the fact that the United States was ending the imperialism of the period of republican restoration and would soon (1933) institute in its place the “Good Neighbor Policy” that characterized the Roosevelt administration’s dealings with the region.
The Chaco and Leticia Conflicts, 1932–1935
Inter-American belligerence seriously limited the political possibilities of this group of nations in Geneva. Far from decreasing and from despite the continent-wide pacifist rhetoric, conflict actually intensified with the parallel outbreak and development of two grave conflicts: the Chaco and Leticia disputes (1932–1935). The eventual discussion in Geneva of these confrontations confirmed the League’s right to intervene in American affairs and dispersed possible suspicions of self-marginalization in the Western Hemisphere.
The capture of the Paraguayan fortress of Boquerón by Bolivian troops in late July 1932 officially ignited the Chaco war, the most serious and deadly conflict in the history of 20th-century Latin America. Fought in a barren environment (the cause of most casualties), it involved an imprecise border and an opportunity that Bolivia saw to develop a regime based on exploiting and trading oil internationally, a national project that required control of an access route to the Paraguay River and then to the Atlantic Ocean.36 As Francis Paul Walters, the director of the League’s Political Section, observed, this could be considered “the only practical interest in play.”37 Since both Bolivia and Paraguay knew that the oil reserves in the disputed zone were limited,38 it is difficult to explain their respective motivations to fight, so this war has often been explained simply as an indirect struggle between two oil companies—Standard Oil, which supported Bolivia, and Royal Dutch Shell, which manipulated Paraguay—over a supposed “sea” of petroleum lying beneath the Gran Chaco’s forests.
On September 1, 1932, in Amazonas, an armed band of civilians and soldiers residing in the department of Loreto assaulted and captured the Colombian port of Leticia to reclaim it for Peru. As soon came to light, occupation of the port had been carefully prepared by a group of Loretanos involved in rubber extraction in the region. They opposed ceding a geographic corridor to Colombia because it would affect their exploitation and commerce of rubber, which had been authorized in the secret Salomón-Lozano Border Treaty (1922), which was publicly ratified in 1928 and enacted in 1930.39
The course and outcome of the Chaco and Leticia conflicts would reflect the efficiency, or inefficiency, of diplomatic handling affected, in both cases, by diversity and complications arising from the range of mediating (and competing) instances involved. In keeping with its role as an entity competent in, and ethically obliged by, situations that threatened world peace, the League strove to exert its influence, especially when other conciliatory figures entered at the request, or with the consent, of the parties. The Chaco conflict became enormously complicated as morally and/or juridically competent mediators came and went in an unending drama manipulated by Bolivia and Paraguay, which maliciously and ingeniously maneuvered to gain time while planning a definitive blow in the war.40 But this multiplicity of diplomatic instances and interventions alone cannot explain the failure in handling the Chaco war; the intransigence of the parties, and the limited disposition of international and regional powers to pressure them to reach a final, definitive agreement, must also be taken into account.41
In contrast to this conflict, only Brazil intervened in the dispute in the Amazonas, for no other mediator formally offered its good offices. This circumstance, without doubt, facilitated diplomatic handling from just one axis—Geneva—and led to a quick resolution. While one may object that this dispute was of much smaller dimensions than the Chaco war, there were indications of a possible intensification toward a broader conflict in the form of increasing military confrontations and incursions by ships, submarines, and bombers.42
Because of their remoteness and particularities, these two events constituted an especially complicated imbroglio for an international system based in Geneva, especially when involvement of “bridge” members like Spain, Guatemala, and Mexico proved unable to provide any advantage or guarantee positive results from the various diplomatic interventions. One might say that the League and the work of its commissioners (all of whom were Council members), having failed to win peace in Chaco, were unwilling to lose another battle in Leticia.
The armed struggle between Bolivia and Paraguay would last three years, ending only when both sides realized that the goal of a decisive victory was economically and militarily unreachable. The League’s actions resulted in the definitive withdrawal of the Paraguayan delegation from the negotiating table; this partial failure of Geneva’s performance in South American lands damaged its reputation in the international community. Meanwhile, the Colombia–Peru conflict continued in low-intensity skirmishes between the two countries’ armed forces, restricted to a localized area. Subjected to careful multilateral diplomatic action supported by a stable axis in Geneva, it never reached tragic proportions.43
Latin America in the Face of International Aggression
The ensuing years and conflicts before the outbreak of World War II in Europe served to increase doubts and discouragement among the League’s Latin American members (which averaged around a dozen) during its final years. Fulfilling certain commitments regarding collective security by imposing sanctions on Italy for its military incursion into Ethiopia once again raised diverse opinions among several countries. Some, including Mexico, largely ratified those actions, but were hardly willing to go much further in defending international victims of the period.44 The international sanctions applied to Bolivia and (only at the end) to Paraguay during the Chaco war had tested their resolve, and the result fell far short of “exemplary.” But even when some nations accepted and complied with sanctions, especially in relation to war materiel and the raw materials required to produce it, several (especially neighboring ones) did so only irregularly, and others soon began to protest, arguing against sanctions because they were excessive, even invasive, measures that were being imposed on what they considered exclusively American spaces.45
Ethiopia was recognized in Latin America as a “weak” country, but also one that was “uncivilized” and therefore “inferior” to powerful Italy, a nation with which they had diplomatic and commercial relations that they were anxious to strengthen. Thus, the invasion contradicted the logic of their interests, producing a series of pronouncements of withdrawal from the League which, coupled with the organization’s questionable handling of conflicts involving world powers, weakened it even further.46
While it was impossible for Spain’s and Mexico’s diplomats to channel the Spanish Civil War through the League of Nations and break down the diplomatic barrier that the non-intervention committee constituted, fleeting pronouncements from Geneva concerning a true international war more than sufficed to polarize the opinions of the Latin American members and distance them even more from the organization and the inconveniences it represented.47 Fernando de los Ríos, Spain’s ambassador in the United States, accurately estimated the possibilities of the Republican cause among Latin American countries and the region’s role in them:
. . . the success of Vargas in Brazil, where the Germans have conquered first place in trade, the frustrated coup d’état in Cuba, where Batista’s proposals and actions to install a regime more or less identical to fascism persist, the progressive ascendance of Germans and Italians in Central America despite the adverse attitude of the governors of Costa Rica and Panama; the existence of a considerable arsenal of weapons in Guatemala, which with Mexico is inclined to play the role that Portugal has performed in relation to Spain; the knowledge that Uruguay, Argentina and Chile are withdrawing more and more from this country [the United States] and turning towards ideals analogous to those that inspire Germany and Italy; all these have contributed to raising the alarm [felt] today and led the prestigious journal Affairs to state in its latest issue, . . . : ‘One of the most important factors in the accentuation of dictatorial forms in South America has been the success of the Franco government in Spain. To a great extent, South America has taken its orientations from the Motherland, Spain, and the dictatorship’s success there has been important . . .48
It would be a mistake to search for a logical and compact political group among Latin American members at the League of Nations, even though this article attempts to explain them together. Examining this multilateral diplomatic scenario should not be neglected by research on particular national interests, as we find in the new historiography, which focuses on the region’s and others’ involvement in international spaces such as Pan-Americanism.
Discussion of the Literature
Historiographic attention to the participation and performance of Latin American countries in the League of Nations has been modest. In the best case, scholars of diplomacy and international relations have focused on the failure of the organization in the interwar period in efforts to uncover the national trajectories of a few countries or sub-regions of the continent.49 But that is a slim collection of diplomatic histories with a limited vision which does not go beyond the perspective of national foreign policies. Historians’ foci are conditioned by access to the archives of their respective chancelleries and the fact that none of the researchers involved has had the opportunity to base studies on key historiographical references, simply because they do not exist. For example, no American or European writer has paid sufficient attention to these members beyond the few mentions that countries in this region merit in Francis Paul Walters’s account.50 Hence, one easily intuits that Latin American scholars might not feel especially attracted to conducting historical research on an organization that failed politically, and whose participation in the region and its nations seems rather irrelevant. Though speculative, I believe it is correct to say that the national diplomatic histories of this region have focused much more on evaluating national diplomacy as a function of diplomats’ mission to protect the integrity of the nation-state, on their experience in relation to utopian projects of regional integration and, especially, on their performance in the context of asymmetrical relations in the face of world powers, especially the United States.
It would be easy to posit that those nations whose performance in the history of the League was notable or notorious—Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico come to mind—have been the subject of important historical studies, although these appear to be proportionately less abundant than histories of countries that had much more modest participation in Geneva.51 In this regard, the paucity of adequate studies of Mexico is especially paradoxical, since it frequently recalls episodes of its diplomacy in the context of the League of Nations (e.g., its diplomatic support for China, Ethiopia, Spain, and Austria) as proof of a long and important diplomatic tradition. Nonetheless, it is only in recent years that this topic has been studied with more scholarly objectives.52
It is obvious that today political histories do not enjoy great appeal in academic circles, which seem less and less interested in particular territorial-political spaces,53 a fact that coincides with new analytical goals and a transnational perspective that conceives of Geneva as a locus that disseminated standardized international norms and conducts. This is recognized as a phenomenon of transnationalization which is emphasized in international organizations and in figures distinct from the traditional diplomat, seen as a functionary or technician specialized in serving such organizations, or perhaps as a correspondent in the service of some specialized office in Geneva, a corps of international apostles responsible for propaganda and lobbying tasks in relation to Latin American governments not particularly convinced of the wisdom of universalism or of partially sacrificing their sovereign wishes.54 An important number of historians of Latin America from different areas of the world, educated, naturally, in diverse academies, have been discussing the prospects that these perspectives and methodologies might have in these territories, and their debates have produced interesting research experiences and results.55 However, we continue to confront a problem that is more often evaded than faced: namely, the paucity of political histories that might serve as a basis of support for novel initiatives of interpretation related to what is, without question, a dynamic circuit involving Latin America and Geneva.
It is to be hoped that this correction will be made gradually and in harmony with, or within, this appealing branch of historiography, because it certainly will attract a large number of specialists who will develop different kinds of specialized histories which, naturally, will approach the context of studying these international organizations as they strive to discover the evolution of public policies related to health, labor, child welfare, and the capacity of intellectual networks, among other topics.56 The tools that the researcher has at hand today are clearly superior and highly promising, including practical internet sites for obtaining evidence and fostering academic contact,57 and other means developed specially to discover small international networks initiated as medium-term projects that may well have more long-lasting utility.58
The concentrated archives of the League of Nations, the United Nations Office at the Geneva Library & Archives, are located at the current seat of the United Nations in Europe, the famous Palace of the Nations of the extinct international organization. Interested researchers should make an appointment in advance to secure the elements that will best facilitate their work in the hall (the indexes and collections are designed for this purpose). The archives have a wonderful complement in the Library and Periodicals Collections in the same building, as well as the archives of the International Labour Organization, and other important libraries at teaching centers for internationalists and researchers at the Graduate Institute and the Université de Genève.
There are also several online resources. The History of the League of Nations is a virtual academic network that facilitates the exchange of research results and ideas among scholars interested in the history of the League of Nations. The website, directed by two recognized specialists—Patricia Clavin of Oxford University and Susan Pedersen of Columbia University—offers news on publications and events, information on research resources, and the possibility to consult the academic network and register in it. Access and consultations are facilitated by contents made available in eight languages.
The popular League of Nations Home Page contributes to diffusing the archives of the League of Nations in Geneva, particularly its valuable photographic collection, which includes personalities, delegations, commissions, offices of the International Secretariat, Council sessions, and assemblies, as well as photographs from other international organisms, including the Permanent Court of International Justice and the International Labour Organization. It also has extremely useful resources for consultation: registers of official guides, dictionaries, indexes and newspapers, an abundant list of historiographical works, and a detailed timeline.
Introduced to researchers interested in the history of the League of Nations at the League of Nations Conference in Geneva in August 2011, the League of Nations Search Engine, LONSEA, at Heidelberg University is now a paradigmatic tool for research to discover the networks of people and organizations associated with international projects that involve international entities based in Geneva during the interwar period. The potential of this novel research system based on a concentrated archive like that of the League of Nations is unlimited. It is not a finished project but one in ongoing development.
- Dumont, Juliette. Le Brésil et l’Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle (1924–1946): Le pari de la diplomatie culturelle. Paris: Éditions de l’IHEAL, 2009.
- Fischer, Thomas. Die Souveränität der Schwachen: Lateinamerika und der Völkerbund, 1920–1936. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2012.
- Herrera León, Fabián. México en la Sociedad de Naciones, 1931–1940. Mexico City: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores de México, 2014.
- Herrera León, Fabián, and Patricio Herrera González, eds. América Latina y la Organización Internacional del Trabajo: Redes, cooperación técnica e institucionalidad social (1919–1950). Morelia: Instituto de Investigations Históricas de la Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo-Universidad de Monterrey-Universidade Federal Fluminense, 2013.
- McPherson, Alan, and Yannick Wehrli. Beyond Geopolitics: New Histories of Latin America at the League of Nations. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015.
- Rhenan Segura, Jorge. Sociedad de las Naciones y la política centro-americana (1919–1939). Costa Rica: Euroamericana, 1993.
- Vargas García, Eugênio. O Brasil e a Liga das Nações (1919–1926): Vencer ou não perder. Brasilia:, Editora de Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul-Fundação Alexandre de Gusmão, 2000.
- Vivas Gallardo, Freddy. Venezuela en la Sociedad de Naciones: 1920–1939; Descripción y análisis de una actuación diplomática. Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1981.
- Walters, Francis Paul. A History of the League of Nations. Vol. 2. London: Oxford University Press, 1952.
- Wehrli, Yannick. “‘Créer et maintenir l’intérêt’: La liaison entre le Secrétariat de la Société des Nations et l’Amérique latine (1919–1929).” Undergraduate thesis, Université de Genève, 2003.
- Wehrli, Yannick. “Les délégations latino-américaines et les intérêts de la France à la Société des Nations.” Relations Internationales 137 (2009): 45–59.
- Wehrli, Yannick, and Fabián Herrera León. “Le BIT et l’Amérique latine durant l’entre-deux-guerres: Problèmes et enjeux.” In L’Organisation Internationale du Travail en devenir: Origine, développement et avenir. Edited by Isabelle Lespinet Moret and Vincent Viet, 157–166. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2011.
1. Horace Meyer Kallen, “The Pact of the League of Nations, American Foreign Policy and the Washington Conference,” Journal of International Relations 12.2 (1921): 273.
2. Margaret MacMillan, París, 1919 (Barcelona: Tusquets, 2005), 36–37; Manuel de Oliveira Lima, “Pan Americanism and the League of Nations,” Hispanic American Historical Review 4.2 (1921): 239–247; George H. Blakeslee, “The Monroe Doctrine and the Proposed Constitution of the League of Nations,” Journal of Race Development 9.4 (1919): 427. Among those more reticent about or opposed to worldwide adoption of the Monroe Doctrine we find among others the U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing; the legal counsel of the U.S. delegation, David Hunter Miller; the senior Republican senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, Henry Cabot Lodge; and the Republican ex-President William Taft.
3. Annex I to the Pact lists as original members the countries that fought and emerged victorious in World War I. The Latin American countries listed are Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. This Annex also mentions, with certain exceptions, nations that were neutral but were invited to join: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, El Salvador, and Venezuela. Those that do not appear because they were defeated in the war or for some other reason, despite their neutrality during the conflict, had to apply for admission and accept conditions imposed by the Assembly of the League.
4. See Michael Streeter, Central America and the Treaty of Versailles (London: Haus, 2010).
5. See Fabián Herrera León, México en la Sociedad de Naciones, 1931–1940, (Mexico City: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores de México, 2014), 91–123.
6. See Yannick Wehrli, “‘Créer et maintenir l’intérêt’: la liaison entre le Secrétariat de la Société des Nations et l’Amérique latine (1919–1929)” (dissertation, Université de Genève, 2003), 54–56.
7. Manley O. Hudson, “Afghanistan, Ecuador and the Soviet Union in the League of Nations,” American Journal of International Law 29.1 (1935): 111–112.
8. Argentina presented three proposals for structural reform: (1) automatic admission of all sovereign states; (2) election by majority vote of all members of the Council through the Assembly; and (3) establishing an international court of justice based on the principles of obligatory arbitration and jurisdiction. On Geneva’s handling of the Chaco war and the consequent struggle among diplomatic instances to establish peace, see Fabián Herrera León, La política mexicana en la Sociedad de Naciones ante la guerra del Chaco y el conflicto de Leticia, 1932–1935 (Mexico City: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 2009), 83–145.
9. Initially, ten Latin Americans countries and six invitees are mentioned in the Pact, against twenty-one original countries and seven invitees from outside the region; fifteen Latin American delegations were present at the first Assembly (1920), along with twenty-six predominantly European and Asiatic nations; 11 against 34 at the Second (1921); 13 and 35 (III, 1922); 12 and 37 (IV, 1923); 12 and 36 (V, 1924); 13 and 37 (VI, 1925); 11 and 37 (extraordinary session, 1926); 11 and 37 (VII, 1926); 12 and 37 (VIII, 1927); 12 and 38 (IX, 1928); 14 and 37 (X, 1929); 14 and 37 (XI, 1930); 14 and 38 (XII, 1931); 15 and 39 (extr. 1932); 14 and 41 (XIII, 1932); 15 and 40 (XIV, 1933); 16 and 40 (XV, 1934); 14 and 37 (extr. 1934); 14 and 39 (XVI (1), 1935); 11 and 31 (XVI (2), 1936); 13 and 39 (XVII, 1936); 13 and 39 (XVIII, 1937); 11 and 38 (XIX, 1938); 10 and 33 (XX, 1939); and, finally, 7 and 25 (XXI, 1946). Source: League of Nations Photo Archive, League of Nations Archives-Center for the Study of Global Change, Indiana University, consulted October 15, 2014.
10. A few of the co-participating organizations in this important episode of world history were the International Labour Organization, the International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation, the Permanent Court of International Justice, and the Organization of Hygiene. Attention focuses on the first in Fabián Herrera León and Patricio Herrera González, eds., América Latina y la Organización Internacional del Trabajo: Redes, cooperación técnica e institucionalidad social (1919–1950) (Morelia: Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas de la Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Centro de Estudios Históricos de la Universidad de Monterrey, and Programa de Pós-graduação em História, Universidade Federal Fluminense, 2013).
11. See Agustín Edwards, “Latin America and the League of Nations,” Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs 8.2 (1929): 136–137.
12. Dexter Perkins, A History of the Monroe Doctrine (Boston: Little, Brown, 1963), 327; Charles Noble Gregory, “The First Assembly of the League of Nations,” American Journal of Interactional Law 15.2 (1921): 241.
13. Bolivia ceased to send delegates from 1923 to 1929. Peru began to desert in 1921, attended the 1922 Assembly, but was then absent until 1929.
14. Perkins, History of the Monroe Doctrine, 327–328.
15. Arthur Sweetser, “The First Year and a Half of the League of Nations,” American Academy of Political and Social Science 96 (1921): 29.
16. See George H. Blakeslee, “The Monroe Doctrine and the Proposed Constitution of the League of Nations,” Journal of Race Development 9.4 (1919): 426–427.
17. See Thomas Fischer, Die Souveränität der Schwachen: Lateinamerika und der Völkerbund, 1920–1936 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2012).
18. As published in the newspaper La Prensa: “The chorus was comprised by [Latin America] and given more or less importance, according to the need, or not, of numerical support for initiatives or votes” (emphasis added). Although the source of this brief quote is Argentina, which left Geneva when its petitions fell on deaf ears, it does not seem exaggerated, and expresses quite well the limited role of this group of members in the League’s actions. La Prensa (Buenos Aires), “Las delegaciones Latinoamericanas en la Liga,” September 23, 1929; League of Nations Archives (hereinafter LNA), S 505, exp. 10 “L’Amérique Latine et la Société des Nations: presse.”
19. In effect, issues like the allotment of budgetary items became recurrent among Latin American members, which expected a reduction in the schedule of contributions, or at least release from their debts. See Herrera, México en la Sociedad de Naciones, 58, 60.
20. See Thomas Fischer, “El español en el mundo: Hispanoamericanismo en la Sociedad de Naciones,” Iberoamericana 13.50 (2013): 119–126.
21. Fischer, “El español en el mundo,” 129.
22. See Yannick Wehrli, “Les délégations latino-américaines et les intérêts de la France à la Société des Nations,” Relations internationales 137.1 (2009): 45–59.
23. Wehrli, “Les délégations latino-américaines,” 47.
24. See Fischer, Die Souveränität der Schwachen, 2012.
25. See Wehrli, “‘Créer et maintenir l’intérêt’,” 77–115.
26. See Wehrli, “‘Créer et maintenir l’intérêt’,” 103.
27. The Honduran delegate to the Versailles Conference, Policarpo Bonilla, had requested, in April 1919, a clear definition of the Monroe Doctrine because it was to be included in the Pact. As Bonilla argued: “[It] has never been inscribed in any international document, nor been expressly accepted by the nations of the old or new continent.” Later, in December, El Salvador’s chancellor, Juan Francisco Paredes, asked the U.S. State Department to clearly expound the meaning of the Doctrine, but not before recognizing the historical value of the Monroe Declaration as confirmation of American nations’ independence. Clear rejections of Article 21 and the doctrine it contained were presented on several occasions by Mexico, a nation sorely offended by the nonrecognition of its delegation at the peace conference and its exclusion from the list of neutral nations invited to join the League. Its Secretary of Foreign Relations declared publicly (April 24, 1919) that Mexico would not recognize the Monroe Doctrine “because it attacks [our] sovereignty and independence and places the nations of America under forced tutelage.” Mexican diplomacy attempted to win supporters by circulating a note among Latin American chancelleries that reproduced this rejection. In response, the United States offered a friendlier, but ambiguous, interpretation based on a discourse delivered three years earlier by Wilson at a pan-American scientific congress, which recalled the prohibition on extending European political systems in America and called for peaceful, friendly relations among American states. El Salvador declared itself satisfied and decided to join the League. A rejection similar to Mexico’s emerged several years later in Argentina, which in 1932 was preparing its return to Geneva to attend (and in a sense hinder) handling of the Chaco war there. Argentina’s congress also recognized the historical value of the declaration for securing independence in the Americas, but refused to recognize it as a regional agreement. See Gregorio Selser, Cronología de las intervenciones extranjeras en América Latina (Mexico City: Centro de Investigations Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 2001), 380–382, 388, 402, 541. LNA, R 564, exp. 3028 “Definition of the Monroe Doctrine”; LNA, R 574, exp. 5549 “The Role of American Countries in the League of Nations.”
28. Herrera, México en la Sociedad de Naciones, 68.
29. Wehrli, “‘Créer et maintenir l’intérêt’,” 10.
30. See Eugênio Vargas Garcia, O Brasil e a Liga das Nações (1919–1926): Vencer ou não perder (Brasilia: Editora de Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul and Fundação Alexandre de Gusmão, 2000), 75–90, 117–135; Freddy Vivas Gallardo, Venezuela en la Sociedad de las Naciones: 1920–1939; Descripción y análisis de una actuación diplomática (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1981), 248.
31. Francis Paul Walters, Historia de la Sociedad de las Naciones (Madrid: Tecnos, 1971), 385.
32. See Henry Raymont, Vecinos en conflicto: La historia de las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Latinoamérica, desde Franklin Delano Roosevelt hasta nuestros días (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 2007), 37, 60–62; Selser, Cronología, 452–454; Guillermo Palacios, Intimidades conflictos y reconciliaciones: México y Brasil, 1822–1933 (Mexico City: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 2001), 205. See also the digital collection “Conferencias Internacionales Americanas, 1889–1936” in the Biblioteca Digital Daniel Cosío Villegas.
33. Twelve “genuinely” active members are noted, despite the formal registration of sixteen. See Agustín Edwards, “Latin America and the League of Nations,” Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs 8.2 (1929): 134.
34. Walters, Historia, 386.
35. From Philip Marshall Brown, “Mexico and the Monroe Doctrine,” American Journal of International Law 26.1 (1932): 218.
36. Stephen Conrad Cote, “The Nature of Oil in Bolivia, 1896–1952” (PhD dissertation, University of California, Davis, 2011), 149. See also a similar, careful study of the assignation of responsibilities of oil companies like Standard Oil, of other supposed regional interests, and of neighboring countries and international arms companies: Leslie B. Rout, Politics of the Chaco Peace Conference, 1935–1939 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970).
37. Walters, Historia, 513.
38. This would be confirmed by the special observation commission that the League placed on the ground in late 1933. LNA, “Rapport de la Commission du Chaco,” C.154.M.64.1934.VII, Geneva, 2 May 1934, 16–17.
39. On this issue see Humberto Araujo Arana, Conflicto fronterizo Perú-Colombia: Año 1932–1933 (Lima: Huascarán, 1965), 63–64; and Ronald Bruce St. John, “The End of Innocence: Peruvian Foreign Policy and the United States, 1919–1942,” Journal of Latin American Studies 2 (1976): 331–335.
40. Óscar Javier Barrera Aguilera, “La Guerra del Chaco como desafío al panamericanismo: El sinuoso camino a la Conferencia de Paz de Buenos Aires, 1934–1935,” Anuario Colombiano de Historia Social y de la Cultura 38.1 (2011): 179–217.
41. On this topic see Yannick Wehrli, “La multiplicité des intervenants dans la résolucion pacifique du conflit du Chaco (1932-1935): un obstacle à la paix?,” in Prévention, gestion et sortie des conflits, edited by Vincent Chetail et al. (Geneva: Institut Européen de l’Université de Genève, 2006), 181–200.
42. Herrera, La política mexicana en la Sociedad, 180–184.
43. Juan Miguel Bákula, Las relaciones internacionales entre Perú y Colombia (Bogotá: Temis, 1997); Luis V. Pérez Gil, La política exterior en el bienio republicano-socialista (1931–1933): Idealismo, realismo y derecho internacional (Barcelona: Atelier, 2004).
44. See Alan McPherson and Yannick Wehrli, Beyond Geopolitics: New Histories of Latin America at the League of Nations (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015).
45. Herrera, México en la Sociedad, 194–196, 200.
46. Herrera, México en la Sociedad, 258–260, 269, 273–275.
47. See José Antonio Matesanz, Las raíces del exilio: México y la Guerra Civil española (Mexico City: El Colegio de Mexico and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1999), 179–240; Agustín Sánchez Andrés and Fabián Herrera León, “Contra todo y contra todos”: La diplomacia mexicana y la cuestión española en la Sociedad de Naciones, 1936–1939 (Tenerife: Idea, 2011); David Jorge, “Haciéndose los sordos en Geneva: La Sociedad de Naciones y la guerra en España (1936–1939)” (PhD dissertation, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2014); Mario Ojeda Revah, “El frente diplomático: Defensa mexicana de España ante la Sociedad de las Naciones,” Foro Internacional 86 (2006): 762–791.
48. Fernando de los Ríos a Ministro de Estado, Washington, September 23, 1937, Archivo del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores de España, R 1070, exp. 26.
49. Jorge Rhenan Segura, Sociedad de las Naciones y la política centro-americana (1919–1939) (Costa Rica: Euroamericana, 1993); Vivas, Venezuela en la Sociedad.
50. References are even scarcer in comparable texts, such as Alfred Zimmern, The League of Nations and the Rule of Law, 1918–1935 (London: Macmillan, 1945); Elmer Bendiner, A Time for Angels: The Tragicomic History of the League of Nations (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975); F. S. Northedge, The League of Nations: Its Life and Times, 1920–1946 (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986); George Scott, The Rise and Fall of the League of Nations (New York: Macmillan, 1974).
51. Vargas Garcia, O Brasil e a Liga; Carlos Escudé and Andrés Cisneros, eds., Historia de las relaciones exteriores argentinas available at Centro de Estudios de Política Exterior; Herrera, México en la Sociedad.
52. Luis Ignacio Sainz, México frente al anschluss (Mexico City: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 1988); Matesanz, Las raíces, 179–240; Ojeda Revah, “El frente diplomático.”
53. However, works of special appeal and value continue to appear: Fischer, Die Souveränität der Schwachen; Yannick Wehrli, “Latin America in the League of Nations: Bolívar’s Dream come True?,” in Latin America 1810–2010: Dreams and Legacies, edited by Claude Auroi and Aline Helg (London: Imperial College Press, 2012), 67–82; Streeter, Central America; Michael Streeter, Epitácio Pessoa: Brazil (London: Haus, 2010).
54. Consult the diverse collaborations included in Herrera and Herrera, América Latina.
55. Yannick Wehrli of the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva convoked and organized the congress entitled Latin America and “International Geneva” during the Interwar Period: The Beginning of Regional and International Integration, held in Geneva in late October 2011. Wehrli and Fabián Herrera directed the symposium “Soberanía, Estado y Nación: América Latina y la Sociedad de Naciones, 1919–1946” at the XVII International Congress of the AHILA, “Entre espacios” (Berlín, 2014). See McPherson and Wehrli, Beyond Geopolitics; and Herrera and Herrera, América Latina.
56. See, for example, Alexandra Pita González, La Unión Latino Americana y el boletín Renovation: Redes intelectuales y revistas culturales en la década de 1920 (Mexico City: El Colegio de Mexico and Universidad de Colima, 2009); José Antonio Sánchez Román, “América Latina y los orígenes de la regulación económica internacional,” in Actas del XV encuentro de latinoamericanistas españoles “América Latina: la autonomía de una región” (Madrid: Trama, 2013), 1461–1472; Corinne A. Pernet, “La cultura como política: Los intercambios culturales entre Europa y América Latina en los años de Entreguerras,” Puente@Europa 5.3–4 (2007): 66–73; Juliette Dumont, Le Brésil et l’Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle (1924–1946): Le pari de la diplomatie culturelle (Paris: Éditions de l’IHEAL, 2009); Corinne A. Pernet, “Developing Nutritional Standards and Food Policy: Latin American Reformers between the ILO, the League of Nations Health Organization, and the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau,” in Globalizing Social Rights: The International Labour Organization and Beyond (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 249–261.
57. League of Nations Home Page at Indiana University; and a project directed by Patricia Clavin, Oxford University, and Susan Pedersen, Columbia University, financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, History of the League of Nations.
58. LONSEA: League of Nations Search Engine, developed by the University of Heidelberg (Germany).