*** World War I regions Latin America

World War I Regional Trends: Latin America

Figure 1.--

At the time of World War I, little regional organization was possible. Wurope except for a few neutralswas divided into warring camps, in part because so much of Europe was dominated by the great empires (Austria-Hungary, German. Ottoman, and Russian), al of which were belgerants. Most of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East were colonies or proitectorates. The one world region where a degree of regional organizatioin was possible was Latin America, much of which achieved independence during or in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. While many of Latin American republics had been involved in major regional wars, they had not intervened in European wars. Their primary focus had been to prevent European interference, not on interfereing in Europe. The idea of regional organization had begun to percolate, but had not yet been much advanced in the years before the War. The Latin American republics, however, had a great deal at stake in a European War because there economies were so dependant on foreign trade.

Pre-War Era

The newly indeprndent Latin American Rpublics after independence remained largely agricultural. There was no real progress toward industrialization. Just why is an interesting question. We suspect that political instability and aegal system that protected property were two important factors. Railroads were built in the late-19th century, but primarily to support export fueled economies. Mining developed in many countries, primarily to supply industries in Europe. Very little manufacturing developed in Latin America itself. The mix of commodities varied from country to country, but all of Latin America was to varying degrees dependant on export markets, often a single commiodity and primarily exoorting to markets in Europe. Banks and private individuals in Many European countries had made invesments in Latin America. The Latin American republics held four general conferences in the years before World War I (1889, 1901, 1906 and 1910). At these confrences, the need to collaborate to insist on neutral rights in case of a general European war was not one of the subjects duscussed. Even more far afield was the need for concerted action in the case of aggression.

Neutrality Era (August 1914-April 1917)

The eruption of World War I caught the Latin American republics unprepared. Thiswas especially the case when the War was not quickly resolved. Govenments did react to the War, but it was done in a largely national or ad hoc basis. There was one instance of regional cooperation during the neutral phase. The United States organized the First Pan American Financial Conference (May 1915). The financial ministers of the American republics met in Washington. This conference was organized by Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo who saw advantages as a result of the economic and financial dislocations in Latin America because of the War and resulting commercial dislocations. He believed that the United States could replace European countries as trading partners. The acts agreed to included a range of commercial, financial, and transport issues. It wa an historic event. It marked a turning point in Latin American affairs. It recogized a transition from economic dependence on Europ and shift to the United States. The governments of the American republics declared their neutrality. This was more complicated than it sounds. The countries of Latin America were largely producers of food and raw material, critical materials for the beligerant powers. And each of the beligerant powers with navies endevored to prevent Latin American shipments from reacching the ports of its adversaries. Here Brutain with its powerful Royal Navy aided by the French were the best situated and from the onset of the War institututed an effective naval blockade on Germany and the other Central Powers. The German Navy could not do the same, but introduced surface raiders and more importantly U-boats to precent supplies from reaching Britain. This was a new form of commerce war. Thus the issue of neutral rights became a major issue.

Beligerancy Era

With the outbreak off war in Europe, most Latin Americans saw this as having nothing to do with them--the same general attitude as in the United States. Which is why the general response was neutrality. As the War progressed the Latin Americans found that their intersts were affected by the War in Europe. Given that the Latin American country were commodity exporters and German ports had been closed by the Allies. The shifted to Allied markets, but they then became the target of German U-boat attacks. As in the United States this resulted in considerable anti-Germnan sentiment. And Germnan markets were for the most part fully replaced if not exceeded by expanding demand in Allied countries. This varied from country to country. Some Latin American leaders were pro-German, but the political/economic realities led away from a strict adherence to neutrality. President Gómez in Venezuela was a good example of this. Another development was America's declaration of war on Germany (April 1917). Some Latin American countries followed suit, ofters remained neutral. Many of the neutral sates took actions restrictibng the activitues if German nationals andseizing German assetts. Another developmebt with American participation ibn the War, was navak\l patrols in the Caribbean to ensure that German U-boats were not resupplying in isolated locations. A good example of this is the visit of the USS Dubuque to the Venezuelan islet of La Orchila, east of Curaçao.

Country Trends

We are developing information on World War I developments in Latin American countries. There were nany similarities, in part because the economies were suimilar, largely exporting commiodities to Western Europe. do not yet have many individual World War I pages for Latin American countries, but we are collecting information. We are working on pages about Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Martinique, Mexico, and Venezuela. The Mexican situation is of special interest because of incredably clumsy German diplomacy and the fact it all occurred during the Mexican Revolution (1910-20). We eventually hope to expahnd this coverage. We do have some information on these countries, but few images to illustrate these pages.


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Created: 7:50 AM 4/6/2009
Last updated: 1:57 AM 1/18/2023