The Shape of Policy

Exploring Foreign Relations of the United States’ Documents on Cold War Latin America


Introduction

The historiography of the Cold War is increasingly expanding into the Third World, particularly into Latin America. The typical narrative of the early Cold War in Latin America highlights the Guatemalan coup, Cuban Revolution, and Cuban Missile Crisis. Showcasing major covert operations of the CIA, these events do not represent the overall foreign policy of the Western Hemisphere during the period. A more holistic view is lacking.

Cold War historiography typically explores the motivations and consequences of such foreign policy on a limited number of nations. Historians rarely analyze the transformation of Latin American policy over the entirety of the post-war period because of the quantity of sources and variations of policy applied in the region. Humanities data analysis can be applied to demonstrate a greater analysis of the entire region during the early Cold War.  By distantly reading the Foreign Relations of the United States corpus through text analysis, it is possible to see transformations over time.

Methods and Sources

The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, produced by the State Department, is comprised of diplomatic cables, memorandums, policy documents, and all other documents pertaining to foreign affairs since 1861. Documents included in the series are from foreign affairs agencies such as the State Department, National Security Council, CIA, and personal papers of individuals. These documents trace foreign relations at varying levels of diplomatic activity (“About Foreign Relations of the United States Series”). Each volume signifies a certain time period and region. The series can be utilized to understand the significance of a region at any point in modern US history.

A distant reading of this material reveals patterns in the State Department’s overall approach to Latin America. The programming language R was used to complete this analysis, along with the package “ggplot2” to create visualizations of the results. From the FRUS corpus, volumes regarding Latin America from 1941-1968 were selected. “Historical documents” were pulled from this selection and text analysis was then conducted.

Cold War historiography typically explores the motivations and consequences of such foreign policy on a limited number of nations. Historians rarely analyze the transformation of Latin American policy over the entirety of the post-war period because of the quantity of sources and variations of policy applied in the region. Humanities data analysis can be applied to demonstrate a greater analysis of the entire region during the early Cold War.  By distantly reading the Foreign Relations of the United States corpus through text analysis, it is possible to see transformations over time.

World War II documents were included in the corpus in order to view greater change over time. This project examines the Cold War until 1968, roughly the mid-point of the Cold War. The volume following the Cuban Missile Crisis is comprised of the years 1964-1968 and was included to show any transformation following the crisis. Countries included in the visualizations were limited to those who were mentioned more than one hundred times. The corpus was broken into roughly equal chunks, depending on the volume time period, for greater analysis.  

In his discussion of spatial history as part of the field of digital humanities, Richard White references Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space: “The Production of Space introduced a generation of historians to the idea that space is neither simply natural geography nor an empty container filled by history. It is rather something that human beings produce over time. Spatial relations shift and change. Space is itself historical” (White). This project heavily relies of mapping for the analysis of Cold War relations. As White asserts, the study of space is a social construction. By finding the occurrence of Latin American nations in the FRUS corpus, it is possible to investigate how the State Department and its affiliates constructed the region during the Cold War.

Findings

Certain nations stand out in the data as being discussed more frequently than others. The maps show that the most relevant nations shift slightly over the 1941-1968 period, and the bar chart presents a clearer representation of the occurrence of each country. In the following results, “n” represents the number of times a term occurred in the corpus.

Image 1 and Figure 1 reveal Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba as having the greatest occurrence in the entire corpus between 1941 and 1968.

As shown in Image 2 and Figure 2, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico are the front-runners in this early period. According to Walter LaFeber, the United States held its closest ties to Latin America during World War II. Of the $450 million given to Latin America in lend-lease aid, 80% went to Brazil (LaFeber, 1994). Also during this period, Chile remained neutral until 1943 when it fell to US pressure (Rivas), but the only Latin American nation to remain neutral in the war was Argentina (LaFeber, 1994).

This selection is also within the period of the Good Neighbor policy. According to Darlene Rivas, the “Good Neighbor policy was characterized by US acceptance of the principle of nonintervention, growing emphasis on multilateral cooperation and ‘consultation’ on issues of inter-American concern, and increasing trade between the United States and Latin American nations through the negotiation of bilateral reciprocal treaties” (Rivas).

While the State Department shifted from calling this region the “American Republics” in the World War II period to the “Western Hemisphere” in 1948, the data reveals that Panama increases in relevance while Chile decreases relevance in the postwar period. Overall, many countries increase in relevance. Increased relations may be explained with the Rio Pact of 1947 which solidified and tightened military relations between the United States and Latin American nations (LaFeber, 1994).

The end of the war also marked the end of the Good Neighbor Policy. According to historian Darlene Rivas, “After the war, the United States failed to live up to the promise of the Good Neighbor, with the Truman and Eisenhower administrations failing to appreciate the role of state-directed economic development and nationalism in Latin America” (Rivas).

As many historians show, the United States continued to maintain its sphere of influence in the hemisphere in the postwar period but did so through new means. As the global threat of communism mounted, nationalism grew, and political participation increased in Latin America, the United States moved away from the traditions of the Good Neighbor (Rivas).

According to Walter LaFeber, there were two early phases of the Cold War. The first, from 1945 to the mid-1950s, was based on a world divided between communism and capitalism, in which each “maintained order in their respective camps” (LaFeber, 1993). The second phase, between 1956 and 1962, was marked by US economic recessions and greater economic instability abroad. US policy turned toward preventative economic measures and increased covert operations (LaFeber, 1993).

In this period between 1952 and 1957, the State Department broke Latin American volumes into two distinct entities: Mexico and the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Although there was a change in how the volumes were labeled, the occurrence of all nations decreases according to Image 4 and Figure 5. As evident in both visualization, this period is also known for the Guatemalan coup.

The period of 1958 to 1963 saw the greatest Latin American policy crisis in the entire period. In the era of communist Cuba, Kennedy proposed the Alliance for Progress, a program for Latin American development, in 1961. Warning against the failure of the Alliance, Kennedy remarked “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”(LaFeber, 1994), marking a new era in inter-American relations. As shown in Image 5 and Figure 5, the occurrence of Cuba drastically increases during this period. This is also evident in the State Department’s differentiation between “Cuba” and the “American Republics” for these volumes.

Cuba remains the greatest threat in the following years, as the Image 6 and Figure 6 show. The 1964-1968 volumes, divided by Caribbean and Latin American states, also have a decrease in overall occurrences from the previous volumes.  

Based on the historiography’s assertion that there are shifts in the US approach to Latin America over the course of the early Cold War, the previous maps and plots reflect such work. The best image of the corpus is depicted as a heatmap. Figure 7 shows each nation’s mentions in each of the FRUS volumes. There appears to be a shift in occurrences between the World War II and postwar period. Apart from the dramatic increase in mentions of Cuba in the FRUS volumes between 1958 and 1963, the heat map appears to become darker over time despite that the Cold War continued to rage on.

Conclusions

Richard White concludes his discussion of spatial history by showing its potential: “It is a means of doing research; it generates questions that might otherwise go unasked, it reveals historical relations that might otherwise go unnoticed, and it undermines, or substantiates, stories upon which we build our own versions of the past” (White). While this project displays a general consistency in the policy, it does raise a variety of questions: Why is there a shift to lower occurrences beginning in 1958? Why are some nations not mentioned at all? Are these patterns the result of diplomats’ biases or work ethic?

While the maps and bar charts show the significance of certain nation over various periods, the heatmap displays the greatest transformation over time. Major events such as the Guatemalan coup, Cuban Revolution, and crisis are present, but overall fluctuations in recognition of Latin America nations are represented in the visualization, as well. Through a process of distant reading, it is possible to see a broader understanding of how the State Department and associated departments viewed the nations to the south during the Cold War.


Bibliography

“About the Foreign Relations of the United States Series.” Office of the Historian. Accessed April 25, 2019. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/about-frus.

LaFeber, Walter. The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad. New York: Norton, 1994.

LaFeber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. New York: Norton, 1993.

Office of the Historian, frus, (2016),  Github repository, https://github.com/HistoryAtState/frus.

Rivas, Darlene, “United States- Latin American Relations, 1942-1960.” In A Companion to American Foreign Relations, ed. Robert D. Schulzinger. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006

Westad, Odd Arne. The Global Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

White, Richard. “What is Spatial History?” Spatial History Project, Stanford University. 1 February 2010. http://web.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/pub.php?id=29.


Further Reading

Blevins, C. “Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World from Houston.” Journal of American History 101, no. 1 (2014): 122–147. doi:10.1093/jahist/jau184.

Kaufman, Micki. “’Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me:’ Quantifying Kissinger: Text Analysis, Visualization and Historical Interpretation of the National Security Archive’s Kissinger Correspondence.” 2018.  http://blog.quantifyingkissinger.com/.