Posts Tagged ‘México’

Did Mexico Reshape the American Civil Rights Movement? –

HNN  August 10, 2014


It was a moment that schoolteacher Primitivo Alvarez never forgot. In the state of Tlaxcala, 50 miles and a massive volcano to the east of Mexico City, American philosopher John Dewey cautioned his hosts from the Mexican federal government not to copy the institutional models that others had constructed. It was 1926, and Dewey was surveying the work of his Mexican students in Mexico’s rural provinces and delivering a series of lectures in Mexico City that would shortly be published by the New Republic“Dewey wanted the rural schoolteachers of Mexico to remember the urgency and necessity of avoiding imitation, even if the model originated in the advanced countries, because each nation organizes its own system of education in accordance with its unique history, tradition, racial past, and economic and social institutions,” wrote Alvarez. Everyone knew which models were not to be copied. During the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, Catholicism and social Darwinism had been allowed to harden into an ideology of hierarchy that younger intellectuals were now replacing. Dewey was a perfect fit for the new institutions of postrevolutionary Mexico, Alvarez and others believed. New ideas and new models, porous to change and experimentation, would destroy the make-believe world of poverty and violence that Mexico’s Porfirian leaders had created.

As he looked back on his monumental study of the New Deal, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. celebrated the ideas of John Dewey’s pragmatism for the influence they had wrought on FDR’s politics in the aftermath of the Great Depression. “A thoroughgoing philosophy of experience, framed in the light of science and technology, could produce an organized social intelligence,” wrote Schlesinger, Jr. in The Age of Roosevelt. “And the organized social intelligence, Dewey believed, could direct the processes of social change into a rational and beatific future.” Schlesinger, Jr. was not alone in underscoring the importance of Dewey’s pragmatism in the creation of the modern liberal order. Henry May argued that pragmatism had helped usher in the bundle of ideas that separated the twentieth century from the nineteenth, a rupture that he referred to as “the end of American innocence.” Alfred Kazin had included pragmatism and social science as part of the revolution that had produced modernist literature, meanwhile. And one could see Dewey’s relationship to modern education in Lawrence Cremin’s classic studies from the 1950s and 60s.

What is surprising given Dewey’s formidable role in American culture and later historiographical return in the work of contemporary scholars like Robert Westbrook and Richard Bernstein has been the absence of attention to Dewey’s influence in Mexico at the same time that the New Deal was being formulated in the U.S. During the period of rich policy experimentation between 1920 and 1940 that followed the devastating Mexican Revolution, John Dewey’s Mexican students hitched pragmatism to state policy in Mexico in the effort to destroy the institutions of the Porfirian political order and rebuild the postrevolutionary nation anew. In newly-established public schools, they used pragmatism to integrate Mexico’s ethnic groups into a single community of citizens. In scientific institutes centered in Mexico City, they used the scientific ethos to experiment with applied psychology, anthropology, and sociology. In rural states to the west and south of Mexico City, they attempted to balance the relationship between theory and practice that Dewey believed was central to social philosophy. Just as in Henry May’s portrait of pragmatism, Dewey’s ideas in Mexico helped separate the social determinisms of 19th-century Mexico from the modernist ethics that Mexico’s revolutionaries created after 1920.

The efforts in Mexico to achieve the progressive society that Dewey once referred to as the “great community” were filled with institutional difficulty and philosophical peril. The greatest of the Mexican pragmatists, Columbia University-trained Moisés Sáenz, once chastised a group of Americans for their complacent understanding of a complex society whose civil war had just finished killing one million of its own people. “Our emotions occlude our vision; we become confused by the complexity of experience; our accomplishments contradict each other at every turn; they seem to put the most obvious and the most profound into war with one another,” he told his audience. A decade later, Sáenz created a vibrant metaphor for the attempt to blend theory with practice that John Dewey’s pragmatism had made central to modern social critique. “We are walking on the edge of a knife,” he wrote. “We must choose between excessive empiricism and excessive speculation.” Precarious government financing, ongoing local rebellions, and threats to the national territory always made pragmatist attempts at reform a difficult enterprise fraught with the possibilities of failure and slow incremental advance at most.

Yet for Americans who were trying to understand how state power could be used to alleviate economic conflict and to create new relationships among culturally distinct communities, Mexico’s postrevolutionary experiments represented a rich set of policy models that they imported into the United States as they sought to transform public government and public schools in the American West. In rural Tlaxcala in the 1930s, for example, teacher training academies provided these Americans with new ideas about how government could work with local communities to create new schools. Science institutes established by the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico City by 1930 provided them examples of the role of social scientists in government bureaucracy. And in Morelos, laboratory schools showed them how daily work patterns could be integrated into language-instruction models.

The anthropologists, psychologists, and educational philosophers who studied Mexico’s pragmatist experiments in the 1930s carried Mexico’s lessons into the 1940s desegregation movement in Texas, California, and Arizona as they sought to refashion America’s racial hierarchy. For Ralph L. Beals, Montana Hastings, George I. Sanchez, and Edwin Embree, Mexico’s policy work represented a bridge between state-led reform efforts abroad and political change at home. Daniel T. Rodgers has argued in Atlantic Crossings that progressive policy work in Europe and the United States was never free from misunderstanding and misreading. Yet such mistranslations did not prevent Americans from learning social policy from government models abroad, he argued. In a similar fashion, Mexico’s social reform experiments became discrete policy antecedents for these American racial liberals that have not been accounted for by scholars of pragmatism, the federal state, and US-Mexico relations. Government reform and civil rights in the American West were not uniquely domestic phenomena, the career of Mexican pragmatism shows us, but offshoots of policy reform and nationalism in Mexico in the two decades that followed the Mexican Revolution. School desegregationist George I. Sanchez agreed. “Nothing has affected my thinking and my feelings more than Mexico’s experience – redemption by armed Revolution, then Peace by Revolution,” he wrote in 1966 as he looked back on his career. “This latter revolution still goes on, and I associate myself with it vicariously – from afar, and from close-up examination there as often as I can.”

Mexico’s policy influence over the United States reverses the way that scholars understand the US-Mexico relationship. We typically think of the United States as a hegemonic nation whose power shapes the nations of Latin America along a north to south trajectory. But the example of Mexico during the 1930s and 40s shows us that Mexican government policy influenced American politics as much as American power influenced the history of Mexico. Thus, while Americans tend to think of Mexico as a country of “chaos” – a word that has been perennially repeated in accounts of Mexican history from 1920 to the present day – Mexican policy change has been important to the United States in ways that Americans have not imagined. Pragmatism in Mexico helped to reshape the moral character of American nationalism and democracy, and at the level of institutional practice rather than in theory alone, during a moment of heavy social change in American history. That John Dewey’s influence was part of that process only underscores the centrality of his ideas to social change abroad as much as in the United States.

Ruben Flores is an intellectual and cultural historian from El Paso, Texas who studied at Princeton and Berkeley before coming to the University of Kansas. Flores is the Undergraduate Director for the Department of American Studies and Associate Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

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What Do You Call It When a Big Country Takes a Chunk of a Small One? Greed (And We Should Know)

HNN  April 20, 2014

A greedy nation amasses a large military force on the border with its neighbor, a young nation that only a few years earlier threw off the shackles of an empire to declare its independence.  The intent is a massive land grab, pure and simple.

Some might think I am referring to Russia and the Ukraine in 2014, or perhaps Germany and Poland in 1939.  I am not.  I am talking about the United States and Mexico in 1846, a war that ultimately allowed the U.S. to annex most of the modern Southwest.

It seems odd, given all the commentary about the current crisis, that no one has made the connection, because the Mexican War is a harsh reminder that the United States has been guilty of the same type of aggression.

Mexico won its independence from Spain in the 1820’s, after a decade of bloody fighting.  They established a republic, modeled on the U.S. and based in part on the U.S. Constitution.  They created a central government and a nation of states, even naming their new country Estados Unidos Mexicanos – the United States of Mexico.

To protect the central Mexican states from Comanche attacks, and to forestall the expansionism of its northern neighbor, Mexico invited settlers to come to what is now modern Texas.  New settlers were offered large land grants in exchange for becoming Mexican citizens, respecting Mexico’s abolition of slavery and adopting the Catholic religion.

The offer was accepted by thousands of U.S southerners, many of them slave owners, who sought to expand slavery westward.  They accepted the land from Mexico, but failed to live up to their promises.  It was this group that rebelled against Mexico in the 1830’a and established the Republic of Texas.

After accepting Texas as a state, the U.S. sought to buy much of the modern Southwest.  Mexico declined our offer.  In response, the United States moved an Army south to the Rio Grande, into territory claimed by Mexico for the purpose of sparking a conflict. From Mexico’s perspective, it was an invasion.

The war that resulted lasted two years, and involved American forces who invaded central Mexico, capturing both the capital and the country’s major port, Veracruz.  In addition, the U.S. mounted naval and military operations in the Mexican territories of California and New Mexico. It was the first of many times during the next century and a half that the United States flexed its power against Mexico and other Latin American nations, openly or covertly.

When the Mexican War was finally over, the U.S. forced Mexico to surrender a vast amount of territory, land stretching from the Texas border to the Pacific Ocean.  As a result, relations between our two countries were poisoned for decades, something that can be seen today in the unequal partnership between our two nations.

Of course, there are differences between the Mexican War of the 1840’s and the current standoff between Russia and the Ukraine, including Russia’s long history of domination in the region and the large number of ethnic Russians living in the Ukraine.  Yet the underlying issue is very much the same, a larger, more powerful nation using brute force to take what it wants, leaving its weaker neighbor to nurse its wounds with little or no recourse but to accept its fate.

Despite our best diplomatic efforts, Russia has annexed Crimea and now is threatening to take control of the eastern half of Ukraine.  Military action by the U.S. or NATO would be unwise.    Remember, it was Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 that sparked the start of World War II in Europe, forcing Britain and France to abandon their diplomatic efforts and declare war on Germany.

The reality of the current crisis is that there is little the United States can do to resolve it without risking war.  As we watch the events unfold, perhaps we should recognize that America does not always hold the moral high ground.

David Lee McMullen is on the history faculty at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.  He blogs as Rambling Historian (http://ramblinghistorian.blogspot.com/)

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Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web

Maximilian in Mexico

New York Times, October 4, 2013

On Oct. 3, 1863, a Mexican delegation arrived in the Austrian port city of Trieste to officially offer Mexico’s imperial crown to the 31-year-old Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, a scion of the Austrian branch of the Hapsburg royal family and the brother of the Austrian emperor, Franz Josef I.

For 300 years the family’s Spanish branch and its successors had, by virtue of its seat in Madrid, ruled over colonial Mexico and much of the Western Hemisphere. After Mexico won independence in 1821, it fell into a constant state of near anarchy; There were 75 government successions by the time the American Civil War started. Conservative Mexicans and wealthy ex-patriots longed for the stability that a European monarchy might provide, and some of them recalled wistfully the steady hand of the Hapsburgs.

Maximilian was interested for two reasons. The liberal-minded archduke felt he could improve Mexico. Perhaps more important, there was nothing for him at home: his brother was just two years older, and was looking forward to a long reign (in fact, he ruled until his death during World War I).

Still, Maximilian would never have ascended the Mexican throne were it not for yet another emperor, Napoleon III of France. Since Napoleon III’s famous uncle sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803, France had no major stake in the Western Hemisphere. With the advent of America’s Civil War, the French monarch sensed an opportunity to change that, with Maximilian as his puppet.

In early 1862, as America convulsed through the first year of its Civil War, France began placing troops in Mexico to collect customs duties on goods, in order to force the country to make payments on a defaulted debt to several European countries. But the Mexican government was too poor to concurrently make the payments and at the same time support the army of President Benito Juárez. Initially, soldiers from Spain and Britain joined the French, but were withdrawn once they realized Napoleon was scheming to establish a puppet monarchy. As a result, Maximilian would have no power without the presence of the 40,000-man French Army.

Napoleon had hoped to get Maximilian installed a year or so earlier, but he did not capture Mexico City until June 1863. Additionally, the archduke’s October ’63 acceptance of the crown was conditioned on “a vote of the whole country,” which was quickly achieved by gathering signatures under the glitter of French bayonets.

Still, Napoleon knew how drawn out the war was becoming and reasoned that President Abraham Lincoln would be too focused on suppressing the Confederacy to oppose him. The Monroe Doctrine would be temporarily impotent, while the future offered possibilities to render it permanently ineffective.

Although Juárez was forced out of Mexico City, he remained in the country opposing Maximilian during the entire American Civil War. Juárez quickly sided with Lincoln. Early in the war he granted the United States the right to land troops on Mexico’s west coast, where they could march rapidly into Arizona territory if needed to confront a possible Confederate drive westward. On doubtful authority the first Confederate minister to Mexico, John Pickett, countered by offering to support Mexico in the reoccupation of territories lost in the Mexican War, including the present states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico, if Juarez would cancel his deal with Lincoln.

Although Juárez declined, Washington realized that the Confederates could make a similar offer to Maximilian, turning the Mexican crisis into a proxy war. As one visitor to the archduke’s castle in Trieste wrote the Confederate minister in Paris,

Maximilian expressed the warmest possible interest in the Confederate cause. He said he considered it identical with that of the new Mexican Empire … that he was particularly desirous that his sentiments upon this subject should be known to the Confederate President.

The presence of a monarchy supported by a French army south of the border alarmed Washington and the far western states. In January 1864 Senator James McDougall of California proposed a Congressional resolution stating that French intervention in Mexico was “an act unfriendly to the republic of the United States.” It called upon the French to withdraw by March 15, and threatened war if they didn’t. But Lincoln wanted only one war at a time and had the motion sidetracked.

Nonetheless, three months later the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution that stated:

The Congress of the United States are unwilling … to leave … the impression that they are indifferent … [to] the deplorable events … in Mexico and … declare that it does not … acknowledge any monarchial government … in America under the auspices of any European power.

Although the Union’s concerns had validity, France wanted to avoid open warfare. In a Paris meeting before departing for Mexico, Napoleon, hopeful of territorial gains whichever side was victorious, convinced Maximilian to avoid endorsing the Confederacy until it won independence. As early as January 1863 the French consuls in Galveston and Richmond had been urging Texans to secede from the Confederacy..

After hearing about the French agitation in Texas, the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah Benjamin, instructed his Belgium minister to investigate. The man replied, “Mexico as she was previous to her dismemberment is the … cherished end at which [Napoleon III] aims.” Lincoln’s government captured Benjamin’s letter and asked its Brussels representative for his opinion. He confirmed that Napoleon III wanted Mexico to restore the borders applicable before the Mexican War. In short, he wanted Mexico to reclaim not only the Mexican Cession, but also Texas. Indeed, owing to its French traditions, Napoleon III believed that he might even be able to recover Louisiana. If all went as he hoped, France would once again have a major stake in the New World and the Monroe Doctrine would be meaningless.

The Confederacy reacted by expelling the offending diplomats, but Lincoln changed military priorities. After the fall of Vicksburg, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant wanted to lead an army reinforced by Gen. Nathaniel Banks against Mobile, Ala. A glance at a map confirms the obvious logic of the movement. Lincoln would not permit the advance, writing Grant, “in view of recent events in Mexico, I am greatly impressed with the importance of reestablishing the national authority in Western Texas as soon as possible.”

After a modest move against Brownsville and the Texas coast in November 1863, General in Chief Henry Halleck and cotton speculators urged a modification to the Union’s plans in the coastal Southwest that resulted in General Banks’s disastrous Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864. The goal was to capture the rebel stronghold at Shreveport, La., and then occupy the cotton fields of east Texas, while incidentally seizing up to 300,000 cotton bales (worth about $2 billion in today’s dollars) along the way. Unfortunately, even though Union forces outnumbered the rebels by more than two-to-one the Confederates turned back the federal offensive. Banks returned to New Orleans with fewer than 5,000 cotton bales, and the drive into Texas was halted.

Fortunately for the Union, the French and Maximilian were having a much harder time stabilizing their hold on Mexico than they had expected. After the end of the war, in an effort to help Juárez, Grant sent Gen. Philip Sheridan to the Rio Grande with an army of 50,000 men. Since Secretary of State William H. Seward did not want a war with Mexico or the French, he persuaded President Andrew Johnson to issue a ban on exports of weapons and ammunition. But Grant secretly ordered Sheridan to supply Juárez with matériel and weapons, including about 30,000 rifles.

Soon thereafter, Napoleon III announced a staged withdrawal of French troops, which left Maximilian nearly defenseless within two years. Juárez regained power in 1867, and promptly executed the naïve archduke.


Sources: “James J. Horgan, ““A Confederate Bull in a Mexican China Shop,” from “Divided We Fall: Essays on Confederate Nation Building,” John M. Belohlave, ed.; Henry Martyn Flint, “Mexico Under Maximilian”; Gene Smith, “Maximilian and Carlota”; Donald Miles, “Cinco de Mayo”; Robert Kerby, “Kirby Smith’s Confederacy”; Dean Mahin, “One War at a Time”; Frank Owlsey, “King Cotton Diplomacy”; Ludwell Johnson, “Red River Campaign”; G. J. Meyer, “A World Undone.”

disunion-phil-leigh-thumbStandardPhil Leigh is an independent Civil War historian and author. He is writing a book about wartime intersectional trade between North and South, “Trading With the Enemy.”

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Gracias a la generosidad de la amiga Lourdes García, he tenido la oportunidad de leer un interesante libro de Emilio Ocampo sobre la figura de Carlos María de Alvear, embajador de la Argentina en los Estados Unidos entre 1838 y 1852, titulado De La Doctrina Monroe al Destino Manifiesto: Alvear en Estados Unidos, 1835-1852 (Buenos Aires: Claridad, 2009).  Ocampo es un economista y banquero argentino convertido en historiador y autor de  varios libros,  entre ellos una obra titulada La última campaña del Emperador: Napoleón y la independencia de América (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Claridad, 2007), traducido al inglés por la University of Alabama Press bajo el título The Emperor’s Last Campaign: A Napoleonic Empire in America. Ocampo es también el creador de un interesante blog sobre historia argentina.

Carlos María de Alvear (1789-1852) fue un militar y político rioplatense que tuvo una participación destacada en el proceso de independencia  argentino. Una vez alcanzada la soberanía, Alvear jugó un papel importante en el desarrollo político de la Argentina, especialmente, en la guerra contra el Imperio Brasileño (1825-1828). Figura controversial por su relación con el caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas, Alvear fue el primer embajador argentino en los Estados Unidos, posición que ocupó hasta su muerte en 1852. Como tal,  Alvear fue testigo de uno de los periodos más importantes de la historia norteamericana, lo que Ocampo llama el nacimiento de la “república imperial”. En otras palabras, Alvear vivió el desarrollo de un fuerte nacionalismo expansionista en la sociedad estadounidense, definido por la famosa frase “Destino Manifiesto”, y  que provocó la anexión de Texas y la guerra contra México. Gran admirador de los Estados Unidos, Alvear sufrió una profunda decepción que le llevó a criticar el expansionismo norteamericano como una amenaza para América Latina.

Emilio Ocampo

El objetivo de Ocampo es analizar la evolución de las opiniones y observaciones de Alvear  sobre los Estados Unidos a través del estudio de la  correspondencia y los despachos oficiales del embajador.  El producto de este interesante análisis es un valioso testimonio no sólo sobre un momento de gran importancia en el desarrollo del imperialismo estadounidense, sino también de la historia latinoamericana. Veamos algunos de los elementos más destacados de este libro.

En primer lugar, el autor ve el expansionismo norteamericano de mediados del siglo XIX como parte de un proceso de agresión neo-colonial contra América Latina. Según Ocampo, durante la gestión de Alvear como embajador, las repúblicas latinoamericanas enfrentaron la mayor amenaza desde su nacimiento a manos de “las tres grandes potencias marítimas de la época”: los EEUU, Francia y Gran Bretaña. Independientemente de que se puede cuestionar que los EEUU era una de las grandes potencias marítimas de ese periodo, el planteamiento de Ocampo sugiere que la guerra con México fue parte de un proceso más amplio de agresiones extranjeras contra países latinoamericanos en los años 1840 y 1850, producto de las “ambiciones expansionistas” francesas, británicas y norteamericanas. Los estadounidenses concentraron sus acciones contra el territorio mexicano, mientras que ingleses y franceses contra Argentina y el Uruguay. Debo reconocer que el carácter hemisférico de este planteamiento me sorprendió, pero no me convenció del todo.

La visión de Alvear de la Doctrina Monroe es otro tema muy interesante. Para el embajador,   la agresividad norteamericana contra México y la falta de interés estadounidense en ayudar a Argentina contra la agresividad anglo-francesa por el tema del Uruguay,  comprobaban que “los Estados Unidos había abandonado el principio fundamental en el que estaba basada la Doctrina Monroe”. (81) Para el embajador, la nueva versión de la Doctrina Monroe “no tenía como objetivos librar a las nuevas repúblicas americanas de la opresión colonial europea, sino dejar libre a los Estados Unidos para realizar sus sueños expansionistas en América del Norte”. (81) En otras palabras, para asegurar su hegemonía en el norte, los norteamericanos tenían que “neutralizar la ingerencia de las potencias europeas en su área de influencia”, dejándoles mano libre el América del Sur. Este planteamiento de Alvear me provoca dos comentarios. Primero, todo parece indicar que Alvear entendió la Doctrina Monroe como  un compromiso verdadero del gobierno norteamericano de mantener a los europeos fuera del continente americana y que esperaba que los Estados Unidos hicieran buena su promesa. ¿Vieron sus contemporáneos latinoamericanas la famosa doctrina del presidente Monroe desde el mismo prisma optimista de Alvear? Segundo, no me puedo dejar de preguntar,  ¿hasta qué punto podía EEUU hacer cumplir la Doctrina Monroe en la década de 1840? Creo que la respuesta es un rotundo no.

La llegada de miles de inmigrantes y el aumento poblacional  que ello provocaba era, según Alvear, una de las causas el expansionismo estadounidense. A este factor demográfico era necesario añadir un elemento cultural: el carácter emprendedor que impulsaba a los norteamericanos a expandirse. La esclavitud era otro elemento tomado en cuenta por Alvear a la hora de explicar el expansionismo de los Estados Unidos. Éste tenía claro que de Texas convertirse en estado de la Unión habría sido un estado esclavista , dándole más votos   a los defensores de la esclavitud  y, por ende, fortaleciendo esa institución.

Carlos María de Alvear

Como Gran Bretaña era incapaz de frenar a los Estados Unidos, era necesario, planteaba Alvear, que los países latinoamericanos adoptaran “los medios capaces para conservarse en posesión de la tierra que la Providencia les tiene acordada hasta ahora.” (78) Para ello, era necesario que los latinoamericanos tomaran conciencia del peligro que enfrentaban y copiaran la política migratoria estadounidense, fomentando la  llegada de inmigrantes europeos. Además, era necesario crear instituciones políticas –constituciones– que “permitieran una rápida generación de riqueza”. (93) Sólo así los latinoamericanos podrían contrarrestar la inminente hegemonía hemisférica norteamericana.

Dos temas son cruciales en este libro: la anexión de Texas y la guerra Mexicano-norteamericana. En 1836, colonos norteamericanos establecidos en el hasta entonces territorio mexicano de Texas, se rebelaron y ganaron su independencia. Los colonos habían llegado a Texas como parte de un suicida programa de colonización llevado a cabo por los mexicanos. Casi de forma inmediata la República de Texas solicitó su ingreso a la Unión norteamericana, pero le fue negado, ya que el ambiente en los Estados Unidos a mediados de la  década de 1830 no era el más propicio para la anexión de un territorio esclavista. No será hasta 1846 que la   anexión de Texas se haga realidad y provoque una desastrosa guerra para México. Alvear fue testigo del debate y proceso de anexión, como también del desarrollo de la guerra.  Sus comentarios y observaciones  son muy valiosos.

Alvear comienza sus observaciones sobre la anexión de Texas comentando el intento fallido del décimo presidente de los Estados Unidos, John Tyler. A pesar de que el intento de anexión de Tyler fue frenado por la oposición de  los abolicionistas, entre ellos John Quincy Adams, era claro para Alvear el desarrollo de una fuerte actitud anexionista y belicista en la opinión pública norteamericana. Según éste,

En comunicaciones anteriores he tenido el honor de instruir al Gobierno  de la tendencia ambiciosa que se  empezaba a desenvolver en el pueblo y   gobierno norteamericanos a adquirir nuevos territorios y posesiones a    costa de los nuevos Estados de Sudamérica, tendencia que crece y  aumenta  rápidamente siendo de notar que la moral de pública de este  país es tal, que el principio de la justicia o de fe guardada a los tratados  que los logan con México se mira con el más alto desprecio”. (99)

El crecimiento del chauvinismo en el pueblo norteamericano irritaba fuertemente a Alvear, en especial, por el creciente desprecio a las naciones latinoamericanas. El efecto de este proceso en el ánimo de Alvear es evidente, quien comenta con dureza,

Pero es preciso saber, aunque con dolor, que entre todos los pueblos cristianos que habitan el globo, el pueblo norteamericano es el que menos respeto tiene a la justicia y a la probidad y que sus costumbres se han alterado a tal punto y con tanta rapidez que han hecho poner en problema las alabanzas exageradas que hasta ahora se han dado a las formas democráticas.” (100)

La victoria del nacionalista James K. Polk en las elecciones de 1846 llevaría, según Alvear, a que la política expansionista norteamericana “se despliegue de un modo hipócrita  y pérfido caminando siempre a su objeto con precisión y tenaz perseverancia; tal es pues, la marcha y conducta de este pueblo cuya moral ha sido incauta y erróneamente preconizada como digno ejemplo y de imitación.” (102)

Alvear se pregunta que ha llevado a los estadounidenses a traicionar los principios sobre los que se creo su república anexando a Texas.  Para el que hasta entonces había sido un gran admirador de los Estados Unidos, esta debió ser una pregunta muy difícil. Según el embajador, el “rápido progreso” había alterado marcadamente “los hábitos y costumbres de este pueblo”, cambiando su moral y la de su gobierno. En otras palabras, los Estados Unidos habían  perdido su “compás moral” y por ello la justicia y la moral “han perdido toda fuerza en este país.” (105)

Tropas norteamericanas en el Zócalo

Sus observaciones sobre la guerra con México no son menos duras ni dolidas.  Sin embargo, El dolor que le provoca la actitud norteamericana no ciega su visión geopolítica, pues Alvear plantea que el objetivo de la guerra contra México no era Texas, sino California;  el acceso al océano Pacífico y a China. Además creía que la agresión contra México no era el fin, sino  el principio pues “el imperialismo se había instalado en la política exterior norteamericana y nada se podía hacerse al respecto. El embajador estaba convencido de que los Estados Unidos se lanzaría contra América Latina y, en especial, contra Panamá, Cuba, Chile, Perú y Ecuador.  De acuerdo con el embajador,

Un república americana considerada hasta ahora como la protectora de las demás se convierte de pronto en el enemigo más terrible supuesto que todos sus planes de engrandecimiento se fundan en todo el resto de la América como presa fácil de devorar”. (106)

Tal amenaza demandaba la reacción vigorosa de los países latinoamericanos que debían, entre otras cosas, conocer mejor a los Estados Unidos. Alvear es muy claro: los norteamericanos tenían agentes consulares en todos los países latinoamericanos, lo que demostraba su profundo interés en los asuntos de  las repúblicas latinoamericanas.  Desafortunadamente, sólo Argentina, Brasil y México tenían representación consular en los Estados Unidos, lo que debía ser corregido urgentemente.

Ocampo termina señalando que las observaciones de Alvear no eran producto de una reacción visceral contra el imperialismo norteamericano de mediados del siglo XIX, sino “el producto de más de un década de observador imparcial de la cultura y la sociedad norteamericanas”. (155) De igual nos señala que Alvear criticase duramente la política exterior de los Estados Unidos significase que rechazase o dejara de admirar “las instituciones políticas” y la “cultura cívica” norteamericanas. De ahí que recomendara en su testamento político que Argentina adoptase un sistema republicano  y federal. Propuestas que se vieron concretadas en la Constitución de 1853, un año después de su muerte en la ciudad víctima de una afección pulmonar.

El primer comentario que me provoca este libro tiene que ver con el  origen del imperialismo estadounidense. De acuerdo con el autor, “el imperialismo norteamericano nació cuando  [James K.] Polk le declaró la guerra a México” porque “hasta entonces los Estados Unidos nunca habían recurrido a las armas para engrandecer su territorio”. Aunque el propio Ocampo reconoce que su planteamiento deja fuera la violencia usada contra los pueblos aborígenes norteamericanos, es necesario subrayar que éste no deja de tener un gran valor, ya que reta la visión historiográfica tradicional de identificar como expansionismo, no como imperialismo, las adquisiciones territoriales estadounidenses previas a la guerra con España.  Concuerdo con Ocampo en que las prácticas imperiales estadounidenses no comenzaron con la adquisición del imperio insular (Filipinas, Guam y Puerto Rico) en 1898. Como el autor, creo que la guerra de agresión contra México constituyó un expresión imperialista que fue frenada no por eventos internacionales, sino por el conflicto doméstico provocado por el tema de la esclavitud entre 1848 y 1860. Contrario a Ocampo, incluyo la violencia contra las tribus indias como  parte de un proceso de agresión imperialista originado mucho antes de la independencia de los Estados Unidos.

En segundo lugar, es necesario destacar la gran importancia del análisis de las observaciones y comentarios de Alvear sobre una sociedad donde vivió los últimos catorce de años de su vida. Éstos constituyen un valiosísimo testimonio   un periodo de gran importancia en la historia de los Estados Unidos que reflejan una gran ojo geopolítico como al subrayar la importancia de la eventual construcción de un canal interoceánico en América Central o una total falta de visión política al descartar que el tema de la esclavitud podría provocar una guerra civil.

Por último, no puedo dejar de subrayar un tema muy afín a esta bitácora: el estudio y  conocimiento de los Estados Unidos. Para Alvear, era imprescindible que América Latina estudiara y conociera la sociedad y el sistema político estadounidenses para que estuviera en mejor posición de enfrentar lo que el embajador  veía como una amenaza inminente para la región: el imperialismo norteamericano.  Han trascurrido más  ciento cincuenta años de la muerte del Carlos María de Alvear y  este consejo sigue siendo valido y necesario.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez, PhD

Lima, Perú, 29 de noviembre de 2010

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