Inter-American Conferences

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Pan-Americanism, movement toward commercial, social, economic, military, and political cooperation among the nations of North, Central, and South America.

In the Nineteenth Century

The struggle for independence after 1810 among the Latin American nations evoked a sense of unity, especially in South America where, under Simón Bolívar in the north and José de San Martín in the south, there were cooperative efforts. Francisco Morazán briefly headed a Central American Federation. The United States was looked upon as a model, and recognition of the new republics was a part of U.S. foreign policy. Henry Clay and Thomas Jefferson set forth the principles of Pan-Americanism in the early 1800s, and soon afterward the United States declared through the Monroe Doctrine a new policy with regard to interference by European nations in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. Initially welcomed, despite establishing U.S. hegemony, the doctrine later was seen by many Latin American nations as a mask for U.S. imperialistic ambitions.

In the 19th cent., Latin American military nationalism came to the fore. Venezuela and Ecuador withdrew (1830) from Greater Colombia; the Central American Federation collapsed (1838); Argentina and Brazil fought continually over Uruguay, and then all three combined in the War of the Triple Alliance (1865–70) to defeat Paraguay; and in the War of the Pacific (1879–83), Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia. However, during this same period Pan-Americanism existed in the form of a series of Inter-American Conferences—Panama (1826), Lima (1847), Santiago (1856), and Lima (1864). The main object of those meetings was to provide for a common defense. The first of the modern Pan-American Conferences was held (1889–90) in Washington, D.C., with all nations represented except the Dominican Republic. Treaties for arbitration of disputes and adjustment of tariffs were adopted, and the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics, which became the Pan-American Union, was established. Subsequent meetings were held in various Latin American cities.

In the Twentieth Century

In the early 20th cent., U.S. manipulation to secure the Panama Canal and its intervention in the affairs of other Latin American states, combined to create Latin American resentment toward the United States. There was progress, however, in the codification of international law, acceptance of peace machinery, and creation of scientific and social agencies. Troubles nonetheless continued to flare. A major war was fought (1932–35) between Bolivia and Paraguay over the Chaco (see Gran Chaco). Strained relations between the United States and Panama were temporarily resolved by a treaty signed in 1936. Although it still restricted Panama's sovereignty, it ended the American right of intervention.

With the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt a policy of determined cordiality toward Latin America—the “Good Neighbor” policy—bore fruit. As World War II approached, the nations of the Western Hemisphere drew closer together. Conferences held in 1936 and 1938 provided for consultation in case of outside threat. Accordingly, after the outbreak of World War II the Inter-American Neutrality Conference was held (1939) in Panama. A conference of foreign ministers at Havana produced (1940) the Act of Havana, declaring against changes of sovereignty in the Western Hemisphere. Most of the Latin American nations (with the notable exception of Argentina) supported or actually joined the Allies after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

A significant step was taken at the Inter-American Conference on the Problems of War and Peace in Mexico City in 1945. The Act of Chapultepec, adopted there by 20 republics, called for joint action in repelling aggression against an American state, including that by another American state. Acceptance by Argentina established machinery to enforce peace in the Western Hemisphere. This was formalized by the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty). In other fields, too, cooperation advanced, as in commercial and financial matters (e.g., the Inter-American Bank). As a consequence of the growing awareness of interdependence the Bogotá Conference of 1948 produced the Organization of American States (OAS) to promote hemispheric unity. In the late 1950s the United States took steps toward an international price agreement on agricultural products and minerals, a measure long advocated by Latin American republics plagued by one-product economies. The Inter-American Development Bank began operations early in 1960.

Since the 1960s one of the most persistent issues facing the inter-American system has been the Communist government in Cuba and the strong opposition to it in the United States. Fidel Castro's support for Communist guerrilla forces in other Latin American countries led, in 1962, to Cuba's expulsion from the OAS. The vote, however, was not unanimous; Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico abstained. Nonetheless, in the same year Latin American nations backed the United States in its blockade of Cuba following the construction of missile bases there. By the 1990s, however, almost all Latin American countries had resumed trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba. In 1989, in yet another clash with Panama, the United States invaded to remove its de facto leader, Manuel Noriega, and to establish an elected government, despite the OAS's calls for U.S. withdrawal.

With the introduction of the Alliance for Progress in 1961, the United States undertook a long-term plan of economic assistance. In partial recognition of the weakness of this program, the Declaration of the Presidents of America was signed (1967) in Punta del Este, Uruguay, expressing commitment to Latin American economic integration, i.e., the creation of a common market (see Central American Common Market; Latin American Integration Association). Although economic cooperation has not proceeded as quickly as originally planned, there has been progress toward the lowering of trade barriers in both North and South America, especially with the creation of Mercosur in 1991 and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992. These developments kept alive hopes for ultimate inter-American economic integration, and in Apr., 2001, 34 Western Hemisphere nations committed themselves to the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas, but negotiations toward its creation subsequently stalled.


See J. L. Lockey, Pan Americanism: Its Beginnings (1920, repr. 1970); W. S. Robertson, History of Latin America (3d ed. 1943); A. P. Whitaker, The Western Hemisphere Idea, Its Rise and Decline (1954, repr. 1965); A. Aguilar, Pan-Americanism from Monroe to the Present (1965); R. B. Gray, ed., Latin America and the United States in the 1970s (1971); J. E. Fagg, Pan-Americanism (1982).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Inter-American Conferences


periodic conferences of the American republics, first convened in 1889. Prior to 1948 they were called International Conferences of American States, or Pan-American Conferences. The idea of convening such conferences was first proposed in 1826 at the Panama Congress of Latin American states. In the 1880’s the USA adopted this idea for the purpose of establishing its hegemony and defeating its European rivals in Latin America.

The First Conference (Oct. 2, 1889-Apr. 19, 1890, Washington) established the International Union of American Republics for the exchange of economic information and the permanent Commercial Bureau, affiliated with the alliance but actually under the secretary of state of the United States. At the Second Conference (Oct. 22, 1901-Jan. 31, 1902, Mexico City) the Commercial Bureau was renamed the International Bureau. The bureau was to be directed by a Governing Council formed in Washington and consisting of representatives of the American states headed by the US secretary of state. The Third Conference (July 23-Aug. 27, 1906, Rio de Janeiro), called in response to the Venezuela crisis of 1902-03, resolved to raise the question of the inadmissibility of the use of force to collect foreign debts at the Second International Hague Conference. At the Fourth Conference (July 12-Aug. 30, 1910, Buenos Aires) the USA’s attempt to compel the American states to adhere to the Monroe Doctrine was rejected by a majority of the delegates. At this conference the International Bureau of the American republics was transformed into the Pan-American Union.

At the Fifth Conference (Mar. 25-May 3, 1923, Santiago) a treaty on the prevention of conflicts between American states was signed. Providing for the creation of an inter-American regional system of arbitration, the treaty represented the USA’s efforts to establish a counterweight to the League of Nations, which was considered to be the instrument of British policies in the Americas. The Sixth Conference (Jan. 16-Feb. 20, 1928, Havana) adopted a convention on the Responsibilities and Rights of States in the Event of Civil War and established the Pan-American Union as the permanent organ of the inter-American conferences. Growing Latin American opposition to the imperialist policies of the United States compelled the US government at the Seventh Conference (Dec. 3-26, 1933, Montevideo) to sign a treaty proposed by Argentina prohibiting aggression and intervention and to adhere to the Convention on the Rights and Responsibilities of States, calling for the nonintervention of one state in the internal or foreign affairs of another. The Eighth Conference (Dec. 9-27, 1938, Lima) adopted the Declaration of Lima, affirming the solidarity of the countries of the Americas against aggression.

During World War II (1939-45) the functions of the inter-American conferences were actually carried out by consultative meetings of the foreign ministers of the American republics and by special inter-American conferences. In February and March 1945 an Inter-American Conference on war and peace was convened in Mexico City, at which the United States achieved the adoption of the Chapultepec Declaration of 1945. At an inter-American conference on the maintenance of hemispheric peace and security (August 1947, Rio de Janeiro) the United States, in order to strengthen its influence in the western hemisphere, forced the Latin American countries to accept the Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. At the Ninth Conference (Mar. 30-May 2, 1948, Bogota), the Organization of American States (OAS) was created to supersede the Pan-American Union. Under the charter of the OAS, its supreme organ was to be the Inter-American Conference, convened every five years.

The Tenth Conference (Mar. 1-28, 1954, Caracas) reflected the growing contradictions between the USA and the Latin American nations, which were increasingly resisting the expansion of American capital. The United States forced the participating countries to adopt a resolution calling for struggle against international Communism, which it subsequently used in intervening in the internal affairs of Latin American countries. The next meeting of the Inter-American Conference was repeatedly postponed owing to deepening contradictions between the United States and the Latin American nations after the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959. At consultative meetings of foreign ministers the United States attempted to represent its aggressive actions against Cuba as the collective measures of all American states. Under US pressure Cuba was expelled from the OAS in January 1962 at the Punta del Este Conference. A consultative meeting of the OAS held in Washington in July 1964 called for repressive measures against Cuba.

The First Extraordinary Inter-American Conference (Dec. 16-18, 1964, Washington), which adopted the procedure for accepting new members into the OAS, was held in connection with the attainment of independence by several British colonies in the West Indies. The Second Extraordinary Inter-American Conference (Nov. 17-30, 1965, Rio de Janeiro) adopted a resolution to review the charter of the OAS and outlined the changes to be made. The Third Extraordinary Inter-American Conference (Feb. 15-27, 1967, Buenos Aires) adopted amendments to the OAS charter, which went into effect in February 1970. As a result of organizational changes, the annual General Assembly of representatives of the member states replaced the inter-American conferences as the highest organ of the OAS.

The inter-American conferences attest to the growing contradictions between the United States and the Latin American nations.


Foster, W. Z. Ocherkpoliticheskoi istorii Ameriki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Antiasov, M. V. Sovremennyi panamerikanizm. Moscow, 1960.
Gvozdarev, B. I. Organizatsiia amerikanskikh gosudarstv. Moscow, 1960.
Gonionskii, S. A. Latinskaia Amerika i SShA 1939-1959: Ocherki istorii diplomaticheskikh otnoshenii. Moscow, 1960.
Organization of American States. Washington, D.C., 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The first rebuttal for Latin Americans came during the Inter-American Conference held at Chapultepec (Mexico) in February 1945 (even before the end of the war).
(11.) For a helpful overview of the conference proceedings, see Samuel Guy Inman, Inter-American Conferences, 1826-1954: History and Problems (Washington, DC: University Press, 1965), pp.
In 1967, at another Inter-American Conference, which met again in Punta del Este, the American heads of state reaffirmed their commitment to the Alliance.
(17) Despite continuing US wariness, Latin American governments pressed again for an IAB at subsequent inter-American conferences, culminating in a detailed proposal from Mexico in the fall of 1939 for a bank whose mandate included an explicit development goal of acting "as a channel for the investment of capital which will promote sound economic development in the American Republics." (18) The 1939 Mexican proposal finally prompted the US government to support negotiations to design the IAB.
At an inter-American conference held in Caracas, Venezuela in March 1954, the Latin American delegates readily condemned communism but declined to authorize any coercive measures aimed at Guatemala.

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