John Gerassi, The Great Fear in Latin America, 1963, 1965.

Introduction: The Need for Reconquest

Latin America's social and economic structure is decadent, corrupt, immoral, and generally unsalvageable.

That a change is coming is obvious. That it will come about through revolution is certain. That revolution entails the possibility of violence is unavoidable. What remains an enigma is: Who will lead the revolution?

The choices are not enigmatic -- or, at least, should not be.

No real social change can be effected by what we in the United States are too readily in the habit of calling -- erroneously -- Latin America's "democratic forces." It is not by accident, as we shall see, that the continent's modern-minded empiricists refer to political crooks, phony reformists, and "enlightened" oligarchs suddenly addicted to the preachings of the Alliance for Progress as just "another bunch of democrats."

Nor can the change in structure be brought about by those who emulate us, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that they can. Latin America's history is not our history, its inheritance not our inheritance, its concepts not our concepts, and its passions certainly not our passions.

Who, then, are Latin America's revolutionaries of the future?

The same as those of the present: The Communists, in theory, and the Nationalists, in practice.

Though the two forces may currently form tactical alliances in some countries, they are inexcusably stamped with the same Red label by both our State Department and our [14] press. In fact, they are diametrically opposed. The former are self-assertive internationalists whose adopted values make them view their country within a universal flux. The latter are self-conscious patriots whose repressed instinct is to declare their country the only one valuable. The former are our enemies. The latter are not our allies. They are Chileans, Bolivians, or Haitians whose allegiance is to Chile, Bolivia, or Haiti -- and to nothing or to no one else.

Once in power, the Nationalists will nationalize American corporations -- because it will be in their country's interest to do so. They will trade with the Communist bloc -- because it will be in their country's interest to do so. And they will even vote, on occasion, against the United States in the United Nations -- because it will be in their country's interest to do so. But they will not be our enemies. Nor will they desert "Western society" -- because such desertion will not be in their country's interest.

Which of the two will win out, the Communists or the Nationalists?

That depends on us.

Unless we change our current Latin American policy, unless we reevaluate the Alliance for Progress, unless we realize and accept the choice that faces us, we shall not only see the Communists -- despite themselves -- win out; we shall also accelerate their victory.

Our current policy in Latin America, as we shall see, supports what I call "medievalists" in their so far successful war against "modernists." True, the former often fool us: They "talk" reforms, even initiate some important ones in their respective domains. But their ultimate criterion is based neither on the dictates of secular law nor on the findings of empirical research.

The medievalist is he whose ultimate allegiance in both official and private life is to an infrastate institution or class, be it religious, economic, or social. The modernist, on the other hand, may oppose the rule of current law, may even espouse "totalitarian" methods, but his criterion is based upon the dictates of impersonal means for impersonal goals for the good of a state that favors neither class nor sect nor group.

When it is his law and his class that he serves, a medievalist can be a good democrat. When it is "for the good of human beings" that he acts, the modernist can be a [15] ruthless demagogue. The medievalist's main objective is stability, a twentieth century slogan meaning status quo; sincerely or not, he claims to believe that liberty is more important than health, and freedom a richer food than bread. The modernist's main objective is nationhood, a traditional slogan meaning dignity; openly or not, he knows that honest exploitation is a greater crime than a bank robbery and that freedom is the result, not the cause, of well-being. The medievalist may shriek foul at the murder of one man. The modernist may approve the execution of a thousand. But the medievalist will keep his people in bondage -- with perhaps a "free" press to condemn it -- while the modernist will give his people the tools -- though perhaps not the press -- to build its own true freedom.

Yet it is the medievalists we back. These include not only the self-interested dictators but also the self-interested oligarchies ruling through "democratic" regimes and the self-interested "Democrats" ruling for the rich in the name of the poor. We have worked out a high-sounding, reform-demanding Alliance for Progress whose small black print prohibits true reforms and whose much-ballyhooed loans and grants rarely filter down to the needy. To combat the modernists, we have adopted a policy of branding as "Communists" all reformers who carry out exactly what we claim to want to achieve through the Alliance.

Sooner or later, these modernists will lead Latin Americans to claim that which is denied them -- their unalienable rights. To secure these rights they will convert Latin America into an area belonging to Latin Americans, by the gun if necessary. Today, as we shall see, it belongs to foreigners, mostly to citizens or companies of the United States. The great wave that has already begun to form to secure Latin America for its own citizens will be the Reconquest of Latin America. Its overpowering assault is inevitable.

In this light, our current Latin American policy makes sense if, and only if, we are prepared to wage -- and win -- the Third World War before the full strength of that assault comes down. If so, the immediate advantages gained -- and there are many, as we shall see -- are well worth the dirty names we are called (and the occasional premature revolts). If not, it is a policy of suicidal shortsightedness, a policy of disaster. Our own rights will never survive a rebellious Latin America united against us.