Good Neighbors: Stories from Latin America in World War II

The following is a guest post by Victoria Giron, an intern in the Serial & Government Publications Division from the University of Virginia. Victoria majors in Foreign Affairs and is fluent in Spanish. She spent her summer working with the Latin American newspaper portfolios.

Many people who learn about World War II are taught about the participation of the United States and Great Britain in the Allied war effort. While most people may be aware that the greater Allied war effort involved the participation of many European countries, few people know that several Latin American countries were also formal allies in World War II.

There were important developments in U.S. foreign policy that affected the way that Latin American countries viewed the war. First, the Good Neighbor Policy was enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a policy of non-intervention that emphasized cooperation and trade to maintain friendly relations with the southern hemisphere. Second, the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) was created in 1940 to coordinate the activities of the U.S. government in Latin America. The OIAA hoped to increase economic cooperation and interdependence between the United States and Latin America. The Office also became heavily involved in disseminating information through the radio, motion picture, and press media.

“Saludo de ‘El Mundo Libre’ a la Pressa Americana [A Greeting From ‘El Mundo Libre’ to the American Press],” El Mundo Libre (San Salvador, El Salvador), March 30, 1941.

Starting in 1941, before the United States entered the war, newspapers in countries like El Salvador were already printing their support. The Salvadorian paper El Mundo Libre directly gave a greeting to the American press and gave its mission of supporting democratic ideology. The paper also featured an editorial with FDR’s picture and stated that it would print as long as war raged on in Europe. While it is unknown if this paper received financial assistance or support from the OIAA, Salvadorian media at the time was heavily censored by the government, so the newspaper had at least indirect support from the government.

“Solidaridad Continental [Continental Solidarity],” La Voz de Chihuahua (Chihuahua, Mexico), April 13, 1941.

In La Voz de Chihuahua, a special “Continental Solidarity” issue was commissioned by Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho in 1941. The special edition came in the wake of a speech given by Mexican foreign minister, Ezequiel Padilla, who addressed the need for hemispheric cooperation showing the gradual movement of the Mexican government towards a pro-U.S. position.

“Rutas Vitales Para Los Aliados [Vital Routes for the Allies],” Actualidad (Guatemala, Guatemala), October 18, 1941.

In Actualidad, a Guatemalan newspaper, many pictures and political cartoons show the state of the war from a pro-ally stance. In one article, there is a map showing vital trade routes for the allies. Another reason that many Latin American countries concerned themselves with a far-away war was because of the disruption of normal trade routes.

After Pearl Harbor, many Latin American nations were shocked and showed their solidarity by declaring war on Japan and the other Axis powers. On January 1, 1942, twenty-six nations signed the “Declaration of the United Nations.” The declaration was an agreement among signing nations to uphold the Atlantic Charter, to employ all their resources in the war against the Axis powers, and to promise that no nation would try to seek a separate peace with any Axis nation. Eight Latin American nations were among the original signatories: Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.

“Otros Paises de America Estan Entrando al Estado de Guerra [Other American Countries are Entering a State of War],” Diario Latino (San Salvador, El Salvador), December 9, 1941.

While Mexico did not sign the “Declaration of the United Nations” in January 1942, the country finally declared war on May 22, 1942 after the sinking of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico by Germany. Mexico was one of two Latin American countries, the other being Brazil, that sent troops to war. From May to August 1945, the 201st Squadron of the Air Force, comprised of volunteer Mexican citizens, conducted missions in the Pacific theater. More than 300 Mexican volunteers served in WWII. Thirty-three were experienced airmen and the rest were support personnel. The men left Mexico for the U.S. to train on July 24, 1944 and began flying missions in May 1945. The 201st Squadron, known as “The Aztec Eagles,” supported U.S. Air Force missions.

“En la Escuela de Aviacion [At the Aviation School],” Las Noticias (Los Mochis, Mexico), June 3, 1943.

Mexico offered other means of support to the U.S. through programs such as the Bracero Program. The Bracero Program between the governments of Mexico and the U.S. allowed young Mexican men work in the U.S. as farm labor. As a result of the war and due to worries that a lack of farm labor would lead to food shortages, the Bracero Program was signed into law on August 4, 1942 and lasted until 1964. An article in the October 13, 1942, issue of El Porvenir writes about Senator McFarland of Arizona asking for more Braceros to be able to work to serve the needs of the state.

While Latin American countries are often overlooked allies to the United States and to the Allied war effort, as we can see, the war reached practically every country and their support played a role in the success of winning the war.

Additional Resources:

Records of the Office of Inter-American Affairs, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration.

Remembering the “Aztec Eagles”, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Bracero History Archive.

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