The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Judith M. Brown; Wm. Roger Louis et al. | Go to book overview

27

Latin America

ALAN KNIGHT

The history of the Latin American political economy in the first half of the twentieth century was strongly conditioned by three external shocks: the two world wars and the Great Depression. Together, these dealt drastic blows to Britain's position of pre-eminence which, even before 1914, was fast eroding as a result of German and United States competition as well as internal economic and political challenges. The British fought a long and dogged rearguard action in Argentina, where the Depression briefly bolstered British interests. But Argentina was exceptional; and even in Argentina the British revival proved to be a respite, not a reprieve. The revival of British influence in the 1930s guaranteed a yet more extreme assertion of Argentine nationalism and anti-imperialism in the 1940s. The Second World War and its aftermath, therefore, brought to an end the long cycle of British 'imperialism' in Latin America. The Falklands—Malvinas War of 1982—'an irrelevant exercise in nostalgia'—represented a sad coda to a historic Anglo‐ Argentinian relationship; it was a throwback to an older era of violent confrontation ; but, most of all, it was an anachronistic example of mutual posturing by two powers which, since their bitter parting in the late 1940s, had both suffered economic and political decline. 1

The outbreak of the First World War, coming hard on the heels of the 1913 depression, jolted Latin American exporters. The docks of Santos, Buenos Aires, and Callao lay idle; soup kitchens had to be set up on the streets of Santiago; in Peru's Cañete valley, site of a British sugar mill, businessmen and officials feared shutdown, unemployment, hunger, and 'the likelihood of unrest'. 2 The Chilean cruiser Esmeralda, which had mown down striking nitrate workers at Iquique seven years before, now steamed into harbour to remove 10,000 of the same workers who were camping, destitute, on the dockside. The condition of 'dependency' was starkly underlined: Latin American wars might preoccupy European

____________________
For Latin America in the nineteenth century see Vol. III.
1
H. S. Ferns, 'Argentina: Part of an Informal Empire?', in Alistair Hennessy and John King, eds., The Land That England Lost (London, 1992), p. 60. For British investment see Figs. 27.1-27.3.
2
Bill Albert, South America and the First World War (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 1, 37-38, 40, 50.

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