Latin America on the Center Stage: Cuba’s Failed Attempt to Join the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) in 1962, by Felipe Loureiro, Hamilton Gomes Jr & Rebeca Braga

The history of the Cold War in Latin America has been widely written having the United States as the main focus and actor. Our paper puts this traditional Western-centered approach upside down. Using Tom Long’s famous ‘pericentric’ perspective, we analyze a crucial but still largely unexplored case of Latin America’s Cold War – Cuba’s failed attempt in mid-1962 to join the Latin American Free Trade Agreement (LAFTA). By then, LAFTA was the most promising institution for economic integration in the continent. Putting Latin American governments on the center stage of analysis, we conclude that Washington did not play a central role to blocking Cuba’s entrance into LAFTA. In fact, the recently-established anti-Communist Argentinean government was key for checking Havana, leading an anti-Cuban bloc of Latin American leaders, and pressing Brazil to reject the principles of self-determination and Cuba’s right to join the association, as originally granted by LAFTA rules.

Cuba’s attempt to join LAFTA in August 1962 is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, the move took place only six months after Havana had been expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS) at the January 1962 Punta del Este Conference in Uruguay, and just one month before the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the world became as close as ever of a nuclear war between the superpowers. Therefore, Cuba’s interest in becoming part of LAFTA not only represents an effort by the Castro’s regime to return to a multilateral institution in the Americas (one in which the U.S. was not a member), but could also have opened alternative channels for negotiation during the missile crisis had Cuba been accepted in the association. More importantly, the fact that Cuba did not achieve success in being a LAFTA member brought long-term consequences to the region. Giving that LAFTA at the time was a promising experiment in economic integration, Cuba’s membership could have avoided its isolation in the hemisphere and prevented the island from strengthening economic ties with the Soviet Union. After this episode, for a long time the Castro regime would not show any interest in being part of multilateral institution in Latin America, reinforcing East-West tensions in the continent.

The paper A pericentric Punta del Este: Cuba’s failed attempt to join the Latin American Free Trade Area (LAFTA) and the limits of Brazil’s independent foreign policy now published at the special issue of RBPI Rethinking Power in Global and Transnational History (Volume 61 – N. 2 – 2018) focuses on the role played by the Brazilian government during this whole Cuban affair. At the Punta del Este in January 1962, Brazil followed a legalist position, arguing that there was no legal basis for expelling Cuba from the Organization of American States (OAS). Brazil’s Independent Foreign Policy (the so-called Política Externa Independente, PEI) also argued for the principles of non-intervention and self-determination. Brazil lost at Punta del Este, but led a significant opposition, reinforced by several and the largest Latin American countries. When Havana asked to enter LAFTA in August 1962, things changed though. At the beginning, Brasília kept the same legalist position. The Treaty of Montevideo of 1960 was clear in laying out that all Latin American nations could be members of the association. Brasilia was forced to change its position not due to U.S. pressures, but to Argentina’s. The recently established José Maria Guido government in Buenos Aires, which came to power in March 1962 after a military coup d’état toppled President Arturo Frondizi, became the chief force against Cuba’s plea. Argentina led a group of anti-communist right-wing countries at the August 1962 Mexico City Conference and threatened to abandon the association if Havana were admitted into it. Faced with this potentially disastrous outcome, Brazil changed its position and abstained in the final vote, resulting in the denial of Cuba to becoming a LAFTA member.

The events at the Mexico City Conference are remarkable because the U.S. did not interfere as expected. Instead, the Latin American states themselves, especially Argentina, manifested their outright opposition against Cuba and led the whole process. Even though Washington was following events closely and was clearly against the acceptance of Cuba, the Kennedy administration did not interfere directly in the case and was even pleased due to the natural opposition that emerged against Cuba.

Therefore, we show in this paper that even during periods when hot issues of the Cold War were involved, such as Cuba and the fear of Communism in Latin America, there was enough room for Latin American states to implement their own foreign policies as independent actors – something that runs against the perceived omnipresence of the United States and the Soviet Union in all facts and processes of the Cold War. The article also brings forward the limits of Brazil’s Independent Foreign Policy. Facing a serious threat for Latin America’s economic integration, Brasília chose to be pragmatic instead of following strict legality and the principle of self-determination.

About the authors

Felipe Pereira Loureiro – Universidade de São Paulo , Instituto de Relações Internacionais , São Paulo, SP , Brazil (felipeloureiro@usp.br).

Hamilton de Carvalho Gomes Jr – Universidade de São Paulo , Instituto de Relações Internacionais , São Paulo, SP , Brazil (hamilton.gomes@usp.br).

Rebeca Guerreiro Antunes Braga – Universidade de São Paulo , Instituto de Relações Internacionais , São Paulo, SP , Brazil (rebeca.braga@usp.br).

Read the article

Loureiro, Felipe Pereira, Gomes Jr, Hamilton de Carvalho, & Braga, Rebeca Guerreiro Antunes. (2018). A pericentric Punta del Este: Cuba’s failed attempt to join the Latin American Free Trade Area (LAFTA) and the limits of Brazil’s independent foreign policy. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 61(2), e003. Epub October 25, 2018.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201800203

How to cite this note

aclessa, "Latin America on the Center Stage: Cuba’s Failed Attempt to Join the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) in 1962, by Felipe Loureiro, Hamilton Gomes Jr & Rebeca Braga," in Instituto Brasileiro de Relações Internacionais, 27/10/2018, http://www.ibri-rbpi.org/?p=16468.

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