NOVEMBER 19, 1958
BUFFALO, N.Y.—Economic problems of the Latin-American republics are the subject of discussion at a conference now going on in Washington, where 21 of the republics are represented. These problems are, of course, more important in our relationships in Latin America than political matters, as anyone returning from that area will tell you.
There is one thing in this situation that is never mentioned but which, I think, ought to be brought out into the open. This is the attitude of United States businessmen, who think it is the usual and accepted practice of Latin-American officials to come into power with a small amount of money and to leave after having acquired a considerable fortune.
These businessmen seem to think that this practice is not frowned upon by the people in high places and is little known or understood by the people as a whole.
No diplomat from the U.S.—or from any other country probably—would acknowledge that foreign businessmen in Latin America accept this as a fact and, therefore, feel that whatever they want they can get for a price.
These "extra financial arrangements" do not, of course, create the best atmosphere for normal investment and business transactions. It is better for our relations with Mexico and South America to encourage private investors by establishing in these countries channels that are advantageous and attractive to U.S. and other foreign capital.
This might be done by lower taxes for a while on foreign investments, stable government policies and development of a feeling that the foreigner is really wanted and will be accepted not only for his money but as an individual.
Inflation, of course, plagues many Latin-American countries, and measures many governments, include Mexico's, must take to correct this are difficult and not pleasant to contemplate.
The usual complaint U.S. visitors to Mexico hear is that the U.S. wants to buy cheaply but to sell its products at high prices. This should be ironed out, for an increase in trade between the U.S. and Mexico would be advantegous to both nations. Although we buy less than we sell to the Mexicans, we sell them more than we sell in any other part of the world, so it is normal that we should cultivate goodwill among our best customers.
It is well for us to realize that Canada, Mexico and the U.S. should grow in interdependence. Year by year there is a greater intellectual exchange between us. More students come to us from these countries, and they like us and we like them.
But economic problems are apt to disrupt these friendly relationships. So we may have to reconsider our own economic system with the thought in mind that some products we now sell them might better be produced in these sister republics than at home, and at lower cost. Tariffs which hurt their economy certainly are not the answer.
On my recent trip to Mexico, I had the pleasure to talk for a short time with President-elect Lopez Matoos. He seemed to me to be a man who would be easy and reasonable to negotiate with. I believe he will continue the policy of fostering good relations between Mexico and neighboring republics.
But if this policy is to continue, we must show some understanding of Mexico's problems and realize that country deserves our sympathetic interest and help if only because it now must provide an elementary education to three million more children than now are in elementary schools.
Our ambassador to Mexico, Robert C. Hill, is doing a remarkable job in visiting all the industrial plants and every part of Mexico, something rarely done by his predecessors. Not only is he pleasing the Mexicans, but he is accumulating information that should be of great value to our State Department and businessmen.
I came away from Mexico with the feeling that the people of that country have a great warmth which we perhaps have not cultivated in the last few years. This should be revived quickly through certain economic and cultural policies. It is an effort worth making.