H-Diplo Article Review 1156- Lockhart on Howes, “Latin America and the Marshall Plan"

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H-Diplo Article Review 1156

5 January 2023

Robert Howes, “Latin America and the Marshall Plan: The Critique from Brazil of Roberto Simonsen.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 19:4 (2021): 441-464. DOI: 10.1057/s42738-021-00082-1.

Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Thomas Maddux | Production Editor: Christopher Ball

Review by James Lockhart, Rabdan Academy/Zayed Military University, Abu Dhabi

Throughout Latin America in the late 1940s, the United States’ efforts in the reconstruction of Europe, known as the Marshall Plan (formally, the European Recovery Plan ([ERP]), produced mixed reactions. These reactions ranged from agreeing with the plan, on the one hand, to criticizing or opposing it, on the other. Robert Howes assesses some of this criticism through the ideas, speeches, and writings of Roberto Simonsen, a Brazilian entrepreneur, industrialist, public figure, commentator, and historian. Simonsen was involved in the economic problems of his country for about three decades, during which time  he had challenged laissez-faire attitudes and free markets while advocating import-substitution industrialization (ISI) and other state-led interventions.

Howes argues that in 1947 and 1948 Simonsen's engagement with international affairs through the Marshall Plan accounted for the evolution of his thinking from “the autarchic years of the 1930s to the era of growth and economic development” of later decades (443). This anticipated the politics and programs of the 1960s, and also the structuralist critiques of the 1970s, not least because, in these years, Simonsen began to interpret the issues faced by Brazil as being part of an even larger set of systemic problems that confronted all of Latin America. He realized that the region would be better off cooperating than going it alone when responding to them.

As Howes explains, research and writing on the ERP tends to approach the plan from American, European, or Soviet perspectives.[1] Less attention has been given to areas outside of the North Atlantic.[2] Howes redresses this by better incorporating Latin America, Brazil, and Simonsen into the conversation. After all, Latin Americans were stakeholders, having been asked to acquiesce to the imperatives of the moment, namely, that the United States, in advancing its overarching strategy to achieve global security in the early Cold War, had to prioritize the rebuilding of war-torn Europe over the development of their region.

Howes’s evaluation of the thinking of Simonsen is articulated in a well-organized, plainly written article consisting of eight parts and a conclusion. It starts with an overview of the Marshall Plan and an introduction to Simonsen. It continues with the course of US aid to Brazil and the rest of Latin America during and after the Second World War. Next, it surveys Simonsen’s evolving ideas in the late 1940s, while gauging reactions to them in Brazil and the United States. It then examines the significance and legacy of Simonsen, and ends with a statement of its findings.

The article’s key takeaways include Howes’s point that Brazilian elites were active internationalists, interested in transatlantic and global political, military, and economic affairs. The most important events of the time were the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Pact); the ERP; and the inter-American conference in Bogotá, Colombia, which created the Organization of American States. Brazilians were keen to take the initiative to help define these events where they could. It was Simonsen’s grappling with the Marshall Plan that motivated his participation while stimulating new thinking. In his view, the ERP, as originally conceived, demonstrated that Americans and Europeans had failed to consider the impact that the plan could have in other parts of the world, and that it would relegate the people and economies of Latin America to a colonial-like status of exporters of agricultural and other raw materials, miring them in poverty. Further, as global and regional security, the reconstruction of Europe, and the development of Latin America were closely interrelated, the plan would hamper the ability of the region to contribute to the defense of the western hemisphere. Simonsen wanted this explicitly on the agenda at the gathering in Bogotá, and he proposed a separate economic charter for the Americas, too.

Simonsen encountered resistance in Brazil in the late 1940s. And his ideas conflicted with the consensus in the United States, which held, until the last year of the Eisenhower administration, that private, not public investment was the best way to develop Latin America. But his concerns, speeches, and writings  became more mainstream in the 1960s and 1970s.  Howes consequently characterizes Simonsen’s thinking as seminal, connecting it to the increasing acceptance of government planning and intervention as strategies of economic development in Brazil and elsewhere in the region. Indeed, he inspired Celso Furtado, whose Economic Growth of Brazil and Development and Underdevelopment “repeatedly cited Simonsen's Economic History of Brazil” (460).[3] Thus, Simonsen contributed to dependency theory, which was embraced by the United Nations' (UN) Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Howes’s article advances at least three discussions in history and international affairs. Area specialists such as Steve Stern have long highlighted the importance of accounting for regional and local actors when interpreting Latin America's place in world history.[4] Across the United Kingdom, departments in the humanities and social sciences are embracing points of view from the Global South like Simonsen's while systematically “decolonizing the curriculum.”[5] In diplomacy, statesmen such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger acknowledge that many of the problems affecting international affairs today derive from the fact that leaders and governments from regions outside of the North Atlantic played minimal roles in establishing the postwar liberal international order, or the rules-based system.[6] Some of these leaders and governments (from countries like Brazil, Russia, Iran, India, China, and North Korea) have shown that they would modify, if not substantially revise, this system on particular issues ranging not only from problems relating to foreign aid and investment like the Marshall Plan, but to the composition of the permanent membership of the UN's Security Council, borders and territory in places like Ukraine and Taiwan, terms of trade between industrialized nations and the developing world, the underlying structure of the nuclear-science and energy community, the legitimate possession of nuclear weapons, and other issues.[7] By rescuing Simonsen's voice from a fading past and keeping it in circulation, Howes moves these conversations forward.


James Lockhart is Associate Professor of Defense and Security Studies at Rabdan Academy/Zayed Military University, in Abu Dhabi and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS). He earned a PhD in American foreign relations, intelligence, and world/comparative history from the University of Arizona in 2016. His research has been published in the Marine Corps University Journal, the International History Review, International Affairs, and Intelligence and National Security. His first book, Chile, the CIA and the Cold War: A Transatlantic Perspective, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2019. His current book project explores the career of Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters and southern South American military affairs and intelligence during the Cold War, from the coup in Brazil to the conflict in the Falklands.


[1] For example, Seymour Harris, The European Recovery Program (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948); Alan Milward, The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945-51 (London: Methuen, 1984); Charles Kindleberger, Marshall Plan Days (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987); Michael Hogan, The Marshall Plan: America, Britain and the Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947-1952 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989); Barry Eichengreen and Marc Uzan, "The Marshall Plan: Economic Effects and Implications for Eastern Europe and the Former USSR," Economic Policy 7 (1992): 13-75; Barry Eichengreen, ed., Europe's Post-War Recovery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Martin Schain, ed., The Marshall Plan: Fifty Years After (New York: Palgrave, 2001); David Reynolds, From World War to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the International History of the 1940s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Maria Ivanova, "Why There Was No 'Marshall Plan' for Eastern Europe and Why This Still Matters," Journal of Contemporary European Studies 15 (2007): 345-376; Jacob Magid, "The Marshall Plan," Advances in Historical Studies 1 (2012): 1-7; and Benn Steil, The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[2] For instance, Glenn Dorn, "'Bruce Plan' and Marshall Plan: The United States's Disguised Intervention against Peronism in Argentina, 1947-1950," International History Review 21 (1999): 331-351; and Mario Rapoport and Claudio Spiguel, "La Argentina y el Plan Marshall: promesas y realidades," Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional 52 (2009): 5-28. Also, in the history of US-Latin American relations, Stephen Rabe has called attention to regional leaders' disappointment with Washington's policies in foreign aid in the late 1940s and 1950s. See Stephen Rabe, "The Elusive Conference: United States Economic Relations with Latin America, 1945-1952," Diplomatic History 2 (1978): 279-294; Stephen Rabe, Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anticommunism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988); and Stephen Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[3] Roberto Simonsen, História econômica do Brasil, 1500-1820 (Saõ Paulo: Ed. Nacional, 1937); Celso Furtado, The Economic Growth of Brazil: A Survey from Colonial to Modern Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968); and Celso Furtado, Development and Underdevelopment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971).

[4] For example, Steve Stern, "Feudalism, Capitalism, and the World-System in the Perspective of Latin America and the Caribbean," American Historical Review 93 (1988): 829-897.

[5] For instance, Rowena Arshad, "Decolonising the Curriculum -- How Do I Get Started?" Times Higher Education, 14 September 2021, at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/decolonising-curriculum-how-do-i-get-started.

[6] Henry Kissinger, World Order (New York: Penguin, 2014).

[7] Apart from Kissinger, World Order, see, for example, Elisabeth Roehrlich, "The Cold War, the Developing World, and the Creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 1953-1957," Cold War History 16 (2016): 195-212; Amrita Narlikar, "India and the World Trade Organization," in Steve Smith, et al., Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases [2008], 3d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 356-375; Arlene Tickner, "Rising Brazil and South America," in Smith, et al., Foreign Policy, 376-393; Amelia Hadfield, "Energy and Foreign Policy: EU-Russia Energy Dynamics," in Smith, et al., Foreign Policy, 451-475; and Graham Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).