Author:Grantham, David


By the early twentieth century, Argentina had earned a reputation for self-reliance. Compared to other Latin American countries, it possessed enough political and economic capacity for unilateral action. The US government assessed Argentina to be a medium-class power with the capacity for independent action and "the capabilities for acting as the focus and head of anti-US sentiment" in the western hemisphere and beyond. (1) Scholar Joseph Tulchin goes a step further, reminding us that Argentina would go so far as adopting diplomatic positions that were otherwise detrimental to its political fortunes simply to showcase its autonomy. (2) Peron's Third Position had historical roots in Argentina's "dogmatic, uncompromising attitude" toward its diplomacy. That strategy influenced Argentina's vote at the United Nations on the partition of Palestine as part of a larger imperative to avoid regional economic and political isolation. (3)

While some dispute the inspiration behind Peron's Third Position, its language and application has clear roots in the Cold War divide and it operated primarily as a foreign policy issue designed to harness the collective strength of the developing world. (4) His policies aimed to build cooperation and tranquility with developing nations that served Argentina's geopolitical interests and represented helpful resistance to First World dictates. To that point, Peron's administration used arguably the most consequential deliberation in UN history to affirm the Arab position on the partition of Palestine, abstaining from the ultimate vote that would decide the border creation in the former British Mandate of Palestine.

Long mischaracterized as an "unwillingness to take a stand on Palestine's future," the vote actually signaled the Peron administrations intent to bypass the world order through quietly supporting opportunities for Arab expansion in the postcolonial world. In doing so, as Jorn Dosch writes, "Argentine president [Peron]... pioneered the principles of non-alignment... within the context of the "Third Position' ideology." (5) The story helps internationalize Latin America's postwar history, which tends to be treated as a regional experience, and its largely ignored contributions to the internationality of the Cold War. (6) More important, this brief moment in history illustrates the influence the Global South had in shaping the period. (7)


In Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World, Jeremy Friedman explains that historians would be "well advised to consider perspectives from other capitals and the forces operating on their policies, keeping in mind that the role of the United States might itself be secondary." (8) Indeed, scholarship by and large treated the Global South as an extension of communist and democratic policies and proxy wars. The treatment portrayed the Global South "more as objects of manipulation than as active agents shaping their own fate." (9) This type of thinking privileges "the actions and motivations of policymakers" in Washington and Moscow, as Robert McMahon points out. (10)

In fairness, and as is evident in the case of Argentina and the Peron administration, leading powers had the reach and the resources to sell their own brand of governing ideology on a global scale. But this reality does not represent the totality of the story. When examined on its own terms, the world outside the US-Soviet struggle provides an elaborate history of agency, cooperation, and conflict. "The rise of a decolonized Third World," McMahon explains, "constitutes a historical force of perhaps equal weight and consequence." (11) In fact, approximately forty new nations were born during the years immediately after World War II "The newly emerging areas threw off the shackles of colonialism and neocolonialism during the latter half of the twentieth century, boldly articulated their own national aspirations, strove to achieve economic and political independence, and became increasingly influential agents of their own destinies." (12) Memories of colonialism "encouraged ambitious schemes to remake Third World societies" through grand projects of mechanization and resettlement. (13) The explosion in the number of new nations created nascent constituencies who themselves had not fully identified their own political and economic futures. Peron's attempt to harness this chaotic yet hopeful time through a Third Position strategy coincided with advantageous shifts in demographics and a favorable sociopolitical atmosphere in Argentina. (14)


Argentina's connection to Europe, which primarily began as a lucrative agricultural export relationship with the British, also facilitated the future arrival of Germans and Italians in the so-called Paris of South America. The German influence played a role in Argentine policies toward Europe, especially its neutrality during the two world wars. (15) But a focus on the influence of immigrants of European heritage on Argentina's Cold War politics often overlooks the impact of immigrants from the Middle East. Mass immigration by Arab and Jewish peoples into Argentina in the first half of the twentieth century linked Argentina to the region. Similar to how European immigration helped shape Argentine's society and politics in the nineteenth century, the arrival of Arabs and Jews remolded local society and helped forge an unbreakable link to the Middle East in the twentieth.

Arab immigrants from Lebanon and Syria constituted a significant portion of new arrivals during and after World War I. Political turmoil in the Ottoman Empire sparked a massive exodus of Arabs, both Christian and Muslim. Escaping refugees spoke of religious persecution (for Christians), military conscription, overpopulation, and famine. (16) The arriving Arabs settled alongside an equally large Jewish population that had escaped persecution and economic stagnation in the Ottoman territories and Eastern Europe. By the turn of the twentieth century, Argentina was the site of one of the largest Arab and Jewish communities in Latin America, made up of, among others, Maronite Catholics, Arab Jews, and Islamic purists.

The greatest number of Arab immigrants arrived in the first ten years of the twentieth century. (17) A 1909 Argentine immigration report noted the arrival of approximately 11,765 Syrian Arabs. Of the group, over half--approximately 6,000--were "Mohammadans," or Muslims, which made Argentina the home of the largest Muslim population in Latin America at the time. (18) The largest wave of Arabs from heavily Christianized areas of Lebanon and Syria occurred in the period 1918 to 1930, although debate rages as to the religious composition of this group. (19) Existing evidence suggests that Arab Muslims and Christians and Sephardim and Ashkenazim Jews lived peaceably together in Argentina in the early years of the twentieth century. In fact, their simultaneous immigration forged social and economic alliances between the two groups. (20)

Shunned in the public square by Argentine cultural purists who favored European Catholics, Jewish and Arab immigrants developed a shared interest in carving out a spot in Argentine society. Argentine governments routinely determined both Arabs and Jews to be ethnically undesirable. Although the country relied on immigrants for its turn-of-the-century modernization efforts, Arab and Jewish immigrants were not considered the desired nationality. State officials determined that these groups were industrially or economically disadvantageous, unlike Italian and German immigrants. Arabs and Jews were "stigmatized as unproductive and parasitic." (21) Many officials felt that Jews and Arabs threatened Argentina's ethnic and religious homogeneity with their alien cultural, religious, and linguistic practices. (22) Local Argentines dubbed those arriving from Ottoman territories "turcos" which quickly became a pejorative term, leaving them "at the bottom of the Argentine social hierarchy." (23)

Many turned to entrepreneurial activities and quickly developed an intimate network of commercial associations. Operating in similar production sectors, such as silk and textiles, proved useful for protecting and growing immigrant-owned businesses. These economic alliances resulted in the formation of, for instance, the Syrian-Lebanese Bank, a local financial institution founded by members of both Jewish and Arab communities. Records demonstrate that Jews served alongside Arabs on the executive committee of the popular Syrian-Lebanese Welfare Society and that Jewish businessmen served in multiple leadership positions in the prominent Syro-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce. (24) Middle Eastern expatriate communities often worked together to assist incoming Arab and Jewish immigrants with their transition to Argentina. They also partnered in their condemnation of European occupation in the Middle East region. Indeed, the perception that the French government was engaged in a purposefully slow troop withdrawal from the Levant in 1943 played a large part in the formation of the Central Aid Committee for Syria and Lebanon one year later, the goal of which was to aid victims of French occupation and to offer political and financial support for the rebuilding process. According to scholar Ignacio Klich, this visible solidarity remained largely intact despite the spread of Zionism and Arab nationalism and their influence in Argentine Jewish communities. (25) But this environment slowly changed as the debate over the partition of Palestine became internationalized.

By the mid- 1940s, the cordial and cooperative relationship had deteriorated. The growing conflict over Palestine divided the two communities. Suspicion and animosity replaced the cooperative efforts that for years had defined the immigrant experience. What Klich calls a...

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