Maintaining the empire: diplomacy and education in U.S.-Ecuadorian relations, 1933-1963



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Historians today continue to explore the maintenance of the U.S. Empire in the Third World. Some argue that coercion was the driving force. Others suggest that consent played a role. Settling this debate is difficult given the unbalanced state of the historiography, which is overloaded with analyses of interventions.

Analyzing U.S.-Ecuadorian relations offers an instructive addition to the literature. Negotiation and compromise, not coercion, were central to these interactions. The Ecuadorians who shaped these relations the most typically shared some core assumptions with their U.S. counterparts. Policymakers in Washington therefore developed educational exchange programs to expand this pool of pro-U.S. Latin Americans. Using documents from archives in the United States and Ecuador, this study explores how policymakers used diplomacy and education to maintain the U.S. Empire in the Third World from 1933 to 1963.

This process began with the Roosevelt Administration’s Good Neighbor Policy. Ecuadorian threats to nationalize U.S. businesses operating in Ecuador, however, challenged the rhetoric of cooperation championed by Roosevelt. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor halted these challenges. Two days after the attack, policymakers in Washington accepted Ecuadorian offers to establish bases in Ecuador. This marked the solidification of hemispheric solidarity, and a more robust U.S. hegemony in Latin America.

A growing number of Ecuadorian students and intellectuals studying in the United States under scholarships awarded by their government strengthened this solidarity. The U.S. government soon began funding both these exchanges as well as American Schools throughout Latin America in the hopes of maintaining this unity in the future.

Beginning in 1950, disputes over fisheries threatened the wartime cohesion. Ecuador attempted to force Washington to accept a 200-mile limit on territorial waters. Negotiations failed to resolve the issue. The discontent evident throughout Latin America continued to build, until, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy discovered that the government of Ecuador would not support his administration’s plan to exclude Cuba from the Organization of American States. Despite these setbacks, policymakers continued to promote educational exchange through the Foreign Leader Program and the Fulbright Program. They hoped above all else to expand consent to U.S. hegemony.