Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Anger over U.S. policies and actions in Latin America became clearer in 1958 when rioters interrupted Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s eight-nation tour of South America. The episode, which led to the mobilization of U.S. troops in the Caribbean for Nixon’s protection, if needed, also prompted a major reassessment of U.S.-Latin American relations.

Summary of Event

As the Cold War Cold War;Latin America unfolded in the aftermath of World War II, Latin America constituted a low priority in the foreign relations of the United States. Officials in Washington, D.C., paid little attention to Latin American problems and issues, except where regional defense measures were concerned. Economic aid was minimal and Latin American hopes of a “Marshall plan” for the Western Hemisphere were met with disappointment. By the late 1950’s, however, Latin America moved toward the top of the United States foreign policy agenda. U.S.-Latin American relations[U.S. Latin American relations] Latin American-U.S. relations[Latin American U.S. relations] Civil unrest;Latin America [kw]Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America (Apr. 27-May 15, 1958) [kw]Riots on Tour of Latin America, Nixon Faces (Apr. 27-May 15, 1958) [kw]Latin America, Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of (Apr. 27-May 15, 1958) U.S.-Latin American relations[U.S. Latin American relations] Latin American-U.S. relations[Latin American U.S. relations] Civil unrest;Latin America [g]Latin America;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [g]Bolivia;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [g]Ecuador;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [g]Peru;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [g]Argentina;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [g]Uruguay;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [g]Paraguay;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [g]Venezuela;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [g]Colombia;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [c]Cold War;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [c]Government and politics;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 27-May 15, 1958: Nixon Faces Riots on Tour of Latin America[05820] Nixon, Richard M. [p]Nixon, Richard M.;Latin American tour Frondizi, Arturo Stroessner, Alfredo Nixon, Pat Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;and Latin America[Latin America]

Anti-U.S. nationalism was on the rise throughout the region, and opposition to U.S. policies and actions increased. Fearing that this heightened hostility was instigated by the Soviet Union, U.S. policy makers sought to counter what they considered was a well-organized communist movement in most of the Latin American nations. Moreover, growing concern over Latin American relations and Soviet economic activity in the region served as the backdrop for Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s goodwill mission to South America beginning April 27, 1958.

While the primary purpose of Nixon’s trip was to attend the inauguration of Argentina’s new president Arturo Frondizi, at the forefront of Nixon’s agenda was the desire of the United States to counter Soviet propaganda and answer criticism directed against the United States. The vice president would be afforded a venue to discuss controversial issues and promote a better understanding between the United States and Latin America.

After departing Washington, Nixon made a brief “courtesy” stop in Trinidad before arriving in Uruguay. Discussions in Uruguay with labor representatives and government officials centered on U.S. trade policies, because the drop in bilateral trade resulting from the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration’s restrictions on imports caused a great deal of concern among the leaders of Uruguay. Some Uruguayan students carried placards with the words “Fuera Nixon” (go home Nixon), “McCarthyism,” and “Wall Street Agents,” signs Nixon saw when he arrived in Montevideo. Wanting to challenge the accusations, Nixon made an unscheduled stop at a local law school and fielded questions regarding U.S. policy toward Uruguay and Latin America. His visit ended in applause. Encouraged by his performance, Nixon departed confidently for Argentina.

After representing the U.S. government at Frondizi’s inauguration, Nixon met with business leaders, government officials, and students to address questions regarding economic and political matters. He even switched on the Argentine atomic research reactor and spoke of the peaceful development of atomic energy. Still, he also faced criticism, in many cases over the position of the United States regarding dictatorships. Nixon worked to downplay U.S. collaboration with such regimes.

Grievances aside, Nixon was enthusiastically received in Buenos Aires and even attended a South American-style barbeque with labor-union members. After a four-day tour in Argentina, the vice president journeyed next to Paraguay for a one-day stopover. There, as in Buenos Aires, he was greeted by cheering crowds. Some of Nixon’s activities included addressing a special session of the legislature and attending a dinner given in his honor by President Alfredo Stroessner. Nixon spoke of the importance of establishing democratic principles and institutions in Paraguay. In Bolivia, too, the reception was warm and friendly. Nixon was welcomed with confetti, friendly placards, and miniature U.S. flags. Nixon met with labor representatives, students, and government officials, and his discussions focused on Bolivia’s severe economic problems, which resulted in part from U.S. import quotas on copper, lead, and zinc.

Rioters faced Nixon again, this time in Lima, Peru. In a nation plagued by economic crises, frustrations ran high over U.S. restrictions and tariffs on commodities exported by Peru. Agitators distributed leaflets calling for cancellation of Nixon’s planned speech at San Marcos University. Demonstrators paraded with signs and chants denouncing the United States and protested U.S. trade policies. Risking personal injury, Nixon confronted the students at the university, but he was assaulted with noise and thrown rocks and fruit. He attempted to shout down the angry crowd but failed. Following this protest at San Marcos University, Nixon made an unannounced visit to Catholic University. Here, too, his reception was less than friendly. The following day, Nixon spoke to Peruvian business leaders, defending freedom and the economic benefits it produced. In the end, it was the confrontation at the San Marcos University that captured the world’s attention and tarnished the vice president’s visit to Peru. On May 9, Nixon traveled to Quito, Ecuador.

In Colombia, rumors of possible student demonstrations—and even an assassination attempt—never reached fruition. Overall, the two-day trip to Colombia proved cordial. Next, Nixon ventured to Venezuela. Nixon faced a tense political atmosphere and more reports of an assassination attempt. Bilateral relations were marred in Venezuela largely because the United States had granted asylum to former dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez Pérez Jiménez, Marcos and his police chief. Another source of friction that preceded Nixon was the voluntary oil-import restrictions that reduced Venezuelan sales of oil. Nixon was greeted in Venezuela by a large anti-American demonstration at the airport. An angry mob that had gathered on the airport terminal observation deck spat on the Nixons. The violence continued as the mob attacked the Nixons’ car in the motorcade. Blocked by a traffic jam, the car was hit with steel pipes, rocks, and sticks, and was nearly overturned when the traffic abated and the caravan moved forward. As a security measure, President Eisenhower resorted to ordering U.S. troops to the Caribbean in an operation called Poor Richard, Operation Poor Richard standing by to assist, if necessary, the Venezuelan forces who were securing the vice president’s trip there. After an exhausting, and dangerous, eighteen-day journey, Nixon returned home to Washington on May 15.

Significance

The protests accompanying Nixon on his tour of Latin America illustrated the intensity of the region’s dissatisfaction with U.S. policies in that part of the world, and the hostilities led the vice president to call for a revision of American foreign policy regarding Latin America. Throughout the trip, charges of U.S. support of repressive regimes were repeatedly leveled at the vice president. Nixon advocated a shift in approach to dictatorial regimes. U.S. policy toward dictatorships, he believed, should be “proper.” For Nixon, this meant a handshake for dictators and a warm embrace for free governments.

On the question of whether or not the assaults in Latin America were part of a coordinated communist campaign to frustrate U.S.-Latin American relations, Nixon recommended increasing propaganda to promote democracy and thwart communism in the region. He also argued that economic aid also should be increased to prevent Latin American countries, in their desperate economic state, from turning to Soviet and other communist countries for aid. U.S.-Latin American relations[U.S. Latin American relations] Latin American-U.S. relations[Latin American U.S. relations] Civil unrest;Latin America

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McPherson, Alan. Yankee No! Anti-Americanism in U.S.-Latin American Relations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003. Focuses on U.S.-Latin American relations from 1958 to 1966. In analyzing the roots of anti-Americanism, McPherson examines the attacks against Nixon leveled on his 1958 trip through Latin America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nixon, Richard M. Six Crises. New York: Doubleday, 1962. Nixon presents his own account of the 1958 Latin America trip.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parkinson, F. Latin America, the Cold War, and the World Powers, 1946-1973: A Study in Diplomatic History. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1974. Examines the different phases of the Cold War as they affected Latin America. Illustrates Latin America’s growing skepticism toward, and its resistance to, U.S. leadership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rabe, Stephen. Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anti-Communism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988. A study of U.S.-Latin American relations from 1953 to 1961, in which the author argues that the fear of Soviet communism was what drove Eisenhower’s policy toward Latin America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. Based on extensive research, Schoultz analyzes the mind-set that guided U.S. policy makers in their foreign policy initiatives in the region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zahniser, Marvin R., and W. Michael Weis. “A Diplomatic Pearl Harbor? Richard Nixon’s Goodwill Mission to Latin America in 1958.” Diplomatic History 13, no. 2 (Spring, 1989): 163-190. Offers a detailed discussion of Nixon’s mission to Latin America and discusses the policy changes the trip provoked.

La Violencia Begins in Colombia

Organization of American States Is Founded

Revolution Grips Bolivia

Military Coup Begins Thirty-Five Years of Dictatorship in Paraguay

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Is Created

Brazil Nationalizes U.S. Businesses

Reformist Bolivian President Paz Estenssoro Is Toppled

Brazil Begins Era of Intense Repression

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Is Established

Categories: History