Forgotten neighbors: The challenge of Uruguay-United States relations during the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1929-1945

Pedro M Cameselle-Pesce, Fordham University


Throughout much of the 1930s, Uruguay remained a distant and forgotten neighbor for the United States. However, in the early 1940s, Uruguay’s foreign policy came to play a crucial part in the United States hemisphere security matrix. In December of 1939, the naval Battle of the River Plate that took place off the Uruguayan coast brought a damaged German pocket battleship, the Admiral Graf Spee, to Montevideo’s harbor for repairs. This event unexpectedly thrust a neutral Uruguay and its minister of foreign relations into the center of international politics. During the following months, stories of local Nazi plots proliferated throughout the region. Although the Nazi menace in the Southern Cone was greatly exaggerated, this concern provided various openings for several U.S. hemisphere defense strategies. When the United States initiated a dialogue about continental defense with countries in the hemisphere, Uruguay was receptive. In November of 1940, Uruguay-U.S. relations reached new heights of relevance, when a potentially destabilizing political crisis broke out in Uruguay after the New York Times leaked news that the Uruguayan president had secretly approved establishment of two U.S. aerial and naval bases on Uruguayan soil. Opposition to U.S. efforts to establish military bases in Uruguay tested the limits of U.S. power and influence. Surprisingly, U.S. military strategies in Uruguay encountered resistance despite FDR’s unprecedented popularity in Uruguay. At the same time, it is difficult to understand the initial failures of the U.S. government to persuade the Uruguayan leadership to sever close links with Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany, without considering the fact that the Italian community in Uruguay had played an indispensable role in the small nation’s economic and cultural development. At the same time, World War II allowed Uruguay’s leadership to extract various benefits from its improved relationship with the United States, and created new opportunities for transnational non-state actors to shape foreign relations.

Subject Area

Latin American history|American history|International Relations

Recommended Citation

Cameselle-Pesce, Pedro M, "Forgotten neighbors: The challenge of Uruguay-United States relations during the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1929-1945" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10256204.