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Somewhat related question: Did either of the World Wars involve South or Central America?

I've always been interested in why so many South American and Central American countries took the side of the Allies during WWII. Judging by the below map from Wikipedia, virtually every nation in the Americas sided with the Allies after Pearl Harbor. (Countries shaded in light green only joined the war post-Pearl Harbor)

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I know that few to none of these countries actually deployed troops. But why on earth would countries like Haiti or Bolivia have a dog in the fight to begin with? I could see countries bordering the Pacific Ocean being concerned about Japanese supremacy, but not Caribbean and landlocked nations.

Is it simply that the US influence over the Americas was so strong it could push these countries into a war?

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This is a question that will solicit a lot of opinions, not a single factual answer. If you read the various speeches and declarations of war given by the presidents of the countries involved you will find they give hundreds of reasons why they acted. In a lot of cases dictatorships welcomed the opportunity to become more of a dictatorship. Oh, its war, guess I'll have to take all your stuff for the "war effort"... Bolivia drafted a bunch of "soldiers" and then enslaved them to work in mines (owned by American and European capitalists). –  Tyler Durden Aug 12 at 17:55
    
You seem to be neglecting the unrestricted U-Boat campaigns and its effect on trade for pretty much any nation that has foreign trade. –  Oldcat Aug 12 at 18:24
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I seem to recall that Peron was hoping for German support of an Argentine conquest of much of South America; if true, that would be an interesting, non-opinion answer. –  Bruce James Aug 12 at 19:42
    
It might be true, but kind of short-sighted of Peron since even if Germany won WWII, somehow, it would be hard to see how he could keep the US from blocking those moves in perpetuity. –  Oldcat Aug 12 at 21:03
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I'm pretty sure this is answerable as either a summary of US soft imperial power and/or a list of individual political or diplomatic history summaries. The point with this question is to answer based on scholarly opinions of "why" rather than personal ones. –  Samuel Russell Aug 12 at 21:08

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Economic reasons

After Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 most of the countries of Central and South America cooled relations with Axis countries. Following the cooling of relations, most countries of Central and South America released that they are now dependent on the United States for trade. Needs of the USA during the war disrupted further trade. United States needed varius products from some Latin-American countries (e.g. Platinum from Columbia and cotton from Chile). Prices were agreed upon, but countries lost their ability to trade in open market.

Shortages of consumers goods were also a great problem. The demands of the American war industry reflected on availability of products required for everyday life. Their price increased and they were very difficult to find. All of these reasons caused inflation.

Most of Latin America used the reasons listed above to their advantage by siding with the United States and receiving aid.

Lend Lease

On March 21, 1942 the United States government enacted Lend-Lease, which was a program which gave war materials and other benefits for countries in exchange for participating in war.

Altough Latin America received only $400 million in war materials, lot of the countries, especially Brasil profited. Brasil was pretty important to Allied forces mainly because of his geographical position. It was northeast corner of South America, allowing patrolling between West Africa and South America. It was used as providing a ferry point for the transfer of American-made war materials to the Allies fighting in North Africa, but also because it was seen as a possible German invasion route that had to be defended.

Brasil geographical position

Some other countries like Columbia, Panama and Ecuador also received military aid mostly for building military bases.

Unlike Brasil and other countries, Argentina and Chile received very little military aid, mostly because for most of the war neither would heed American demands that they sever all relations with the Axis powers.

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The honest answer is: UN membership, i.e., a spot at the post-war negotiating table.

With the US entering the war, it became extremely unlikely that the Axis would win outright (with a marginal possibility of a stalemate), so a war declaration on Axis was a cheap gesture which ensured UN membership while not carrying much risk.

The other reasons are economic: the trade with Axis was already severed, so there was nothing to lose there, but ingratiating oneself with the USA, as the OP rightly mentions, might bring some tangible benefits.

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The UN were not incorporated until much after those countries chose sides. While they may have been trying to court post war favouritism from one side or the other, UN membership wasn't a factor. –  jwenting Aug 13 at 7:43
    
The expression "UN" was there and its importance was clear. The League was dead and the replacement was coming. –  sds Aug 13 at 13:49

World War II was more truly a world war than World War I. In World War I, most of the fighting took place in Europe and the Middle East. There were a bunch of isolated battles in German Southwest and East Africa, and German held China, but no "theater" of war on those continents. Certainly nothing that would be threatening to Latin American nations or peoples.

In World War II, a lot of fighting took place that DID threaten Latin America. The (successful) Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came as a complete shock: Hawaii is closer to Latin America than Japan.

South American fear of the Japanese remained high until the battle of Midway. During that battle, the Japanese actually occupied two Aleutian islands (part of modern Alaska). If they had won the battle of Midway, an attack on the Panama or even the west coast South American states seemed plausible. In my dealings with Colombians and Peruvians, I was surprised at how well versed women from those countries were about the battle of Midway.

Even the Germans were a threat to Latin Americans on the Atlantic side. After the Americans "wised up" to submarine attacks along the East coast in the summer of 1942, the submarines were shifted to the Caribbean and South Atlantic, where they inevitably sank South American, as well as U.S. ships. German land forces also threatened to swamp the "hump" of North Africa, opposite Brazil, in a manner that any player of Risk would find threatening.

Nazi boasts about sending Ukrainian conscripts to Brazil didn't exactly endear them to South Americans. In World War I, similarly statements about offering Mexico back the territories they lost to America in the 19th century were equally counterproductive.

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To say – as you do in the superscription – that Latin American countries “participated” in the Second World War is a gross overstatement. None of the Latin American took part in the fighting to any significant extent. Most of the countries in Latin America did declare war on Germany at a time when the outcome of the war was already clear. They simply wanted to be on the side of the victors.

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