Shortly after Herbert Hoover won the Presidency in November 1928, he began planning a trip to Latin America. This would make him the first President-elect to make such a journey. His experience as Secretary of Commerce convinced him of the economic importance of Latin America and of the need to walk back some North American attitudes regarding our hemispheric peers. Hoover’s express purpose was to strengthen the relationship between ‘Good Neighbors’ by personally visiting.
This policy was fine as an abstraction, as Hoover demonstrated in speeches throughout the six-week trip. In his first stop in Honduras, Hoover said: “I would wish to symbolize the friendly visit of one good neighbor to another… so that there may come both an understanding and respect which are cementing forces of all enduring society.” Later that day, he spoke in El Salvador: “My purpose is to pay a call of friendship on behalf of the people of the United States. The relations between neighbors require that nothing should be omitted to upbuild those contacts and that sentiment which create understanding.” At a stop in Costa Rica, Hoover said: “I have come to visit as a neighbor. I have thought that perhaps I might symbolize the good-will which I know my country holds toward your own.”
These were welcome words for Latin American leaders and people. Too often in the twentieth century, the United States intervened in the internal affairs of our southern peers. That Hoover was willing to undo some of the damage done by the ‘Big Brother’ paternalistic role assumed by previous administrations and investors was to his credit. Hoover heralded the dawning of a new day in American relations.
Hoover’s personal purposes for the trip were not so ambitious. He wrote to Elihu Root, former Secretary of State and foreign affairs wise man, on November 16th 1928: “I should keep entirely out of Washington and that I should keep in the background as much as possible. It was partially with this in mind that I have undertaken the South American journey, and I am proposing to stay in Florida or somewhere away from Washington until March 4th.” Not a political creature by nature, Hoover wanted to get out of range of men seeking patronage posts and the crush of press attention. The trip to Latin America would dim the voices of those seeking jobs, but would do nothing to quiet the press.