Ambassador Harry F. Guggenheim

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Harry F. Guggenheim
Harry F. Guggenheim

Hoover’s selection of Harry F. Guggenheim as Ambassador to Cuba came after Guggenheim rejected an earlier offer to serve as assistant secretary of commerce for aeronautics. Hoover learned Guggenheim was interested in being Ambassador to Mexico.  Dwight Morrow already was capably serving in that post so Hoover nominated Guggenheim to serve in the second most important station in the region after Mexico, Havana Cuba.  As Guggenheim recalled, “My acquaintance with Cuba began as early as 1907 when I stopped there on my way to a three-year mining apprenticeship in Mexico.  Subsequently I visited the island at various times on trips to and from mining undertakings in other Latin American countries.  I have never had any business interest, directly or indirectly, in Cuba.  When I retired from business in 1923, later to assume the Presidency of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, my interest in the Latin American countries continued to find expression through service on various international commissions.”  Guggenheim was fluent in Spanish and understood that the Cuban President, General Gerardo Machado y Morales, wielded dictatorial power.   His 1934 book, The United States and Cuba: A Study in International Relations, covers the relationship up to 1929 and avoids any mention of his time as ambassador.  Machado was a ruthless leader whose unstable regime was further undermined by the depression.  Several assassination attempts and increasing violence eventually forced Machado to flee to the Bahamas in August 1933.

Yet, Guggenheim shared Hoover’s view that the United States needed to strengthen relations with Latin American nations generally as a matter of being a “good neighbor” as well as a bulwark against threats from abroad.  He sent Hoover an advance copy of an address he delivered before The University of Florida in 1950 entitled, “Hemisphere Integration Now.”  Guggenheim referenced recent events pointing out that war, however inhuman, is often required to prevent “national enslavement.”  While fascism was defeated, communism remained a global threat.  The security provided the Western Hemisphere by the great oceans were negated by the advent of air power making it vulnerable.  Neutrality, he argued, “is a luxury that weak states can only indulge in with the approval of strong states.”  Guggenheim’s last point acknowledged that international and regional organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States were a promising beginning at collective security, but they were “not yet substitutes for foreign policy.”

Three tacks were offered as ways to achieve the hemispheric integration Guggenheim sought.  First, he argued that hemispheric unity needed to be a policy priority.  Hemispheric economic integration was the important second step, reducing tariff barriers and product importation restrictions with neighboring countries.  Lastly, meaningful military alliances were required.   Hoover sent an immediate response to Guggenheim upon receipt of the text.  “We are likely to be drawn back onto this hemisphere sooner or later,” Hoover wrote, “so your gospel is all good.”

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