The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK—President-elect John F. Kennedy's appointment of Mr. Dean Rusk as Secretary of State and of Mr. Chester Bowles as Under Secretary, plus the acceptance by Mr. Adlai Stevenson to be permanent delegate to the United Nations, gives us, I think, a very good team in that area. I believe they will form a good working combination, and I have a feeling that new ideas and better approaches will be searched for. It may mean that we will see some changes toward strengthening our role in the U.N. and our whole position in world affairs.

The U.N. probably has never faced as complicated a situation as it is facing today in the Congo, and our whole relationship through the U.N. to the African continent must take on a different aspect.

I am part way through a most controversial but interesting book called "Listen, Yankee" by C. Wright Mills. In the form of letters Mr. Mills relates what was said to him during long interviews with innumberable people in Cuba who were part of the revolution under Castro.

Up to this point, while I would disagree with certain of the things these people have told Mr. Mills, a preponderance of their complaints against us seems valid to me. And though we may not like these expressions from the Cuban revolutionaries I think we should read them and weigh them with care, because they do affect our whole Latin-American policy.

For a long time now it has seemed to me that our real trouble in Latin America has been that we have never taken enough time to sit down and seriously consider the economic problems of the people.

If a country could grow coffee easily, we never protested if it became a one-crop country. We never demanded of our business leaders—who went down to make money in these developing areas of the world—that they not only make money but that they consider their responsibilities as ambassadors for democracy as opposed to communism, and that they take with them into these countries the ideas and standards found compatible to decency of life in our own country.

By this I do not mean that overnight the same wages and working conditions should be applied to every country in the world. But I do mean that our businesses throughout the world should be known as gradually raising the living standards of the people. And wherever poverty and disease are prevalent among the mass of people when we move in we should feel the obligation to point the way to democracy through creating better conditions for the people.

In the letters in Mr. Mills's book the Cubans tell how at the present time they maintain an army, but it is an army that also works. It is building cooperatives. It is slowly trying to change the hovels in which the rural people live into decent housing.

What is being built in Cuba is, of course, a socialist economy. But this may be a necessity. In many areas of the world it is a necessity, and more than likely it must be a necessity in many South and Central American countries. Communal living does not necessarily mean an acceptance of the Soviet Communist doctrine.

We had better begin, I think, to study what is being done in Cuba and to try to allay the Cuban fear that we have any intention of fomenting a counter-revolution there or of trying to conquer them and making them a part of the United States. That would be counter to all our commitments to the U.N. and unthinkable for us as a nation and the leader of the non-Communist area of the world.

Without question, the Cuban government has not been very wise in many of the things it has been saying about the U.S. If you read the letters in Mr. Mills's book carefully, however, I think you will realize that in spite of the fact that you want to deny many of their statements and explain many of our acts in a different way from the way they do, still you will have to acknowledge that there is some reason why they should believe as they do. And you would perhaps have to agree that it would be well for us to think with a little humility about our own mistakes in understanding, in exploitation, and in sheer laziness.

We accepted for as long as we possibly could that which gave us peace and quiet and nothing to think about. Only when the situation got out of hand did we turn our minds to problems that should have been our concern for a long time past—and it was too late to prevent revolution.


(Copyright, 1960, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, December 14, 1960

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.