Gateways to Latin America
The arrival of World War II triggered significant disturbances in global trade, forcing U.S. importers and exporters to find alternative sources of business to make up for lost markets in Europe and Asia. This study traces the efforts of business and civic leaders in Houston, New Orleans, and Miami to increase trade, transportation, and tourism income from Latin America and the Caribbean by adopting Pan Americanism as a business strategy. Businessmen and local civic officials believed they could combine new trade promotion institutions with a carefully cultivated Pan American civic identity to establish their cities as “gateways” to the Americas. This framework became a key component of the regional competition between Houston, New Orleans, and Miami in the late 1940s and 1950s. The implications for these Pan American business strategies stretched far beyond the Gulf South, however. Business and civic leaders often described their activities within the context of U.S.-Latin American diplomacy, connecting trade promotion and international relationship-building with broader national objectives of hemispheric cooperation and anticommunism. This connection attracted the interest of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, whose officials hoped to leverage the influence of private enterprise to achieve Latin American economic development and discourage anti-foreign investment policies without significant government funding. Both local business communities and federal agencies used this harmony of vision to their advantage. Washington found ways to co-opt the Pan American business strategies of the Gulf South while local civic and business leaders drew legitimacy and sometimes even financial support for their programs from the federal government. Ultimately, for a variety of reasons, Pan Americanism eventually became unprofitable as a business strategy, and most of the institutions Houston, New Orleans, and Miami had established either failed or changed considerably by the 1970s. The lasting legacy of this phenomenon, however, lies in the frameworks these cities helped establish for reimagining the port city as a diplomatic space and business communities as diplomatic agents.