Carlos Saavedra Lamas (1878-1959), 1936 Nobel Peace Prize laureate brings alive for me the image of the righteous man trapped in a horrifying time when politics and economics were as ponderous and significant as plate tectonics. High born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, shortly after his graduation from law school in 1903 he embarks on forty years of scholarship, teaching at the Universidad de La Plata, the Universidad de Buenos Aires and writing extensively on the law, especially labor legislation. His aristocratic origins and his marriage to the daughter of Argentinian President Roque Sáenz Peña connects him politically and in 1908 he is elected for what will turn out to be two succesive terms in the Argentinian assembly.

Where he is to excel though, is in his role in foreign relations on behalf of his country. Saavedra Lamas is a nationalist in the best sense of the word and sees Argentina's role as a natural leader for all of Latin America. During the presidency of Agustín P. Justo from 1932 to 1938 he serves as Foreign Relations Minister. During this critical period, his greatest achievement is his role in the ending of the Chaco War (1932 - 1935) between Bolivia and Paraguay for which he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This war was the usual South American petty territorial dispute, but it is right in his back yard and Saavedra Lamas uses it as the center piece for a broader effort that would become the Treaty of Nonaggression and Conciliation. This document would be known informally as the Pacto Saavedra and was signed by all American countries at the Seventh Pan-American Conference at Montevideo in 1933. The treaty states, in a nutshell, that no signatory will recognize a border that has been established through armed conflict. The treaty is also ratified by the moribund League of Nations which Saavedra Lamas had made Argentina rejoin in 1933 and is elected president of the Assembly of the League of Nations in 1936.

In the eve of World War II he opposes the United States as he feels that the League of Nations is the forum to deal with the impending menace of Fascism while the US and Roosevelt feel that the Americas needed to present a unified regional front. Notwithstanding this, once war breaks out, he becomes a vociferous critic of president Ramón Castillo's neutrality towards the axis powers that were to damage Argentina's image as an enlightened country and undo much of what he had done to make his country a regional power. The tragedy is that it was his delays in trying to do the right thing working through the existing international body that forced Argentina's hand into neutrality.

Disgusted and disheartened, he leaves public life for teaching and private law practice.

Carlos Saavedra Lamas - Biography,, 7/14/2004
La Historia que no nos contaron,, 7/14/2004

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