Abstract: British Firms and Populist Nationalism in Post-War Latin America

Rory M. Miller


Most research on British business in Latin America concludes with the repatriation of British investments in public debt, railways, and urban utilities after the Second World War. In this light it is easy to conclude that British businessmen were unable to cope with the growth of nationalist and populist governments. However, between 1945 and 1960 there was in fact a marked growth of British multinational enterprise in Latin America. Brazil and Argentina both attracted new market-seeking investments during the postwar decade. By the end of the 1950s leading multinational firms were also developing subsidiaries and joint ventures in countries like Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Colombia. Far from being discouraged by nationalist economic policies, leading British firms were impelled by import substitution strategies and increased consumer spending to invest, and they developed new methods of coping with the different varieties of nationalism that they encountered. One important aspect of this was their capacity to learn and transfer techniques from one national environment to another, often across continents. Ultimately, the decline of British business in Latin America resulted more from the problems of the home economy and corporate weakness and restructuring in the UK than from the threat of nationalist and populist governments.