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Hispanic American Historical Review

Depopulation, Fascism, and Eugenics


in 1930s Argentina

Andrs H. Reggiani

n August 1941 Lord Winterton asked the Argentine ambassador to Great


Britain, Toms Le Breton, whether his country was willing to accept a small
group of German Jewish children with relatives living in Argentina. Earlier
government-to-government negotiations had failed, and the British Foreign
Office hoped that Wintertons friendship with Le Breton might bring better
results (both men had participated in the 1938 Evian Conference on refugees).
However, Le Breton rejected Wintertons request on the grounds that the Jewish children were exactly the people whom the Argentine government did not
want to have in the country as they would eventually grow up and would help to
increase the Jewish population by propagation. The ambassador nevertheless
left open the possibility of issuing visas for the 20 children if the British government were prepared to have them sterilized before they went there [Argentina], a task, Winterton told his friend, that was quite beyond our powers to
effect.1 Le Breton was neither a fanatical right-winger nor particularly racist. A
lawyer by training, he was a leading figure of the Radical Party, which won the
first national democratic elections in 1916 with the support of the middle classes
Research for this article was made possible by the Agencia Nacional de Promocin Cientfica
y Tecnolgica (Argentina). Various drafts were presented at the cole des Hautes tudes
en Sciences Sociales, the Iberoamerikanisches-Institut, the Lateinamerika-Institut (Freie
UniversittBerlin), the Instituto de Investigaciones Biotecnolgicas (CONICET), and
the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. The author wishes to thank Paul-Andr Rosental, Luc
Berlivet, Reinhard Liehr, Sandra Carreras, Ricardo Salvatore, Hernn Gonzlez Bollo,
Gustavo Vallejo, Marisa Miranda, Carolina Biernat, and the anonymous readers of the
Hispanic American Historical Review for their insightful criticism and suggestions.
1. National Archives (Public Record Office), London, FO 371/29210 R97898,
Refugees, Evacuation of Children to North America, Memo of Winterton to the Foreign
Office, 5 Aug. 1941. I would like to express my gratitude to Uki Goi for sharing this source
with me.
Hispanic American Historical Review 90:2
doi 10.1215/00182168-2009-135
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and the descendants of immigrants. His attitude in the refugee children affair
illustrates not only the rampant anti-Semitism that pervaded most of the diplomatic corps, but also the enduring appeal of radical eugenics within Argentine
elite circles.
Since Nancy L. Stepans pioneering study published almost two decades
ago, scholarly interest in Latin American and Argentine eugenics has flourished,
accompanying growth in the fields of history of medicine and the social and cultural studies of disease.2 Following Stepans work, Eduardo Zimmermann published one of the most influential studies of the relationship between eugenics
and social reform in turn-of-the-century Argentina.3 Although it took another
decade for historians to pick up the thread of Stepans and Zimmermanns work,
today scholarly production on Argentine eugenics has made up for this delay
with a rich variety of studies of ideas and institutions, perspectives on gender
issues, and Foucauldian analyses of eugenics as biopower.4
A general consensus over the nature of Latin American eugenics has
emerged, which assumes the hegemonic prevalence among social reformers of a
2. Nancy L. Stepan, The Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America
(Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991); Diego Armus, Disease in the Historiography of
Modern Latin, in Disease in the History of Modern Latin America: From Malaria to AIDS, ed.
Diego Armus (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2003), 124.
3. Eduardo A. Zimmermann, Racial Ideas and Social Reform: Argentina, 18901916,
Hispanic American Historical Review 72, no. 1 (1992): 2346.
4. Yolanda Eraso, Biotypology, Endocrinology, and Sterilization: The Practice
of Eugenics in the Treatment of Argentine Women in the 1930s, Bulletin of the History
of Medicine, no. 81 (2007): 793822; Natalia Milanesio, Redefining Mens Sexuality,
Resignifying Male Bodies: The Argentine Law of Anti-Venereal Prophylaxis, 1936, Gender
& History 17, no. 2 (2005): 46391; Marisa Miranda and Gustavo Vallejo, eds., Darwinismo
social y eugenesia en el mundo latino (Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno, 2005); Pedro Zarini,
La utopa eugenista en la Argentina (19001950), in El mosaico argentino: Modelos y
representaciones del espacio y de la poblacin, siglos XIXXX, ed. Hernn Otero (Buenos Aires:
Siglo Veintiuno, 2004), 42569; Eugenia Scarzanella, Los intelectuales talo-argentinos,
un posible liderazgo tnico? La Asociacin Argentina de Biotipologa, Eugenesia y
Medicina Social (19301943), in De Europa a las Amricas: Dirigentes y liderazgos
(18801960), ed. Alicia Bernasconi and Carina Frid (Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2004), 99112;
Gustavo Vallejo, El ojo del poder en el espacio del saber: Los institutos de biotipologa,
Asclepio 56, no.1 (2004): 21944; Karina Ramacciotti and Adriana Valobra, Plasmar la
raza fuerte . . . Relaciones de gnero en la propaganda sanitaria de la Secretara de Salud
Pblica de la Argentina: 19471949, in Generando el peronismo: Estudios de cultura, poltica y
gnero (19461955), ed. Karina Ramacciotti and Adriana Valobra (Buenos Aires: Proyecto
Editorial, 2004); Marisa Miranda, La antorcha de cupido: Eugenesia, biotipologa y
eugamia en Argentina, 19301970, Asclepio 55, no. 2 (2003): 23155; Marcela Nari, La
eugenesia en Argentina, 18901940, Quipu 12, no. 3 (1999): 34369.

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neo-Lamarckian approach to population improvement, despite the discrediting


of the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. Examples of this are
eugenics education and public health campaigns, and laws restricting marriage.
According to this view, eugenics took root and expanded within the cultural
and intellectual frame provided by the Catholic Church, scientific child care or
puericultura, and the biological and statistical classificatory schemes espoused
by Italian fascist demography, notably those developed by Nicola Pende and
Corrado Gini in the 1920s and 1930s. In turn, negative proposals based on
the rediscovery of Mendelian hereditary theory aimed at improving the racial
stock by preventing the reproduction of groups deemed biologically weak; these
remained marginal within the emerging medico-legal complex. To put it in bold
terms, Latin America was immune to the radical eugenics adopted in the Progressive Era United States, Nazi Germany, and social democratic Scandinavia.
While generically congruent with most of the policies of race improvement implemented in the 1930s and 1940s, this explanation neglects significant
facts. The issue of compulsory sterilization is a case in point. This controversial measure was the subject of debate among medical and legal experts in the
early twentieth century and again in the 1930s, when Nazi racial policy forced
experts to address it disingenuously. Few Argentine medical and legal scientists
rejected eugenic sterilization on moral grounds, but those who openly praised
it were not a majority within the profession. As this essay will show, eugenicists either addressed sterilization in depoliticized terms as a highly complex
matter whose actual implications required a detached and dispassionate expert
assessment, or carried it out discreetly on allegedly therapeutic grounds. As the
debates of the Second Pan-American Conference on Eugenics show, the Argentine delegates believed that compulsory sterilization should be considered and
thoroughly studied, though not carried out before conclusive evidence of racial
benefits was gathered. Such evidence could only come from Germany. Records
of the Prussian state archives shed new light on the nature of the rapport
between German and Latin American medical science in the 1930s. Primary
evidence on the activities of the Deustch-Iberoamerikanische-rzteakademie
(German-Iberoamerican Medical Academy) reveals significant details regarding
the reception and circulation of Nazi eugenics among Latin American physicians. Experts traveling to Germany to attend summer courses and visit medical
facilities played an instrumental role in separating the debate on compulsory
sterilization from other more atavistic and unscientific manifestations of Nazi
racism, thus indirectly contributing to the legitimization of this policy in their
home countries.
By arguing that closer attention should be paid to sterilization to bet-

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ter understand the parameters within which Argentine eugenics operated


in the 1930s and 1940s, I do not wish to reverse the above-mentioned neoLamarckian consensus. Rather, I propose to acknowledge the intrinsic instability of biomedical discourses of population improvement. Nancy P. Appelbaum, Anne S. Macpherson, and Karin A. Rosemblatt have claimed that Latin
American eugenics often functioned within incompatible definitions of race.5
Peter Wade has gone further along this path and argued that just as biology and
heredity were construed as cultural artifacts, so were culture and environment biologized through essentialist narratives of race improvement.6 These
nuanced approaches to the classic opposition between nature and culture help
us make sense of those cases in which eugenicists perceived sterilization as an
acceptable measure to eradicate undesirable hereditary traits, while remaining
anchored to a neo-Lamarckian worldview. As Sarah W. Tracy has shown, the
slippage between environmental and hereditarian explanations was made conceptually possible by constitutional medical theory, especially by one of its most
popular versions in Latin America, biotypology.7
This essay also builds upon previous analyses of the relationship between
eugenics, authoritarian politics, and technocratic expertise. It follows Paul
Weindlings characterization of eugenics as a technocratic and authoritarian
ideology that offered the state and the professions unlimited powers to eradicate disease and improve the health of future generations. As such, eugenics
was closely linked to the attempt to move beyond the divisive arena of party
politics through science and medicine, a process which presented a novel role
for the professional expert.8 More specifically, the article places itself among
recent studies by Kristin Ruggiero, Alexandra Minna Stern, and Jerry Dvila
on the role of science in shaping state policy on social and racial issues by way
of public health and elementary education campaigns and legal practices in
5. Nancy P. Appelbaum, Anne S. Macpherson, and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt,
Racial Nations, in Race and Nation in Modern Latin America, ed. Nancy P. Appelbaum,
Anne S. Macpherson, and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North
Carolina Press, 2003), 131.
6. Peter Wade, Race and Nation in Latin America: An Anthropological View, in
Appelbaum, Macpherson, and Rosemblatt, Race and Nation in Modern Latin America, 26381.
7. Sarah W. Tracy, An Evolving Science of Man: The Transformation and Demise
of American Constitutional Medicine, 19201950, in Greater than the Parts: Holism in
Biomedicine, 19201950, ed. Christopher Lawrence and George Weisz (New York: Oxford
Univ. Press, 1998), 16188.
8. Paul Weindling, Health, Race, and German Politics between National Unification and
Nazism, 18701945 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989), 7.

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Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil. Stern and Dvila in particular make strong cases
for the interconnection between nationalism, technocracy, and eugenics. On
some specific points, such as the authoritarian context in which European ideas
took root and the technologies devised to identify and measure abnormal psychophysical traits, the paths followed by eugenicists in all three countries were
remarkably similar.9
Before we proceed it may be useful to summarize the main features that
Argentine eugenics shared with similar movements elsewhere in Latin America.
First, calls to adopt a science-based policy to improve the population was part
of a broader process by which medical, legal, and economic experts and social
reformers came to view successful social modernization in terms of rational
and efficient administration of human resources. Second, this process entailed
the consolidation of the technical elites and the legitimization of their specific
knowledge alone as valid for government purposes. As a result, professions like
medicine set themselves to colonize other areas deemed vital for the state,
such as child rearing, education, physical training, job performance, and nutrition. Both trends led to a gradual proliferation of bureaucratic institutions, technical agencies, and regulations aimed at surveying specific population groups
(Indians, Afro-Americans, peasants, children, women, workers) and devising
methods to improve their psychophysical makeupor, to use the language of
the time, to revalorize the nations human capital. Another common feature
was the import of European intellectual and scientific paradigms with which to
make sense of Latin Americas demographic specificities and ensure that they
would not endanger the modernizing plans. In the 1920s and 1930s, Argentine,
Brazilian, and Mexican eugenics adopted the latest statistical devices to measure
demographic trends and classify individuals according to their psychophysical
constitution. Eugenicists in all three countries borrowed from Italian fascist
demography, devising local versions of Nicola Pendes biotypological file.10
However, Argentine racial thought in general, and eugenics in particular,
presented important differences. Unlike in the other countries with significant
9. Kristin Ruggiero, Modernity in the Flesh: Medicine, Law, and Society in Turn-of-theCentury Argentina (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2004); Alexandra Minna Stern,
From Mestizophilia to Biotypology: Racialization and Science in Mexico, 19201960,
in Appelbaum, Macpherson, and Rosemblatt, Race and Nation in Modern Latin America,
187210; Jerry Dvila, Diploma of Whiteness: Race and Social Policy in Brazil, 19171945, 2nd
ed. (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2006).
10. For a critical appraisal of the relationship between state bureaucracy and medicallegal expertise in Argentina see Ricardo Salvatore, Sobre el surgimiento del Estado
mdico-legal en la Argentina (18901940), Estudios Sociales 20, no. 11 (2001): 81114.

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Indian and Afro-American communities, race science was not connected to the
existence of a large nonwhite population and accompanying ethnic tensions.
In Argentina perhaps more than anywhere else in Latin America, eugenics
reflected the elites enduring attraction to European models. This was evident
in the open preference for overseas immigrationa decision that resulted in
the emergence of large and socially influential foreign communitiesand in
the conspicuous receptiveness to European nationalistic ideas and authoritarian models of demographic renewal in the 1930s, as domestic and international
developments converged to feed apocalyptic fears of a looming desertification of the prosperous nation. Let us examine in more detail these distinctive
features.
Demographic Change and Dysgenic Utopias

In the 1930s, Argentine demographersholders of university degrees in statistics, economy, medicine, and law who acquired an expertise in population
topicsdiscovered that the countrys population growth was declining more
rapidly than any other Latin American or Western nation. Despite the problems
that made the collection of vital statistics in Argentina somewhat unreliable, the
general trend was remarkable for its speed and intensity. The net rate of births,
which had been 44 per thousand at the turn of the century, shrank to 26 per
thousand by the end of the 1930s. These figures gave Argentina, together with
Uruguay, the lowest rate of births in Latin America and the fourth lowest rate in
the hemisphere, after the United States and Canada. Moreover, in only a decade
(192838) the birthrate decreased in Argentina by 9 per thousand, more than in
any other country of Western Europe and the Americas, with the exception of
Uruguay and Spain.11
These statistics concealed a more complex demographic reality, one in
which the lowest rates of birth corresponded to the urban areas and the prosperous agricultural districts of the center-east (the humid pampa), home of most of
the four million immigrants that settled the country since the 1870s. Between
1890 and 1936, the birthrate in the city of Buenos Aires diminished from 44 to
17 per thousand, while in the suburban and rural districts around the capital

11. Nicols Snchez Albornoz, The Population of Latin America, 18501930, in


The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 4, Latin America c. 18701930, ed. Leslie Bethell
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), 12153. Contemporary statistics published
by the League of Nations put Argentinas birthrate at a slightly lower level: 191113: 37.4,
192125: 32.4, 192630: 30.1, 193135: 26.4, 193639: 24.2.

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(Buenos Aires Province) the rate fell from 42 to 21 per thousand. In Rosario,
the second largest town and immigrant center, the number of births for every
one thousand inhabitants shrank in the same period from 40 to 17. Altogether
different was the situation in the poorer rural provinces of the northwest (Jujuy,
Salta, San Juan, Santiago del Estero, Tucumn), largely inhabited by an ethnically mixed population of Indian and Spanish ancestry. There, the rates of
births oscillated between 37 and 44 per thousand; similar contrasts were found
in the rates of infant mortality of each region.
Unlike most European countries, where the gap between the fall of the
birthrate and the reduction of mortality allowed for a significant increase of
the population, Argentinas abrupt and short demographic transition was not
preceded by a demographic explosion. As in most of Western Europe, but at a
much faster pace, these demographic changes were connected to the more widespread use of contraceptive devices and the participation of women in the job
marketboth of which called into question traditional gender roles and family
structures. While in 1914 Argentine women had an average of 5.5 children,
three decades later the number had fallen to 3.2; in the city of Buenos Aires
these figures were 3.4 and 1.5 respectively. Although there were significant differences between social classes, all groups experienced a reduction of family
size. Between 1936 and 1947 the average size of a middle-income household
declined from 3.9 to 3.2 members; working-class families experienced an even
steeper decrease from 4.3 to 3.5. Despite the steady increase of the marriage
rate, an indicator of social progress, which in Buenos Aires was higher than in
the rest of the country, the number of illegitimate births also went up from 25
to 28 percent.12
These findings acquired an even more troubling dimension once experts
began circulating gloomy forecasts of impending depopulation based on new
statistical methods to measures womens fertility. Statisticians and economists
in particular relied on Robert R. Kuczynskis methodological innovations to calculate the net rate of reproduction. As developed by the German demographer,
this index estimated the female population that would live long enough to reach
the age of conception. First presented in 1931 at the International Congress for
the Study of Population in Rome, and soon thereafter adopted by the League of
12. Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento: Peronismo y orden familiar (Buenos Aires:
Fondo de Cultura Econmica, 2007). On contraception see Marcela Nari, Las prcticas
anticonceptivas, la disminucin de la natalidad y el debate mdico, 18901940, in Poltica,
mdicos y enfermedades: Lecturas de historia de la salud en la Argentina, ed. Mirta Z. Lobato
(Buenos Aires: Biblos / Mar del Plata: Universidad Nacional del Mar del Plata, 1996), 15289.

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Nations, Kuczynskis measurement placed in a transnational perspective a phenomenon that was becoming the rule in most of the urban societies of the West:
low female fertility, a growing number of elderly people, and the demographic
decline of the white population.13
Kuczynskis measurements were introduced in Argentina by Alejandro
Bunge (18801943). Trained in the German empire as an engineer, Bunge
became the countrys most authoritative voice in statistics and demographic
topics, serving as head of the Direccin General de Estadstica de la Nacin
(Bureau of Statistics) in 191521 and 192325. He was also an economist of some
repute and an influential sociological commentator. Bunge introduced the net
reproduction rate at the moment when the countrys natural population was
slowing down and overseas immigration plummeted to its lowest historical
level. Toward the end of the decade he applied Kuczynskis index to the vital
statistics gathered by the Buenos Aires city census of 1936, predicting that the
city would enter a phase of negative growth in 10 years if trends continued.
Worse, if the birthrate of the provinces fell to the level of the capital, in 20 years
the overall population of the country would start to decrease. With Bunge, the
falling birthrate moved from the editorials and letters to the editor of major
newspapers to theater stages and well-attended conferences.14 While there
was nothing inherently eugenic in Bunges analyses, his work furnished the
empirical evidence that lent credibility to the doomsday scenarios that became
fertile soil for eugenics. By the end of the decade his warnings became increasingly infused with a moralistic rhetoric that lamented the decline of the white
race, vindicated the patriotism of superior men, and praised the abnegation
of the Christian spirit.15 This was the language often spoken in pronatalist
milieus, and it became the dominant voice among population experts, especially
statisticians and medical doctors. In 1926, the head of the Bureau of Statistics,
Ral Prebisch, stated that when the individual limits his family he follows his
selfish interest. . . . he only takes into account the personal advantages that come
13. The net rate of reproduction was more precise than other statistical methods, such
as the rate of births (annual number of births per thousand people), the global fertility rate
(number of children born to each woman aged 1550), and global reproduction rate (number
of girls born to each woman of childbearing age).
14. Gonzlez Bollo, Recepcin argentina de una obsesin demogrfica occidental:
Baja la natalidad, declina la poblacin, se agranda el desierto, 19261943, in Los lugares
del saber: Contextos locales y redes transnacionales en la formacin del conocimiento moderno,
ed. Ricardo D. Salvatore (Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2007), 23563.
15. Alejandro E. Bunge, Esplendor y decadencia de la raza blanca, Revista de Economa
Argentina 22, no. 259 (1940): 923.

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from having a small family, ignoring his duties to the nation, to its civil, military
and economic grandeur.16
Bunge deemed unrealistic the expectations held by many of his compatriots, who continued to make Argentinas demographic growth dependent on
overseas immigration. Argentine economic conditions, he observed, were no
longer as attractive as they had been before World War I, in particular with
regard to access to land. He favored encouraging the factors of internal growth
through an expansionist policy aimed at consolidating large rural households
through the redistribution of land and other financial incentives.17 His emphasis
on the quantitative improvement of the population was akin to the positions of
the International Union for the Study of Population, headed by Corrado Gini,
chief editor of the statistics journal Metron, of whose advisory board Bunge was
a member. As a public intellectual, Bunge professed a special admiration for
the Alliance Nationale contre la Dpopulation, which by the mid-1930s had
emerged as the most active pronatalist group in France.18
The world crisis had far deeper implications for Argentina than for any
other nation in the hemisphere, given its historic dependence on overseas manpower reserves. Between 1880 and 1930, immigration contributed 44 percent
of the countrys annual overall population growth and roughly 80 percent of its
domestic growth. Compared to other countries of the Southern Cone, Argentinas share of newcomers was far higher. Thus, while Brazil received roughly
the same number of immigrants as Argentina, in Brazil foreigners made up only
15 percent of the total growtha third of Argentinas share. Similar contrasts
appear when one compares Argentina with the United States. According to
the 1910 census, 14.7 percent of the population living in the United States had
been born abroad, while the 1914 census showed twice that figure for the South
American country.19 In the first half of the 1930s in Argentina, the number of
16. Ral Prebisch, Anotaciones demogrficas: A propsito de la teora de los movimientos
de poblacin, cited in Gonzlez Bollo, Recepcin argentina de una obsesin demogrfica
occidental, 254.
17. On Bunges pronatalist ideas see Carolina Biernat, Inmigracin, natalidad y
urbanizacin: El natalismo argentino y sus contradicciones frente a las preguntas del
desarrollo econmico (19141955), in El mosaico argentino: Modelos y representaciones del
espacio y la poblacin, siglos XIXXX, ed. Hernn Otero (Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno, 2004),
471506.
18. See for example Bunge, El descenso de la inmigracin y la natalidad en Argentina:
El descenso de la natalidad en Francia, Revista de Ciencias Econmicas 12, no. 57 (1934):
66869. On French pronatalism see Andrs H. Reggiani, Procreating France: The Politics
of Demography, 19191945, French Historical Studies 19, no. 3 (1996): 72551.
19. Snchez Albornoz, The Population of Latin America, 136.

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foreign-born residents who returned to their home countries exceeded those


who stayed by an annual average of six thousand. This was an unsettling finding, considering that in the 1920s roughly one million had ended up staying in
Argentina. By the end of the 1930s, the immigration flow from Europe, which
in the decades before World War I had brought an annual average of 117,000
newcomers, shrank to less than half of that figure. The number of arrivals fluctuated between 56,333 (1931) and 24,345 (1933), the highest and lowest marks for
the decade.20
The depression was not the only factor at play. In the early 1920s the United
States and the British Commonwealth enforced a quota system to restrict the
entry of groups from southern and eastern Europe. As a result of these measures the nationalities of the former Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman
empires sought alternative destinies in the countries of the Southern Cone.
Between 1921 and 1927, immigrants from these regions increased fivefold,
from 3 percent (3,240) to 16 percent (25,000) of total arrivals. The effects of the
quota system were aggravated by the ban on emigration adopted by Mussolinis
regime. In 1927 the fascist dictatorship passed a law invalidating all passports
held by Italians; thereafter, new ones were to be granted with utmost severity
and frugality. These initiatives were followed by a campaign of internal colonization and a prohibition against settling in large cities, as well as initiatives to
encourage a higher birthrateloans for young households, special taxes for the
unmarried, and hiring priorities for heads of large families.21
Soon warnings grew louder that Italian and Spanish nationals, which
together had made up 70 percent of all overseas migrants before 1914, were losing ground to exotic nationalities. Although Italians and Spaniards remained
dominant, their share shrank year after year, never again to attain or even come
closer to its peak of 323,043 (1912). The opinion polls carried out by the Museo
Social Argentino in 1919 and 1939 reflected the extent to which this concern was
widely shared. The overwhelming majority of the respondentsa broad sample
of civil servants, academics, and scientists covering almost the entire ideological
spectrumagreed that priority should be given to Latin and Catholic groups

20. Fernando Devoto, Historia de la inmigracin en Argentina (Buenos Aires:


Sudamericana, 2003), 363.
21. On fascist population policy see Carl Ipsen, Dictating Demography: The Problem of
Population in Fascist Italy (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), and David G. Horn,
Social Bodies: Science, Reproduction, and Italian Modernity (Princeton: Princeton Univ.
Press, 1994).

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with significant presence in the country, and among them, to agricultural laborers. Similar views dominated the debates at the conference on population, held
in Buenos Aires in 1940.22
Domestic xenophobia also played a role. Although the relatively liberal
1876 Immigration and Colonization Law was never repealed, anti-immigrant
sentiment was a familiar feature of Argentine political culture after the turn of
the century. This was clearly manifested in the decade prior to the Centenario through the anti-positivist and idealist rebellion of journalists and literary writers (Lucio V. Mansilla, Miguel Can, Manuel Glvez, Roberto Payr,
and Leopoldo Lugones) who blamed foreigners for the loss of traditions and
the erosion of spiritual values.23 Politically, xenophobia was connected to the
conflict between anarchism and the government led by General Julio A. Roca.
It reached a first climactic point with the passing of the Residence and Social
Defense laws (1902, 1910), both of which granted the executive broad powers
to deny entry to or expel from the country any foreigner accused of subverting
public order. The explosive combination of literary nativism and nationalist
mobilization became evident during the infamous Semana Trgicathe xenophobic and anti-leftist manhunt unleashed in January 1919 by the aristocratic
paramilitary group Liga Patritica. Four years later, Radical president Hiplito
Yrigoyen enforced two decrees that made a photo-carrying passport and certificates of good behavior and sound mental health mandatory requirements for
obtaining a visa. In the years that followed, notably under the administrations
of Marcelo T. de Alvear (192228) and Roberto M. Ortiz (193842), further
measures were adopted to discourage the arrival of undesirable aliens, either
by granting discretionary powers to consuls and immigration officers or by
increasing the intricate web of bureaucratic procedures.
Sociobiological arguments reinforced literary and cultural xenophobia
and contributed to legitimize it by way of scientific explanations that showed
the inborn proclivity of foreigners, especially Italians and Spaniards, to asocial
22. Museo Social Argentino, La inmigracin despus de la guerra, Boletn del
Museo Social Argentino (hereafter BMSA) 8, no. 8590 (1919): 1186; Primer Congreso
Nacional de la Poblacin, BMSA 28, no. 219220 (1940): 33792, and BMSA 29,
no. 223224 (1941): 2288.
23. On the antimodern reaction see Oscar Tern, El pensamiento finisecular
(18801916), in Nueva Historia Argentina, vol. 5, El progreso, la modernizacin y sus lmites
(18801916), ed. Mirta Z. Lobato (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2000), 32963; Charles
Hale, Political and Social Ideas in Latin America, 18701930, in Bethell, The Cambridge
History of Latin America, vol. 4, c. 18701930, 367441.

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behavior. After the turn of the century, Argentine medical and legal experts
drew on Cesare Lombrosos anthropological and deterministic theories of
criminal behavior, which allowed for substituting considerations of social
defense for the principle of free will as criteria for punishment. As Lombroso
acknowledged, his ideas were more enthusiastically received in Argentina than
in his own homeland. This was evident in the intellectual migration of prominent Italian legal experts to South America and the emergence of an Argentine
school of criminology, which earned an international reputation for its influential journals and scientific societies as well as novel techniques of anthropometric measurement.24 The criminalization of immigration was accompanied by
sociological arguments that blamed the political instability and social anarchy
of the former Spanish colonies on the inferiority of the Latin races, borrowing from pessimistic European theories of race and social evolution, such as
those espoused by Hippolyte Taine, Arthur de Gobineau, Herbert Spencer,
Ernst Haeckel, and Gustave Le Bon. This self-deprecation of the Spaniards
in America as mestizo-ized, indian-ized, and mulato-ized Europeans was best
represented in Argentina by Carlos Octavio Bunge and Jos M. Ramos Meja,
two of the authors most influenced by Le Bons crowd psychology, as well as by
Jos Ingenieross mixed brand of Spencerian social Darwinism and economic
determinism.25
The dislocations brought about by World War I and the Russian Revolution intensified the racial anxieties and fears of biological degeneration associated with immigration and nationalist politics. In February 1919, when the fires
of the Semana Trgica had barely been put out, the Radical Carlos F. Melo
submitted to the House of Representatives a bill calling for the adoption of
stiffer measures to discourage the arrival of social waste and leftovers from
the war. The fear that Argentina would be flooded by the war cripples and
scum that Europe and Asia dump every year on our soil was the theme of an
article published in the influential journal La Semana Mdica by Vctor Delfino,
tireless proselytizer of the temperance cause and founder of the short-lived
Sociedad Argentina de Eugenesia. Delfinos preoccupations with the menaces
posed by unchecked immigration were compounded by the disturbing findings
he made while researching the records of the Direccin General de Sanidad
(Army Health Service). After World War I, as the Argentine military drew up
24. On the reception of Lombrosos ideas see Eugenia Scarzanella, Ni gringos ni indios:
Inmigracin, criminalidad y racismo en Argentina, 18901940 (Buenos Aires: Universidad
Nacional de Quilmes, 1999), chap. 1; Zimmermann, Racial Ideas and Social Reform, 2838.
25. Hale, Political and Social Ideas in Latin America, 396414.

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plans for hypothetical conflicts with Brazil and Chile, the War Ministry began
compiling health and mortality statistics of the male population of draft age.
These data revealed that more than 30 percent of the 1896 class examined in
1917 was unfit for combat duties.26
By the 1930s, the connection between national defense and physical fitness acquired clear eugenic undertones. This became evident in the address
by the Chilean delegate to the First Pan-American Conference on Eugenics
and Homiculture (Havana, 1927), which called for the armed forces of Latin
America to become an effective ally of the government in the goal of improving the race, as well as for the increasing visibility of military authors in medical and eugenic forums.27 The world depression, combined with the negative
demographic trends, gave new political relevance to the link between biology
and nationalistic worldviews. In the illiberal mood that characterized the political and intellectual culture of the 1930s and 1940s, eugenics lost its progressive
traits to become a state project with deeply authoritarian undertones.
Italian Biotypology and the Quest for a Latin Eugenics

On September 6, 1930, a military coup led by pro-fascist General Jos F. Uriburu put an end to 14 years of democratic government under the Radical Party.
Eventually, Uriburus project of establishing a corporatist state failed, and the
military regime, which in 1932 passed to the more moderate General Agustn
P. Justo (193238), gradually transformed itself into a coalition of conservatives
and dissident Radicals. Based alternatively on the proscription of the Yrigoyen
wing of the Radical Party and the systematic recourse to electoral fraud, the
governments of Justo and Ortiz would eventually go down into the history
books as the dcada infame or Infamous Decade. Recently, however, this negative view has been challenged by another one that stresses the singularity of the
period as one of experimentation and quests for novel solutions to the problems
posed by the world crisis, as well as a precedent for the social and economic
policies later implemented by Juan Perns regime (194655). The long decade
of crisis (193043) surely epitomized the growing appeal among the elites and
26. Vctor Delfino, El problema de la raza, La Semana Mdica, 18 Sep. 1924,
pp. 67476.
27. See Manuel Bianchis intervention in I Conferencia Panamericana de Eugenesia y
Homicultura de las Repblicas Americanas (Havana: Gobierno de la Repblica de Cuba, 1928),
10917; Jorge Orgaz, El Ejrcito Nacional como centro de investigacin eugensica,
La Prensa Mdica Argentina, no. 29 (1932); Eugenio Galli, Ejrcito y eugenesia, Anales de
Biotipologa, Eugenesia y Medicina Social (hereafter Anales), no. 3 (1933): 9.

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the middle classes of European indigenous forms of authoritarian nationalism.28 It was also the period when state agencies expanded significantly and
the first import-substitution policies were designed, and when concern about
improving the nations human resources laid down the basis for demographic
and sanitary planning that accorded technocratic experts a leading role as social
engineers.29
In late 1932, a group of physicians with links to the Justo government,
Delfino among them, set up the Asociacin Argentina de Biotipologa, Euge
nesia y Medicina Social (hereafter ABEMS) to popularize eugenics among
the public and lobby the state to emulate the path followed by other nations.
It was presided over by the dean of the Universidad de Buenos Aires and former head of the Academia Nacional de Medicina, Mariano Castex, whose name
commanded enormous respect in Argentina and resonated abroad. The most
important instrument for popularizing eugenics was the associations journal
Anales de Biotipologa, Eugenesia y Medicina Social (hereafter Anales). Headed
alternatively by Arturo Rossi, Octavio Lpez, and Gonzalo Bosch, the editorial and advisory boards were a veritable Whos Who of Argentine medicine.
Anales was conceived from the outset as an effort to bring together local and
international networks of eugenics experts. Articles by foreign authors, often
published in the original languages, were a regular feature in its pages, which
also included reports on foreign medical institutions and sanitary legislation. In
1934 the School of Biotypology was created to train middle-level technicians in
psychophysical profiling and advising on school performance and job (re)training and placement. The following year an Institute of Biotypology was set up as
a provider of free, weekly counseling in almost all medical specialties.
The creation of the ABEMS was a significant turning point in the history
of eugenics in Argentina. As recent work on Brazil and Mexico has shown, biotypology furnished the basic conceptual tools and methodological frame within
28. David Rock, Authoritarian Argentina: The Nationalist Movement, Its History and
Its Impact (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1993), 87124; Sandra McGee Deutsch,
Las Derechas: The Extreme Right in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, 18901939 (Stanford, CA:
Stanford Univ. Press, 1999), 193247.
29. See for example, Daniel Campione, Prolegmenos del peronismo: Los cambios en
el Estado Nacional, 19431946 (Buenos Aires: FISyP, 2003); Ricardo Sidicaro, Los tres
peronismos: Estado y poder econmico, 194655/197376/198999 (Buenos Aires: Siglo
Veintiuno, 2002), 2554; Alejandro Cattaruzza, ed., Nueva historia argentina, vol. 7, Crisis
econmica, avance de estado e incertidumbre poltica (19301943) (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana,
2001); Mirta Z. Lobato, El Estado en los treinta y el avance desigual de los derechos y la
ciudadana, Estudios Sociales 7, no. 12 (1997): 4158.

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which Latin American eugenics has operated since the 1930s. Drawing upon
anthropology, physiology, psychology, and statistics, biotypology differed from
earlier classificatory schemes in that it sought to categorize individuals not in
terms of raceconsidered to be unscientificbut as biotypes, which, by
virtue of interrelated physiological, anthropometric, and cognitive variables,
transcended the superficial and inflexible logic of racial differentiation.30 Biotypology offered medical and scientific professionals two major advantages. As
a special branch of constitutional medicine, which privileged heredity without
relinquishing external factors, it allowed scientists to work within the paradigms of Mendelism while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of biological
determinism. Second, it provided a conceptual repertoire of ostensibly transparent measurements that seemed more neutral than the biased categories of
nineteenth-century evolutionism and Victorian anthropology. In sum, the science of biotypes promised to reconcile two opposite evolutionary theories without sacrificing scientific rigor.
In Argentina, biotypology was intimately associated with the work of Italian endocrinologist Nicola Pende (18801970). Of all the national varieties of
holistic medicine that flourished in Europe and the Americas during the 1920s
and 1930s, it was Pendes brand, itself a revision of earlier versions of Italian constitutional medicine, that became the dominant current within the established
eugenics movement in Argentina, and to a lesser extent in Brazil and Mexico.
Pende acquired an international reputation after the fascists came to power. In
the 1920s, he revised Italian constitutional theory as it was originally formulated
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Achille De Giovanni and
Giacinto Viola. He made the endocrine system the center of a new explanatory
model that he called constitutional hormonology. He believed that hormones
held the key to understanding the interrelations between internal bodily functions and their outer manifestation. Making a proper medical diagnosis and
determining the most adequate treatment depended on finding the endocrine
formula that regulated the individuals life. The new emphasis on endocrinology was accompanied by an endless multiplication of taxonomical categories of
constitutional types, from De Giovannis original one based on the structure
of the human torsobrevilineal (short and fat), longuineal (tall and slim),
and normotype (in between the two)to a panoply of variegated and often
cryptic labels.31
30. Stern, From Mestizophilia to Biotypology, 200.
31. For example, to account for deviations from the harmonious and proportional
Pende drew up taxonomies of deficient (hypotonic) and excessive (hypertonic) female

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More importantly, Pende reframed the old constitutional theory as an


applied sociobiology for remaking society along scientific lines.32 This scheme
rested on an organicist view which, based on the concept of cellular altruism, likened the society with the body and social classes with cells, all working harmoniously toward a single purpose: the vital unity of the State and
the individual.33 To give the science of orthogenesis (as he also referred to
biotypology) a practical use, he conceived an ambitious project for the medical, anthropological, and sociological screening of what he considered to be the
four essential biological components of the fascist state: the child, the woman,
the worker, and the race. Pendes notions of biosocial vigor and demographic
optimization fit well with Mussolinis plans for national cohesion and societal
fortification. The regime acknowledged this coincidence of views when in 1925
Pende was appointed dean of the recently created Universit Adriatica Benito
Mussolini (todays University of Bari). The following year, Italys education
minister, Pietro Fedele, took concrete steps to put Pendes ideas into practice by
inaugurating the Istituto Biotipologico Ortogenetico in Genoa. Twelve years
later another institute of this type was inaugurated in Rome.34 These institutions sought to classify individuals according to their biotypical constitution
with the aim of identifying the actual or potential problems that could hinder
the achievement of their full capacities. The Genoa institute gave Pende the
possibility of putting into practice a small part of his biological totalitarian
scheme. Most of its work, especially in the years immediately following its creation, focused on children (health, social adaptation, school performance) and
workers. The much-publicized centerpiece of this system was the biotypological
orthogenetic file (cartella biotipologica ortogenetica) adopted later by eugenicists in
Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.35
types based on the combination of biological and behavioral traits. The hypertonic
tonic referred to physiological gigantism, that is the exaggerated development of
female features. The hypotonic woman comprised the asthenic, infantile, and
intersexual types. Pende and his followers considered most Argentine women to fit the
microsplanchnic type, a subcategory of the asthenic group, which was defined as the
type of girl who wants to be slim at all costs. For a discussion of these categories and
their use see Eraso, Biotypology, Endocrinology, and Sterilization, 8067.
32. Nicola Pende, Trattato di biotipologia umana individuale e sociale con applicazioni
alla medicina preventiva, alla clinica, alla politica biologica, alla sociologia (Milan: Francesco
Vallardi, 1939).
33. Nicola Pende, Bonifica umana razionale e biologia politica (Bologna: Cappelli, 1933), 38.
34. Gustavo Vallejo, Las formas del organicismo social en la eugenesia latina, in
Miranda and Vallejo, Darwinismo social y eugenesia en el mundo latino, 23372.
35. Francesco Cassata, Molti, sani et forti: Leugenetica in Italia (Turin: Bollati
Boringhieri, 2006), 196.

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Italys ascendancy as a model of population management in Argentina benefitted from the cultural ties bolstered by mass-scale immigration: in the 1930s
Italians made up over 16.6 percent (2 million) of the total population (12 million). A plethora of institutions set up to promote political, economic, social, and
cultural goals among Italian immigrants illustrates the vitality and diversity of
an associational life second to none. A second venue of Italian scientific influence, especially in medico-legal milieus, was Lombrosos criminal anthropology
(see above). Formal cultural exchanges, especially after World War I, also played
an important role in the diffusion of Italian medical science. One of the most
important of these initiatives was the Instituto Argentino de Cultura Itlica
(IACI) established in 1924, which under the directorship of the medical doctor
Alberto Marotta sponsored the visit of Italian personalities, many of them physicians. Throughout the 1920s, these and other institutions were subjected to
increasing pressure to conform to fascist goals. In addition, Mussolinis regime
created a wide range of party-controlled organizations to win over the hearts
and minds of Italian expatriates.36
Italys demographic situation appeared comparable to Argentinas own
problems. Experts stressed the similarities in the slowdown of population
growth of both countries as well as a shared political climate favorable to state
interventionism. Although in Italy the decline of the birthrate was less steep
than in Argentina, regional disparities seemed to follow a pattern that begged
comparisons. This was the argument developed by Gino Arias, former dean
of Florences School of Law, in a conference given at the Crculo de Cultura
Catlica de Buenos Aires. The Italian scholar contrasted the demographic realities that separated Buenos Aires from the northwestern provinces with a similar situation in the Italian Peninsula, divided between the backward southern
regions, with a high birthrate, and prosperous northern districts, with a low rate
of births.37
Pende contributed a great deal to Mussolinis cultural diplomacy, mainly by
bringing to Italian science the international radiance of earlier days. Personal
connections were a crucial factor for broadening his audience in Argentina. In
November 1930, two months after the coup, he traveled to Argentina following
a joint invitation of the IACI and the Buenos Aires Medical School. During his
36. See Leticia Prislei, Los orgenes del fascismo argentino (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2008);
Scarzanella, Los intelectuales talo-argentinos, 1057; Lore Terracini, Una emigracin
muy particular: 1938, los universitarios italianos en la Argentina, Anuario IEHS (1989):
33739.
37. Gino Arias, El problema de la natalidad: Su aspecto mundial, su importancia en la
Argentina, Anales, no. 88 (1939): 79.

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visit, Pende acquainted himself with a group of physicians interested in bio


typology and eugenics: Donatto Boccia, Octavio Lpez, and his former student
in Genoa Arturo Rossi. The following year they visited Pende as members of
an official mission sent by the Uriburu government to study Europes health
systems. All three took an active role in setting up the ABEMS a year later.
No one worked harder to promote Pendes ideas in Argentina than Rossi.38
Having first met his Italian mentor when specializing in diabetes at the University of Genoa, Rossi was a direct witness of the close cooperation between
Pende and the fascist regime. In Rossis view, Pende provided a working model
of sociobiological engineering that could be transplanted to Argentina, now
that the military coup had created more favorable conditions for emulating
some of Mussolinis policies. He was given an opportunity to put these theories
into practice after the Direccin General de Escuelas (School Board) of Buenos Aires Province, ruled by the pro-fascist governor Manuel Fresco, adopted
Rossis biotypological school file. It was implemented on an experimental basis
in only a few schools.39
Under Rossi the ABEMS often acted as a means of informal propaganda
for the fascist dictatorship. After 1935 the articles on medical topics and commentaries on fascist public health and demographic policy were accompanied by
the more or less open endorsement of Italian military actions in East Africa.40
In October 1935, Rossi and the Lombrosian legal scholar and director of
the influential Revista de Ciencias Polticas, Rodolfo Rivarola, set up the Comit
Argentino Pro-Italia to gather support against the sanctions imposed by the
League of Nations, which the Argentine government had endorsed. Two years
later, when the tightening of the ties between Mussolini and Hitler intensified the action of antifascist groups, Rossi renewed his efforts to rally public
opinion to the fascist cause, setting up the Agrupacin Argentina Amigos de
38. On his efforts to popularize Pendes ideas see Arturo Rossi, Curso sinttico de
medicina constitucional y biotipologa, Anales, no. 1 (1933): 1113; no. 2 (1933): 1215; no. 3
(1933): 1218; no. 4 (1933): 1214; no. 5 (1933): 1215.
39. Arturo Rossi, La ficha biotipolgica escolar, Anales, no. 1 (1933): 14; no. 8 (1933):
1214; no. 60 (1936): 34. On the implementation of similar classificatory surveys and
technologies in Brazil and Mexico see Dvila, Diploma of Whiteness, 36, 151; and Stern,
From Mestizophilia to Biotypology, 18889, 2012.
40. The cover of Anales of 15 Sept. 1935 carried a photo of Italian troops in Somalia
near the Ethiopian border. The same issue reproduced an article by the director of the
Institute of Tropical Medicine of the University of Modena. See Giuseppe Frandini, Las
colonias italianas de Africa Oriental desde el punto de vista sanitario e higinico, Anales,
no. 52 (1935): 2.

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Italia and attracting support from a broad sample of the countrys intellectual
spectrum.41 He also helped Pendes efforts to set up an organization of Latin
nations to buttress the international prestige of the fascist regime. This ambitious project entailed forging an international front based on the notion of a
common spiritual tradition of Latinity (latinit)expressed in shared ethnic makeup, linguistic roots, and religion (Catholicism)and the prestige of
Italian culture and science. Pende sought to place himself at the center of the
Duces cultural diplomacy, using his participation in international forums and
trips abroad to gather support for this project. In a speech on The Latin Medical Genius given at a conference organized by the Presse Mdicale Latine in
Paris in 1935, he presented biotypology as the continuation of the intellectual
and scientific traditions of classical antiquity, the Renaissance, and modernity.
He hailed people of Latin blood as better suited to conquer the soul of the
sick person than those with a phlegmatic and rationalistic mentality and a
cold heart. The former, he claimed, were endowed with an ethnic virtue that
allowed the physician, just as it did the artist and the politician, to understand
the moral needs of his fellow men. Citing Leonardo da Vinci, he claimed that
Latins were gifted with intuition and the ability to embrace the entire field of
thought in a powerful creative unity. In sharp contrast to them, the analytic
and patient mind of the Nordic races produced bacteriologists who want to
explain everything by way of the microbe.42
Pendes intellectual speculations prepared the ground for the organization
of an international conference on Latin culture, which, as he wrote to Mussolini, should serve to acknowledge the preponderance that from now on Rome
will exert in the cultural leadership of the Latin nations.43 The idea took shape
between 1933 and 1935 as Rossi and the ABEMS began planning a meeting to
take place in Buenos Aires on October 12, 1936, to coincide with the celebration
of the Da de la Raza (Columbus Day). The ABEMS established contacts with
medical organizations in Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay and secured the participation of 29 countries as well as the commitment of the Argentine government to
sponsor the event.44 The project, however, fell apart as a result of the interna41. Prislei, Los orgenes del fascismo argentino, 61, 63, 9497.
42. Nicola Pende, El genio mdico latino en el pensamiento mdico contemporneo,
Anales, no. 38 (1935): 1114.
43. Cited in Scarzanella, Los intelectuales talo-argentinos, 103.
44. El Ateneo y el Primer Congreso Internacional de Cultura Latina en Amrica,
a realizarse en Buenos Aires por la Asociacin Argentina de Biotipologa, Eugenesia y
Medicina Social, Anales, no. 26 (1934): 2.

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tional tensions produced by the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (September 1935)


and the outbreak the Spanish Civil War (July 1936), both of which split the
yet-to-be-accomplished community of Latin nations. Pendes reputation had
been somewhat compromised by the racial policies implemented in the African
colonies, where the fascist regime used his ideas to justify segregation; it was
further tainted in 1938 by his endorsement of the anti-Semitic Manifesto degli
Scienziati Razzisti (Manifesto on Race).
The ABEMS was also active in Corrado Ginis efforts to build an international bloc of Latin eugenics, another project that converged with the foreign
agenda of Italian fascism. Gini was a leading authority in the field of statistical
demography; he was president of the Istituto Centrale di Statistica, the Societ
Italiana per gli Studi di Genetica ed Eugenica, and the Comitato Italiano per
lo Studio dei Problemi della Populazione. By the 1930s he became one of the
most outspoken critics of Anglo-Saxon eugenics, with its emphasis on heredity,
ambivalence toward interracial breeding, and preference for radical measures.
Ginis statistical-biometrical approach to demography and Pendes biotypological constitutionalism shared a concern for womens fertility. However, unlike
Pendes spiritual racism, Ginis reform eugenics (eugenetica rinnovatrice)
proclaimed ethnic mixture as a reinvigorating process that contributed to a
nations renewal, not its decline. He strongly opposed sterilization, and while
his ideas were not free from current racial prejudiceshe rejected breeding
between whites and blackshis arguments were based on cultural as much as
on biological considerations. A neo-Lamarckian, he shared with Pende the conviction that eugenics should establish a partnership with the church in order
to promote a family-based, Catholic sexual morality that encouraged a higher
birthrate, a position which was also upheld by the Vaticans expert on eugenics and head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Franciscan physician
Agostino Gemelli.45
Gini believed that the hegemonic influence of Anglo-Saxon and Nordic
race science had led astray the International Federation of Eugenics Organizations (hereafter IFEO). This situation was most evident in the distribution of
national delegates to the three international eugenics conferences held in London (1912) and New York (1921, 1932). Of the papers published in the proceedings, 77 percent belonged to U.S., British, German, and Scandinavian authors.
Within this group the United States dominated, contributing 87 percent of all
45. For a detailed analysis on Ginis links with fascism see Francesco Cassata, Il fascismo
razionale: Corrado Gini fra scienza e politica (Roma: Carocci, 2006). Succinct discussions in
English can be found in Ipsen, Dictating Demography, and Horn, Social Bodies.

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the papers, followed by Britain, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and Denmark.


In contrast, Latin countries like France, Italy, Cuba, and Spain contributed
fewer than 20 percent of all the papers given at the three meetings. Two population conferences held in the summer and fall of 1931 foreshadowed the coming
split between those nations that favored birth control and those that opposed
compulsory interventionist measures. The first position dominated the Congress of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (hereafter
IUSSP) convened in London in July. Two months later, the pronatalists met at
the International Conference for the Study of Population in Rome. Ginis decision to leave the IFEO was precipitated by the radicalization of positions at the
next meeting of the IUSSP, held in Berlin in August 1935, which made evident
the coincidences between international eugenics networks and Nazi racism.
The initial plans for what became the International Latin Federation of
Eugenics societies were laid down at the Seventh Pan-American Conference on
the Child, held in Mexico City in October 1935. Having received the mandate
from all the participants and the eugenics societies of Belgium, Brazil, France,
Italy, and Switzerland, a group of Argentine, Mexican, and Peruvian delegates
made plans for an inaugural meeting in Paris.46 In a letter sent to the delegates
gathered in Mexico, Gini laid out the principles of his reform eugenics, with
special attention to the Latin American setting. His views appeared later in an
article published in Anales in which he stressed the two main themes that singled out the Latin approach to eugenics: consideration for the ethnic diversity
of the countries represented in the federation, and the commitment to restraint
in applying principles.47 The International Latin Federation of Eugenics held
its first and only meeting in Paris in August 1937. Although Argentina, Brazil,
and Mexico were among its founding members, the federation turned out not
to be the most adequate forum for addressing Latin Americas demographic
problems; with the exception of Brazil, only representatives from France, Italy,
and Romania participated actively in the debates.48

46. Congreso Internacional Latino de Eugenesia y Congreso Panamericano del


Nio, Anales, no. 56 (1935): 23.
47. Corrado Gini, Vecchi problemi e nouvi indirizzi nel campo delleugenesia,
Anales, no. 62 (1936): 56.
48. Renato Kehl, president of the Comisso Central Brasileira de Eugenia, was the
only non-European participant. See Kehl, Valeur compare de laccroissement quantitatif
et qualitatif dune population (Rsultats dune enqute faite avec 500 couples), in 1er Congrs
latin deugnique, ed. Fdration internationale latine des socits deugnique (Paris: Masson
et Cie., 1937), 7378.

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Sterilization, Nazi Racial Policy, and the Ambiguities


of Expert Knowledge

Latin Americas underrepresentation in the International Latin Federation


of Eugenics was offset by the regions efforts to put into place its own eugenics forums. By the mid-1930s, the western hemisphere had held two regional
conferencesin Havana (1927) and Buenos Aires (1934)to discuss immigration selection, interracial breeding, the prenuptial exam, compulsory sterilization, and the creation of a Pan-American eugenics archive and code. The Second Pan-American Conference on Homiculture and Eugenics took place when
almost all of Latin America, badly hit by the depression, slid down the authoritarian path. The timing of the Buenos Aires conference was significant, for by
the mid-1930s eugenic legislation had already been passed and enforced or was
soon to be adopted in several countries. In different forms, the mandatory prenuptial exam was effective in 27 states, 5 of them in Latin America.49 Likewise,
7 Latin American countries and 11 others elsewhere had adopted laws to invalidate marriage whenever one of the spouses was diagnosed with a transmissible
disease.50 Only compulsory sterilization had failed so far to make inroads in
Latin America. By the time the delegates convened in Argentinas capital, this
measure had passed or was about to pass into law in only 9 countries.51
Compulsory sterilization was the most divisive issue at the Buenos Aires
conference. Initially it seemed as if the Cuban Domingo Ramos, the most outspoken supporter of negative eugenics fashioned on the U.S. model, would be
alone in his defense of sterilization.52 The closest position, but still a minority

49. Fourteen states of the United States as well as Brazil, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark,
Germany, Island, Mexico (Cohahuila), Norway, Panama, Peru, Turkey, and Sweden passed
laws requiring either a prenuptial medical exam (for the man only or for both spouses) or
an affidavit stating that the bearer was not affected by any of the diseases listed as hindering
marriage, or (when there was nothing of the above required) punishing severely those who
got married knowing that they were affected by a contagious or hereditary disease. A
useful comparative list of the different laws, diseases, penalties, and other considerations can
be found in Enrique Daz de Guijarro, La reforma del matrimonio civil por las leyes eugensicas
(Buenos Aires: Imprenta de la Universidad, 1938).
50. Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark,
Finland, Mexico, Monaco, Panama, Peru, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United States
(Illinois, Kentucky).
51. Canada (2 provinces), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden,
Switzerland (Vaud), and the United States (31 states).
52. On Ramoss relationship with U.S. eugenics see Raquel Alvarez Pelez and
Armando Garca Gonzlez, Eugenesia e imperialismo: las relaciones Cuba-Estados Unidos

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one, was the one adopted by the Chilean Waldemar Coutts in favor of voluntary
sterilization. Given the present constitution of society, he stated,
the State must encourage the artificial selection of its members, yet it must
not do so through mutilating (sterilization) or murderous laws (abortion),
but by way of measures that ensure the integrity and the conservation of
the species. . . . Eugenic laws of compulsory sterilization which are too
general, without being based on strict scientific procedures, will end up
creating a mediocre humanity. A broadly conceived plan of voluntary
sterilization, instead, should be accepted, yet only if it is carried out under
the monitoring of honorable persons that authorize each request.53
The head of the Argentine delegation, Gregorio Aroz Alfaro, agreed with
Coutts, stating that under the present conditions, when much about the workings of heredity was still unknown or in dispute, scientists should refrain from
making hasty decisions. Suspecting that his co-delegates reservations vis--vis
sterilization stemmed from its association with Nazi racism, Ramos assured
them,
When I speak of [eugenic sterilization] it is not Europe, but America [the
United States] that I have in mind. . . . some say that it is a mutilating
measure, yet I dare ask, is sterilization of tuberculous patients not carried
out with the purpose of protecting them? Are not mothers sterilized due
to the so-called tuberculous heredity, which is not so? How shall we
proceed, when the hereditary criminal bears criminal children, or when
the feebleminded and the hereditary psychopath produce like offspring?
How are they to be avoided if not through sterilization? It has been
argued that this system runs against principles of individual freedom, yet
if we accept such view in a sanitary conference, poor us! There would not
even be compulsory vaccination, I would dare say.54
Near the end of the debate, the Argentine delegates moved subtly away
from their original stance as they raised primarily the same pragmatic considerations used against other compulsory measures, such as the prenuptial exam.

(19211940), in Miranda and Vallejo, Darwinismo social y eugenesia en el mundo latino,


193230.
53. Actas de la segunda Conferencia Panamericana de Eugenesia y Homicultura de las
Repblicas Americanas (Buenos Aires: Frascoli & Bindi, 1934), 252, 255.
54. Ibid., 256, 258.

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Underlying these justifications surfaced less explicit views that betrayed a deep
interest in negative eugenics, even among those who harbored strong doubts.
This ambivalence was well expressed by Aroz Alfaro and his co-delegate Josu
Beruti, head of the Eliseo Cantn maternity clinic (Buenos Aires). After rejecting the amalgamation of therapeutic and eugenic sterilization made by his
Cuban colleague, Aroz Alfaro stated,
I do not oppose in any way that we continue studying this matter in order
to gain further experience. . . . I do not shut myself off to experimentation,
but I would rather have others do the experiments. Dr. Ramos has said that
there are other experiments which have not been objected to; yet in order
to ascertain that they were carried out properly, we shall have to wait until
the quality of the offspring thus obtained can be assessed.55
Adopting a similar line of reasoning, Beruti acknowledged that we, in fact, do
not have experience in this matter, and I believe that the most convenient and
appropriate thing to do is to wait for the result of the experiments that others
are carrying out, especially in Europe, where the investigations under way are
so interesting.56
Aroz Alfaros and Berutis statements obscured two facts. First, sterilization on allegedly therapeutic grounds was becoming a fairly extended practice
among Argentine gynecologists in the 1930sless among those with strong
Catholic convictions. As Yolanda Eraso has recently argued, the line between
therapeutic and eugenic sterilization often became blurred by the doctors
own values and personal perceptions of a patients psychobiological condition.
Equipped with biotypological taxonomies, eugenics-minded medical specialists like Beruti, together with his co-delegate at the conference Alberto Peralta
Ramos, director of the prestigious Instituto de Maternidad, took advantage of
the prenatal consultations to discourage what they considered to be dysgenic
women from having children. At the same time, they used endocrinological
methods to terminate pregnancies where their concern for risks to maternal
health often thinly disguised eugenic considerations. Gynecologists and obstetricians acted within the legal framework, or at least in a way that it did not
openly infringe it. As Eraso puts it, in the absence of a sterilization law, they
managed to place this practice in a secular, more flexible, and more permissive
domain, thus exploiting the ambiguity created by the legal ban on definitive
sterilization and by the willingness of jurisprudence to trust such decisions to
55. Ibid., 259. Emphasis added.
56. Ibid., 256.

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the knowledge, discretion, and prudence of the specialist, who in theory could
perform a therapeutic sterilization on the same grounds that legally authorized
him to carry out a therapeutic abortion.57
Second, Aroz Alfaros and Berutis comments on the very interesting
experiments done by others in Europe referred obliquely to Germany, for at
that time very few experts knew about the Scandinavian countries, the only
others in Europe to have legally enforced compulsory sterilization on eugenic
grounds.58 The U.S. case, which most Argentine physicians probably first heard
of through Delfinos reports in La Semana Mdica, did not make a visible impact
until the Buenos Aires conference, where the superintendent of the U.S. Eugenics Record Office, Harry Laughlin, presented a detailed report. Even so, the
gradual and decentralized character of sterilization policy in the United States,
the intricate legal aspects that prevented these laws from being actually enforced
in some states, and the idiosyncratic anti-Americanism of Argentinas elites
hindered serious consideration of the U.S. model.
By the time the delegates addressed eugenic sterilization, the Nazi Law
for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases (Gesetz zur Verhtung erbkranken Nachwuchses) had been in effect for almost a year. Several
aspects of Nazi eugenics set it apart from other national experiences: it was
implemented on a national scale, it was compulsory, and it was carried out as an
absolute state imperative to create a racially homogeneous society through the
physical elimination of alien groups and citizens affected with hereditary
diseases. The July 1933 law substituted compulsory for voluntary sterilization
and extended the range of sicknesses regarded as hereditarily determined. It
not only defined as hereditary some diseases that many physicians claimed
were not; it also made certain categories so elastic as to render them meaningless. In June 1935 the law was amended to enable the Hereditary Health Courts
to sanction abortions for women who had been categorized as hereditarily ill.
In October the regime modified the Weimar Republics soft version of the prenuptial exam, making it mandatory for both spouses.59
As with fascist biotypology, well-established cultural and scientific networks facilitated the reception of Nazi racial policy. While politically split and

57. Eraso, Biotypology, Endocrinology, and Sterilization, 813.


58. For a critical view on Scandinavian eugenics see Gunnar Broberg and Nils RollHansen, eds., Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policy in Denmark, Sweden, Norway,
and Finland (East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1996).
59. Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann, The Racial State: Germany 1933
1945 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996).

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less numerous than their Italian and Spanish counterparts, Argentinas quarter
of a million German-speaking citizens were among the most prosperous and
influential in the country. This demographic component was strengthened by a
web of German-owned economic interests, especially in the banking, chemical,
and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as by more than 150 German schools, the
import of German pedagogues to train Argentine high school teachers, and the
appointment of German academics to the science departments of the University
of La Plata. Medicine played an important role in this process as well. Ger
manys share of Nobel Prizes, especially in the natural sciences, earned admiration and respect throughout the world for German science and higher education, while German products, especially precision objects such as surgical and
optical instruments, were known for quality and reliability.60
In the 1920s Beruti became one of the most vocal spokespersons for German culture and science. He was one of the very few Argentines to have completed medical studies at a German university (Freiburg) and a fierce critic of
the Francophile elite.61 In 1922 he set up the Instituto Cultural ArgentinoGermano and appointed Aroz Alfaro as director. Berutis proselytism was
followed by similar undertakings, such as the journal La Medicina GermanoHispanoamericana, published by a group of physicians for the purpose of making German medical research and health policy known to Spanish-speaking
readers at a time when Britain, France, and the United States were trying to
exclude Germany from international scientific forums.62 These local initiatives
grew after the Nazis came to power. In 1936 the German ambassador, Edmund
von Thermann, sponsored the German-Argentine Committee for Intellectual
Cooperation, made up of cultural and scientific personalities such as Aroz
Alfaro, Castex, and Bernardo Houssay, the future winner of the Nobel Prize for
medicine and chair of the Asociacin para el Progreso de la Ciencia; historians
Carlos Ibarguren, Ricardo Levene, and Roberto Levillier; anti-Semitic propa60. On the influence of German science in Argentina see Sandra Carreras and
Gnther Maihold, eds., Preuen und Lateinamerika: Im Spannungsfeld von Kommerz,
Macht und Kultur (Mnster: Lit-Verlag, 2004); Irina Podgorny, Los cientficos alemanes
y la poltica argentina, Todo Es Historia, no. 413 (2001): 3238; Lewis Pyenson, Cultural
Imperialism and Exact Sciences: German Expansion Overseas, 19001930 (New York: Peter
Lang, 1985).
61. Josu Beruti, Beligerancia cientfica: La medicina alemana (Buenos Aires: Preusche
y Eggeling, 1920).
62. La Medicina Germano Hispano-Americana: Revista mensual de medicina, ciruga
y especialidades 1, no. 1 (Sept. 1923); 4, no. 10 (July 1927). The journal was edited by J.
Schwalbe (Berlin), Francisco Arrillaga, and Carlos Waldorp (both from Buenos Aires).

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gandist and director of the National Library Gustavo Martnez Zuvira, who
went by the pen name of Hugo Wast; and Juan P. Ramos, fascist ideologue and
dean of the Buenos Aires Law School.63
Similar efforts were made in Germanys capital to foster cultural-scientific
cooperation. After 1933 the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut, created in 1929 by
conservative milieus, came under the control of the Nazis.64 In 1935 its new
director, General Wilhelm Faupel, established the Deutsch-Iberoamerikanische
rzteakademie (German-Iberoamerican Medical Academy, hereafter DIAA)
with the goal of promoting medical cooperation between Germany and the
Iberoamerican nations. From its inception the DIAA became a tool of Nazi
cultural diplomacy. It was directed by the Germans Serge Breuer and Klaus
Sohering, together with an all-Argentine advisory board made up of Aroz
Alfaro, Castex, and Houssay.65 The role that medicine was to play in buttressing
German interests abroad was evoked in unambiguous terms by the head of the
Knigsberg maternity clinic, Walther Benthin. At the foundational meeting of
the DIAA held in Berlin in late 1935, the gynecologist called on his fellow physicians to become scientific warriors for Germandom (wissenschaftliche Kmpfer
fr das Deutschtum) and lead an all-out offensive to popularize German science abroad. In South America, he stated, the physician is involved in politics
more often than the jurist, and his influence makes itself felt in the highest levels
of government. This was something not to be overlooked, for, as he assured his
audience, the struggle for supremacy in Latin American will be fought in the
field of scientific education, and particularly in medicine.66
Between 1936 and 1939, the number of Latin American physicians travel63. Ronald C. Newton, The Nazi Menace in Argentina, 19311947 (Stanford, CA:
Stanford Univ. Press, 1992).
64. Reinhard Liehr, Gnther Maihold, and Gnter Vollmer, eds., Ein Institut und sein
General: Wilhelm Faupel und das Ibero-Amerikanische Institut in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus
(Frankfurt: Vervuert, 2003).
65. Revista Mdica Germano Ibero-Americana: Organo oficial de la Academia Mdica
Germano Ibero-Americana, no. 12 (1937). The editorial board comprised the Argentines
Arrillaga, Castex, and Waldorp, and the Germans G. von Bergmann (Berlin), L. Brauer
(Wiesbaden), P. Mhlens (Hamburg), and B. Nocht (Hamburg).
66. Geheimes Staatsarchiv preuischen Kulturbesitz, Repositur 218A (hereafter GStA
PK 218A), Vortrag Professor Benthin in den Rumen des Deutschen Wirtschaftsverbandes
fr Sd- und Mittelamerika e.V. auf Einladung der Deutch-Iberoamerikanishen
rzteakademie, Berlin, 5 Nov. 1935. For a discussion of French and German medicine
as cultural diplomacy, see Andrs Reggiani, Rastacueros y expertos: Modernizacin,
diplomacia cultural y circuitos acadmicos transnacionales, 18701940, in Salvatore, Los
lugares del saber, 15887.

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ing to Germany skyrocketed. Brazilians, Argentines, Chileans, and Mexicans


became the groups most heavily represented, making up almost three-fourths
of the approximately one thousand physicians who visited Germany through
the activities organized by the DIAA. This scientific migration took various
forms, the most popular of which were summer courses offered in various specialized fields and visits to university hospitals, spas, and pharmaceutical laboratories.67 The classes carried a small nominal fee and were offered in Spanish
or Portuguese, a privilege that Latin Americans had rarely enjoyed in more traditional academic settings. The DIAA also provided contacts between German
pharmaceutical firms and manufacturers of medical equipment and prospective
Latin American customers. Likewise, it acted as an institutional reference for
foreigners seeking information on German medical studies and health policy
and supplied letters of reference and arranged appointments for guest physicians wishing to visit medical facilities in the Reich.
The DIAA was particularly active in organizing official missions of Argentine governmental, educational, and medical representatives to study different
aspects of German medicine and public health. The most important of them
was the one headed by Miguel Sixto Mosqueira, a physician commissioned by
Governor Fresco to carry out a study of German hospitals.68 The DIAA also
provided information upon request on a wide variety of topics, from the prohibition against Jewish doctors treating non-Jewish patients to technical aspects
of the sterilization program.69 Most important of all, it helped guest physicians
to visit institutions at which patients were being subjected to compulsory sterilization. One such place, the Wrzburg maternity clinic, was visited in 1938
by Alberto Garca and Ignacio Garacotche, two urologists who traveled to the
Reich in that year with a large delegation of Argentine physicians. None of them
had sympathies for the Nazis; however, when commenting on the services for
67. Candidates were selected by a committee affiliated with the Instituto Cultural
Argentino-Germano made up, among others, of Aroz Alfaro, Castex, Beruti, Peralta
Ramos, and Houssay.
68. GStA PK 218A, Memorandum of Miguel S. Mosqueira to Manuel Fresco,
17 Dec. 1937.
69. GStA PK 218A, correspondence between the DIAA, C. Velasco Surez, Knoll-AG
Chemische Fabrik, and the Reichrztekammer (Reich Chamber of Physicians), 28 Jan. and
15 Feb. 1937. On the sterilization program see GStA PK 218A, letter of Edmundo Murray
to the Hauptgesundheitsamt (Ministry of Public Health), 22 June 1936. Murray was a
gynecologist at the Hospital Alvarez in Buenos Aires. In 193638 he worked as assistant
doctor in the maternity clinic of La Charit Hospital (Berlin) under Gerhard Wagner; in
1937 he participated in the activities organized by the DIAA.

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the compulsory sterilization of women they praised the rigorous organization and strict surveillance which ensured that no error tarnished the higher
biological meaning which inspired that measure.70
This same attitude was clear in the travel notes of Jos de Filippi. In 1934
he was sent on an official mission to Berlin, Heidelberg, and Vienna to update
his knowledge of the latest techniques of lung surgery. In the next three years
he worked at La Charit and Frankfurts city hospital; in 1938 he returned to
Germany to participate in the DIAAs activities. Back in Argentina he drew up
a report in which he praised various aspects of German medicine, such as a general preference for conservative and fairly simple treatments to save costs and
time, and a social conception of disease that allowed for the reinsertion of
the individual as a producer. Commenting on the lack of professionals created
by the prohibition against Jewish physicians treating non-Jewish patients, de
Filippi observed that the authorities were thus forced to increase the number
of physicians. . . . Among other measures, they decided to shorten the number
of years required to obtain the degree. Yet what concerns us here is to know
whether or not the population would be negatively affected as a consequence of
being treated by physicians trained in fewer years.71 It was, of course, a rhetorical question, for de Filippi was quick to assure that in a system in which students
worked under the surveillance of highly trained professionals the reduction of
the academic curricula did not affect the quality of the education.
The controversy triggered in early 1935 by the publication in the Anales of
a speech by Nazi Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick illustrates well the ideology
underlying technocratic discourses of expert detachment. Published, as the editors stated it, without committing any opinion on the matter, the document
was an anti-Semitic pamphlet conceived to refute the international criticism
aroused by the laws of April 7 and June 30, 1933, which excluded Jewish citizens from the civil service. Translated by Justus Brinckman, president of the
Deutsch-Argentinische rztevereinigung (German-Argentine Medical Asso70. Alberto Garca and Ignacio Garacotche, La ciruga general y la urologa a travs
de Europa: Impresiones de viaje, Revista Mdica del Hospital Espaol, no. 9 (193839): 267,
273, 308; Alberto Garca, La urologa a travs de Europa: Alemania, Revista Argentina de
Urologa, no. 8 (1939): 14569. See also GStA PK 218A.
71. Jos de Filippi, Dos aspectos de la medicina actual en Alemania, Revista de la
Franco, no. 22 (1939): 7879. See also his articles Algunos aspectos de la vida cientfica en
Alemania, La Nacin, 16 June 1938, and Aspectos de la medicina actual en Alemania,
Noticioso Mdico Mundial, no. 22 (1939). For other similar views see Luis Irigoyen,
Importancia de la anatoma patolgica y estado actual de los conocimientos tisiolgicos en Alemania
(Buenos Aires: Comisin Nacional de Cultura, 1939).

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Figure 1. Selection of
Aryan prototypes at the
Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.
Anales de Biotipologa,
Eugenesia y Medicina
Social 31 (1934): 12.

ciation) and the ABEMSs expert on German affairs, the text was accompanied by two large photographs: the first showed a man dressed in a white apron
examining passport-size photos with the caption A selection detail identifying
the Aryan prototype, according to the plan for the cleansing of the German
race. The second image featured the head of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for
Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics, Otmar von Verschuer, looking
at X-rays of offspring of tuberculous parents.72 Scholars reacted immediately.
Franz Boas, head of Columbia Universitys Department of Anthropology and
a leading figure of the international campaign against fascism, wrote a long
note to the Anales attacking the pseudoscientific claims of Nazi racism. Shortly
afterwards, David Efron, an Argentine experimental psychologist working with
Boas at Columbia, accused the Anales of spreading ideas that poisoned readers
72. La legislacion racista del Tercer Reich: Un documento de actualidad, Anales, no.
31 (1934): 1214.

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with a false medicine of foreign import and instilled in the minds of teachers
and students, under the misleading label of scientific vulgarization, the virus of
anti-Semitism.73
Annoyed by the passionate impressions that the Nazi document had
aroused in the minds of Aryans and non-Aryans, Rossi refrained from lending the journals pages to further opinions, stating that the topic demanded
serious and thorough investigations, not judgments formulated with singular
passion. Rossis racial prejudices surfaced in less ambiguous terms in his work
on constitutional theory. In his digressions on the psychic temperaments of
the white European race, he portrayed Israelites as executioners of Christ
damned by God and quintessential racists who never mixed their blood with
other racial types, their typical feature being a prominent and curved nose.74
He rejected the union of white Europeans and black Africans on the grounds
that the biological and social inferiority of the latter would only produce sickly
types like the mulatto. Although he rejected sterilization as alien to the character and traditions of the Latin people, he had no qualms in praising Nazi
Germany for being the only nation in the world where the theory and practice of eugenics worked toward the integral perfection of the race by way of the
coercive selection of spouses and the elimination of the unfit.75
Hector Stocker, one of the several Argentine physicians working with
internist Gustav von Bergmann at La Charit, was even more explicit in his
endorsement of Nazi eugenics. In a commentary published in La Semana Mdica
he hailed the sterilization law as the fulfillment of the old medical ideal of
preventing before curing. Citing Hitlers admonition to prevent the unfit from
procreating, he welcomed the law as an overdue response to the alarming
increase of feebleminded, idiots, and morons. Thanks to the law, he observed,
the healthy and hard-working taxpayer would be relieved from the asphyxiating financial burden imposed on him by the upkeep of thousands of morons.
He was confident that the numerous physicians holding seats in Congress would
realize the benefits that the wise legislative step taken by the German government would bring to their country.76

73. Arios y no arios, Anales, no. 38 (1935): 3.


74. Arturo Rossi, Herencia, constitucin, eugenesia y ortognesis, Anales, no. 96
(1941): 9.
75. Arturo Rossi, Tratado terico-prctico de Biotipologa y Ortognesis, vol. 1 (Buenos
Aires: Ideas, 1944), 11.
76. Hctor Stocker, La ley alemana de esterilizacin, La Semana Mdica, 8 Aug. 1935,
pp. 43840.

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Although Stockers position was rather exceptional in its unqualified


endorsement of sterilization, it was not out of line with the general approval of
other aspects of fascist population policy. At the Second Pan-American Conference on Eugenics, Beruti and Peralta Ramos often quoted Nazi Propaganda
Minister Joseph Goebbels in praise of the measures adopted by the Italian and
German dictatorships to affirm the indestructibility of the unity of mother
and the child. The Argentine gynecologists were particularly impressed by the
institutional status given to maternal and child policy through initiatives such
as the Opera Nazionale per la Protezione della Maternit e Infanzia. What also
appealed to them was the capacity of these measures to limit womens work
outside the home and constrain them to their domestic and maternal duties. In
welcoming these goals, Beruti gave way to an unrestrained misogyny, attacking
pseudo-feminism as an antiphysiological, deformed, and insane movement of
suffragettes and manly women.77 Even a moderate voice such as Aroz Alfaro
acknowledged the alleged superiority of the dictatorships in addressing these
issues. Speaking on the declining birthrate before a Catholic audience after the
outbreak of World War II, he stated that
When we compare the success of the so-called totalitarian countries
with the relative failure of like measures in France we are forced to
acknowledge that the main reasons for their achievements lie elsewhere.
[Those reasons are of a] moral nature, the sentiment of hot-headed
nationalism, the warrior-like and burning patriotism that their leaders
have awakened in most of the population. In Italy, more than the laws,
more than the Opera [Nazionale per la Protezione della] Maternit e
Infanzia, whose excellent work I have just praised, what is at work is the
new imperialistic spirit, the real nation and the heart-felt duty toward the
fatherland. . . . we have not yet fully understood the true implications of
Mussolinis admonition, which has taken deep roots in the majority of the
Italian people: the easy life is over.78
Aroz Alfaro did not hesitate to call for harsher meaures when it came to
dealing with the irresponsible and criminal behavior of physicians who agreed
to perform mortal abortions. Citing a report of the Alliance Nationale contre la Dpopulation, he extolled the efficient political persecution of professo77. Josu Beruti, Maternidad y educacin femenina, Anales, no. 33 (1934): 2; Josu
Beruti and Alberto Peralta Ramos, Eugenesia y maternidad, Anales, no. 36 (1935): 2.
78. Gregorio Aroz Alfaro, El complejo problema de la baja natalidad, Revista de
Pediologa 2 (1941): 15.

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nal abortionists in Austria after the annexation to Germany (Anschluss) and


demanded the enforcement of an analogous campaign in Argentina.79
By the late 1930s eugenicists had accomplished some moderate triumphs. In
the second half of the decade the Justo and Ortiz governments laid the institutional foundations for a maternalist policy through a set of measures designed to
raise the birthrate, control the spread of transmissible diseases, and bring under
stricter medical surveillance the pre- and postnatal care of the mother and the
child. On December 17, 1936, Congress passed the Law for the Prophylaxis of
Venereal Diseases, which made the medical exam before marriage obligatory for
men. Those infected with a venereal disease were denied permission to marry
and compelled to undergo treatment, which in some cases could lead to their
commitment to a medical institution. The law was conceived partly as a means
to deal with prostitution; it made preventive treatment obligatory for all firms
employing over 50 workers and introduced harsh punishments for those who
willfully spread the disease. Although eugenics was not explicitly mentioned,
the eugenics implications of the law were obvious; so argued the medical-legal
expert Luis Jimnez de Asa in his extensive commentary on the background
and implications of the law. Four days later, a second law created the Direccin de Maternidad e Infancia (Bureau of the Mother and the Child). Unlike
the previous law, this one made explicit references to eugenics. The bureau was
placed under the jurisdiction of the Departamento Nacional de Higiene and was
charged with compiling demographic and health statistics; popularizing eugenics through education and propaganda; organizing and monitoring all maternal
and childcare facilities and services (maternity wards, prenuptial and prenatal
consultations, wet nursing, milk depots, crches, foster homes); overseeing the
implementation of the maternal insurance law (passed in 1934); and fighting
illegal practice of obstetrics and healing.80
By the early 1940s, the decline of infant mortality throughout the country began to offset the negative trends of the previous decade. This was most
evident in the fourth school census (April 1943), which showed that the actual
increase of womens fertility (2.8) was higher than the estimates made in 1939
(2.2). Local population surveys conducted in Buenos Aires and Santa F confirmed the rising tendency of the birthrate as well as the decline of mortality.81
79. Aroz Alfaro, El complejo problema de la baja natalidad, 16.
80. For a discussion of the gender implications of these two laws see Milanesio,
Redefining Mens Sexuality, Resignifying Male Bodies.
81. Bunge, La composicin numrica de la poblacin argentina, Revista de Economa
Argentina 26, no. 309 (1944): 7475; Bunge, Tasas demogrficas argentinas, Revista de
Economa Argentina 26, no. 311 (1944): 13034.

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Interestingly enough, pessimistic views continued to hold out in government


and expert milieus. Shortly after the philo-fascist coup of June 1943, the newly
created Comisin de Denatalidad, a technical agency staffed by Catholic experts
attached to the Ministry of Interior, released a document that placed the blame
for the low birthrate on the desire for an easy life, without sacrifices and preoccupations (and) the lack of true spiritual values. To overcome the present
situation, the bureaucrats called to awaken the consciences . . . and instill the
necessary spiritual strength so that all can fulfill their duty toward the family,
the society and the state.82
Conclusion

The defeat of the fascist dictatorships and the revelations of the crimes committed in the name of the German race certainly reduced the appeal of eugenics after 1945. The ABEMS did not survive the double pressures of the war
and the social and political changes brought about by Peronism. The results
of the fourth national census (1947) discredited the pessimistic diagnoses of
the earlier decade, showing that in the previous three decades the country had
doubled its population from 7,904,000 to 15,894,000. This growth entailed a
dramatic reduction of the share of overseas immigration, from 30 percent to 15
percent of the total population, and the migration of one million provincianos
to Argentinas industrial belt. This manpower reserve, which became essential
for Perns industrializing plans, explains the regimes decision to rely on the
domestic factors of population growth once it became clear that the end of the
war in Europe would not lead to the resumption of immigration at the levels of
the golden years.
However, the language and metaphors of eugenics continued to surface
intermittently, something not entirely unexpected in a nationalist regime controlled by military factions that had been sympathetic to fascism and had ambitious plans of social and economic transformation. Calls for implementing a
selective policy of immigration that favored nationals from Latin countries
became intertwined with discourses of racial pessimism and ambivalent attitudes toward negative eugenics.83 A case in point was the alleged social Darwinism of Ramn Carrillo, Perns minister of public health (194654). In 1947
his ministry published a report which, under the innocuous title of Notes on
82. Sugestivos aspectos muestra el informe de la Comisin de Denatalidad, Mundo
Mdico, no. 10 (1945): 13, 34.
83. On Peronist immigration policy see Carolina Biernat Buenos o tiles? La poltica
inmigratoria del peronismo (Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2007).

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Hygiene, offered a detailed account of the sterilizations practiced in the United


States and Germany. The timing of the document, presented without any comment on the subject or reference to context, was especially relevant for it coincided with the Nuremberg trials against the physicians involved in the Nazi
euthanasia program.84 In the same publication, using language that seemed at
odds with the regimes anti-elitist outlook, Carrillo lamented
the proliferation of human beings of an inferior social value and the
suicide of men of a higher intellectual and moral hierarchy who have
refrained, as members of the middle class, from fulfilling the heroic
destiny that civilization has put in their hands. . . . It is to this minority
of chosen men . . . that the white race owes the superior level which it
has achieved worldwide. This minority is the first one that refused to
reproduce itself, while the fertility of the amorphous mass increases to the
point of keeping for 20 centuries the population of a country like China
in a state of speaking bipeds [bpedos parlantes], with no consequences
whatsoever for its people or humanity. Should the white race persist in
the suicide of its elites, then Europe and America would all but become
another Asiatic humanity.85
Carrillo is said to often have laughed at himself, telling others that he was
black, that is, not fair-skinned. He served in a government publicly identified
with the cause of the poor, most of whom were likely to be dark-skinned, and
with reducing infant mortality and contagious diseases to the levels of advanced
societies. These facts do not fit well with the passage cited above, but they do
not necessarily contradict it either.86 Frank Diktter has suggested that eugenics may be better understood less as a clear set of scientific principles than as a
modern way of talking about social problems in biologizing terms.87 This line
84. Notas de higiene, Archivos de la Secretara de Salud Pblica (Buenos Aires:
Secretara de Salud Pblica, 1947).
85. Ramn Carrillo, El magno problema: La desnatalidad, Archivos de la Secretara de
Salud Pblica, no. 5 (1947): 15.
86. Recently Carrillo became the subject of a controversy over his alleged sympathies
for the Nazis. The revisionist view can be found in Rodolfo Barros, Poblar y purificar:
El otro Ramn Carrillo, La Nacin, 26 Aug. 2007, and Karina Ramacciotti, Las huellas
eugnicas en la poltica sanitaria argentina, in Miranda and Vallejo, Darwinismo social y
eugenesia en el mundo latino, 31147. For reactions against the witch hunt methods of his
detractors, see the letters of Gins Gonzlez Garca and Pedro M. Borio in La Nacin,
1 Sept. and 21 Nov. 2007.
87. Frank Diktter, Race Culture: Recent Perspectives on the History of Eugenics,
American Historical Review 103, no. 2 (1998): 46778. A useful discussion can be also found

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of reasoning allows us to acknowledge the instability and fluidity of biological discourses about social change. In a country where modernization brought
economic growth and urbanization as well as labor unrest, unconventional
reproductive behavior, and new family structures, eugenics provided a convenient framework for making sense of the crisis of traditional society, whether by
emphasizing hereditary traits or external factors. Faced with the prospect of a
declining white population due to the falling birthrate of families of European
descent and the closing of overseas immigration, Argentine eugenicists turned
to the European dictatorships in their search for alternative means for demographic renewal. As a result, the hitherto private realms of family and maternity
became a concern of the state and a new area colonized by medical experts.
From a more general perspective, the history of eugenics in Argentina further
sheds light on the role of science in state-formation processes and the ways in
which medical professionals shaped the relationship between knowledge, politics, and society.

in Robert A. Nye, The Rise and Fall of the Eugenics Empire: Recent Perspectives on
the Impact of Biomedical Thought in Modern Society, The Historical Journal 36, no. 3
(1993): 687700. For a recent update see Marius Turda, New Perspectives on Race and
Eugenics, The Historical Journal 51, no. 4 (2008): 111524.

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