The Alliance for Progress, Fifty Years On

AHA Session 145
Conference on Latin American History 31
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)
Abel Ricardo Lopez, Western Washington University
Eric Zolov, Stony Brook University

Session Abstract

Held out as one of the golden eras of U.S.-Latin American relations, John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress has in fact received little attention from historians of U.S. foreign relations and Latin America. As transnational approaches and new archival sources continue to reshape these fields, the fiftieth anniversary of the Alliance in 2011 offers an ideal opportunity to revisit the implications of Kennedy's grand development initiative. This panel brings together scholars of U.S. foreign policy and Latin America, to examine the experience of the Alliance in the Andes (Bolivia and Colombia) and the Southern Cone (Argentina and Uruguay). All four papers stress the importance of national context for understanding the Alliance, which succeeded and failed in large measure because of political processes begun before 1961. The panel therefore seeks both to bring the Alliance “in from the cold,” to place it more concretely within new histories of the Latin American Cold War, as well as to integrate the Alliance into longer historical processes in the hemisphere. Three papers focus on the security-development tension present in U.S. aid programs, and the eventual militarization of the Alliance. Dustin Walcher's “The Alliance that Wasn't: The United States, Argentina, and the Alliance for Progress” narrates the dynamics between U.S. policymakers, Argentine politicians, and Argentine military men. He argues that Washington's lack of confidence in the Frondizi regime not only helped to precipitate a military coup against Frondizi in 1962, but also hamstrung the overall Alliance project. Thomas Field's “Development as Militarization: Washington's Alliance for Progress and the Rise of the Armed Forces in Bolivia” explains how U.S. desires for stability in Bolivia – a country that had already experienced a reformist revolution – underwrote a military-led version of development. Initially hesitant, the U.S. government came to acquiesce to the country's 1964 military coup. Joshua Frens-String's “Uruguay and the Alliance for Progress” explores the binary of post-World War II Uruguayan developmentalism, embodied in ECLA/CEPAL thought, and U.S.-led modernization, epitomized by the USAID public safety programs that came to dominate U.S. assistance by the late 1960s. Frens-String thus highlights the tensions between contrasting visions of postwar Latin American development. Robert Karl's “Alliances for Progress? The Political Economy of Development in Colombia, 1961-1966” focuses on the insertion of development assistance into national, regional, and local political systems in Colombia. Although aid was sometimes diverted to reinforce exclusionary socio-political systems, discrediting the Alliance, it also generated political alternatives that complicated Colombia's governance project. With their geographic and thematic diversity, the panel's papers highlight the variety of paths that Latin American countries followed toward and away from development and democracy during the first half of the so-called “decade of development.”

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