Crafting Communities in Cold War Latin America: U.S Modernization Efforts through Education, the Peace Corps, and the Alliance for Progress

AHA Session 209
Conference on Latin American History 55
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom H (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Fernando Purcell, Pontificia Universidad Catolica
Michael J. LaRosa, Rhodes College

Session Abstract

This panel examines the multiple and intersecting levels of community that were constructed, contested or imagined by participants in U.S.-led efforts to modernize Latin America during the Cold War.  Concerned that inequality and lack of development left the region ripe for socialist revolution, U.S. officials created or supported programs designed to foster both development and closer U.S. - Latin American relationships.  Moreover, in the wake of the Cuban Revolution and the critically important popular support for Fidel Castro’s guerrillas, the object of US officials’ concerns did not center exclusively around Latin American federal governments.  Rather, they sought to establish direct and personal ties with the Latin American people themselves. Thus the U.S. embarked on a comprehensive effort to foster such ties, creating new institutions, promoting several initiatives, and seeking in these ways to bring economic, political and cultural modernization to the hemisphere. 

By considering several of these projects - the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress, and university reform - in four different national scenarios - those of Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Brazil - this panel will explore and compare these efforts.  The papers will focus attention on the various ideologies of development that motivated U.S. planners, the officials or volunteers who tried to implement these plans, the local partners who managed their efforts, and the intended recipients of such modernizing efforts.  One paper explores the disjuncture between ideologies of development that motivated the Peace Corps in Bolivia and the rise of indigenous resistance movements in the 1960s and 1970s.  Another examines the role of U.S. international development agencies and foundations in Colombia and their efforts to  consolidate the middle class as part of a wider democratic project during the National Front period.  A third paper looks at efforts at educational modernization in the Universidad San Cristóbal de Huamanga in Peru and the ways in which these led to increased, rather than decreased student radicalism.  The fourth paper studies the destruction of several Rio de Janeiro shantytowns and their replacement by model community “Kennedy Villages” in order to explore cultural dimensions of the Alliance for Progress.  

Historiographically this panel contributes to recent efforts to link diplomatic understandings of the Latin American Cold War with social and cultural approaches that emphasize views “from below”. This is a new major historiographical trend that considers various spatial levels; regional and national levels have occupied the agenda of many historians so far.  The consideration of community spaces promises to provide revealing narratives of how transnational processes, such as the Cold War, were experienced in local spaces on a human scale.  The papers in this panel emphasize both state and non-state actors, offering a complex approach to understanding the Latin American Cold War.  

Methodologically, a particular challenge for considering non-state actors in community spaces is the search for adequate sources. The panelists have all had to consider this issue and their experiences will help promote a good debate for those seeking to undertake further research on Cold War communities in Latin America.

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