“To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge – to convert our good words into good deeds – in a new alliance for progress – to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty.” -John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
Following a near decade of declining relations with Latin America under the Eisenhower administration, after his marginal victory in 1960 over Richard Nixon, the former Vice President under Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy was determined to reverse this trend.
The Alliance for Progress, signed into being at an interstate conference at Punta del Este, Uruguay, in August 1961, pledged to loan around $20 billion –today around $160 billion- to the countries of Latin America. Kennedy clearly hoped that in aiding the economic progress of these ‘sister republics’ he would undo the damage done to Latin American relations after American support for unpopular dictatorships in Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela by men such as Fulgencio Batista – the then recently deposed dictator of Cuba.
However Kennedy had another motive. He believed that in warding off any potential major economic upsets, he could keep the influence of communism firmly out of the continent. This was a part of Kennedy’s foreign policy tenet of economic intervention, built on the work entitled ‘Theory of Modernization’ by Walt Rostow. In it, Rostow contended that economies went through five stages of growth and, importantly for Kennedy, could be helped to achieve later stages through large scale investment. Although perhaps on the surface unrelated to the ideological struggle that was the Cold War, it was in fact another strategy. Indeed this is a part of the ‘economic growth=middle class=democracy’ theory. Healthy democracies south of the border would no doubt aid America in battling, if not winning, the Cold War.
Though admittedly far less interesting and less well known than ‘R+L=J’, this equation has informed foreign policy as recently as the Bush administration in his large scale trade efforts with the People’s Republic of China. With this policy still in use today, it would be logical to assume that Kennedy was successful in his aims. However the results of the Alliance for Progress are ambivalent at best. While the minimum growth estimates were achieved for the decade, less than half actually reached their economic growth target. It’s purported alternative motive of strengthening and widening the number of democracies in Latin America also failed, as thirteen were replacedwith dictatorships in the 1960’s.
Overall the Alliance of Progress did at least signal a change and a willingness to engage and improve the lives of all Americans, not just those in the United States. Perhaps this endeavour is enough for some.