Mar 13, 1961: JFK Proposes Alliance for Progress

President John F. Kennedy proposes a 10-year, multibillion-dollar aid program for Latin America. The program came to be known as the Alliance for Progress and was designed to improve U.S. relations with Latin America, which had been severely damaged in recent years.

When Kennedy became president in 1961, U.S. relations with Latin America were at an all-time low. The Latin American republics were disappointed with U.S. economic assistance after World War II. They argued that they had supported America during the war by increasing their production of vital raw materials and keeping their prices low–when the United States began massive aid programs to Europe and Japan after the war, Latin American nations protested that they also deserved economic assistance. Their anger was apparent during Vice President Richard Nixon’s trip through the region in 1958, when a mob attacked his car at a stop in Caracas.

More troubling to American officials was the threat of communism in Latin America. In 1954, the Central Intelligence Agency had funded and supplied a revolution that overthrew the leftist government of Guatemala. In 1959, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba and by 1961, the United States had severed relations with his government. In response to these developments, Kennedy made his plea for the Alliance for Progress. In requesting funds from Congress, the president stressed the need for improved literacy, land use, industrial productivity, health, and education in Latin America. The United States needed to help Latin America, where “millions of men and women suffer the daily degradations of hunger and poverty” and “discontent is growing.” The United States would provide money, expertise, and technology to raise the standard of living for the people of Latin America, which would hopefully make the countries stronger and better able to resist communist influences.

In response to Kennedy’s plea, Congress voted for an initial grant of $500 million in May 1961. During the next 10 years, billions were spent on the Alliance, but its success was marginal and there were many reasons that the program was ultimately a failure. American congressmen were reluctant to provide funds for land redistribution programs in Latin America because they felt it smacked of socialism. Latin American elites directed most of the funds into pet projects that enriched themselves but did little to help the vast majority of their people. The Alliance certainly failed in its effort to bring democracy to Latin America: by the time the program faded away in the early-1970s, 13 governments in Latin America had been replaced by military rule.

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