Alliance for Progress

views updated May 11 2018

Alliance for Progress

Alliance for Progress was a policy inaugurated in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy as a ten-year $20 billion cooperative effort to bring political stability and representative government to Latin America. Events in the late 1950s brought the United States to the realization that within Latin America the economic, social, and political disparities that divided the region's peoples served as breeding grounds for revolution. Building off of smaller-scale, U.S.-funded social investments in Latin America that had begun in the late 1940s, the United States designed development programs that climaxed with the Alliance for Progress Charter. All members of the Organization of American States, except Cuba, signed the charter at Punta del Este, Uruguay, on 17 August 1961. The Alliance hoped to bring political stability and representative government to Latin America through economic reform by providing funds to improve the infrastructure for industrialization (such as roads and dams) and by collaborating in private investment projects. Economic and social justice was encouraged by changing the inequitable tax systems and by providing for schools and health care facilities. The policies were formulated within the context of the cold war because both the U.S. and Latin American leadership feared that Communist-inspired Fidelismo would spread from Cuba to other parts of the hemisphere. The Alliance sought to deter the Communist appeal by supporting social reform and economic growth that would create political stability.

Under the Alliance for Progress, Latin American armed forces placed a new emphasis on counter-insurgency, which included civic action programs, such as literacy training, teaching of technical skills, opening new land, building schools and highways, improving sanitation and health facilities, and other projects useful to civilians. Alliance programs have been criticized for buying supplies primarily from U.S. companies, which limited the impact of foreign development aid. Indeed, 90 percent of all commodity expenditures went to U.S. businesses. Also, the Alliance never spent enough money to make a major impact. The United States opened many health clinics throughout Latin America, but their impact was limited by the very large population growth during the period. The Alliance also shifted emphasis from defense against offshore incursions to internal security. Enthusiasm for the Alliance quickly waned. By 1963 military governments had come to power in several Latin American countries, diminishing the hope for democracy, and in some countries the military lost interest in the civic action programs, using counterinsurgency training only to suppress political opposition.

In the United States, President Lyndon B. Johnson was less committed than Kennedy to democratic reform and favored private over public investment. Plagued by the war in Vietnam, the costs of the Great Society, and civil violence at home, and reassured by the apparent inability of Fidel Castro to encourage revolution elsewhere, the United States gave less attention to Latin America in the late 1960s. When Richard M. Nixon assumed the presidency in 1969, he noted that the Alliance was a concept with great promise that had not achieved its economic and social objectives, and when Congress terminated it in 1972, the Agency for International Development (AID), which had administered most of the Alliance programs, agreed. Despite the problems associated with the Alliance, AID continued to fund social, education, and development programs throughout Latin America into the early 2000s.

See alsoAgency for International Development (AID) .


Hernando Agudelo Villa, La revolución del desarrollo: Orígen y evolución de la Alianza para el Progreso (1966).

William D. Rogers, The Twilight Struggle: The Alliance for Progress and the Politics of Development in Latin America (1967).

Jerome Levinson and Juan De Onis, The Alliance That Lost Its Way: A Critical Report on the Alliance for Progress (1970).

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., "The Alliance for Progress: A Retrospective," in Latin America: The Search for a New International Role, edited by Ronald G. Hellman and H. Jon Rosenbaum (1975).

Additional Bibliography

Gambone, Michael D. Capturing the Revolution: The United States, Central America, and Nicaragua, 1961–1972. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001.

Lleras Camargo, Alberto, and Otto Morales Benítez. Reflexiones sobre la historia, el poder y la vida internacional. Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes, Tercer Mundo, 1994.

Rabe, Stephen G. The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Taffet, Jeffrey F. Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy: The Alliance for Progress in Latin America. New York: Routledge, 2007.

                                          Thomas M. Leonard

Alliance for Progress

views updated Jun 11 2018


ALLIANCE FOR PROGRESS. Early in John F. Kennedy's presidential term—but not sufficiently early for critics worried by the specter of communism in Latin America, Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution in Cuba, and the growing popularity among Brazil's landless of the Peasant Leagues movement headed by Francisco Julião—the president, at a White House reception for the Latin American diplomatic corps on 13 March 1961, proposed an alliance for progress in the Western Hemisphere. Based in principle on the successful Marshall Plan that rescued western Europe after World War II, Kennedy's proposal called for a concentrated joint effort to accelerate the economic and social development of Latin America within a democratic political framework. "Those who make democracy impossible," Kennedy said, "will make revolution inevitable."

The alliance speech was a powerful political statement marking a definite shift in U.S. policy that began in the late 1950s, at least partially in response to the growing revolutionary activity epitomized by Castro's overthrow of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. The speech, the Kennedy personality, and the positive response of popular Latin American leaders combined to produce a remarkable mass psychological impact throughout the hemisphere. Its immediate effect was to improve dramatically the political relations between the United States and Latin America, especially with the "democratic left." The speech electrified the masses and gave encouragement to progressive political and intellectual forces within Latin America, but it also engendered bitterness and obdurate opposition among those who, for selfish or ideological reasons, resisted strongly if not always publicly the fundamental changes called for.

Between 1961 and 1969, public economic assistance to the Latin American countries in the form of grants and loans from all external sources was about $18 billion, of which about $10 billion came directly from official U.S. sources. However, on a net basis, that is, after taking account of loan repayments and interest, official U.S. direct aid is estimated to have been about $4.8 billion in the same period. This relatively small net transfer of official capital is explained by the fact that public indebtedness in Latin America in 1960 was more than $10 billion, the servicing of which diverted resources away from new investment.

Although profound changes in the economic, social, and political structures in Latin America began to take place in 1961 under the impetus of the alliance, a variety of forces within Latin America and a major shift in U.S. energies and resources associated with the Vietnam War drained the alliance effort of its vitality. These factors, combined with the intrinsic difficulty of bringing about radical social change within a free and democratic framework, resulted in a failure to meet early expectations concerning performance. Depending on the site, some or most of the food supplies from the United States, for example, surplus powdered milk and eggs, cheese, tinned beef, and flour, found their way into private hands and were sold for profit.

Some Alliance for Progress projects were seen as arrogant, impractical, or both. Latin American educators, who traditionally preferred European models, resented being told by well-meaning American advisers that the U.S. system of middle and high schools should replace the more rigorous but less democratic Latin American school system. The Alliance for Progress spent millions of dollars to build communities of tract houses so working-class families could take out mortgages on the little houses and therefore become property owners. But the project overlooked the fact that these housing tracts were located so far from the city center, where the heads of families worked, that most residents abandoned the new housing as soon as they could to move closer to their work.

President Lyndon B. Johnson kept the Alliance for Progress alive, but President Richard M. Nixon ended it, substituting a new agency, Action for Progress. Like the dollar diplomacy advocates of the 1920s and 1930s, Nixon's approach argued that "prosperity makes contentment and contentment means repose." But all of these programs, including the Alliance for Progress, differed fundamentally from dollar diplomacy. Rather than relying on Wall Street bankers to bring repose to Latin America with loans, American taxpayers provided the money, most of it in concessional terms.


Berger, Mark T. Under Northern Eyes: Latin American Studies and U.S. Hegemony in the Americas, 1898–1990. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U. S. Policy Toward Latin America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Ralph A.Dungan

Robert M.Levine

See alsoDollar Diplomacy ; Latin America, Relations with ; Marshall Plan .

About this article

Alliance for Progress

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic


Alliance for Progress