Wednesday, 17 January 2018 22:48

The Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the Alliance for Progress

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One of the lesser appreciated programs instituted by President Kennedy, the Alliance for Progress, intended as a way of freeing Latin America from the yoke of U.S. and European entrepreneurial exploitation, encouraging its economic independence and broadening political participation and self-determination, like nearly all of his foreign policy strategies, met with hostility at home and was reversed subsequent to his assassination, as author Michael Le Flem discusses.

with Jim DiEugenio


In March of 1961, President Kennedy gave a moving address at a White House reception for members of Congress and the Diplomatic Corps of Latin America in which he detailed his bold vision for a progressive South and Central American future:

We propose to complete the revolution of the Americas, to build a hemisphere where all men can hope for a suitable standard of living and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom. To achieve this goal political freedom must accompany material progress ... Let us once again transform the American Continent into a vast crucible of revolutionary ideas and efforts, a tribute to the power of the creative energies of free men and women, an example to all the world that liberty and progress walk hand in hand. Let us once again awaken our American revolution until it guides the struggles of people everywhere­ –– not with an imperialism of force or fear but the rule of courage and freedom and hope for the future of man.

To many, the Alliance for Progress—as the ten-year, $20 billion dollar foreign aid program for Latin America was known—was a necessary, if somewhat controversial move on the United States’ part to quell social upheavals in developing nations. Some felt that the inherent instability of post-colonial Latin America would inevitably lead to the continent’s adoption of communism, that omnipresent Cold War specter largely deployed as a bogey-man for the continuance of U.S. imperialism and intervention, whose very real atrocities in Europe were, by default, exported to the wider world to justify almost every post-war intervention by the United States military-industrial apparatus. While the Soviet Union was far from the ideal society outlined by its founding members after the Russian Revolution of 1917—not to mention the absolutely shocking treatment of its citizens during and after World War II—its international ambitions were far from inevitable. And certainly not always as sinister as U.S. foreign-policy planners insisted, particularly in the Khrushchev era, into which President Kennedy stepped after winning the 1960 election.

A few key ideological underpinnings of those American policy makers in power during the 1950s and early 1960s must be mentioned. These include, but are not limited to, a myopic paternalism towards non-white governments in the developing world; an irrational, reactive fear of anything resembling socialism or neutralism; and a steadfast belief in allying with the greater of two evils, namely a pro-U.S. dictator over an independent, “potentially communist” official interested in his own country’s well-being. It was in this context that the spymasters at the Central Intelligence Agency, and their friends on the board of United Fruit Company, cooked up Operation PBSUCCESS, the half-baked 1954 overthrow of the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz. This plot, hatched from Washington by the likes of Allen Dulles and Walter Bedell Smith, to name but two, was intended to redeem the exploitative profits of the United Fruit Company’s banana farms—which Árbenz asked to be fairly taxed and repurposed for general occupancy by the poor—and to destroy any possibility of his land and tax reforms from going “communist.”

Árbenz himself had no ties to Moscow, was only trying to reverse the decades of dictatorial excess plaguing his nation from its previous rulers, and noted that there wasn’t even a Russian embassy in Guatemala. In the climate of mid-century McCarthyism, it wasn’t a hard sell to discredit Arbenz’ regime.

In the congressional debate from June of 1954, just weeks before the coming overthrow, both Lyndon Johnson and his fellow Texan, representative Jack Brooks, were staunchly pushing for intervention on Capitol Hill. Eerily echoing rhetoric used to justify the later U.S. support of the Nicaraguan Contras, Congressman Brooks argued, “A communist-dominated government in Guatemala is only 700 miles from Texas—only 960 miles, or a few hours’ bomber time, from the refiners, the chemical plants, and the homes of my own Second District in Texas.” (Congressional Record, Senate, 25 June 1954, pp. 8922-8926) In 1986, Ronald Reagan emphatically reminded those in attendance in his Cabinet Room that if the counter-revolutionaries he was funding through his illegal arms deal with Iran failed, it would create “a privileged sanctuary for terrorists and subversives just two days’ driving time from Harlingen, Texas” (Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at a White House Meeting for Supporters of United States Assistance for the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance”).

One of the only opposing voices to the Brooks tirade, Senator William Langer of North Dakota, was largely ignored, and did not even receive comments after his views were expressed. He noted:

I do not believe that the Members of the Senate have been adequately informed as yet as to what is going on in Guatemala. We have had inadequate time to consider such a major declaration on foreign policy. Is there a foreign invasion of Guatemala, or is there a civil war? …. Of course we are opposed to external interference with the affairs of any nation, especially so with regard to our sister republics of Latin America. But even more, we will, or we ought to be, committed to the principle that every sovereign nation has a right to determine for itself its own form of government. (Congressional Record, Senate, 28 June 1954, pp. 9065-9066.)

In the end, none of this mattered. And the story, which has been covered in exhaustive and painful detail by the likes of Nick Cullather in Secret History and William Blum in Killing Hope, is well known. Both psychological and direct warfare were employed to achieve their dramatic effect: Miami-based anti-Árbenz radio broadcasts, leaflets dropped by B-26 bombers, and vicious strafings of the harbor’s oil reserve tanks and the city’s capital buildings combined to spread chaos and terror. Renegade pilot Jerry DeLarm and a former Flying Tiger named Whiting Willauer, whose P-47s buzzed Guatemala City, bristling with eight .50 caliber machine guns, searched the city for anything that moved, scattering citizens and forcing Árbenz to steal away to his headquarters with his security detail. The implied threat of a full-blown United States Marine Corps landing eventually forced Árbenz to concede. Days later, fearing for his life in his presidential suite, he appeared on a nightly radio broadcast and announced his reluctant resignation: “Workers, peasants, patriots! Guatemala is going through a hard trial. A cruel war against Guatemala has been unleashed. The United Fruit Company and U.S. monopolies, together with U.S. ruling circles are responsible. Mercenaries have unleashed fire and death, respecting nothing.” (FOIA Guatemala 0000920952 U 3 May 1, 1954)

Following this, he fled the capital with his remaining loyal staff members and sought refuge in a nearby Mexican embassy. Team members of the coup went so far as to plant Marxist literature in his personal bookshelf. And they left behind a crate of Soviet weapons and ammunition, which was quietly discredited by the international media because of their sloppy work, though Time Magazine predictably parroted the CIA’s disinformation. It has also come to light that on June 3, 1954, just weeks before the coup, Allen Dulles privately ordered Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, to keep his foreign journalists out of Guatemala. After attempting to convince him that one of his best reporters, Sydney Gruson, was a communist who could not be trusted to provide an accurate picture of the unfolding political situation, Dulles demanded he be prevented from flying to Guatemala City to cover the events. Eventually, Sulzberger conceded: ‘‘I telephoned Allen Dulles and told him that we would comply with their suggestion.” (NY Times, 6/7/1997) It should be noted that Gruson eventually became an executive of the Times, and later a director and vice chairman. He retired from the paper in 1987 and went into investment banking. This was Allen Dulles’ idea of a communist. (NY Times, 3/9/1998)


In the wake of Árbenz’ removal, and the subsequent removal of Colonel Díaz, who was Árbenz’s final supporter and was in power all of one day, the brutal and corrupt former chief of Guatemalan police, Carlos Castillo Armas arrived. He had been leading a 150-man CIA-funded and trained band of guerillas through the jungles of Honduras on this way to the capital during the air raids. After a brief discussion with Col. Monzon—who had become the third leader of Guatemala in as many days—Armas came to power. He immediately ordered the arrests of all former high-ranking Árbenz supporters. That list of supporters came from John Peurifoy, the U.S. Ambassador the CIA had placed on site before the coup. Over the next few months, he then sent death squads roaming into the countryside, killing thousands of landless peasants and blaming the murders on Árbenz, going so far as to immediately publish a picture book of the mass graves called Genocidio sobre Guatemala, a disturbing Alice in Wonderland revision of history I don’t recommend reading. Within the first few months, over 72,000 people were arrested and detained without trial for alleged ties to communism.

In the United States, Castillo-Armas was invited by President Eisenhower to a gold-star dinner reception and given a ceremonial party of the highest order. Their man in Guatemala had been installed, and another threat to world stability had been removed. Days after the coup, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles established the official lie in a United States television and radio broadcast, “Led by Colonel Castillo-Armas, patriots arose in Guatemala to challenge the communist leadership—and to change it. Thus the situation is being cured by the Guatemalans themselves.” (Jonathan Fried, Guatemala in Rebellion:Unfinished History, Grove Press, 1983, pp.77-79). The truth was that, had it not been for United Fruit and the CIA, Árbenz would not have been overthrown. Castillo-Armas was simply an appendage manufactured by Washington.

Árbenz’s daughter committed suicide years later, citing the coup and their uncertain wanderings in exile as her source of depression. Her father died in 1971, an alcoholic by then, in a strange bathtub accident in Mexico City; aides forced their way into his hotel bathroom when they noted steam coming from under the door sill. He was found face down in scalding water. Towards the end of his life he actually did join the Communist Party, since he believed the Soviet Union was the only bulwark against Western imperialism, a trajectory later taken by Fidel Castro after the Cuban revolution, and after multiple attempts had been made on his life by the CIA and its Cuban exile mercenaries, and the implications of the Operation Mongoose terror campaign sank in.

It was nearly forty years later that the death squads, random political kidnappings, and utter chaos of the overthrow and its aftermath finally abated. Nearly 200,000 Guatemalans were killed in the wake of PBSUCCESS. The nation has never fully recovered from the coup. It not only served to harden the hearts of those with any inkling that the United States was their friend, but fundamentally radicalized figures like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who himself was in Guatemala City during the coup, and who witnessed the betrayal by the purported beacon of democracy in the free world.

In a way, PBSUCCESS, along with the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran only a year earlier, was the template that would be repeated throughout the Cold War: plausible deniability, the co-opting of corrupt insiders seeking power or revenge, crates of weapons and cash, and voilà: peace. Only the total opposite resulted, as both Shah Reza Pahlavi in Iran (1953) and Carlos Castillo Armas in Guatemala (1954) displayed unusual violence once they came to power, essentially condemning their populations to lives of abject misery and despair during their reigns, forever terrified of being tortured and imprisoned by the nations’ respective secret police forces and their embedded CIA handlers and trainers. This was largely lost on policy planners, removed as they were from the scenes of their crimes. Life went on in Georgetown and at CIA headquarters. Figures like E. Howard Hunt and Allen Dulles went on puffing their wooden pipes in their plush, book-lined studies, carefully reading foreign cables and memoranda, dutifully planning the next overthrow, the next dictator to be installed, the next assassination. As E. Howard Hunt’s son observed in a 2007 interview, when he asked his father about the deaths of all those Guatemalans following PBSUCCESS, he said, surprised, “Deaths? What deaths?” (Rolling Stone, 4/5/2007)


It is in this context that President Kennedy’s struggle to reconcile with the intelligence agencies was born. When he took the oath of office, he had unknowingly filled an essentially compromised position of statesmanship, whose real power lay not in the democratic or executive processes, but in shadowy, essentially rogue organizations like the Central Intelligence Agency, and to a lesser extent, Hoover’s FBI, who at the time were more concerned with subverting peaceful demonstrations domestically and wiretapping elected officials for personal exploitation than with solving major crimes. Indeed, Hoover was in something of a double bind himself, as James Angleton, the CIA’s Chief of Counter-Intelligence, allegedly possessed an incriminating photo of Hoover having sex with his Deputy Director Clyde Tolson, a telling accusation given Hoover’s unusually bitter hatred of homosexuals. (Lisa Pease, Probe, Vol. 7 No. 5., 2000)

Philip K. Dick’s The Man in The High Castle is a counterfactual scenario in which the Axis forces won World War II. There it is detailed how a triumphant Nazi Germany secretly plotted to undermine their ostensible Japanese ally while fulfilling their commitment to the Final Solution. While this thankfully never took place, what is remarkable about the postwar period is the amount of actual influence these Nazi forces continued to have on Western policy in the wake of their military defeat, and how, in many ways their members shaped the creation of the CIA. Consider for a moment the fact that the OSS, and later the CIA, almost entirely relied on former Nazis to provide intelligence on all Soviet activity in Europe immediately after the war. That Germany had pledged a war of racial extermination against the Russian people only a few years earlier apparently didn’t factor into American officials’ interpretation of their Nazi agents’ reports on Soviet activity and its relative threat to the West. Reinhard Gehlen, a former SS Major General who ran this “Gehlen Organization” which later became West Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Service), was personal friends with Allen Dulles, who exchanged letters with him years after he was acquitted of war crimes and put on the U.S. payroll to establish his spy network. One letter, from April 1957 begins, “May I extend to you my heartiest and most sincere wishes for your birthday and wish you health and continuing success for your responsible task during the next years of your life. I would like to take this opportunity to enclose my kindest thanks for your cordial hospitality my co-workers and I enjoyed during our stay over there.”

This should come as little surprise, given Allen Dulles’ own dealings with the Nazis during the war in which his own country was trying bitterly to defeat Hitler, at great loss of life and materiel. Sullivan and Cromwell, the law firm of which John Foster Dulles was managing partner, was instrumental in keeping I. G. Farben, Krupp, and other Nazi industries in business during the ostensible embargo and trading freeze imposed by the United States during World War II. Mirroring their dual powers as Secretary of State and Director of Central Intelligence in the 1950s, John and Allen respectively tested their powers when Allen was OSS station chief of Berne, Switzerland in 1942, and Foster was running his law firm in New York. As David Talbot noted in a recent interview:

In one case a German industrialist had seen Auschwitz being built and had heard what they were going to be using it for. He slipped across the border with this eyewitness account and Dulles basically did nothing with this to make this an urgent priority of the Roosevelt administration. He was not concerned about the Jews’ fate. He was more concerned about his clients, his German clients: making sure their assets would be carefully hidden and that Germany would emerge from the war defeated but a strong bulwark against the Soviet Union, whom he always regarded as the true enemy. (Reader Supported News, 10/20/2015)

This historical backdrop is crucial to understanding the future conflation, in the 1950s and 60s, of communism with nationalistic independence movements in the developing world. For it was people like the Dulles brothers and their colleagues who would convince President Truman to create the CIA, under much pressure, and through the presentation of the Red menace as gleaned from the not-entirely-objective Gehlen Group and their Nazi members who were enjoying U.S. salaries and protection. Indeed, not only was Gehlen protected, but also Wernher von Braun, who handpicked Jewish slaves for use at his Peenemünde Mittelwerk rocket facility during the war; von Braun subsequently became the leading scientist for the U.S. space program, going so far as to design the boosters that put the first American astronauts on the moon. Similarly, while seemingly random Nazis were tried and executed at Nuremberg, those with truly useful knowledge in the eyes of U.S. foreign policy officials were conveniently released on strange case-by-case dismissals. Otto Skorzeny, who rescued Mussolini from the Gran Sasso hotel with his elite glider-borne troops, was never convicted of war-crimes, despite being Hitler’s personal bodyguard and despite his equipping SS commandos with captured U.S. uniforms and weapons to sow discord during the Battle of the Bulge. Incredibly, it was three SS soldiers masquerading as U.S. military police officers that broke him out of Darmstadt prison while he awaited his verdict. Maintaining it was always the United States that aided his escape, he quickly found new work after the war from the highest bidders. These included the fascist government of Peron’s Argentina, Franco’s Spain, Israel, and even the United States, which denies ever dealing with him, but whom Skorzeny, in a brief interview, claims hired him to remove Castro. This is actually supported by the CIA’s own records. In a memo from August of 1966, they noted,

Otto Skorzeny, the former SS Colonel who rescued Mussolini, planned to kidnap Fidel Castro and take him to an undisclosed place, according to a feature article in the Sunday supplement to La Cronica published in Lima, Peru on August 7, 1966. The article says that the plan, known as “Project Tropical,” having the approval of Allen Dulles, head of CIA, was to have been carried out in 1961 but was vetoed by President Kennedy. (FOIA3B3: “Otto Skorzeny Planned to Kidnap Fidel Castro.”)

In many ways, to figures in the American intelligence agencies, President Kennedy represented a radical departure from previous administrations. For instance, he favored figures like Indonesia’s Sukarno, and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, both nationalists seeking financial and political independence from Western colonial and industrial policies. Therefore, in the eyes of those who championed the Dulles brothers, he was a traitor. That the CIA tried to overthrow Sukarno and actively participated in the successful assassination of Lumumba did not escape his attention, and from almost the first few months of his term, Kennedy came to discover the truly sinister machinations of an agency which ostensibly existed to gather intelligence against foreign threats, but which in reality had become a well-oiled coup d’état and assassination machine. Hoping that he would carry the torch from the Eisenhower administration’s support of overthrows against developing nations, policy planners in the CIA and other agencies were sorely disappointed by his rhetoric and actions in the face of defiant, outspoken liberation leaders, who they were quick to subsume under the communist umbrella which they saw unfolding across the world in their Manichean ideology of the post-McCarthy era. Kennedy stated in his March 1961 address outlining the Alliance for Progress words which, in the eyes of planners like Dulles, seemed reminiscent of the Kremlin: “We call for social change by free men, change in the spirit of Washington and Jefferson, of Bolivar and San Martin—not change which seeks to impose on men tyrannies which we cast out a century and a half ago. Our motto is what it has always been—progress yes, tyranny no—progreso sí, tiranía no!”


As a number of authors—like Richard Mahoney—have shown, unlike Eisenhower, Kennedy understood the evils that colonialism and imperialism had wrought in the Third World. He also understood that the regimes that had been set up in the second Age of Colonialism were beginning to break apart during the fifties. A good example of this was his landmark 1957 speech in the Senate assailing France’s colonial war to maintain its regime in Algeria. In that speech Kennedy specifically targeted American aid to France to fight its imperial war against the Algerian natives. Because of that famous speech, he subsequently became the man to see in Washington for visiting African dignitaries.

In early 1961, Kennedy had sent Arthur Schlesinger on a tour of Latin America. (Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, pp. 175-185) Schlesinger had a strong interest in the area since he had studied Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy. He admired the aim but felt it was limited as it emphasized the diplomatic and legal dimensions of American aid. Its only economic aspect was the Export-Import Bank. Later on, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also entered the picture. But as Schlesinger quickly grasped, the terms placed on loans from the IMF demanded too many restrictive measures, like deflation, which resulted in higher unemployment and reduced per capita income.

The solution, as far as the Eisenhower/Nixon administration was concerned, was to supply mostly military aid—and then let private companies invest in these Latin American countries in hopes of creating economic development through foreign investment. The problem with this was that the IMF and Export-Import Bank would usually make loans only to nations that had what they considered stable governments. As Schlesinger pointed out, this usually meant right-wing governments. It was this kind of thinking that sent Vice President Nixon to Havana to praise the “competence and stability” of the completely corrupt Batista regime. (Schlesinger, p. 174) These debilitating IMF programs, as well as other private American loans, were well described in John Perkins’ 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. There, Perkins observed that far too high a ratio of the loan packages ended up aiding the plutocracy that was already in power.

As Schlesinger acutely observed, this paradigm ignored how the United States had actually developed as a business and commercial power. Congress had made very large investments in transportation and infrastructure, e.g., canals, highways, and railroads. Congress had also granted large amounts of property to states to create land grant colleges, many of which specialized in agricultural education. The federal government also encouraged the settling of the frontier through what were essentially land giveaways in states like Oklahoma. Therefore, historian Schlesinger concluded, the Eisenhower/Nixon model contradicted the American model. At the same time, the model was inadequate to the needs of these many developing countries. Or as one Latin American leader told Schlesinger, “The United States has given me just enough rope to hang myself.” (Schlesinger, p. 182) It therefore encouraged the image of America as an imperial power from the north. And it also gave an appeal to communists like Fidel Castro. As another leader told Kennedy’s representative:

There is much poverty in my country. The communists have made themselves the advocates of the just demands of the workers and peasants. That makes it hard for us to oppose them without seeming to oppose what we regard as a just social program. (p. 183)

Thus it was not just an ethical, and humanitarian dilemma, but also a practical one in terms of the Cold War. America had to be able to compete with the communists on the basic sustenance level in Latin America. If not, then we would encourage violent unrest leading to guerilla warfare. What made the New Frontier’s approach even more attractive was that when Schlesinger talked to most of the leaders in Latin America, they preferred aid from Kennedy more than they did Castro. In other words, the Eisenhower/Nixon approach squandered a welcome opportunity. (p. 185)

Schlesinger returned in February and briefed the president. On March 13, 1961, the Alliance for Progress was formally announced in the East Room of the White House. Kennedy summoned all Latin American ambassadors to the proceedings, and had them broadcast in Spanish, Portugese, French and English through Voice of America. The president then sent a request to Congress for funding. The basic idea was that aid money would now come from the Treasury Department, bypassing the punitive restrictions of the IMF, Export-Import Bank and private loans. Kennedy declared that he wanted the Alliance to transform the Western Hemisphere “into a vast crucible of revolutionary ideas and efforts.” (Theodore Sorenson, Kennedy, p. 601)

Five months later, Kennedy arranged for a meeting in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. The president sent Schlesinger, Latin American specialist Richard Goodwin, Adolf Berle (a veteran of the Good Neighbor Policy), United Nations representative Adlai Stevenson, Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon and many foreign aid officers. (Although Dillon was a Republican, he understood Kennedy’s strategy to counter Castro’s appeal.) The Punta del Este concept was similar to a giant business seminar at which Americans were supposed to brainstorm with Latin Americans to write up programs and proposals to advance economic development. Nothing like it had ever occurred before in South America. After the meeting, Kennedy was startled by the scope of the problems he was facing. He had originally conceived a ten-year plan. But now he was skeptical that the problems could be solved in a decade, even with his planned 20 billion dollar investment from the American treasury. (Sorenson, p. 602)

As Ted Sorenson noted, one of the obstructions Kennedy ran into was the resistance of the landed aristocracy that was already in power. They were quite influential in all facets of the status quo, e.g., the newspapers and the military. They did not want to alter that status quo with land grants, tax reform, or increased wages. And Kennedy did not envision the Alliance as just a funding program. He also wanted it to be a reform program, one that would extend not just economic benefits but political rights. (p. 602) As he expressed with one of his most famous adages, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” (p. 602)

But in spite of all the obstacles, Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress managed to build housing projects, schools, create individually owned farms, and provide food rations for the hungry. And he got many letters from former street urchins who now, for the first time, had a new home to live in. (p. 604)

Beyond these goals, Kennedy was planning on putting structures in place that would guarantee long range and self-sustaining reform. He was also constructing central planning agencies, technical assistance programs, progressive tax structures, and encouraging the submission of detailed development plans to the Organization of American States. And he did experience some success. In its first year, aid to Latin America tripled. In two years, ten of the nineteen member nations hit their targeted growth rates. (p. 604) One of which was a 2.5% increase in per capita income.

Like many programs Kennedy had launched, once he was killed in Dallas, the CIA and President Johnson at first neutralized it, and then as Johnson gave way to President Nixon, it was reversed. As every commentator on the Alliance for Progress has pointed out, when Johnson took office, this marked the ascendancy of Thomas Mann in Latin American affairs. Mann, the ambassador to Mexico under Kennedy, like others in the State Department, had been busy in the wake of his assassination trying to put together Oswald as part of a Cuban conspiracy. Mann and Johnson had long been friends. And, like Johnson, Mann was a conservative in his foreign policy views. Johnson quickly made Mann his de facto chief officer in Latin America. Within 18 months, the new president gave Mann three titles in the area, including the directorship of the Alliance. This was significant for one simple reason. Mann had opposed such an aid program for the area as far back as 1959. (Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions, p. 156) In other words, while Johnson kept up the Kennedy rhetoric about the Alliance for Progress, Mann was the perfect figure in the bureaucracy to start to extinguish the program. As LBJ speechwriter Harry McPherson once said about Kennedy’s eloquent opening address back in March of 1961 in the East Room, it was a “lot of crap”. (p. 156)

Mann did two things to start to stamp out the program. First, the overall allotment was greatly reduced for fiscal years 1967-69. Second, what was left was mainly directed to military, not economic, aid. The excuse for this was the increasing massive expenditures going to Indochina. (p. 156) These future planned reductions were accompanied by a speech Mann made in March of 1964, less than four months after Kennedy’s assassination. This address was given to Mann’s Latin American employees in what was supposed to be an off-the-record conference. In the speech, he made no reference at all to the Alliance for Progress. Nor did he address any need for structural changes. What he did point out was the need to spur economic growth while maintaining the status quo. He went as far as to say “this meant quickly recognizing military regimes that overthrew civilian governments” (p. 157) Thus, in short order, two of Kennedy’s aims for the Alliance were stopped cold: encouraging wider democratic participation, and expanding economic opportunity.

The further erosion of the Alliance was continued the next year in the Dominican Republic. President Kennedy was opposed to the military coup that had expelled the elected president Juan Bosch. Bosch had been elected in December of 1962 in what many declared the first free election in that country’s history. He immediately announced both economic and political reforms in keeping with the Alliance for Progress aims. But he was overthrown in a military coup in September of 1963. As Donald Gibson has described in his book Battling Wall Street, Kennedy took the lead in beginning a hemisphere-wide condemnation and economic boycott of the new regime in order to help Bosch regain power. At the time of his assassination, Kennedy’s actions were picking up steam. (Gibson, pp. 78-79)

Bosch went into exile in Puerto Rico. While there he arranged for his backers to slowly gain strength in hopes of returning to power. This very likely was about to happen in 1965. But unlike Kennedy, Johnson and Mann were opposed to Bosch. As with Allen Dulles’ view of Arbenz, they saw him as another Castro: a second communist dictatorship in the Caribbean. With the help of the CIA, including Bernardo De Torres, a chief suspect in the JFK assassination, they infiltrated Bosch’s forces, and created a huge propaganda campaign that attributed atrocities to his followers. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 228) This set the stage for the landing of about 30,000 Marines in April of 1965 in order to maintain control and prevent Bosch from taking power. In the name of a souped up and false charge of anti-communism (Bosch was not a communist), Johnson had violated the nonintervention pledge the USA had made when it joined the OAS in 1948. This was consistent with what he felt about that body since he once said it “… couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.” (LaFeber, p. 158) Johnson’s invasion of the Dominican Republic told members of the OAS that the Alliance for Progress was all but buried.

In 1969, President Nixon presided over the last rites. He sent Nelson Rockefeller on a tour similar to Schlesinger’s for Kennedy in 1961. Except Rockefeller came back with a quite different message. He wrote in his report that there was really little America could do in the area and he said that the USA should drastically cut back on its aid programs. (Jeffrey Taffet, Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy, pp. 181-88) This message was similar to Patrick Moynihan’s infamous memo to Nixon in January of 1970 about the plight of African Americans; his recommended solution was to begin a period of “benign neglect”.

But as author John Bohrer points out in his book The Revolution of Robert Kennedy, it really had entered that phase four years earlier. When Senator Robert Kennedy was preparing for a journey to several countries in South America, he was briefed by the State Department. After listening to their instructions, he replied it looked to him as if what the Alliance for Progress had come down to was that you can “abolish political parties and close down the Congress and take away the basic freedoms of the people … and you’ll get a lot of our money. But if you mess around with an American oil company, we’ll cut you off without a penny. Is that it?” His briefer said that that was about the size of it. As he walked out RFK told an assistant, “It sounds like we’re working for United Fruit again.” (Bohrer, p. 231)

President Kennedy’s ideas for a more peaceful world were almost universally reversed after his death, the Alliance for Progress being one that has been little noticed by anyone who is not a foreign policy aficionado. But not only did President Kennedy wish to join in a collaborative effort with the Soviet Union to reach the moon; he saw in the concept of mutually assured nuclear destruction a horrifying and unnecessary scenario, going so far as to ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in August of 1963 with Nikita Khrushchev, which essentially took the first major step to wind down the specter of atomic holocaust. Similarly, Kennedy had asked Schlesinger to draw up a written plan to greatly decrease the covert action wing of the CIA, and even restructure it to allow transparency and Congressional oversight. (David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard, p. 439)

The legacy of this brief moment in American history has largely been relegated to the cult of Kennedy’s personality: his playboy image, his charisma, and his superficial sheen. And yet, at least to my knowledge, no president had come so close as to actually delivering on the promises of the United States’ purported mission of fostering peace across the world. There is substantial evidence for his withdrawal plan from Vietnam, which, if he had lived, could have prevented one of the greatest humanitarian crises in 20th-Century history, not to mention preserved the reputation of the world’s leading superpower. In addition, with his assassination came a full retrenchment of the intelligence-industrial complex, whose actions and efforts basically ran unchecked until the cursory reviews of Congress in the mid-to-late 1970s in the wake of Watergate. And with Martin Luther King’s and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations only months apart in 1968, it is safe to say that all of the major players for human progress and actual co-operation among nations and among those at home had been removed. Symbolically, the Sixties ended that hot night in June of 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel, a tragic evening which served as a somber bookend to the brief window of hope that had opened in the election of 1960 for a generation genuinely seeking change.

Last modified on Thursday, 18 January 2018 13:31
Michael Le Flem

Michael Le Flem is an independent researcher and a university lecturer in history and philosophy in Chicago. He holds a Master's degree in U.S. Foreign Policy from Florida State University and is also the Director of External Affairs for the Chicago Regal Foundation, in which capacity he is attempting to reopen the Avalon Regal Theater on the city's South Side.

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