In launching the Alliance, he built on the work of Douglas Dillon, who in 1958 had attended a three-week meeting in Brazil as a State Department employee. Dillon was impressed by Latin America leaders, particularly those from Brazil and Mexico, who were urging a new coffee agreement and a new development bank for the Americas. He eventually prevailed on President Eisenhower to take up the cause and to create the Inter-American Development Bank. He also piqued the interest of the Democratic presidential candidate from Massachusetts.
As Arthur Schlesinger recounts it, Senator Kennedy read a memorandum from ten leading Latin American economists, and, impressed with the urgency and energy of their ideas, conceived of a new approach to inter-American development.
He had an idea but no name.
Sitting in the campaign bus as it rolled across Texas, Dick Goodwin, his speechwriter, groped for a phrase that would express what the "Good Neighbor Policy" did for Franklin Roosevelt. As he pondered, his eye caught the title of a Spanish language magazine, Alianza. He liked that, but then the question was, Alliance for what? A call was placed to Ernesto Betancourt, then at the Pan American Union, who had two suggestions: Alianza para el Desarollo (development) and Alianza para el Progresso. That's how the Alliance was christened.
Once he was elected, my uncle asked Douglas Dillon, a Republican, to serve as treasury secretary. (My brother Douglas was named for him.) It's worth noting that at its beginning, the Alliance for Progress had strong bipartisan support.
In his inaugural address, the new president proclaimed his vision for the Americas: "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."
Later, in a talk with the Latin American diplomatic corps in the East Room of the White House, President Kennedy signaled that the Alliance was no mere window dressing.
At the heart of the Alliance was a call for fundamental openings in the economic and political systems of the Americas that would let the dispossessed claim their place in the sun. The status quo was unacceptable. My uncle said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." He called for democracy, a new respect for human rights, long-term economic development, fair distribution of the fruits of growth to campesinos and workers, and land, tax, and education reform.
The president spoke about the Americas with passion and energy. He knew that without lofty goals, the Alliance couldn't inspire people's imagination and their determination to root out hundreds of years of entrenched political and economic power.
Latin American oligarchs felt threatened, as did their allies at State, the Pentagon, Treasury, and the CIA. Some feared armed rebellion, others communism, others a threat to American business interests.