EVER since World War II thoughtful Latin Americans have implored Washington to undertake a long-range policy toward their region. Instead, U.S. policy in Latin America — if policy it can be called — has been a succession of hastily improvised responses to various local crises. The main aim has seemed to be the maintenance of the status quo. The advent of the Kennedy Administration brought high hopes to liberal democratic leaders in Latin America who had long advocated a broad, positive approach to the economic and social dislocations that are the underlying cause of the area’s political instability.
Kennedy and his advisers established close contact with such prominent liberal figures as Governor Luis Muñoz Marín of Puerto Rico and President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela, rejected the old policy of supporting dictators, and went firmly on record as favoring reform as the most effective answer to Communism.
Barely two months after he took office, President Kennedy, on March 13, 1961, announced an ambitious ten-year program to be known as the Alliance for Progress. He described it as “a vast effort, unparalleled in magnitude and nobility of purpose, to satisfy the basic needs of the American people for homes, work and land, health and schools.” When the hemisphere’s finance ministers met the following August to begin implementation of the program, three disturbing questions quickly came into focus.
First, is Congress willing to support the President’s request for the vast funds to finance the Alliance? The Administration is asking Capitol Hill to authorize $3 billion in Alliance aid for the next five years, despite considerable opposition to expanded foreign-aid spending. Many legislators think that aid should be withheld until Latin America makes a more determined effort at tax and land reforms, and some object to helping countries which oppose U.S. policy on Cuba.
Second, will the United States and Latin America be able to revamp their bureaucracies, which for years have delayed the formulation and execution of new policies to cope with mounting revolutionary pressures? Men who possess not only high technical competence but also dedication, ideological preparation, and superior intelligence will be needed both in North and South America to implement the ambitious goals of the Alliance.
Third, can Latin American leaders press ahead with social and economic reforms against the resistance of powerful vested interests that still exercise considerable political and financial influence? In Argentina, for example, supporters of Dictator Juan D. Perón, who was deposed in 1955, won a surprise victory in the elections held last March. Perónistas, with the backing of Communists, claimed that President Frondizi had sold out to “Yankee imperialism,” and Perón himself accused the United States of meddling in Argentine affairs.
Actually, the election results and the crisis that followed can be seen in an ironic way as vindicating Frondizi’s insistence that concessions to the left had to be made in order to win over the substantial number of workers who still yearned for the autocratic Peron regime. His failure can largely be traced to the unyielding attitude of the powerful right-wing coalition of landed interests and army leaders. Not content with Frondizi’s conservative economic policy, the army forced him to break relations with Cuba a few weeks before the election.
The ultimate success of the new U.S. Latin American policy hinges on the answers given, in time, to these questions. It would be unrealistic and misleading to expect conclusive results immediately. Two decades of neglect, misunderstandings, and halfhearted efforts represent a legacy that cannot easily be overcome.
A hollow victory
When, less than four months after launching the Alliance, the Kennedy Administration came out in favor of a conference of foreign ministers to discuss Cuba, it seemed that the old pattern of jeopardizing a positive long-range program for quick political expedients was reasserting itself.
For many Latin Americans, the logic of the Punta del Este conference could be found only in the pressures the U.S. Congress was exerting on the eve of consideration of the budget. With military intervention against the Cuban regime ruled out as a violation of the Charter of the Organization of American States, and with the firm opposition of six of the larger nations to diplomatic sanctions, there seemed little to be gained from another high-level diplomatic meeting.
But Castro’s own inadequate understanding of the nuances of hemisphere politics helped save the situation from being a total failure for the United States. His continued threats to promote unrest elsewhere in Latin America caused Colombia and Venezuela to line up with Peru and the Central American countries that were demanding stiff action against the Cuban regime.
These factors, combined with the skillful and patient negotiations conducted by Secretary of State Dean Rusk, brought a unanimous declaration by the foreign ministers that Cuba’s Marxism-Leninism was incompatible with the principles of the inter-American system. Yet the substantive resolution to exclude the Castro regime from the OAS received only the minimum two-thirds majority of fourteen countries, with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador abstaining.
Secretary Rusk’s claim that this kind of dissent was a “vivid demonstration of the democratic process of a vigorous community of nations” sounded hollow to Latin American diplomats aware of the strenuous efforts by the Kennedy Administration to achieve unanimity.
Secretary Rusk’s performance
Perhaps one of the most positive results the United States achieved at the conference came in the unpredictable field of human relations — the esteem and respect engendered by Secretary Rusk and his team. The eloquence and progressive tone of Rusk’s speeches, as well as the tact and patience he displayed during two weeks of difficult negotiations, served to emphasize to the Latin American delegations a new style and content in U.S. foreign policy.
Until quite recently, hemispheric support for Washington’s policies on basic East-West issues had been taken for granted. U.S. spokesmen generally addressed inter-American conferences with sophomoric warnings about the dangers of “atheistic Communism" that Latin American statesmen regarded as an insult to their intelligence.
By contrast, Mr. Rusk’s principal speech was an articulate blend of affirmations of Jeffersonian democracy with a careful analysis of the discrepancies between Communist rhetoric and achievements. He deflated Cuba’s angry claims that the “monopoly-controlled U.S. government” was opposed to the Castro regime purely because of the economic losses suffered by private U.S. interests, when he asserted that “Many of us . . . would have had no quarrel with changes in the economic organization of Cuba instituted with the consent of the Cuban people. Our hemisphere has room for a diversity of economic systems.”
This recognition of Latin America’s economic autonomy was coupled with a scrupulous understanding of its mood of nationalism and independence. Accordingly, despite strong pressures from important congressional spokesmen, the Secretary at no time invoked the threat of curbing economic aid to countries refusing to endorse the expulsion of Cuba. In turn, Rusk found that, notwithstanding the impressive catalogue of errors compiled by Washington’s Latin American policy, there continues to exist a vast reservoir of goodwill toward the United States, every bit of which will be needed to wage the long and difficult fight to achieve progress with a minimum of turbulence.
Strengthening the OAS
The overriding lesson of the foreign ministers’ meeting is that the Kennedy Administration, while it reflects a carefully prepared, wellbalanced policy in the economic Held, has not yet shed the habit of improvising when it faces complex political issues in Latin America.
There were some farsighted officials who hoped that the United States would take the leadership in strengthening the faltering political machinery of the OAS. They believe that by more thorough and imaginative legal planning the U.S. delegation could have proposed a structural revision of the inter-American system that would have excluded all dictatorships from its membership and not limited the conference to the immediate issue of Cuba. Although the OAS charter is dedicated to the principles of democracy and human freedom, for years the organization included representatives of brutal dictatorships, on the grounds that to reject them would have jeopardized the doctrine of nonintervention. The same arguments that prevented an effective censure of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic were invoked by Cuba to explain the paradox of how it could become a MarxistLeninist dictatorship and still stay in the OAS.
It is not surprising, then, that the organization’s insistence on civil liberties and democracy rings false to millions of Latin Americans, even though in Washington the OAS acquired the reputation of being an extraordinary political institution and the pioneer of all other Western regional security arrangements.
The Kennedy Administration is fully aware of the deficiencies of OAS and looks to Felipe Herrera, the energetic Chilean director of the Inter-American Development Bank, for effective leadership in the vital economic plans now being formulated under the Alliance for Progress. The shaping of U.S. economic policy in Latin America has been more the work of high White House aides and of Teodoro Moscoso, the coordinator of the Alliance program, than of the State Department professionals.
Pay on performance?
The Alliance is a cooperative undertaking, divided between Latin American measures of self-help and domestic reforms and the supply of U.S. capital and technical knowledge. From the outset it was plain that the ambitious program would antagonize certain traditional economic groups both in Latin America and in the United States. But U.S. insistence on reform has created a favorable impact among the rising class of young, energetic technicians and professionals who may soon be governing the hemisphere.
The start of the self-help approach has been, admittedly, slow in many countries. Moscoso is nevertheless opposed to setting rigid criteria of rapid performance as a condition of aid, on the grounds that it may lead to dangerous political situations. At the same time, he seeks to encourage individual countries to adopt farreaching tax and land reforms and to take vigorous steps toward lowcost housing through public building institutes, savings and loan associations, and educational and health assistance.
In many cases, the financing of these social projects has run into difficulties. The most stubborn obstacle, perhaps, was Latin America’s chronic problem of budgetary deficits, arising from heavy government commitments to nonproductive public expenditures and subsidies for public services, which required the diversion of U.S. aid to prevent serious fiscal repercussions.
Neither the Administration nor Congress liked the idea of using Alliance funds for supporting internal budgets, but it was acknowledged that development projects could not be carried out to full advantage in the midst of chaotic economies threatened by social strife.
There is some hope that as the younger economists and professionals begin to exert a stronger influence on the Latin American elite, more enlightened policies will follow, and the vast funds — estimated to be as much as $100 billion now in Swiss banks or U.S. securities will gradually be restored to their rightful place in the national economies.
For the time being, the Administration is inclined to follow a flexible policy in its aid program. It believes in Moscoso’s contention that the Latin American leaders themselves must be persuaded that they hold the greatest stake in the successful outcome of the Alliance.