Courtesy Reuters

The Alliance for Progress in Historical Perspective

Much of what is said about the Alliance for Progress assumes that up to now Americans have been indifferent to Latin America; that, in so far as they have not, the results have been bad-that the record in Latin America is one in which neither our Government nor private interests can take pride; and that the Alliance therefore represents an entirely new departure. One of the most learned men of the New Frontier, former Harvard law professor Abram Chayes, now the State Department Legal Adviser, has said, for example, that the condition of Latin America today "is in some measure a consequence of our own neglect. For most of the 180 years of our history, we looked inward, or eastward across the ocean to Europe, or, latterly, around the world. Only rarely have we looked south and then not always with a benevolent eye."[i] While these generalizations are not baseless, neither are they unquestionably true, and they play enough part in current thinking to be worth some review.

To say that Americans have been indifferent to Latin America is accurate only in a foreshortened or unduly lengthened time perspective. If one takes the whole of American history, from Jamestown forward, one could make such a case. From the seventeenth century until the early nineteenth, North Americans paid little attention to Latin America. Ship captains sailed there, leaving Bibles, Protestant tracts, and, later, copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. A few founding fathers, such as Alexander Hamilton, thought of some day building a rival empire; a few other Americans played host to visitors like Francisco de Miranda who talked of setting Spanish colonies free; and when revolutions for independence actually came, some hailed them and proposed giving aid. Henry Clay, for example, spoke of spiritual links and the great destiny the two Americas could share by building together. But the Monroe Administration was distinctly cool. Engaged in negotiations with Spain about Spanish Florida and western boundaries, it did not

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