In This Review

Missionary Capitalist: Nelson Rockefeller in Venezuela
Missionary Capitalist: Nelson Rockefeller in Venezuela
By Darlene Rivas
University of North Carolina Press, 2002, 312 pp

A solid, archive-based assessment of Nelson Rockefeller's efforts to promote economic development in Venezuela (and Latin America more generally) from the late 1930s through the 1950s. Encouraged by his World War II experience in running assistance programs, his extensive business involvement in Latin America, and his engagement with nonprofit institutions, Rockefeller believed passionately in both American capitalism and his own ability to encourage economic development -- and that U.S. relations with the countries of Latin America would be improved. This fascinating account strips away the many stereotypes to provide a more nuanced view of Rockefeller's enthusiasm. As the author sees it, Rockefeller tried to accomplish too much, especially during the Eisenhower administration. While providing assistance to underdeveloped areas appealed to many Americans, U.S. foreign aid at the time was limited to those countries seen as under the threat of communist subversion or aggression. A narrower focus might have achieved more, the author argues, and Rockefeller's faith that business groups and bureaucrats would put aside their self-interest to support his dramatic vision was naive. But he was prescient about the dangers of the growing North-South divide, and he believed that the United States and Latin America had a common purpose. This last lesson, Rivas concludes, should still inspire Americans today.