Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Don't Copy Cold War Policy in Latin America

At Shadow Government Ethan Kapstein asks and then answers a question that is not well thought through. Summed up:

Q: How can the U.S. achieve its interests abroad without going to war?
A: Use the same tactics it employed during the Cold War in Latin America

By promoting land reform and industrialization in East Asia and Latin America, for example, the United States helped to create entrepreneurs and new economic interests that sought growth and political stability over peasant and proletariat revolution. 

One problem here is that the United States was vehemently opposed to the vast majority of land reform efforts in Latin America during the Cold War. Remember how it responded to land reform that affected United Fruit in Guatemala?

Similarly, President John Kennedy played an active role in America's involvement in Venezuela during the early 1960s, when that country was threatened by a communist-backed insurgency. The United States provided financial support to the regime of Romulo Betancourt for a wide range of social programs, while it backed negotiations with other elite groups -- including the military, Catholic Church, and petroleum interests -- who opposed the government's reform measures. Again, military assistance was provided to the government, but mainly in the form of technical support and training.

To be fair, yes, Kennedy supported Betancourt and the latter was good for Venezuelan democracy. But as Giglio and Rabe point out, that case was exceptional. For Kennedy and other presidents, ideology was everything and elsewhere they supported dictatorships. What Kapstein is really getting at is the Alliance for Progress, which did not last long and from the Latin American perspective was unsuccessful. As Chilean President Eduardo Frei (who received a ton of Alliance aid) wrote in 1967 in Foreign Affairs:

Many Latin American governments have used the Alliance as a bargaining lever to obtain increases in U. S. aid precisely so as to avoid changing their domestic situation. These governments have committed themselves to internal reforms which later they knowingly allowed either to become a dead letter, or worse, to be completely controlled or used for the benefit of those in power.

So this is not exactly a model we should revive and use again. What you could potentially argue is that is the United States should follow the model it used with the Alliance for Progress under Kennedy (but not LBJ) in some Latin American countries (but not all) and try to recreate the idealism instead of the concrete reality of failure.


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