Book Review by Deirdre Sinnott
Our America and Theirs: Kennedy and the Alliance for Progress —
The Debate at Punta del Este, Speeches and interviews by Ernesto Che Guevara, 120 pp., Ocean Press.
September 19, 2006
Books referenced in review:
The Alliance that Lost its Way: A Critical Report on the Alliance for Progress, by Jerome Levinson and Juan de Onis
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins
Inside the Company: CIA Diary, by Phillip Agee
Cloaks and daggers on the international stage
After the failed April 1961 “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba, U.S. President John F. Kennedy attempted a “regime change” by other means. He proposed a large aid package to Latin America and called the Alliance for Progress. According to Kennedy, the Alliance’s goal was “…to complete the revolution of the Americas, to build a hemisphere where all men can hope for a suitable standard of living and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom.” [Address by President Kennedy at a White House Reception for Latin American Diplomats and Members of Congress, March 13, 1961]
Nothing could have been further from the truth. The vague language Punta del Este accord hid its true purpose. The United States was looking for a way to isolate the revolutionary government of Cuba and provide a counterbalance to the example of socialism that Cuba provided. At the time the world looked at the emerging socialist government and the sweeping changes in the property relations with hope and inspiration, if one was a poor person; or fear and horror, if one was rich.
Three speeches delivered by Che Guevara in at the founding meeting for the Alliance for Progress, held August 1961 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, have been reprinted by Ocean Press in a new book, “Our America and Theirs: Kennedy and the Alliance for Progress — The Debate at Punta del Este.” Also included is a never-before published transcript of a press conference held in Cuba upon Che’s return. Guevara’s speeches exposed a process that continues to this day: The United States' offering of financial aid to Latin America and extracting mega-profits and economic control in return.
According to a secret State Department document addressed to the U.S. Ambassador in Venezuela and quoted extensively by Che:
If, by means of propaganda, etc., Castro can convince the disaffected elements of Latin America that basic social reforms are really being made that benefit the poorest, the attraction of the Cuban example will increase and continue to inspire imitators on the left in the whole region. The danger is not so much that a subversive apparatus, with its center in Havana, could export revolution, as that growing extreme poverty and discontent among the masses of the Latin American people may provide the pro-Castro elements opportunities to act.
Ernesto Che Guevara exposed the true goals of the Alliance. “I must say that Cuba’s interpretation is that this is a political conference. Cuba does not agree that economics can be separated from politics, and understands that they always go together. That is why you cannot have experts who speak of models when the destinies of a people are at stake.”
Neoliberalism by another name
Che’s prescient comments anticipate admissions by John Perkins in his 2004 book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” Perkins describes the strategy used by him, and other so-called "economic advisors," across the developing world. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or a President with an “aid and loan package” presents a poor country with a “plan for development.” Grand projections of economic growth are detailed if only the country will build a massive project, such as a hydro-electrical plant, with the entire necessary infrastructure. It could be highways or an electrical grid system that can distribute electricity to an inflated number of new factories that will spring up. The country need only accept huge loans and agree to use U.S. companies to complete the work. Promises are made of healthy profits — once the project is completed. All of the money flows from the banks to the country in question, then right back into U.S. via contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel. Countries in need of development are left with behemoth ventures, hopelessly large and in some cases poorly built, and crushing debt. In order to pay the debt they are put an austerity plan that guts any social programs and further impoverishes the people. It’s a lose-lose situation for the country involved and a win-win for U.S. banks and corporations.
In his book, “Inside the Company: CIA Diary,” Phillip Agee, a former CIA agent who was stationed in Equator and other Latin American countries during the greater-part of the life of the Alliance for Progress, called it a “fraud,” a “failure,” and a “safety-valve for capitalist injustice and exploitation.”
Whether it’s the Alliance for Progress which died in 1973, NAFTA, CAFTA, or the FTAA “Our America and Theirs” exposes the shackles that come with imperialist financial aid.
Che Guevara comes alive in the words of his speeches. His intelligence and commitment to the poor people of Latin America shines like a beacon for those who want to fight for justice and to really bring “a suitable standard of living” and “dignity” to the world.
Copyright © Deirdre Sinnott, 9/19/06.