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Against all odds: U.S. policy and the 1963 Central America Summit Conference

Journal of Third World Studies, Spring 2003 by Leonard, Thomas M

Many obstacles stood in the path of the U.S. objectives. Still in its infancy stage, the Alliance for Progress had already stalled. Presidential Advisor Chester A. Bowles reflected the opinion of many when he noted:

One of the major reasons for the ineffectiveness of the Alliance for Progress has been the dual nature of our objective, ie., to bring political pressures to bear on Latin American governments to assure their opposition to Castro and simultaneously to press for difficult political reforms within those same governments as a requirement for economic assistance.35

Even the "democratic" Costa Ricans mistrusted the U.S. intentions. Across that country, there existed "a widespread feeling...that the US is preoccupied with communism in Cuba and is insincere in its professed desire to assist Latin American economic progress." In Guatemala and Nicaragua the political climate took precedence over economic and social reform. In the former, it was "no secret that there is wide-spread feeling... favoring a military coup to oust [President] Ydfgoras and arrange for elections that would exclude the participation of [Juan Jose] Arevalo. In Nicaragua "there have been few measurable results" that could be attributed to the Alliance for Progress, Kennedy was advised on the eve of his trip. Furthermore, most Nicaraguans viewed President-elect Rene Schick "as nothing more than a puppet of the Somozas" and that "violence [is] the only way to rid Nicaragua of Somoza rule." Honduras, the region's most underdeveloped country, lacked "the basic infrastructure, institutions and human resources needed for economic development." Only in El Salvador could the U.S. find some solace. There, Ambassador Murat Williams observed: "The Alliance for Progress moves forward [but]...not as fast as we would like, but with more success than many had expected." And despite the progress of the Rivera administration and his enthusiastic support for the Alliance, El Salvador remained burdened with a "a rootless, largely migrant rural population and probably [has] the most explosive class antagonisms in the area."36 In face of the evidence, Central America's modernization appeared as a formidable task.


Rather than a "cover" for action against Cuba, the State Department insisted that the main theme of the San Jose conference focused upon Central America's economic integration and other aspects of the Alliance for Progress. Secretary of State Dean Rusk reiterated this point in his March 8, 1963 news conference. "The development of the Central American countries, through the Alliance for Progress will be a matter of high priority," he explained to reporters. In approving the conference agenda the day before Kennedy's arrival in San Jose, the Central American Presidents reluctantly and privately agreed, at U.S. insistence, not to demand a statement in the final conference declaration that appeared threatening to Cuba. Publicly, however, the isthmian presidents used the local press to present a much stronger anti-Castro stance. San Jose's La Nation announced the summit conference's intention: "Fortalecer Medidas de Seguridad Contra Regimen Cubano." "Caida de Castro Buscara Reunion," announced San Salvador's La Prensa Grafica front page headline March 18. "Commuista de Centmamerica" was the headline of Tegucigalpa's El Dia that same day.37


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