H-Diplo Roundtable XVI, 21 on From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era

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H-Diplo Roundtable Review
Volume XVI, No. 21 (2015)
Published to the H-Net Commons on 30 March 2015, and accurate as of that date

Roundtable Editors:  Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse
Roundtable and Web Production Editor:  George Fujii
Commissioned for H-Diplo by Thomas R. Maddux

Introduction by Dustin Walcher

Thomas C. Field, Jr.  From Development to Dictatorship:  Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era.  Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 2014.  ISBN:  978-0-8014-5260-4 (hardcover, $45.00).

URL:  http://www.tiny.cc/Roundtable-XVI-21


© 2015 The Authors.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Throughout the twentieth century, revolutionary upheaval was central to the experiences of people across the globe.  Nowhere was that more true than in Latin America, a region that produced the century’s first major social revolution, and thereafter experienced repeated cycles of revolution and counterrevolution in many countries.[1]  In recent years elements of the international history of Bolivia’s 1952 social revolution have expanded.  Because of the country’s exceptional influence in the region, the United States has figured prominently in that literature.  Glenn Dorn and James Siekmeier recently published important books analyzing U.S.-Bolivian relations as the revolution approached, and during the revolutionary era.[2]  Although the Bolivian Revolution contained many of the features of a popular social revolution, the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration ultimately chose a strategy of engagement – seeking to contain communist elements within the revolutionary coalition by working with the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario party (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, MNR).  In essence, that was the policy that the John F. Kennedy administration inherited in January 1961. 


Thomas Field’s From Development to Dictatorship provides a focused analysis of U.S.-Bolivian relations during the era of the Alliance for Progress.  The Bolivian Revolution was, by January 1961, an entrenched feature of the country’s domestic political landscape.  But like any political movement, the revolution was subject to redefinition – and the Bolivian leaders of the 1960s continued to contest the meaning of their revolution.  Field examines the relationship between the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the second Victor Paz Estenssoro administration (1960-1964).  Paz Estenssoro had been a leader of the 1952 revolution, and served as the nation’s first revolutionary president from 1952 to 1956.  During Paz Estenssoro’s second presidency, Field holds that he embraced authoritarianism as he worked with U.S. officials to craft a strategy that would marginalize the far left, empower the military, and reform the economic system.  He was rewarded; as Field points out “by 1964 the country was the second highest per capita recipient of US aid in the world, with the Alliance for Progress development program providing roughly 20 percent of Bolivia’s gross domestic product” (3).  That approach widened socio-political cleavages in Bolivia, and was ultimately unable to bring economic prosperity and social stability.


Participants in this roundtable offer mixed assessments.  Siekmeier, Amy C. Offner, and Thomas Tunstall Allcock each, on the whole, offer positive appraisals.  “Extensively and inventively researched, engagingly narrated, and consistently thought-provoking,” writes Allcock, “this is an example of international history at its best.”  He further offers that aspects of the narrative are “gripping in a manner that is rarely found in academic studies.”  Offner declares that “Field presents a harrowing vision of Bolivia under the Alliance for Progress, arguing that development programs fueled authoritarianism and created the conditions for military dictatorship.”  Most importantly, Offner, Siekmeier, and Allcock are convinced by Field’s central argument that in Bolivia the Kennedy and Johnson administrations preferred authoritarian-led development from the outset.  Allcock goes on to praise Field’s analysis of Bolivian political and social history – especially among members of the political left.


Philip E. Muehlenbeck, by contrast, is far more critical of Field’s conclusions.  While praising Field for conducting expansive multi-archival research, carefully highlighting Bolivian agency, and producing a compelling narrative, Muehlenbeck is left unconvinced by Field’s analysis.  Specifically, he disagrees that the Kennedy administration preferred authoritarian to democratic leadership, citing Kennedy’s efforts to distance himself from dictators in other parts of the world.  Second, Muehlenbeck argues that Field exaggerates the degree to which the Kennedy and Johnson administrations aided the Bolivian military.  In dollar terms, Muehlenbeck observes, the vast majority of U.S. financial assistance to Bolivia during those years was designated for economic development, not military purposes.


Muehlenbeck’s disagreement with Field and the other reviewers reflects recent efforts to revise the critical view of John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy leadership present in much (but certainly not all) of the existing historiography.  Historians have offered substantial critiques of Kennedy’s approach to Latin America in particular.[3]  Muehlenbeck, together with Robert Rakove, has taken the lead in trying to revise that view, particularly as it relates to the Global South.  Rather than being myopically focused on buttressing anti-communist leaders with little consideration for the character or brutality of their regimes, the Kennedy administration cultivated a more nuanced approach, seeking to nurture authentically nationalist, anticommunist regimes with democratic tendencies in the Global South according to Muehlenbeck and Rakove.[4]


To some extent, Muehlenbeck’s critique of Field provides a useful case study on historical methods – showcasing how different historians emphasize different pieces of evidence to support their underlying theses.  For example, in arguing that Field overstates the degree to which Washington partnered with and relied upon the Bolivian military, Muehlenbeck cites the low level of military assistance relative to other aid provided to the country under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (he reports that military aid never exceeded 7.8 percent of total assistance to Bolivia during this time period).  He also observes that “[m]ore than any other United States president (including Jimmy Carter) Kennedy sought to distance himself from autocratic rulers whom he viewed as relics of the past.”  Kennedy went so far as to avoid meeting with King Saud of Saudi Arabia, even when the autocratic Saudi leader rented a house in Palm Beach merely fifteen minutes from the Kennedy compound.  For Muehlenbeck, Kennedy’s reluctance to meet with authoritarian leaders reflected his abhorrence of such regimes. 


Field takes a different approach.  He points out that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations relied upon the Bolivian military to administer developmental assistance – not just military aid.  He also argues that by conditioning U.S. support on such actions as breaking a communist-led union at the Siglo XX mine, Washington intervened to support a fundamentally antidemocratic approach and buttressed the authoritarian tendencies of the Paz Estenssoro government.  For Field, the symbolic value of Kennedy’s failure to call on authoritarian leaders was less important than the effect of the administration’s policies in rural Bolivian mining districts. 


Siekmeier, Allcock, and Offner also suggest some areas where Field’s work could be improved.  Siekmeier would like to have seen Field better contextualize his analysis – to “situate Bolivia, and U.S.-Bolivian relations, in the context of U.S.-Latin American relations more generally.”  Allcock agrees that “the book is somewhat less ambitious regarding the inter-American context of the period under consideration.”  Offner finds that “an even richer book might have been written, bringing the methods of social and cultural history to bear on Field’s remarkable source base.”  She points to the important parts of Field’s narrative that touch on the construction of Bolivian society – and the different ways groups of miners and their wives sought to restructure that society and its political economy – as ripe for such analysis. 


Siekmeier agrees that Field could have provided greater analytic depth, but points to his exploration of Bolivia’s political economy as the most underdeveloped.  “[I]t would have been nice to know what sort of differences/similarities there were between U.S. developmentalists and Paz Estenssoro with regard to what sort of economy Bolivia should work towards in the long run,” he writes.  “What visions did the different players have for Bolivia’s economy in the future?”  Finally, while Allcock praises Field for his overall analysis of Bolivian politics and society, he finds that “[t]he Bolivian political right … is regularly invoked as a threat to Paz, but is not illuminated in any great detail until the emergence of a right-wing guerrilla faction near the end of Paz’s presidency.”  He also finds that “in contrast with the richly detailed telling of developments in Bolivia, events in Washington are somewhat more opaque.” 


From Development to Dictatorship embodies some important trends in recent writing on U.S.-Latin American relations.  Like William Michael Schmidli’s The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere and the previously cited books by Dorn and Siekmeier, it demonstrates the continuing utility of bilateral studies in uncovering key issues in international history.[5]  Field carefully explains how authoritarian developmentalism in Bolivia emerged both as a function of conditions imposed upon U.S. assistance, and domestic Bolivian political dynamics.  He provides insight into how the Kennedy and Johnson administrations attempted to co-opt a revolutionary movement – and the myriad ways in which different Bolivians sought to shape their country’s engagement with Washington, resist the policies developed by Paz Estenssoro and the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and achieve personal gains.  From Development to Dictatorship exposes the complexity of a multidimensional and interconnected political process. 




Thomas C. Field Jr. is Assistant Professor in the College of Security and Intelligence at Embry-Riddle University.  His first book, From Development to Dictatorship, was published by Cornell University Press in 2014.  Field is the recipient of the 2011 Unterberger Dissertation Prize and the 2013 Bernath Article Prize, both from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.  He is currently working on an international history of Bolivia in the era of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.


Dustin Walcher is Associate Professor and Chair of History and Political Science at Southern Oregon University.  A specialist in international history, the history of U.S. foreign relations, and inter-American affairs, his scholarship analyzes international economic policy, global capitalism, and social disruption.  He is currently revising a manuscript that examines the link between the failure of U.S.-led economic initiatives and the rise of social revolution in Argentina during the 1950s and 1960s. 


Thomas Tunstall Allcock is a Lecturer in American History at the University of Manchester. He received a BA in History and American Studies and an MA in U.S. Foreign Policy from the University of Nottingham, and his Ph.D. in History from the University of Cambridge in 2012. He has recently published articles in Diplomatic History and The Journal of Cold War Studies, and is currently writing a book on Lyndon Johnson and Latin America.


Philip E. Muehlenbeck, a Professorial Lecturer in history at George Washington

University, is the author of Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy’s Courting of African Nationalist Leaders (Oxford University Press, 2012), and editor of Religion and the Cold War: A Global Perspective (Vanderbilt University Press, 2012) and Race, Ethnicity, and the Cold War: A Global Perspective (Vanderbilt University Press, 2012). His current research projects are on US-USSR-Czechoslovak-British competition for African civil aviation markets and on Czechoslovak policies toward Africa from 1955-1968.


Amy C. Offner is an assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

She earned her Ph.D. at Columbia and is currently writing a history of Cold War anti-poverty programs, social conflict, and economic thought in the U.S. and Colombia.


James F. Siekmeier received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1993, where he studied the history of U.S. foreign relations under the direction of Walter LaFeber. He has published three books, and co-edited two documents collections. In addition, he has published articles in Diplomatic History, Pacific Historical Review, and The Latin Americanist, among other journals. He has taught in Iowa, Texas, and Bolivia (Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowships). From 2001-2007 he compiled American Republics volumes for the FRUS series at the Historian’s Office, U.S. Department of State. Currently he is an Associate Professor of History at West Virginia University. He is currently working on a manuscript on the history of Latin American nationalism in a globalizing world.

With From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era Thomas C. Field, Jr. has produced a splendid piece of scholarship. Extensively and inventively researched, engagingly narrated, and consistently thought-provoking, this is an example of international history at its best. In chronicling the impact of the Kennedy-era Alliance for Progress in Bolivia, Field has made a substantial contribution to our understanding of both Bolivian history and the consequences of U.S. actions during the first half of the ‘development decade.’


The central contention of From Development to Dictatorship is relatively straightforward. Bolivia, a recipient of substantial U.S. aid since the early 1950s, was viewed in Washington as an ideal test-case for the Kennedy administration’s modernization theory-driven aid program, the Alliance for Progress. Throwing their support behind President Victor Paz Estenssoro, the development minded Alliance planners envisaged a modernized Bolivia in which the power of the troublesome mine unions was broken, and something closer to American-style capitalism flourished. As Field convincingly demonstrates, this process required repression, the circumvention of democratic process, and an increasingly prominent role for the Bolivian military, yet was ultimately unsuccessful. From its very inception, “the Alliance for Progress in Bolivia was an experiment in authoritarian development” (17).


Over the course of six chapters Field chronicles the destructive impact of developmentalism, including violent crackdowns against the mines, increasingly entrenched political divisions, and the final downfall of President Paz, who was overthrown in military-led coup despite continued support from Washington. The level of detail present in much of the narrative reflects a vast knowledge of Bolivian history and culture, and an easy familiarity with what is shown to be a highly complex and divided political scene. One of the book’s great strengths is the ease with which a dizzyingly large cast of characters, featuring national politicians, charismatic union leaders, duplicitous government officials, frustrated generals, peasant militias, misguided diplomats, and even Canadian priests on an anti-communist crusade are woven into a coherent, engaging, and convincing analysis. Indeed, the episode in which U.S. aid workers were held hostage in a dynamite-rigged union hall in response to the government’s arrest of two key union leaders, while politicians from all sides desperately sought a solution is gripping in a manner that is rarely found in academic studies.


This level of detail is possible only due to the highly impressive depth of the research upon which the book is constructed. Key archives in Bolivia and the United States are supplemented by documents from France, the United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic. Just as important are the several dozen interviews conducted with many significant figures involved in the events chronicled. While there are obvious concerns with relying too heavily upon the memories of those with a personal stake in shaping the historical record, the interviews rarely form the basis of Field’s arguments, instead serving to add detail, texture, and context to complex issues. The benefits of this approach are most apparent when addressing questions that would be all but impossible to answer by relying on official records, such as the extent of President Paz’s knowledge and tolerance of Cuban-sponsored campaigns targeted at Bolivia’s neighbors. Through a series of interviews the most likely explanation of Paz’s “double-dealing” to maintain a delicate balance of domestic and international interests is assembled, even as the author acknowledges that a degree of ambiguity remains inevitable (72). 


That From Development to Dictatorship focuses on a relatively short time period, 1960-1964, further encourages the detailed approach taken throughout. The longer histories of U.S.-Bolivian relations, the Bolivian revolution, and the formulation of the Alliance are given brief consideration, but for the most part this remains a tightly focused study of the final years of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario’s (MNR) dominance of Bolivian politics and its violent end. In chronicling those years, Field largely, and admirably, avoids heavy-handed moral judgements, allowing the complexity and ambiguity of developments to be fully aired. Neither the instigators of the November 4 1964 coup or the increasingly repressive Paz government emerge from the book with a great deal of credit, and while the influence of the United States is regularly shown to be deleterious, Washington’s collection of often well-meaning diplomats and technocrats are never demonised. Indeed, unlike in numerous other cases, it was U.S. support for, not opposition to, the established government that contributed most to its downfall, alienating the Bolivian left while strengthening the military. As Field concludes, “it is tempting to search, but an easy villain of 4 November does not exist” (193).


While others taking part in this roundtable will be better placed to comment on Field’s contributions to the history of Bolivia, some of the most striking aspects of the book for me are related to the Alliance for Progress more broadly. As a vast and ill-defined program, incorporating almost every nation of the hemisphere and a variety of bilateral and multilateral arrangements, the Alliance has often proved challenging for historians to engage with. Most studies of the program, or President John F. Kennedy’s wider Latin American policy, that have tried to draw general conclusions regarding its successes and failures have by necessity taken a broader approach that focuses on deliberations in Washington and limited snapshots of the Alliance in practice.[6] In focusing in such detail on one country, Field provides a companion to these works and a model as to how we can piece together a much more accurate understanding of the Alliance period as a whole. Field demonstrates beyond doubt that in Bolivia – and presumably elsewhere – the willingness, indeed eagerness, to place political stability and gradual economic development ahead of democratic progress was present from the very start, as reflected in the desire to break the power of the miner’s unions, and increase the capabilities and influence of the military. From Development to Dictatorship therefore repudiates the traditional interpretation of the Alliance as a well-intentioned aid program that gradually ‘lost its way,’[7] while refraining from blaming the United States for all Bolivia’s problems. In Field’s telling, political liberalisation barely registered as a goal for Alliance planners; instead the modernizing ‘technocrats’ were always “ideologically motivated footsoldiers in the Kennedy administration’s anticommunist crusade” (33). Despite seemingly ideal conditions in which to prove the validity of the modernizing crusade, particularly Paz’s willingness to vigorously implement economic reforms, the Alliance, and Paz’s government, failed in Bolivia. This serves to emphasize to an even greater degree than previous studies both the scale of the challenge faced by the Alliance, and the vast hubris of its architects.


Although not addressed in as much detail, Field also questions another traditional Alliance narrative when the transition from John Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson is portrayed as having had little effect on Bolivian policy. Although entering office during a dramatic point in U.S.-Bolivian relations, the aforementioned hostage crisis, Johnson is shown to have embraced the Kennedy position of staunch support for Paz’s authoritarian brand of modernisation. Rejecting, in this one case at least, the argument originally made by Kennedy loyalists that the Alliance was fundamentally reconfigured by Johnson,[8] even the often controversial Johnson aide Thomas Mann is described by Field as having been in complete agreement with the Kennedy administration’s view of Paz and the MNR, believing the President to be “the only man there who can hold things together” (136).


While providing a model for studies of the Alliance’s impact in a single nation, the book is somewhat less ambitious regarding the inter-American context of the period under consideration. In contrast to recent works such as Tanya Harmer’s Allende’s Chile which seeksto position the 1972 Chilean coup within the complex interplay of inter-American politics,[9] in From Development to Dictatorship Cuba is the only nation outside of Bolivia and the United States to receive any significant consideration. To a great extent this is understandable, Field is writing a study of Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress and I do not wish to fall in to the trap of calling for a different book from the one that he has written. Nonetheless, more consideration of certain developments would have been welcome, such as the possible impact of the Brazilian coup of March 1964. Stephen Rabe in particular has identified the military-led and U.S.-endorsed ouster of President Joao Goulart as a key turning point of the Alliance era, signalling to other would-be plotters that democracy came a distant second to anti-communism and economic stability in deciding which governments would receive backing from Washington, while Harmer also emphasises the role of the Brazilian military government in Allende’s downfall several years later.[10] Even a conclusion, already somewhat implied by its absence, that despite the chronological proximity of the two military seizures of power, the situation in Brazil had a negligible impact in Bolivia would provide a useful counterpoint to existing studies.


A somewhat unfortunate consequence of the depth, detail, and nuance with which certain groups – the MNR and its factions, the miners, and the U.S. embassy in particular – are addressed is that it does throw into relief that others are inevitably slightly less well developed. The Bolivian political right, for instance, is regularly invoked as a threat to Paz, but is not illuminated in any great detail until the emergence of a right-wing guerrilla faction near the end of Paz’s presidency. Perhaps this has more to do with who was willing to be interviewed for the project rather than a deliberate choice on the part of the author. Similarly, and this may reflect my own research interests rather than any deficiencies in the book, in contrast with the richly detailed telling of developments in Bolivia, events in Washington are somewhat more opaque. I would have welcomed more information regarding the priority that developments in Bolivia were assigned in relation to other nations receiving Alliance aid by the program’s increasingly pressured administrators, or if the distancing of key Kennedy aides like Richard Goodwin and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. from Latin American policy in 1962 and 1963 had any discernible impact. I am, for instance, less convinced than Field that Assistant Secretary of State Edwin Martin embraced the principles of modernisation, or that the ‘ideologically motivated footsoldiers’ retained their dominance under his stewardship of the inter-American bureau. That the modernisers retained their pre-eminence on the ground in Bolivia appears beyond doubt, but I am curious as to how this related to the bureaucratic reorganisations that occurred in Washington under Martin, and, more substantially, under Thomas Mann.


These criticisms should not detract from what is ultimately a highly impressive achievement. In producing a wonderfully researched and engagingly written international history, Field has made an important contribution to the history of inter-American relations, one of the most vibrant subfields of diplomatic history.[11] He has also largely managed to avoid becoming too entangled in the debates over historical guilt, agency, and methodological approach which have tended to dominate the subfield of late, both in print and during many recent conference panels.[12] From Development to Dictatorship, it seems to me, provides an impressively balanced example of how to navigate such choppy and occasionally hostile waters. Even as the damaging impact of developmentalism is chronicled there are few outright villains in Field’s narrative. Instead there are multiple competing forces all possessing their own complex and sometimes contradictory goals, exercising, with varying degrees of success, their own agency, yet not escaping their share of responsibility for the denouement of November 1964. The book is also a demonstration of how a focused study of the Alliance in one nation answers questions that broader studies of U.S. policy, inter-American relations, and the Cold War cannot, while in turn raising questions to which those types of studies would be ideally placed to respond. In short, From Development to Dictatorship makes an important and provocative contribution to constantly evolving debates, and is highly recommended.


In From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era, Thomas C. Field builds on the scholarship of Michael Latham, Bradley Simpson, Amanda McVety and others to produce a largely convincing portrait of how United States development programs facilitated authoritarianism in developing world countries.[13] From Development to Dictatorship is an impressively researched work. Field draws upon archival material from not only the United States and Bolivia but also the United Kingdom, France, and the Czech Republic. Additionally, the author conducted over fifty interviews with relevant American and Bolivian protagonists in the events covered in the book. There is little doubt that this is the best researched account of Kennedy-administration relations with Bolivia and adds the important element of Bolivian agency to the story, thus making a tremendous contribution to historiography. Although impressed with the quality of research Field has conducted, I am left unconvinced by his argument as it relates to broader questions about the foreign policy foundations of the Kennedy administration. In a recent historiographical essay on Kennedy administration policy toward Latin America, Jeffrey Taffet opined that “historians of John F. Kennedy’s Latin American policies face a broad conundrum. Kennedy and his advisors pledged themselves, publicly and privately, to transforming hemispheric relationships…Yet, in practice…Kennedy and his advisors undermined elections and freely elected leaders, and in other cases they worked to strengthen authoritarian regimes.”[14] The vast majority of scholarship on Kennedy’s policies toward Latin America has been critical. Most historians contend that Kennedy came into office with idealistic intentions but the potential of the Alliance for Progress was subverted by Kennedy’s intense obsession with fighting communism within the hemisphere. Field takes an even more critical view of Kennedy administration policies in Bolivia arguing that, “Far from abandoning ideology in favor of authoritarianism, the Kennedy administration’s approach was authoritarian from the beginning” (10).


Based on the lone case study of U.S. relations with Bolivia from 1961-1964, Field puts forward two far-reaching and ambitious propositions. First, he contends that the Kennedy administration’s approach toward development favored authoritarian dictators as its preferred foreign partners. Second, Field argues that military aid was the primary means by which Kennedy sought to stimulate anti-communist modernization and development in the developing world. Taken together, Field paints the picture of Washington pursuing an authoritarian-based development paradigm which he refers to as “modernization’s heavy hand” (10). In order to assess the validity of Field’s thesis it is illuminating to examine these claims from a broader perspective so as to measure the extent to which Kennedy sought to form and maintain relations with autocratic rulers as well as the role that military assistance played in his overall foreign policy.


I will begin by putting Kennedy’s military assistance to Bolivia into context. Field writes that the Kennedy administration “showered the Bolivian government with police, military, and economic assistance” (38), providing “generous military assistance” (140) in order to transform the country into “a model of authoritarian modernization” (130). Throughout the book Field repeatedly makes bold statements such as: “given the aggressive nature by which US liberals intervened [in Bolivia] and the sheer quantity of military hardware the Kennedy administration was sending, it was only a matter of time before Bolivian blood would be shed in the name of the Alliance for Progress” (67). Any reader of From Development to Dictatorship will certainly come away with the impression that the Kennedy administration was heavy handed in sending massive amounts of military aid to Bolivia and that this aid was not only unnecessary but that in the absence of such American largesse the Bolivian military would not have had the strength to overthrow the country’s civilian leadership in 1964.


I was struck by the fact that in making such bold arguments Field never tells his readers exactly how much military assistance the Kennedy administration sent to Bolivia. According to data from both the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) Greenbook and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the United States sent Bolivia a total of $9.1 million in military assistance during the years 1961-63.[15] Does an average of $3 million per year in military assistance qualify as ‘showering’ a country with “generous military assistance”? This can be answered by putting such data into perspective. According to SIPRI, Bolivia ranked only 87th (out of 110 countries) in the world in military imports during that time frame with Ecuador being the only South American country to import fewer arms.[16] With the exceptions of Guyana and Paraguay, the Kennedy administration sent more military assistance to all other South American countries than it did to Bolivia.[17]


The level of military assistance the Kennedy administration provided Bolivia can be further contextualized by noting that military assistance accounted for only 6.5% of the total aid the administration sent to Bolivia as compared to 7.8% of the aid sent by the Johnson administration and 16.5% of the aid provided by the Nixon and Ford administrations. With the exception of Guyana (which did not receive any U.S. military aid at this time), Bolivia’s ratio of military to economic assistance from the United States was the lowest on the continent during the Kennedy administration—with the proportion of military to economic assistance being two to six times higher in other South American countries.[18] This data is in line with James Siekmeier’s argument that under Kennedy the United States deemphasized the role of military assistance in its overall aid package to Bolivia.[19] Despite Field’s assertions that Kennedy was overly reliant on military aid, on a global scale, only 33.7% of all foreign assistance given by the Kennedy administration was military related, as opposed to the much higher levels provided by the Eisenhower (45.4%) and Nixon/Ford (48.2%) administrations.[20] Field is correct to point out that the Kennedy administration gave a massive amount of assistance to Bolivia—much more than any other U.S. government. In fact, in constant dollars nearly a quarter of all U.S. aid given to Bolivia during the entire Cold War was provided from 1961-1964. But it is hard to sustain an argument that Kennedy administration aid to Bolivia was military-centric when 93.5% of U.S. aid to the country at the time was economic.[21]


Moreover, From Development to Dictatorship completely disregards the fact that the Bolivian government had a legitimate need to increase the size of its military in the early 1960s. Only a generation earlier, Bolivia’s military weakness had caused it to lose territory to every one of its five neighbors: Chile, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and even Paraguay. Additionally, Field reveals that independent (and oftentimes anti-government) militias in the mining areas outnumbered the government’s military by a margin of 16,000 to 7,500 men. These militias owed allegiance to President Paz Estenssoro’s primary political rival, Vice President Juan Lechin, and through the labor union which led them, defied the central government by refusing to accept its mandated worker layoffs and took four U.S. citizens hostage in the standoff that ensued.


Therefore, when considering the context of both internal and external threats and the previously cited SIPRI data showing that its neighbors were receiving more military imports than Bolivia during this period, the $9.1 million in military assistance the Kennedy administration provided Bolivia hardly seems disproportionate or massive but rather falls within the confines of the country’s legitimate needs.


What of Field’s claim that Kennedy preferred relations with autocratic dictators? Robert Rakove and I have both recently concluded quite the opposite. We argue that Kennedy’s emphasis was on forming relations with the new generation of nationalist leaders such as India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea’s Sekou Toure, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, and Indonesia’s Sukarno to name but a few.[22] Of course several of these leaders were autocratic rulers themselves, but the point is that Kennedy’s focus was on courting nationalist leaders of the non-aligned movement—of which Victor Paz Estenssoro could himself be characterized. Furthermore, rather than coddling Cold-War allies who ran autocratic dictatorships, the Kennedy administration put significant pressure on governments such as Iran and Saudi Arabia to initiate democratic reforms.


More than any other United States president (including Jimmy Carter) Kennedy sought to distance himself from autocratic rulers whom he viewed as relics of the past. This was vividly illustrated by his refusal to visit King Saud when the Saudi monarch was receiving lengthy medical treatment at the Peter Brent Brigham Hospital in Boston in the fall of 1961. Surely had Kennedy wanted to have warm relations with the Saudi King he could have managed to visit him in Boston, which was after all the President’s hometown. Instead Kennedy purposely avoided spending time at his Hyannis Port estate and went to the family compound in Palm Beach in order to avoid being seen calling upon Saud. After Saud’s release from the hospital the persistent Saudi monarch rented a house in Palm Beach—fifteen minutes’ drive from Kennedy’s house—and still the American president was reluctant to visit the Saudi king. It is hard to imagine any other American president treating the Saudi monarch in such a disdainful way.[23]


In contrast to Field’s thesis, a strong argument could be made that out of all U.S. Cold War presidents, John F. Kennedy was the least supportive of authoritarian rulers. Kennedy was the only Cold-War era president who did not make a visit to a country with a non-democratic government during his presidency (all others besides Harry Truman each visited at least five).[24] Additionally, Kennedy also held the lowest percentage of White House meetings with foreign heads of state who were not democratically elected.[25] It was no coincidence that during his presidency Kennedy hosted twenty-eight African heads of state at the White House (almost all of whom were democratically elected) but only eight Latin American leaders (only two, Paz Estenssoro being one, were accorded full state visit honors).[26] This was a presidential policy decision for Kennedy to personally identify himself with the democratic and nationalist leaders of the world while distancing his presidency from military and autocratic leaders. John F. Kennedy courted Paz Estenssoro because he was a democratically elected leader with nationalist credentials who took a semi-neutral position in the Cold War—the type of foreign leader with whom Kennedy sought to form close relations —and not because of the Bolivian president’s authoritarianism. Again, this is supported by Siekmeier, who writes, “Paz Estenssoro was the type of noncommunist, democratic, nationalist, pro-U.S. leader that the United States wanted to see throughout the Third World…Kennedy wanted to signal to the rest of the world that the United States firmly supported noncommunist Third World nationalism, especially of the democratic type.”[27]


I’m also skeptical of Field’s characterization of the 1964 Bolivian presidential election as being illegitimate.  While one can certainly criticize the fact that Paz Estenssoro amended the Bolivian constitution to allow himself to run for re-election, it nonetheless seems as if Field exaggerates the level of opposition to Paz Estenssoro’s candidacy. Field devotes several pages to a discussion of the opposition’s campaign of ‘organized electoral abstention’ giving the impression that such opposition was widespread and that Paz was domestically unpopular (133-36, 143-46). He neglects, however, to mention pertinent information—the actual election results—which would change a reader’s impression of this election. Paz Estenssoro received 97.9% of the votes cast in the 1964 Bolivian presidential election. This could be disregarded if it were true that that a significant number of Bolivians boycotted the election, but in fact 91.9% of all registered voters went to the polls. Far from mass electoral abstention, there were over 300,000 more votes cast in 1964 than in any of the previous presidential elections in Bolivia. In fact, according to Dieter Nohlen, 1964 was the highest electoral turnout (in terms of percentage of registered voters who participated) in Bolivian presidential election history.[28] Therefore, even if every eligible voter who abstained from voting had cast their ballot against Paz Estenssoro he still would have captured an overwhelming 79% of the popular vote. While acknowledging the possibility (likelihood?) of a certain level of electoral fraud in these results, one can argue that they nevertheless suggest that the Bolivian president was more domestically popular than Field’s narrative would suggest.


Field writes that “it seems that the closer historians study President Kennedy’s foreign policy in individual countries, the more heavy handed it appears.” (37) I would counter that had Field’s book taken a wider perspective to this study and considered the context that I have cited in this review, it may have reached a different conclusion. Moreover, there is little doubt that Latin America was the region that scared Kennedy the most, it was viewed as being too unstable, too vulnerable to Cuban intrigue (in large part because of U.S. heavy handedness in the region), and too close to U.S. borders. Rakove has persuasively demonstrated that Kennedy’s foreign policy toward Africa and Asia was markedly less heavy handed.[29] In fact, the same evidence which Field has assembled in this book could be used to tell a different narrative of U.S.-Bolivian relations during the Kennedy era along the lines of Rakove’s Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World. An alternative telling of this history could posit that it was his policy of courting nationalist leaders of the non-aligned world and his implementation of the Alliance for Progress that prompted Kennedy to increase annual aid to Bolivia by an astounding 229% of Eisenhower era levels.[30] This was done despite the fact that Bolivia’s leader, Paz Estenssoro, maintained relations with both communist Cuba and the domestic Communist Party of Bolivia (PCB). Perhaps the real story of this history is how the Kennedy administration not only tolerated, but supported and greatly increased, U.S. assistance to a left-leaning and neutralist government. This is something that only occurred during the Kennedy/Johnson administrations and is what makes the foreign policies of those presidencies unique.


Kennedy’s efforts to improve relations with such men as Paz Estenssoro, Nasser, Nkrumah, Toure, and Sukarno and co-opt them into the New Frontier could be a dangerous proposition, and Field aptly demonstrates that the policy blew up in Washington’s face in the case of Bolivia. Taken from this perspective, U.S.-Bolivian relations during the Kennedy administration could be viewed as the dark side of engagement with developing-world nationalist leaders. But what alternative did Washington have other than supporting Paz Estenssoro? Recusal from Bolivia in the early 1960s would have pushed it further into the Cuban/Soviet/Czechoslovak orbit and caused considerable criticism both domestically and from Washington’s allies in South America, while backing the military against Paz Estenssoro would have been Guatemala redux.


It may be fair for Field and other historians to criticize Kennedy’s support of authoritative dictatorial rulers and over-reliance on military assistance as foreign aid. Both were emblematic of United States foreign policy for the entirety of the Cold War. But in criticizing him for such policies historians should acknowledge that by any objective measure Kennedy’s reliance upon military assistance and interactions with, and support for, non-democratic leaders holds up favorably compared to any other U.S. Cold War president.


Larry Sternfield was the CIA station chief in Bolivia in 1964.  In his estimation, Claudio San Román, the head of the Bolivian secret police, was “the most brutal Latin American I ever met,” and the country’s torture sites “were the bloodiest things I’ve ever seen.”  Sternfield toured the torture chambers after the government fell to a military coup in November 1964.  “I’ve worked in six countries,” he explained half a century later, “and the last days of the [Bolivian] regime were the most repressive I ever saw” (168, 189).


From Development to Dictatorship by Thomas C. Field presents a harrowing vision of Bolivia under the Alliance for Progress, arguing that development programs fueled authoritarianism and created the conditions for military dictatorship.  Field’s meticulous case study substantiates the claims of James C. Scott and James Ferguson, who argue that midcentury development programs strengthened state power.[31]  And the book underscores what many U.S. diplomatic historians have suggested over the last decade: development and counterinsurgency were hardly competing commitments during the 1960s, but rather twin instruments of modernization.[32]  The book’s central claim is thus its least surprising aspect.  What distinguishes Field’s work is the extensive archival research that he conducted on three continents and his fascinating interviews with over fifty participants.  Together, they create a compelling local portrait of the violence that anticommunist development brought on the Bolivian left, the fracturing of the country’s nationalist and revolutionary parties under the pressures of U.S. intervention, and the forms of political mobilization that the Bolivian state fought and cultivated in Andean mines and villages.


At its heart, the book is an explanation of the 1964 coup that toppled Víctor Paz Estenssoro and established the military dictatorship of General René Barrientos.  The Alliance for Progress, Field argues, incubated the coup in two ways.  First, it strengthened the Bolivian military by making it an agent of development, sending soldiers into the countryside to conduct civic action programs and casting generals, including Barrientos himself, as exemplars of apolitical professionalism.  At the same time, the Alliance’s harsh labor reforms provoked armed resistance from communist tin miners and their families.  The Paz regime’s massacre of mine workers in 1963 and intensifying political repression eventually alienated broad sectors of Bolivian society. Ironically and chaotically, the rise of the military through development, and armed resistance against the developmentalist state, converged in 1964, as the army, communist-led miners, right-wing guerrillas, and urban teachers and students all turned on Paz.


The Bolivian president himself is the story’s central figure, and one of the book’s principal strengths is its insistent demonstration that authoritarian development was a home-grown product of the 1952 Bolivian revolution.  The leaders of Bolivia’s state mining company, COMIBOL, shamelessly argued that the country was unfit for democracy, and Paz survived as long as he did by rigging elections, jailing opponents, and mobilizing indigenous militias in the countryside.  During the 1960s, U.S. backing shaped the revolution by exacerbating rifts between Paz and the left, facilitating the expansion of the military, and providing the bloodless language of economic development to legitimate political repression.  But Paz comes into focus as a shrewd, authoritarian nationalist who retained decisive control over Bolivian politics.  Large portions of the book chronicle the regime’s negotiations with U.S. officials, strategic toleration of Cuban revolutionaries, and cultivation of indigenous leaders, military officers, and a variety of nationalist and Marxist parties at home.  Juggling these relationships was the essence of nationalist politics in the Cold War, and their mounting contradictions were ultimately Paz’s undoing.


As Field traces the life and death of the Paz regime and the internecine factionalism of Bolivia’s political parties, he makes clear what Odd Arne Westad and others have argued: communism and anticommunism were not the essential fault lines of politics in much of the global South.[33]  The U.S. government struggled mightily to make them so during the Cold War, and the transformation of the terms of domestic politics was one of the hardest-won battles of that conflict.  Within Bolivia, communism and Marxism took a variety of forms across party and social lines; the Communist Party and the Cuban government each had a modus vivendi with the regime.  In conflicts with mine workers, Paz bent U.S. anticommunism to his own purposes, using Alliance for Progress funds to assault trade unionists whose crime was not so much their communism as their political independence and unwavering resistance to the elimination of their jobs.  At other times, U.S. anticommunism became a liability for Paz, as when the Johnson administration forced him to cut ties with Havana.


Field’s book is political history in two senses.  It is, first and foremost, an interpretation of development as a political tool chosen by Paz to strengthen his regime, and by the Kennedy administration to combat Cuba.  Methodologically, it is a study of the high politics of inter-American diplomacy and the Bolivian state’s relations with organized political parties, militias, and trade unions.  These interpretive choices have their strengths, and Field displays a generous understanding of political history in highlighting the mobilization of indigenous militias, state violence against mineworkers, and the ferocious radicalism of miners’ wives.


Curiously enough, these very strengths suggest that an even richer book might have been written, bringing the methods of social and cultural history to bear on Field’s remarkable source base.  To take just one example, roughly half the book chronicles a devastating confrontation between Paz and the independent, communist-led union at the Siglo XX tin mine.  Bolivia’s labor reform under the Alliance for Progress aimed to eviscerate the union by laying off 5,000 workers, expelling communists from positions of leadership, and curtailing the country’s labor laws.  It took nearly three years for Paz to implement the plan, as workers and their wives struck the mines, staged hunger strikes, took U.S. hostages, and faced down local militias with homemade grenades.  In a sense, this book is half-articulated testimony to the shattering implications of losing a job and an independent union in Bolivia’s tin mines.  What exactly did union members expect from their jobs and the state, and why, for that matter, were indigenous militias so willing to fight them on those issues?


The story of the miners begs, likewise, for analysis of the gender ideology at work within the communist left.  Field reproduces fascinating interview material with miners’ wives, who describe the most stunning acts of militance in the most conventionally patriarchal terms.  Calling themselves the Amas de Casa (housewives), the women took charge of guarding four hostages that the union seized in 1963, and prepared themselves to die, laying dynamite so that they could destroy the entire union hall in case of a military ambush.  As it turned out, their husbands violated the women’s wishes by agreeing to release the hostages, and ultimately revealed that they hadn’t had any bullets to load their guns.  Gerónima de Romero conveyed her rage and disillusionment by explaining that she nearly suffered a miscarriage after the hostages’ release.  Here and elsewhere, Field relays haunting remarks in the same spirit that they were offered: as evidence of a woman’s sacrifice and anguish, or a CIA station chief’s horror at working with torturers.  All of these quotations raise interpretive questions about the consciousness of the speakers.


Ultimately, Field’s sources might help us think about the layered and vernacular meanings of development and communism during the Alliance for Progress.  For communist trade unionists and their wives, what would a legitimate social and economic order have been?  How would the nation’s leading industry operate, and how would the family operate?  For all the incontrovertible value of seeing development as high political strategy, and communism and anti-communism as geopolitical commitments, they were never only those things.  Communists at Siglo XX fought the Paz regime because they had a distinctive vision of social and economic order.  Development was a legitimating discourse for Paz because it evoked meaningful material and social aspirations.  From Development to Dictatorship confirms what Scott, Ferguson, and Westad have written about development as statecraft.  The history of the people who implemented and resisted the Alliance for Progress invites us to read a wealth of new evidence with a mind to the social history questions of Laura Gotkowitz or the anthropological questions of June Nash.[34]


This is an excellent, well-researched book that contributes to the historiographies of the fields of U.S. foreign relations, (economic) development studies, and Latin American history.


Although there are very good surveys of U.S.-Bolivian relations, and the Alliance for Progress (the Alliance), of late there have not been too many case studies of the Alliance in action, where the author drills down on a particularly important aspect of the Alliance. Field’s book fills that historiographic gap.[35]


This book is particular interesting and important because it examines a time period (1961-1964) in which the Bolivian Revolution, one of the five key revolutions in modern Latin American history (the others were Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, and Nicaragua) was arguably coming to a crisis-ridden climax.[36] For its part, the United States witnessedthe wide application of U.S.-style ‘modernization theory’ (or economic ‘developmentalism’) in the nonindustrialized world. That is, U.S.-style economic development was being rigorously implemented in the Third World—in a top-down, authoritarian fashion.  U.S.-style modernization was seen as the only antidote to a feared spreading of Moscow- and Beijing-backed communism in the Global South. Indeed, the communist giants in the late 1950s became more interested in attempting to spread communism in the nonindustrialized world.


Moreover, in the early 1960s, the United States was near the peak of its power, in historic terms. As such, it behooves historians to examine U.S. foreign policy during a time period in which it arguably had very significant ability to impose its will on other nations – in particular, the developing world. Part and parcel of overweening power included new foreign policy tools. The Kennedy Administration was actively using a military/foreign policy technique-–counterinsurgency--to support often-unsavory but firmly anti-communist Third-World dictatorial friends (as in  Vietnam andIndonesia) as well as attempting to topple anti–U.S. (and communist) governments (for example, in Cuba).


Few studies of United States-Latin American relations during the Alliance for Progress (or, more simply, “Alliance”) years (1961-1969) closely analyze two important aspects of the Alliance. First, U.S. military assistance, overt or covert, was a key aspect of the Alliance. Second, U.S. developmentalist efforts were top-down affairs, and thus aided already-existing authoritarianism in the region. This study deftly, and articulately, explains this intersection/connection. Bolivia is a very important ‘case study’ of top-down, authoritarian, militaristic development, generously aided by U.S. assistance, both economic and military. Field nicely encapsulates this important idea:  “It [U.S. economic development policy towards Bolivia] was Alliance for Progress development in action, an aggressive modernization project implemented through armed force” (96).  Thus, Field’s work is an important contribution to the history of United States-Latin American relations in one of its more crucial decades. Even as the U.S. development was ‘top-down,’ however, Field subtly yet effectively discusses how Bolivians, both elite and non-elite, exerted some agency over how this development process unfolded. The United States did not simply dictate terms to the Bolivians, but instead had to react to Bolivian actions in the area of economic development policy.


It seems clear from Field’s analysis that if the United States did not exist, President Victor Paz Estenssoro would have exerted power in an increasingly authoritarian fashion as he lingered on in power. But, equally important, is that the firm, unwavering U.S. backing of Paz’s authoritarian developmentalism (and U.S. backing of Paz was well-known in Bolivia) exacerbated Paz’s already-existing authoritarianism.  Understanding this intersection of U.S.-style top-down developmentalism and Paz’s authoritarian developmentalism is key for understanding not only 1960s Bolivian, but Latin American, politics and international relations in general.


The criticisms I have concern two areas:  first, time and space; second, political economy. Regarding time/space, it would have been nice if Field had given the reader more context for U.S. economic assistance in Bolivia – which stretched back to the early 1940s, and in the 1950s was already the highest per-capita recipient of US economic aid in the world. Such generous assistance is head-scratching, as the Bolivian Revolution, in the early years (1952-1956), was a deep, radical social revolution. However, as the U.S. aid flow increased over the course of the 1950s, and U.S. leverage with it, the Bolivian Revolution moderated.


As such, years before the Alliance was but a gleam in the eye of Kennedy’s experts on U.S. economic assistance to the Third World, was Bolivia a kind of ‘laboratory’ for U.S. economic assistance and/or development policy for Latin America? If so, what did U.S. officials learn from their 1950s Bolivia experience, and were these conclusions applied in constructing the Alliance? Engaging such questions would also have given Field the opportunity to situate Bolivia, and U.S.-Bolivian relations, in the context of U.S.-Latin American relations more generally.


Also, since Field’s devastating (and accurate, I would conclude) analysis of U.S./Paz Estenssoro top-down, militaristic-authoritarian development policy is so well-documented, it would be interesting to find out what he thinks about U.S.-Bolivian relations from 1964 to the present. It seems that Paz Estenssoro set the stage for René Barrientos’s, Hugo Banzer’s, and Luis García Meza’s at-times brutal military rule from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. However, it’s not clear that one can make this historic ‘jump.’ In sum, it would have been nice to hear what Field thinks is the legacy of the Paz Estenssoro 1961-1964 government for Bolivia and for U.S.-Bolivian relations—-especially considering that once again Bolivia, due to its strident anti-Americanism, is one of the more important nations for the United States in the region today.


Regarding political economy, it would have been nice to know what sort of differences/similarities there were between U.S. developmentalists and Paz Estenssoro with regard to what sort of economy Bolivia should work towards in the long run. What visions did the different players have for Bolivia’s economy in the future? I get a sense from the book that Paz would have wanted a more state-directed economy, to promote diversification (Bolivia had coveted a tin smelter for decades so it could produce tin metal, for example). For their part, I think U.S. officials would want minimal state power in the area of political economy, letting the ‘free’ market allocate resources where they would be most economically productive.


However, these are minor considerations. This book is extremely well-researched (the use of interviews and international archives in particular), well-argued, and well-written. Students of Latin American history, development studies, and U.S. foreign relations will benefit from reading this book.



In the summer of 1961, two MIT economists attempted to chart the future of independent Nigeria.  Arnold Rivkin was dispatched to the country by President John Kennedy, who was mulling over massive development packages for dozens of states in the nonaligned Third World.  Rivkin was tasked with evaluating Nigeria’s ten-year plan for “market discipline,” which had been drafted by his former MIT colleague Wolfgang Stolper.  Having just been appointed top economic advisor to Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Stolper fancied himself the “best economist in West Africa,” and he aimed to “weld the territory into a nation,” a noncommunist “oasis of rationality in a sea of unreason.”  The Rivkin Mission reported back that “much is stake in Nigeria,” a country that “offers a good opportunity…to achieve development in a democratic [noncommunist] framework,” thanks to leaders whose commitment to modernization reflected a “all-pervading spirit of determination.”  USAID agreed with the economists that Nigeria offered “an excellent opportunity…to demonstrate to the newly independent African nations that the best way to achieve their economic and political aspirations lies in…cooperating with the Free [noncommunist] World.”  Five years and tens of millions of dollars later, Prime Minister Balewa lay dead, his pretenses to nonalignment having been hallowed out by the many conditions of U.S. aid funding.  For the next three decades, the reins of Nigerian development were manned by a series of military officers.[37]


The 1960s may have been a good decade for development,[38] but they were a disaster for political democracy, particularly for states whose civilian leaders had attempted to tread the fraught path of Cold War nonalignment.  The Nigerian script had already played out in Brazil, Bolivia, Algeria, and Indonesia, and it would be reenacted five weeks later in Ghana.  On a superficial level, this collective narrative reads like the evolution of a Greek tragedy: “from development to dictatorship,” as my book’s title suggests.  But the ideological seeds of these dictatorships and coups d’état were present from the very beginning of the 1960s.  Through discourses and practices of authoritarian development, nationalist modernizers and their liberal U.S. allies sought to “pull more and more people,” in Rivkin’s words, toward economic and social modernity.[39]  To be sure, Third World nationalists and U.S. developmentalists did not always share the same vision of progress, but neither believed that the path began with political democracy.  In the words of Kennedy’s ambassador to Bolivia, Ben Stephansky, “political development could proceed” only after “sufficient order and discipline…[was] evoked in order to achieve economic development…[thus] reducing the communist threat” (57).  Even Kennedy’s authorization of CIA support for Iraq’s anti-British, anti-Communist Ba’athists in 1963 should be considered alongside the administration’s global courtship of authoritarian modernizers, preferably civilians, whose brutal repression of right and left betrayed their democratic trappings.[40]


In their generous reviews of From Development to Dictatorship, both James Siekmeier and Thomas Tunstall Allcock identify new avenues for research on this topic.  Siekmeier pioneered the study of U.S.-Bolivian bilateral history, and he is therefore right to point out that it would be useful to know more about the wider chronology of the relationship, particularly the way Truman and Eisenhower administration officials conceived aid, and how U.S. foreign policy struggled through the varied dictatorships of the late 1960s and 1970s.  I also agree with him that more attention could be given to the political economy of U.S.-Bolivian relations, a topic that Kevin Young is currently (and ably) exploring.[41]


Allcock’s review was most gratifying, given our shared commitment to writing complex histories of the U.S. and Latin America that transcend the exhausted and polarizing debates over agency.  Allcock is correct to point out that I could have done a better job developing the characters on Bolivia’s right and within its Falange Party, particularly prior to its launch of guerilla warfare in mid-1964.  Likewise, I could have provided a more explicit treatment of the effects of Brazil’s April coup on the Bolivian military.  In both cases, I followed the evidence: Bolivia’s right wing had been largely dormant since a failed 1959 uprising (200n3), and Brazil’s role in the 1964 coup was limited to doing nothing as these rightwing guerrillas used their remote Amazonian frontier as a rearguard (154-160).  Finally, I was intrigued by Allcock’s assertion that Assistant Secretary of State Edwin Martin lacked a commitment to development.  On Bolivia policy, at least, he sided with heavy-handed liberal modernizers like Ambassador Stephansky, against realist skeptics like Secretary of State Dean Rusk.  It is quite possible that these fluid categories belie a deeper dilemma within U.S. liberalism regarding the obvious tensions between political democracy and technocratic development.


While Allcock appreciated that I let my sources “be fully aired” and that I “avoid heavy-handed moral judgments,” Amy Offer would have liked to see a finer analytic edge applied to the Bolivian workers and families who form the core of my narrative regarding the grassroots resistance to development.  In her generally positive review, Offner recommends the theoretical tools of social and cultural history, which she believes would have gone further than political history in unpacking the complex motivations that drove indigenous peasants to turn their rifles on trade unionists and prompted miners’ wives to hold U.S. development officials hostage.  At the outset, I should concede that social criticism, so present in my treatment of Bolivia’s modernizing nationalists and their liberal U.S. allies, did not travel with me to the countryside.  As an international historian, I was more interested in understanding the local effects of ‘development’ and militarization than I was in unraveling the social and cultural complexities of the Bolivian mining camps.  By provincializing the supposedly cosmopolitan modernization theorists in La Paz and Washington, and by simply documenting miner and peasant appeals to universal high politics, I sought to turn international history on its head through a local narration of U.S. development programs on the ground.  Offner may be correct to point out that quotidian concerns also motivated ordinary Bolivians to take up arms against (or for) U.S.-style development, but I consciously chose to take the advice of miner’s wife and Communist Party militant Domitila Barrios de Chungara: “If you’ll allow me to speak…”[42]


One of the reasons Offner likely calls for greater analysis of the Bolivians who resisted development is her opinion that the book’s “central claim” regarding modernization and authoritarianism is also “its least surprising.”  The development studies literature she cites, however, largely focuses on agricultural development in Africa and Eurasia, and few of the international historians she references implicate the Kennedy administration in what they generally depict to have been a late Kennedy or early Johnson evolution toward dictatorship as hopes for democratic development dissipated in the mid-1960s.  By identifying repressive tendencies in the first days of Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, by emphasizing the voices of Bolivia’s own authoritarian modernizers and their enemies, and by narrating development and dictatorship from the ground-up, I sought to provide what Offner concedes to have been a “compelling local portrait of the violence that anticommunist development brought on the Bolivian left” and, I would interject, the right.


If Latin Americanists like Offner have long accepted an implicit link between modernization and authoritarianism, Philip Muehlenbeck’s review illustrates the extent to which development mythology still holds sway in diplomatic history.  Suggesting that my book is merely a “lone case study,” Muehlenbeck simultaneously argues two seemingly contradictory points: that Kennedy’s increased military aid to Bolivia was justified and that it did not, in fact, occur.  On the first point, I disagree that it was “legitimate” to rebuild the Bolivian military in order to deal with workers who “def[ied] the central government.”  (Nor do I share Muehlenbeck’s rosy perspective on Paz Estenssoro’s 1964 reelection with 97.9% of the vote, which even the pro-Paz White House conceded to have been a farce [152].)  On the second point, I fail to see how a 1200% increase in military aid to Bolivia during the Kennedy administration (see Figure 1) represents anything other than a “shower.”  A deluge, perhaps?[43]



            Figure 1. Data from USAID, US Overseas Loans and Grants (Greenbook), https://eads.usaid.gov/gbk/ [Available in the PDF edition]


Muehlenbeck’s defense is that a number of other Latin American countries also received large upticks in military assistance during these years.  Does that not simply suggest a wider militarization of the Alliance for Progress?  More importantly, these statistical acrobatics (downplaying Kennedy’s military aid by considering it only as a ratio to rising economic aid, see Figure 2) fail to address one of the book’s key findings: that “economic” aid had as much to do with creeping authoritarianism as its more strictly conceived “military” counterpart.  Not only did USAID’s “economic” category mask paramilitary training and weapons shipments that arrived under its Office of Public Safety (37, 48, 93-94, 134, 153-55, 178-79),[44] but Alliance for Progress “economic” aid also covered the cost of military civic action programs, including the creation of two engineering battalions from which several coup leaders emerged (33, 57, 79-87, 141-42, 172, 206n126).  Even the purest “development” program launched in Bolivia, the mine rehabilitation plan, was conditioned on the firing of thousands and the physical removal of leftist union leaders, both of which were enforced in part by a USAID-armed paramilitary.  Muehlenbeck’s larger point seems to be that the Kennedy administration’s ratio of military to economic aid “compares favorably” to other “U.S. Cold War presidents”: a bit less than Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower; tied with Ronald Reagan.  This sets a remarkably low bar for comparison. It also fails to distinguish between the types of Third World authoritarianism each president preferred, and it does not take into account the disparate methods each administration employed to provide its chosen allies with military and economic support.


Figure 2. Data from USAID, US Overseas Loans and Grants (Greenbook), https://eads.usaid.gov/gbk/ [Available in the PDF edition]


None of this is to suggest, however, that the United States was secretly behind Bolivia’s 1964 coup.  As Allock notes, From Development to Dictatorship departs from the standard narrative in which military plots are conceived in Washington, incubated by local elites, and hatched in the barracks under the stewardship of reactionary generals in collusion with the Pentagon or the CIA.  Instead, left wing and right wing Bolivians took to the streets to bring down a U.S.-backed civilian regime, and the military, as in the case of the Bolsheviks, “found power lying in the street, and picked it up.”[45]  Recently, Colin Jones called for greater attention to “the people” in collectively authoring revolutionary events, even those in which the left is soon “hoist by its own petard” in a distinctly counterrevolutionary denouement.  Jones’s subject is the overthrow of the French Jacobin, Maximilien de Robespierre, on 9 Thermidor, but a similar dynamic was at play when President Paz Estenssoro abdicated on 4 November.  As Bolivian mine union leader Arturo Crespo somberly recalled, “We ground the wheat into flour, only to see others feast on the bread.”[46]


I want to thank Tom Maddux for commissioning these most thoughtful reviews and for selecting From Development to Dictatorship for an H-Diplo roundtable.



[1] Greg Grandin and Gilbert M. Joseph, eds., A Century of Revolution: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Violence during Latin America’s Long Cold War (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

[2] Glenn J. Dorn, The Truman Administration and Bolivia: Making the World Safe for Liberal Constitutional Oligarchy (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011); James F. Siekmeier, The Bolivian Revolution and the United States, 1952 to the Present (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011).  The H-Diplo Roundtable for these books is available at http://h-diplo.org/roundtables/PDF/Roundtable-XIV-33.pdf

[3] A classic critique of the Kennedy administration’s foreign policy can be found in Thomas G. Paterson, ed., Kennedy’s Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy, 1961-1963 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).  For a critical analysis of the administration’s Latin American policies, see Stephen G. Rabe, The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999). 

[4] Philip E. Muehlenbeck, Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy’s Courting of African Nationalist Leaders (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Robert B. Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[5] William Michael Schmidli, The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere: Human Rights and U.S. Cold War Policy toward Argentina (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013).  The H-Diplo roundtable is available at https://networks.h-net.org/system/files/contributed-files/roundtable-xvi-9.pdf

[6] For examples see, Stephen Rabe, The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999); Ronald Scheman (ed), The Alliance for Progress: A Retrospective (London: Praeger, 1988); Jeffrey F. Taffet, Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy: The Alliance for Progress in Latin America (London: Routledge, 2007).

[7] For the classic formulation of this position see Jerome Levinson and Juan de Onis, The Alliance that Lost its Way: A Critical Report on the Alliance for Progress (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1970).

[8] In particular, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., ‘Myth and Reality,’ in A. Scheman, Retrospective; Richard Goodwin, Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties (Boston: Little, Brown, 1988), 243-246.

[9] Tanya Harmer, Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

[10] Stephen Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Harmer, Allende’s Chile.

[11] See Max Paul Friedman, “Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In: Recent Scholarship on United States–Latin American Relations,’”Diplomatic History, Vol. 27, No. 5 (2003); Stephen G. Rabe, “Marching Ahead (Forthrightly): The Historiography of Inter-American Relations,” Passport, Vol. 45, No. 2 (September, 2014).

[12] For a flavour of these debates see previous H-Diplo Roundtables, particularly those on Rabe, The Killing Zone, Volume XIII, No. 21 (2012) and Hal Brands, Latin America’s Cold War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), Volume XII, No. 27 (2011).

[13] Michael Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011); Michael Latham, Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and ‘Nation Building’ in the Kennedy Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008); and Amanda Kay McVety, Enlightened Aid: U.S. Development as Foreign Policy in Ethiopia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[14] Jeffrey F. Taffet, “Latin America” in A Companion to John F. Kennedy, Marc J. Selverstone, ed. (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), 307.

[15] See U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants [Greenbook] Database [Online]. Rev. July 17, 2014. Available: http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/ and SIPRI Arms Transfer Database [Online], rev. July 17, 2014. Available: http://www.sipri.org/databases/armstransfers. The yearly amount of military assistance that the United States sent Bolivia during the years covered in From Development to Dictatorship were: $1.75m (1961), $2.4m (1962), $4.96m (1963), $2.85m (1964).

[16] SIPRI Arms Transfer Database [Online], rev. July 17, 2014. Available: http://www.sipri.org/databases/armstransfers.

[17] See U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants [Greenbook] Database [Online]. Rev. July 17, 2014. Available: http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/.

[18] See U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants [Greenbook] Database [Online]. Rev. July 19, 2014. Available: http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/. Percentage of total assistance from the United States which was military aid during the years 1961-1963: Peru (34.5%), Venezuela (27.1%), Uruguay (26.9%), Ecuador (18.6%), Argentina (17.4%), Chile (16.6%), Brazil (14.5%), Columbia (12.1%), Paraguay (8.8%), Bolivia (6.6%), Guyana (0%). Analysis by author. 

[19] James Siekmeier, The Bolivian Revolution and the United States, 1952 to Present (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011).

[20] See U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants [Greenbook] Database [Online]. Rev. July 17, 2014. Available: http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/. Percentage of total foreign aid distributed by presidential administration which was military related: Nixon/Ford (48.2%), Eisenhower (45.4%), Reagan (33.7%), Kennedy (33.7%), Carter (33.1%), Johnson (32.1%). Analysis by author.

[21] See U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants [Greenbook] Database [Online]. Rev. July 17, 2014. Available: http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/. The total amount of aid given by the United States to Bolivia during the years 1961-63 was $139.41 million (1961: $32.45m, 1962: $39.00m, 1963: $67.96m) of this only a total of $9.11 million was military assistance. Analysis by author.

[22] Robert B. Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Philip E. Muehlenbeck, Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy’s Courting of African Nationalist Leaders (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[23] See Parker T. Hart, oral history interview, 27 January 1989, Frontline Diplomacy and Talcott W. Seelye, oral history interview, 15 September 1993, Frontline Diplomacy; [Online] Rev. July 14, 2014. Available: http://www.loc.gov/collection/foreign-affairs-oral-history/about-this-collection/ and Muehlenbeck, Betting on the Africans, 133-34.

[24] Travels of the President, The United States State Department’s Office of the Historian. [Online] Rev. July 14, 2014. Available: http://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/travels/president. Number of visits to countries with non-democratic governments by president: Nixon (15), Carter (11), Ford (8), Johnson (7), Eisenhower (6), Reagan (5), Truman (1), Kennedy (0). Analysis by author.

[25] Visits to the U.S. by Foreign Heads of State and Government, The United States State Department’s Office of the Historian. [Online] Rev. July 14, 2014. Available at: http://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/visits. Percentage of Foreign Heads of State to Visit a United States President while in office who were not democratically elected: Nixon (41.2%), Carter (40.9%), Ford (39.3%), Eisenhower (34.8%), Johnson (34.2%), Reagan (33.5%), Kennedy (24.0%). Analysis by author.

[26] Visits to the U.S. by Foreign Heads of State and Government, The United States State Department’s Office of the Historian. [Online] Rev. July 14, 2014. Available at: http://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/visits. Analysis by author. The two Latin American leaders who received full State visits were President Paz-Estenssoro of Bolivia and President Prado of Peru. During the Kennedy administration there were thirty-two independent African states and twenty-two independent Latin American states (here the countries of Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico are classified as ‘Latin America’). For an example of the Kennedy administration’s ambivalence towards relations with Latin American authoritarian leaders see Kirk A. Tyvela, “The Dictatorship Dilemma: The United States, Paraguay, and the Cold War, 1954-1989” (Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 2007), chapter three.

[27] Siekmeier, 91-92.

[28] Dieter Nohlen, Elections in the Americas: A Data Handbook: Volume 2: South America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[29] Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World.

[30] See U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants [Greenbook] Database [Online]. Rev. July 17, 2014. Available: http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/.

[31] James Ferguson, The Anti-Politics Machine: Development, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998).

[32] Nick Cullather, The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia  (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010); David Ekbladh, The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007); Michael Latham, Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and ‘Nation Building’ in the Kennedy Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Michael Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011); Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968 (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2008).

[33] Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[34] Laura Gotkowitz, A Revolution for Our Rights: Indigenous Struggles for Land and Justice in Bolivia, 1880-1952 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), June Nash, We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us: Dependency and Exploitation in Bolivian Tin Mines (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

[35] For surveys of U.S. –Bolivian relations, see Kenneth Lehman, Bolivia and the United States—A Limited Partnership (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1999); and James F. Siekmeier, The Bolivian Revolution and the United States, 1952-Present. (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2011). For the Alliance for Progress, see Jeffrey Taffett, Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy—The Alliance for Progress in Latin America (New York: Routledge, 2007).

[36] For a good overview of U.S. Response to Revolution in Latin America, see Cole Blasier, The Hovering Giant: U.S. Responses to Revolutionary Change in Latin America, 1910-1985, 2nd ed. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985).

[37] Larry Grubbs, “Bringing ‘The Gospel of Modernization’ to Nigeria: American Nation Builders and Development Planning in the 1960s,” Peace & Change 31:3 (July 2006), 287-95.

[38] Mark Weisbrot and Rebecca Ray, “The Scorecard on Development: 1960-2010: Closing the Gap?” Department of Economic and Social Affairs Working Paper No. 106, United Nations, June 2011.

[39] Cited in Grubbs, “Bringing ‘The Gospel of Modernization’ to Nigeria,” 295.

[40] Eric Jacobsen, “A Coincidence of Interests: Kennedy, US Assistance, and the 1963 Iraqi Ba’th Regime,” Diplomatic History 37:5 (November 2013), 1029-59; and Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt, “Embracing Regime Change in Iraq: The American Foreign Policy and the 1963 Coup d’État in Baghdad,” Diplomatic History 39:1 (January 2015), 98-125.

[41] Kevin Young, “Restoring Discipline in the Ranks: The United States and the Restructuring of the Bolivian Mining Industry, 1960-1970,” Latin American Perspectives 38:6 (November 2011), 6-24; and “Purging the Forces of Darkness: The United States, Monetary Stabilization, and the Containment of the Bolivian Revolution,” Diplomatic History 37:3 (2013), 509-37.

[42] Domitilia Barrios de Chungara’s testimony was recorded by Moema Viezzer in “Si me permiten hablar…” Testimonio de Domitila, una mujer de las minas en Bolivia (Mexico, DF: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1977).  The English edition translates the title as “Let me speak!”  See Domitila Barrios de Chungara and Moema Viezzer, Let me speak!: Testimony of Domitila, a woman of the Bolivian mines (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978).  Offner suggests that I conducted direct interviews with the Amas de Casa, but much of the material she references (127-28, for example) can be found in the collectively-published proceedings of roundtables organized by former Amas de Casa between 1998 and 2001.  See María L. Lagos, Nos hemos forjado así: al rojo vivo y a puro golpe: historias del Comité de Amas de Casa de Siglo XX (La Paz: Plural Editores, 2006).

[43] In eight years, the Eisenhower administration provided less than $750,000 in military assistance to Bolivia, all of it after 1958.  Even excluding the earlier years, during which no aid was given, the Eisenhower average was $250,000 per year.  In less than three years, the Kennedy administration gave $9.11 million, most of it personally approved by the President, for an annual average of over $3 million.  See United States Agency for International Development, US Overseas Loans and Grants (Greenbook), available online at https://eads.usaid.gov/gbk/.

[44] Regarding Byron Engle’s OPS, see Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).  On page 227, Kuzmarov cites the OPS figure for Bolivia as around $400,000 per year during the Kennedy administration.

[45] This quotation is widely attributed to Lenin.  It first came to my attention in James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (Yale: 1994), 158.  Scott cites Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution (New York: Viking, 1965), but the verbatim quote does not appear there.  Instead, she writes on page 260 that “the best [the Bolsheviks] could do was to be around, or to hurry home, at the right moment, that is, at the moment of collapse.”  Many recent citations of the Scott version dead end with Martin Malia’s unreferenced quotation in: The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia (New York: Free Press, 1994), 93.

[46] Colin Jones, “The Overthrow of Maximilien Robespierre and ‘Indifference’ of the People,” The American Historical Review 119:3 (June 2014), 689-713; Arturo Crespo, El rostro minero de Bolivia: Los mineros…mártires, héroes (La Paz: Sygnus, 2009), 352.  The original reads: “Hemos molido el trigo para que otros coman el pan.”