Despite Failures, Latin America Still Fond Of JFK

Nov 22, 2013

U.S. President John F. Kennedy at La Morita, Venezuela, during an official meeting for the Alliance for Progress in 1961.
Credit Historia de Venezuela en Imágenes, El Nacional, 2001 / Wikimedia Commons

When President Kennedy took office in 1961, he immediately set out to combat communism wherever he could.

He didn’t need to look far, and signed off on a plan to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro put in motion by his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

University of Oklahoma political scientist and Latin America scholar Charles Kenney says it’s no coincidence Kennedy launched the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba within a month of a massive ten-year development program for Latin America known as the Alliance For Progress.

“It did not achieve its goals, but it did convey a new image of the United States to Latin America,” Kenney says. “One in which the United States highlighted the problems of social injustice in Latin America, and prioritized changes in Latin American politics and economics that would greatly change the status of the lower class people in Latin America.”

Kenney says this “soft power” approach, along with his youthful energy and Catholicism, endeared Kennedy to Latin America.

“There are more parks and schools and streets and things named for Kennedy than any other U.S. president in Latin America,” Kennedy says. “He’s an image of… things that we would all like to stand for and see happen in the world.”

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