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May 28 , 2009

From Development to Dictatorship

Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era


During the most idealistic years of John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress development program, Bolivia was the highest per capita recipient of U.S. foreign aid in Latin America. Nonetheless, Washington’s modernization programs in early 1960s' Bolivia ended up on a collision course with important sectors of the country’s civil society, including radical workers, rebellious students, and a plethora of rightwing and leftwing political parties. In From Development to Dictatorship, Thomas C. Field Jr. reconstructs the untold story of USAID’s first years in Bolivia, including the country’s 1964 military coup d’état.

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Field draws heavily on local sources to demonstrate that Bolivia’s turn toward anticommunist, development-oriented dictatorship was the logical and practical culmination of the military-led modernization paradigm that provided the liberal underpinnings of Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. In the process, he explores several underappreciated aspects of Cold War liberal internationalism: the tendency of “development” to encourage authoritarian solutions to political unrest, the connection between modernization theories and the rise of Third World armed forces, and the intimacy between USAID and CIA covert operations. Challenging the conventional dichotomy between ideology and strategy in international politics, From Development to Dictatorship engages with a growing literature on development as a key rubric for understanding the interconnected processes of decolonization and the Cold War.

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