Transitions from rivalry to alliance within bilateral relationships have received considerable attention from historians of U.S. foreign relations. Or, more accurately, some alliances have received considerable attention; it remains unusual for works on inter-American relations to be cast principally as examinations of alliance politics. There are at least two interrelated reasons. First, the vast majority of the literature on the foreign relations of Latin American states analyzes cases where significant asymmetries of power exist. To be sure, vast differentials in political, economic, and military power can be found within alliances. But the alliance framework is more often applied to cases of countries where the imbalance is not dramatic. Second, in the English language literature in particular, relations between Latin American countries have been understudied. The overwhelming majority of the scholarship analyzes the role of great powers such as the United States or Great Britain. Consequently, the factors that have led regional adversaries to become allies have received less attention. U.S.-Latin American relations or Anglo-Latin American relations could, of course, be studied through the prism of rivalries and alliances, but the frameworks of empire and other varieties of hegemony have been more commonly utilized.
Contemporary scholarly examinations of John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress are surprisingly thin on the ground. This is a trend, moreover, that has been as true with respect to broad studies of the entire program as it has for more specific assessments of individual case studies. There is a difference between a field that is only partially developed, of course, and one that is barren: a number of important works relating to the Alliance are already in existence, while the article under review here suggests a number of ways that the extant literature can be further developed in accordance with emerging work on the history of development and on Latin America’s place in the Global Cold War. By providing a detailed examination of the Alliance’s implementation in Bolivia, Thomas Field significantly enriches our understanding of what remains a complex and thorny period in inter-American relations. Constructed upon rhetorical foundations characterised by noble ideals of development, democracy and social progress, the subsequent deterioration of Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress into a morass of missed targets, worsening inter-American relations, and the support of a range of authoritarian regimes, has long puzzled scholars of U.S. policy in the region. Why did the Kennedy administration’s benevolent intentions, scholars have typically asked, go awry as the Alliance failed to meet its grand goals?