From Development to Dictatorship

From Development to Dictatorship

Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era

Winner of the Thomas McGann Award (Rocky Mountain Council on Latin American Studies)

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.

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.

"Field shows how U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding was employed to arm peasant militias against militant miners, all in the name of development.  Field's book is well-researched and his work benefits from a deep engagement with Bolivia."—Andrew J. Kirkendall, author of Paulo Freire and the Cold War Politics of LiteracyH-Diplo State of the Field

"Field emphasizes that it was Washington's relentless promotion of modernization schemes by any means necessary that drove Bolivia to the brink of civil war. This superb study serves as a model for future explorations of the Alliance for Progress in Latin America."—Stephen M. Streeter, author of Managing the Counterrevolution: The United States and Guatemala, 1954–1961, Journal of American History

"A tremendous contribution to the historiography."—Philip E. Muehlenbeck, author of Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy's Courting of African Nationalist LeadersH-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

"A devastating (and accurate, I would conclude) analysis of U.S./Paz Estenssoro top-down, militaristic-authoritarian development policy. 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."—James F. Siekmeier, author of The Bolivian Revolution and the United States, 1952 to the PresentH-Diplo Roundtable Reviews


"Field's comprehensive use of archival material has enabled him to produce a compelling case study of the Alliance for Progress that provides new insights into the causal link between development and authoritarianism. His nuanced analysis has resulted in insightful conclusions that reveal the important intersection of ideology and strategy within Cold War international relations."—Mark Seddon, International History Review

"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 . . . gripping in a manner that is rarely found in academic studies . . . a highly impressive achievement."—Thomas Tunstall Allcock, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

"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 the Andean mines and villages."—Amy C. Offner, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews


"From Development to Dictatorship is impressively researched and clearly written and makes significant contributions to the history of Bolivia and U.S. foreign relations in the Kennedy era. Thomas C. Field Jr.'s detailed coverage of this period of Bolivian-U.S. relations sheds light on the direction the Bolivian military took; the role of developmental ideology in Bolivia's drift toward militarism; the influence of the United States in shaping Bolivia's internal political processes; and the ways that the developmental goals of the Alliance for Progress were intimately connected to the anticommunist, militarist, and authoritarian themes of Kennedy/Johnson policies. This is a very strong addition to the literature and our understanding of why Bolivia’s revolution ended as it did."—Kenneth D. Lehman, Squires Professor of History, Hampden-Sydney College, author of Bolivia and the United States: A Limited Partnership

"In From Development to Dictatorship, Thomas C. Field Jr. probes intriguing and important questions about the Alliance for Progress. Field's most impressive archival research in the United States, Bolivia, Great Britain, and France yields magnificent results by providing an exceptionally clear understanding of the actual goals and workings of the Alliance."—Mark Gilderhus, LBJ Chair of History, retired, Texas Christian University, author of The Second Century: U.S.-Latin American Relations since 1889

"From Development to Dictatorship will have an influence on more than our understanding of the land that beguiled Che Guevara. The product of remarkable interviews and of deft multi-archive international history, his intricate reconstruction of the Bolivian revolutionary scene in the early 1960s sets a high standard for reaching conclusions about the effect of U.S.-led development in any country at any time. Whether you believe that the 'Best and the Brightest' championed development in the ‘Third World’ as an act of enlightened self-interest or because of naked imperialism, this book absorbs your attention and makes you reconsider one of the defining impulses of the Kennedy era."— Timothy Naftali, coauthor of “One Hell of a Gamble”

"In From Development to Dictatorship, Thomas C. Field Jr. offers a new and compelling interpretation of John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, focusing on the case of Bolivia. His evidence is impressive and his analysis rigorous. This is a thought-provoking book."—Piero Gleijeses, The Johns Hopkins University (SAIS), author of Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959–1976

"This outstanding book serves as a model for international history. Thomas C. Field Jr. displays a remarkable knowledge of Bolivian history and culture. He further demonstrates that bilateral relations are complex and that generalizations about inter-American relations are often undermined when scholars conduct case studies that are thoroughly grounded in archival sources in both the United States and individual Latin American countries."—Stephen G. Rabe, Ashbel Smith Chair of History, University of Texas at Dallas, author of The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America