Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kennedy and Colombia

Kennedy and Colombian Pres. Albeto Lleras inaugurate housing for the poor in south Bogotá.
The 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination is as good a time as any to take a look at the storied president's relationship to Colombia.

Kennedy visited Colombia once, in December 1961, only the second U.S. president to do so, following Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

JFK in Bogotá.
(Photo: JFK library.)
The purpose of Kennedy's visit was ostensibly to inaugurate a south Bogotá housing project funded by United States aid money. But the Kennedy administration's broader purpose was to line up regional governments behind U.S. Cold War policy - in particular, opposition to Fidel Castro's communist government in Cuba. Eight months before, the U.S. had launched the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, which Kennedy had inherited from his predecessor, the Eisenhower administration.

Kennedy had lots going for him in Latin America: he was young, handsome, charismatic, apparently vigorous (he in fact had severe medical problems), and, most of all, Catholic.

In March '61, his administration had created the Alliance for progress, supposed to help development of Latin America.

But the United States faced widespread distrust across Latin America, as expressed by Colombian an ingratiating letter a few months before Kennedy's visit. Lleras said that Colombia had "no doubts" about the U.S.'s commitment to send development aid to Latin America, but that many other countries thought that Washington's demands weren't balanced. Washington's aid pledge to the region "lacks precision," Lleras wrote, "while at the same time the United States requires from (Latin nations) in very precise form radical transformations that they cannot undertake without external aid from the United States."

In other words, if Latin American nations were to follow Washington's economic and ideological blueprints, they expected to be paid for it.

A cartoon shows Kennedy and Fidel
Castro confronting each other.
(JFK Library)
Pat M. Holt, a journalist, book author and staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also believed that Washington had more persuading to do: "Some - I am afraid many - Latin Americans are not yet convinced that the Soviet presence in Cuba is by intervention and not by invitation," he wrote, adding that, because of Castro's apparent popularity, "Latins are assailed by doubts that (Organization of American States (OAS)) to end Soviet intervention in Cuba would interfere with the right of the Cuban people to self determination. This argument may be silly, but that doesn't keep some people from believing it."

On the following page, Holt quoted a clause in the OAS charter stating that "No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever in the internal or external affairs of any other State."

For its part, Lleras assured Kennedy that Bogotá was on the same page as Washington in its "desire to sek proper solutions to the serious danges which have been created for the hemisphere by the imminence of the Soviet menace..."

A few days before Kennedy visited Bogotá, Colombia broke diplomatic relations with Cuba. In January 1962, the OAS expelled Cuba, which is still not a member.

In Nov. 1963 Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Some conspiracy theories hold that Castro was behind the killing. The south Bogotá neighborhood which Kennedy visited was renamed Barrio Kennedy.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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