72. Memorandum From Philip P. Williams of the Office of Regional American Affairs to the Director of the Office (Cale)1


  • Technical Cooperation in Latin America, is it Accomplishing its Purpose?


With reference to the forthcoming discussion by the Board of Directors of IIAA on the above subject, I have discussed the problem in general terms with a number of ARA desk officers. Based on these talks, in which I asked them if they had any suggestions for changes or improvements, and based on my own knowledge of the technical cooperation program in the field, I have prepared this rather lengthy memorandum, including certain guidelines, points for discussion, criticisms and suggestions which you may find useful.


There is widespread support for the Technical Cooperation Program. It should be, and in Latin America is, a basically low cost long range program. Its direction is good and the amount spent is believed to be adequate. There is a natural tendency for the size of the program as a whole to increase, but this can be controlled by careful planning and systematic review. The guidelines developed over the years seem adequate to assure practical programs. Emphasis should be placed on the voluntary nature of our assistance to obviate any possible charges of economic imperialism by our enemies. When properly executed, technical cooperation is and can be an important step in reaching certain foreign policy objectives. Closer and continuing coordination and mutual cooperation between USOMs and Embassies is essential. A greater use of the contract method might be more effective in some fields. Other suggestions and criticisms lie mostly in the field of operations, but have their roots in policy considerations.

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The Mutual Security Act of 1954 states that Congress finds U.S. efforts to promote peace and security require additional measures based upon the principles of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid. U.S. policy is “to aid the efforts of peoples of economically underdeveloped areas to develop their resources and improve their working and living conditions by encouraging the exchange of technical knowledge and skills and the flow of investment capital to countries which provide conditions under which such technical assistance and capital can effectively and constructively contribute raising standards of living, creating new sources of wealth, increasing productivity and expanding purchasing power”.

The President, in his foreign economic policy message to the 84th Congress put it this way: “The United States has a vast store of practical and scientific know-how that is needed in the underdeveloped areas of the world. The United States has a responsibility to make it available. Its flow for peaceful purposes must remain unfettered.”

No one questions the wisdom of having a technical cooperation program, especially in Latin America, where our efforts to promote close friendly relations have been all but continuous. Technical cooperation is believed to be generally effective in Latin America, although there is criticism of some phases of certain country programs. There is a widespread feeling that too broad an approach has been taken at times and that a better thought out country program, directed at a few problems at a time, would be more effective in helping the other country and in bringing us immediate credit.

While our humanitarian motives are not always fully understood by the “Latinos”, especially government leaders, they can readily understand the explanation that technical cooperation serves an enlightened self-interest of the United States while it helps them. As such it is acceptable, being mutually beneficial. In time, however, it is to be hoped that field work will spread understanding of our idealism and humanitarianism to the people. For the moment, however, one still finds the fear that technical cooperation may be economic imperialism in disguise or that the programs may in some way be used contrary to the interests of the recipient country. This is ever present in the minds of some. This fear, when coupled with ultra-nationalism and Latin sensibilities, makes it important to proceed slowly and carefully. Our real enemies are only too ready to use this latent fear of the “gringo” and the above mentioned traits to discredit and distort our efforts.

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Certain generally accepted guidelines have been laid down and others can be developed to assure a maximum return on our efforts in technical cooperation I would list these as follows:

Proceed slowly and carefully.
There must be a request from the foreign government first, before assistance is given.
There must be a willingness on the part of the foreign government to pay its fair share of the project to be initiated.
There must be evidence that effective use of the technical assistance given will and can be made.
A project or training program should be of definite duration, with plans drawn up at the beginning for completion or transfer to host country responsibility after a given number of years or months.
Close coordination and mutual cooperation between Embassies and USOMs is essential. (There are often political implications of which the USOM may not be aware.)
The relation of a project or program to the overall U.S. policy objectives in a given country require the Embassy’s knowing and approving each project and program, but Embassy responsibility does not end there. Day to day USOM operations must be considered as they reflect on U.S. relations with the host government and people.
Embassies should, therefore, pay careful attention to USOM operations. (When an Ambassador and his staff have taken a real interest in and understood the USOM program and its importance to U.S. foreign policy objectives there is seldom any friction.)
USOMs should maintain close liaison with the Embassy on all levels. (Where there is mutual understanding of each other’s work there is seldom friction, but where USOM personnel feel or are made to feel left out or fail to understand the functions, responsibilities and duties of Embassy officers or the calls upon their time, one often finds personality clashes. These result in friction, loss in efficiency and damage to United States prestige.)
Another reason for close Embassy–USOM liaison is the danger that one may be played off against the other by designing and ambitious foreign politicians unless a complete interchange of information is available.
Selection of personnel means more than finding the right technician. Not only must the latter be properly briefed and oriented before departing, but the job requires a natural friendliness, a need for an open mind, a broad outlook, initiative, resourcefulness and a desire to study the other nation’s language, habits and mores. Above all, the technician should lack such traits as arrogance, or being domineering.
Embassies and USOMs should pay close attention to the multilateral programs of the UN and OAS, assisting wherever possible and at the same time being careful not to duplicate services or be brought into a position of competition with the other agencies.
In the use of university contracts, the terms should spell out in detail just what is expected and not leave the matter indeterminate [Page 342]and subject to later criticism as to the amount spent and the size of the mission contracted.


With reference to the size of the program as a whole, technical cooperation was never meant as a “big money” program. In Latin America it has not been so conducted and development assistance in Latin America has been limited to emergency situations. (Much of the criticism one hears directed against technical cooperation is often really directed against the grant aid programs of economic development.) Technical cooperation is a long range program. It has grown understandably as requests for aid have come in. The principal criticism heard is that once a program or project is started it goes on indefinitely. This is not completely valid, but some programs and projects have been in existence long enough to make this criticism worth considering. Each USOM should be required to reevaluate its programs and projects and discuss them frankly with the host government to see which can be terminated or transferred to local government responsibility. In this way other important projects could be undertaken without raising the total amount of funds being contributed by the United States.
USOM technicians are sometimes accused of unwillingness to make it clear to the host country that the USOM trained local technicians are capable of running a program or project by themselves and that the host government should take steps to assume this responsibility. This may require complicated legal or legislative moves by the local government, and such factors will have to be taken into consideration in drawing up termination plans, but they should not be used as the excuse for continuing a project indefinitely.
Technicians in the field of experimentation, especially agriculture, are sometimes said to become so engrossed in working on a problem themselves that they fail to train subordinates to take over, or they find so many new fields of investigation, that the need for foreign assistance tends to grow. This criticism requires very careful analysis and may often be unjustified. On the other hand, it is a problem which must be watched in terms of the size and length of a given program.
There is criticism that the shotgun rather than the rifle or balanced program approach has been used. There seems to be some justification for feeling that a more careful analysis should have been made in some cases before approving what now appears to have been rather haphazard country requests. In terms of a balanced country program, it may be better to limit the size and improve the quality and direction of technical cooperation. One must recognize, however, that it is not politically wise to attempt to tell a country what it needs unless there is real desire to request and accept such advice. It takes time to prove our sincerity. It may now be time, in some Latin American countries, to discuss the idea of a balanced program provided our help is fully appreciated and suspicions have been eliminated. Each USOM and Embassy would have to consider such an approach very carefully, not only in political and economic terms but from the financial standpoint as well. Can the country and [Page 343]the United States afford to undertake a fully balanced program? This might lead to an undesirable expansion unless carefully thought out as a long range step by step plan.
Although one sometimes hears criticism of the Servicio approach, it is my belief that it has proved one of the most effective ways to assure the other country contributing its share to the cost. Projects of this type that I have seen in operation lend themselves to training of local personnel and eventual assumption of full responsibility by the foreign government. This is, after all, the basic aim of technical cooperation as I see it.

Other Suggestions:

Experience has shown that the basic fields of agriculture, health and sanitation, transportation and education are generally acceptable and noncontroversial. Politically, help in these fields arouses little suspicion and evokes a wide-based gratitude for a job well done. It is believed that our greatest returns lie in these fields. On the other hand, the various countries of Latin America are in differing stages of development and have differing technical needs. As the countries advance up the scale there is more and more recognition of a need for help in such fields as housing, industry, labor, public administration, banking and finance, etc. Because these fields of ten involve the technician in matters of legislation such requests from foreign governments must be carefully sifted for political implications and the personnel more carefully matched and directed by both USOM and Embassy. It has been suggested that requests for assistance in such matters might be considered in the first instant by limiting the requests to solving that part of the problem which could be directly subordinated in an existing basic program. As confidence is developed the assistance could be broadened. This has been tried rather successfully, I understand, in some Servicio programs where an agricultural Servicio has included in its program projects in home economics, farm credit and statistics and it seems conceivable that it might branch into the field of low cost housing or even assist in the establishment of a small industry related to agriculture, if the natural resources were readily and economically available. A health and sanitation Servicio would also seem to provide opportunities for this slow approach, sponsoring perhaps pure food and drug legislation or something related.

Another suggestion sometimes heard is that a large portion of the assistance granted in the above mentioned fields might be given more safely and effectively through contracts with a recognized private firm. This is especially true with regard to economic, financial or taxation surveys or investigation of government services and departments. If the desire for assistance is sincere and the suggestions for change likely to be considered, even though obviously [Page 344]controversial in nature, it would appear to be in the U.S. interest to remove itself from responsibility for any views and suggestions to be made.


The consensus is that the direction taken by technical cooperation in Latin America is good, and in general no overall change in this or the size of the program is needed. Each country program, however, should be carefully reevaluated in the terms of the guidelines, criticisms and suggestions set forth above to assure the greatest possible return to the United States.




Mr. Stambaugh stated that one thing that had impressed him in examining the Program Plan was that the program involves doing a little bit of something in every country. He felt that this might be too much of a “shot-gun” approach and suggested the possibility that it might be better to seek greater concentration in the program in order to obtain better use of our limited resources, and to assure that the program is kept up-to-date with the changing economic and political situation in Latin America. He said that he raised this point simply as a consideration to be kept in mind in connection with future program planning.

Dr. Russell stated that he felt there was a need for some discussion of the Servicio method of carrying on program activities, although he felt that his views on this and other policy questions were mainly related to planning for FY 1958 and following years. He said that this method might produce too much fragmentation of activities, and referred to Brazil and Mexico as examples. Mr. Atwood agreed that this was a matter which deserved discussion. At the same time, he said, it must be recognized that in Mexico, for example, it is necessary to carry on activities with federal, regional, state and municipal organizations, and that he feels there are definite advantages to being able to work at those different levels.

Dr. Russell stated that one question in his mind was what the function of the Board should be with respect to review of the program plan. Mr. Atwood stated that it was his view that the [Page 345]Board should give a thorough review to program plans for Latin America. Mr. Stambaugh stated that, while he felt the FY 1956 plan should be approved, the Board should make a closer study of future program plans if that is what the Board considered that its function should be in this regard.

Mr. Stambaugh further stated that he felt one area where technical cooperation should be intensified is in the field of assisting other countries to develop economic statistical information and services. Mr. Atwood said that the importance of this field has been recognized in Latin America, and that we actually are doing a considerable amount of work of that character. Dr. Russell pointed out that the United Nations is also active in this field.

Mr. Cale stated that he was prepared to approve the resolution proposed in Mr. Atwood’s memorandum. He stated that there were a few areas where further discussions were needed between State and ICA to reach firm agreement before the FY 1956 Plan is implemented, but he felt these could certainly be solved satisfactorily after approval of the proposed resolution. The areas for further discussion which he mentioned were (1) the program for the Dependent Overseas Territories in the Caribbean; (2) the question of continuation of the Venezuelan program, with specific reference to the question of continuation of U.S. cash grants to the Health Servicio; (3) the question of continuation of the Mexican program, which is involved in the outcome of pending discussions between the U.S. Ambassador and the Mexican Government; and (4) a few other minor items. In response to a question from Dr. FitzGerald regarding the nature of these minor items, Mr. Cale cited as one example the State Department objection to recruitment of an industrial arts specialist for Haiti. Dr. FitzGerald distributed to the Board copies of his memorandum approving, on behalf of Mr. Hollister, the FY 1956 Technical Cooperation Program Plan for Latin America and setting forth specific limitations covering the first three items mentioned by Mr. Cale.

Dr. FitzGerald stated that the FY 1957 Program Plan is now in the process of development and he suggested that, before that plan is presented to the Bureau of the Budget, the Board should review major policy questions such as those raised earlier in the meeting by Mr. Stambaugh and Dr. Russell. He stated that this should take place before too late in the FY 1957 programming cycle. The Board instructed the Secretary to plan to arrange an early meeting of the Board, prior to November 1, for this purpose.

Mr. Cale stated that the Latin American program should, of course, be scrutinized at all times, but that he doubted that the Board in one meeting could give sufficient review to reach firm conclusions as to whether the program best serves United States [Page 346]interests and what improvements are required. He emphasized that he was not suggesting standing pat on the present program, but that his question is how specifically to determine ways to get better use of available funds. He said that this would almost certainly require participation of the USOM Directors.

Mr. Atwood stated that at this stage he wasn’t certain whether he would recommend any major program changes in the tentative FY 1957 Program Plan for Latin America. But he said that, in any event, he would like to have the Board approval of that plan before its initial submission on November 1. He stated that we do not have specific economic targets in Latin America, but that we are trying to help the efforts of the Latin American countries to achieve a rate and direction of development which is consistent with United States interests. He stated that it was his tentative impression at this point that our Latin American program does not seem to be shifting as much as the course of Latin American economic development is shifting. He further stated his tentative impression that we have not used our assets to the fullest to meet the problem of inflation or to counteract the trend toward nationalism.

Dr. Russell stated that he felt distinction should be maintained between the function of the Board and the function of an operating agency. The Board, he felt, should deal with basic policy questions, which is what it is best qualified to handle.

Mr. Cale pointed out that in another year or so another Latin American economic conference, like the one last year at Rio de Janeiro, is scheduled to be held in Buenos Aires, and that the U.S. is now beginning to scrutinize its policy toward Latin America in preparation for that conference. He stated that technical cooperation is an important part of U.S. economic policy in Latin America and should be reviewed as part of the preparations for the Buenos Aires conference.

Dr. Russell inquired as to why a program totalling $32.6 million was proposed when only the $27.5 million is available for technical cooperation. Mr. Atwood explained that this $32.6 million program is the result of careful program planning and review, and that he considers it a sound and well-thought out program plan. He explained that, with the $27.5 million available, projects from the total $32.6 million plan will be implemented on the basis of relative priority. Mr. Cale pointed out the possibility that later in the year additional funds could be made available for purposes of this program, and Dr. FitzGerald agreed and added that similarly it was possible that funds now allocated for this program might be recovered later on in the year.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 820.00–TA/10–1855. Limited Official Use. A covering memorandum of October 18 from Williams to Bernbaum is not printed. It suggests that in view of Cale’s effort to ascertain the views of ARA desk officers on the general subject of the technical cooperation program, OSA desk officers might wish to comment on the paper.
  2. Confidential.