16. Letter From the Chairman of the Task Force on Latin America (Berle) to President Kennedy 1

My Dear Mr. President: I transmit herewith the report of the Task Force on Latin America whose creation you directed shortly after your inauguration.

The Task Force was conceived as a mechanism of transition. With the appointment of the new Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, the period of transition has substantially ended. The emergency problems pending solution on January 20 last have been or are in process of being dealt with. Under your leadership, the new direction of policy, I am convinced, offers good opportunity and prospect of success. I therefore ask that the Task Force be now discharged.

Prior to your inauguration, you constituted an informal group to report on Latin American policy.2 That group made one suggestion not yet acted on. It proposed the creation in the Department of State of the post of Undersecretary of State for Latin American Affairs. This would provide a high level straight line channel through the Secretary of State, by which the widely scattered activities of the government affecting Latin American affairs could be coordinated. This recommendation I venture to renew. Management of hemispheric affairs, comprising a continent and a half organized as a regional alliance, is a huge task. It is difficult to carry out so great an enterprise from a subordinate bureaucratic position.

The Task Force report suggests enlargement of the education-information-propaganda effort. An informal working group headed by Assistant Secretary of State Philip Coombs has been studying this possibility. Copies of their preliminary reports have been delivered to Mr. Richard Goodwin.

Let me pay special tribute to the effective cooperation and support of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury John M. Leddy and Assistant Secretary of Defense Haydn Williams. We are indebted to both for their wisdom and unstinting effort.

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With the discharge of the Task Force, my own assignment comes to an end. Please feel free to call on me if at any time hereafter I can be of assistance.

Respectfully yours,

A.A. Berle 3



I report herewith on the operations of the President’s Task Force on Latin America. Being a task force and not a committee, this report is made on my responsibility as Chairman. Though a small hard core of individuals were continuously members of the Task Force, others were added for specific problems, so that its personnel varied with the problems encountered.

As stated at its first meeting,

“the Task Force is an action and not a study group, acting under the direction of the Secretary of State and the President. The Task Force does not supersede the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs which remains responsible for foreign policy operations with respect to Latin America.”

Its function was to assure that urgent problems were brought to the attention of the Secretary of State and through him or at his direction to the President, and to expedite action in accordance with decisions taken.

The Task Force held its first meeting on February 2, 1961. It has met regularly thereafter at intervals of two weeks. Informal sub-groups reporting to it have worked on aspects of the chief matters under consideration, and on a number of special questions.

From the outset it was assumed that the Task Force would not be permanent. It was designed to deal with problems raised by transition from the previous to the present Administration, and by certain substantial changes in Latin American policy attendant upon its entrance, and to coordinate action on them.

The most important single function, as it has been the most important single result, of the Task Force activities has been to focus attention [Page 40] on the importance of Latin America to the United States, on the urgent nature of its problems, and on assuring that these problems receive prompt and adequate consideration. This appears to have happened. The inter-American world no longer considers Latin America as a stepchild of American official thinking.

A number of substantial tasks, some of them of emergency nature, required immediate action. The more important of these were:

1. Securing legislation appropriating $500 million to implement commitments made by the Government of the United States at the Conference of Bogota held on September 5-14, 1960.

Members of the Task Force, notably Professor Lincoln Gordon, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury John Leddy and myself, under supervision of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury, made the presentation in behalf of this legislation before the committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively. The appropriation was passed by the House of Representatives on April 25, 1961, by the Senate on May 9, 1961, and became law on May 27, 1961.4

2. Financial assistance to Brazil.

The financial condition of Brazil when President Janio Quadros assumed office and took over administration of its government on February 1, 1961, was under strain. The Task Force proposed initiation of financial aid to that government, both in the form of a possible emergency loan (which later proved unnecessary) and recommended negotiations looking toward readjustment of Brazil’s external debt, together with additional financing so that it might more readily normalize its economic condition. This proved to be a large job. The figures are somewhat misleading, since the large portion of the financing involved rescheduling of already outstanding loans due to the United States and to American banks, rather than new money. A group was constituted, functioning under the Secretary of the Treasury, headed by Assistant Secretary Leddy. The operation, so far as it related directly to the United States, comprised $338 million of new financing, and rescheduling of $559 million of outstanding debt due to the Export-Import Bank, the International Monetary Fund and American banks. Assistance was also given in rescheduling Brazilian debt outstanding in Europe and elsewhere amounting to nearly $300 million, and in securing certain European credits. This is being concluded now.

3. Financial assistance to Venezuela.

A somewhat similar problem was presented by the request of the Venezuelan government for financial assistance. The Task Force agreed that prompt attention should be given to the Venezuelan request. A [Page 41] group was constituted for that purpose. This task has been completed in substantial part and the emergency phase of this assistance has been taken care of. Certain additional phases, more especially the financing of projects which will tend to relieve the burden of unemployment in and about Caracas and at the same time strengthen the social-economic conditions in Venezuela are moving forward in channels.

4. Expediting Colombian projects.

The Task Force considered certain economic projects of social and military importance previously agreed upon with the government of Colombia but which had encountered difficulties in execution. Obstacles were overcome. Arrangements in respect of certain of them were expedited, and they are being or have been carried out.

5. Latin American defense policy.

The Task Force has had for consideration a redraft of the paper covering United States defense policy in respect of Latin America. This involved preparation of a new paper for submission to the President through the National Security Council. The Department of Defense, represented on the Task Force by the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Mr. Haydn Williams, undertook to prepare such a draft—a substantial piece of work. This was done; concurrence of the interested agencies was secured; the draft was approved by the Task Force on May 19, 1961 and through the Department of State has been forwarded to the National Security Council.5

6. The Bolivian economic situation.

The Task Force considered the situation in Bolivia whose economic situation had become precarious with attendant political problems. Informally the Task Force stimulated decision to organize a special interdepartmental group to deal immediately with that problem, comprising the representatives of the various interested agencies. The group was constituted, went to Bolivia, worked out a program, returned, and the program in large measure has already been implemented. Full implementation will follow in due course, conditions in Bolivia permitting.

7. Communist bloc offers to Latin American countries.

The Task Force considered a suggestion that the United States cease to discourage Latin American governments from accepting preferred Soviet economic aid. After examination, the Task Force recommended no change in current policy of dealing with each of these situations on its merits.

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8. The 11th Inter-American Conference.

The 11th regular Inter-American Conference was scheduled to have been held at Quito, Ecuador, on May 24, 1961. It was, however, clear that substantial sentiment existed among Latin American governments for postponement, certainly until after the Special Meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council proposed by the Government of the United States. Taken on the initiative of a number of Latin American governments, the situation was resolved by action of the Organization of American States in favor of postponement of the conference.

The foregoing list scarcely reflects the amount of patient, difficult and devoted work required to bring these affairs to conclusion within the comparatively short period of five months. Trips to Latin America were carried out by four members of the Task Force.

In addition to these matters (which are either concluded or in such shape that they will be concluded in due course), the Task Force has considered and recommended action on a number of other less extensive problems of significant importance. In a number of these, action was secured.

9. Education-information-propaganda: an unfinished task.

The Task Force has under study and consideration one subject of major importance, namely, expansion to adequate proportions of the United States education-information-propaganda-cultural program and facilities in Latin America.

Criticism of existing agencies is not here implied. They work with the money and tools given them. But there is general agreement (shared by the agencies themselves) that the present program is inadequate, and that its various elements have tended to become disparate. Its extent should be increased; and its depth of impact must be intensified. Under current conditions, probably its conception needs to be changed. An adequate program must develop the Western World thesis of political, economic and social progress under freedom; must demonstrate how this is done; must educate students in its theory and practice; must produce substantial numbers of men and women in each country in each year trained to carry theory into practice; must create a climate through mass media supporting the development of a socially effective free society.

Low priced books and educational materials at high school and university levels must be provided. Expanded contact must be developed with student groups from high school through university. Mass media must support the Western World thesis and the many Latin American parties, organizations and groups of men who hold that thesis and are endeavoring to give it reality.

American effort must compete with and defend against a Communist-bloc program presently organized, and operating on a scale approximately seven times that of current United States efforts, measured by comparative expenditures. (All United States agencies combined spend [Page 43] about $15 million. The Communist-bloc countries are spending in the neighborhood of $100 million.) In many Latin American countries the stratum of intellectuals and politically conscious people is narrow. Communist-bloc educational and propaganda agencies thus can infiltrate educational systems, select groups for special training, and over-run the intellectually conscious life of the less developed countries. Absent any other system, by providing a few hundred or (as planned in the case of Brazil) a few thousand trained Communists each year, the Communist-bloc effort can, after a few years of operation, virtually take over the functioning of the country. Underdeveloped countries with adequate educational systems are ready targets for this kind of imperialism. There is no reason why a vacuum should be left to be filled by our enemies.

Development of a plan for an education-information-propaganda organization, and outlining legislation to make it effective, will take some time. The subject ranks with that of political or military defense. I believe it goes beyond the function of the Task Force. I therefore suggest that a special White House-sponsored group be constituted to take it over.

A final word. It must be taken as personal.

The present struggle will not be won, and can be lost, by opportunist support of transitory power-holders or forces whose objectives are basically hostile to the peoples they dominate. Success of the American effort in Latin America requires that at all times its policy be based on clear, consistent, moral democratic principles. I do not see that any other policy can be accepted or indeed stands any real chance of ultimate success. The forces sweeping Latin America today demand progress, and a better life for the masses of their people, through evolution if possible, or through revolution if that price must be paid. A preponderance of these forces want the resulting forms to provide liberty, rejecting tyranny whether from the right or from the left. This deep current corresponds to the principles outlined in the President’s speech of March 13, 1961, elaborating the “Alliance for Progress.”

Respectfully submitted,

Adolf A. Berle 6
Task Force on Latin America
  1. Source: Department of State, Latin America Task Force Files: Lot 61 D 298, Report to the President. Confidential.
  2. See Document 1.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. 75 Stat. 86, P.L. 87-41.
  5. Reference is to a paper entitled “U.S. Policy for the Security of Latin America in the Sixties.” (Department of State, Latin America Task Force Files: Lot 61 D 298, Task Force Materials including Basic Documents)
  6. Printed from a copy that indicates Berle signed the original.