Tourist-Technicians: Civilian Diplomacy, Tourism, and Development in Cold War Yucatà ¡n

Warming, Katherine
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In 1964, the United States Agency for International Development created the Partners of the Alliance for Progress to match state-level civilian volunteer organizations in the United States and Latin America. Local Partners of the Alliance chapters coordinated cultural, technical, and material exchanges between civilians in two sub-national regions to increase the visibility and perceived efficacy of the Alliance for Progress within Latin American communities. Previous works on Cold War diplomacy in Latin America have focused on the Alliance for Progress as a largely-ineffective federal program. These studies have neglected the role of the civilian Partners volunteers in supporting Alliance activity. This thesis examines the United States’ Partners of the Alliance for Progress program, specifically the formation and activities of the Iowa-Yucatà ¡n Partners of the Alliance from establishment in 1965 to privatization in the early 1970s.

The Iowa-Yucatà ¡n Partners largely focused on the technical and economic development of Yucatà ¡n, which required the transportation of American civilian experts and their supplies across the United States-Mexico border. The Iowa-Yucatà ¡n Partners relied on their civilian status to avoid political obstruction, scrutiny, and costs that might be incurred by moving development supplies across the border in an official diplomatic capacity. Tourism became a useful tool for the Iowa-Yucatà ¡n Partners’ activities to lure technical experts and American consumers to Yucatà ¡n and to transport supplies as personal luggage, which subverted Mexico’s control over imported materials. Blending tourist, technician, and diplomat identities, the Iowa-Yucatà ¡n Partners reinforced American perceptions of Latin America as a space for Americans to consume “exotic” cultures and transform “deficient” environments. This research invites further historical study of the political and cultural implications of civilian diplomacy and “voluntourism,” which have perpetuated the United States’ informal empire in Latin America.

Alliance for Progress, Civilian diplomacy, Informal empire, Technical expertise, Tourism, Yucatà ¡n