The Americas 59.3 (2003) 443-444
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Could Henry Kissinger have been correct in characterizing Nelson Rockefeller as "quintessentially American"? Darlene Rivas answers with a resounding "Yes!" "His life is the epitome of the American dream of opportunity and material success blended with the idea of mission" (p. 224). Rockefeller's mission in Venezuela was to link "week-day" capitalism, with full cooperation between private and public interests, and "Sunday" altruistic and social ventures. Rockefeller pursued these dual goals in the immediate post-world War II years with considerable passion, but relatively little success. Rivas eschews both "the long dominant materialist/structuralist interpretation of U.S.-Latin American relations" and the primacy of "U.S. security concerns" in favor of a more complex reading that gives agency to United States NGOs, Venezuelan capitalists, the Venezuelan governments, and individual entrepreneurs. While rejecting liberal interpretations of "harmony of interests" among these players, she acknowledges the importance of "humanitarian and moral impulses" by Rockefeller and others in shaping their actions in Venezuela (pp. 6-7).
This detailed analysis is based upon extensive research in both the U.S. and Venezuela, with special emphasis upon the Rockefeller papers at the Rockefeller archive. The book contains seven chapters, bracketed by an introduction and conclusion. Chapters on Rockefeller's initial experiences in Venezuela in the 1930s and his political activities as Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs at the Institute of Inter-American Affairs (IIAA) during most of the Second World War precede the heart of the book, three chapters covering Rockefeller's actions in Venezuela during the late 1940s and 1950s. A final chapter treats Rockefeller's service as chair of the International Development Advisory Board in support of "Point Four" during the Truman Administration. A fine conclusion synthesizes the often-overwhelming details of the core of the text.
Rivas presents Rockefeller as a complex, idea-driven man whose passions frequently surpassed his administrative skills. Although his name gained him access denied to most people, young Rockefeller clearly felt uncomfortable with the robber baron image of his family, preferring the "close contact" between missionaries and foreign nationals to the aloof isolation of most diplomats and businessmen. Thus, during his initial stint in Venezuela in the 1930s, he took pains to acquire fluency in Spanish and to practice face-to-face relations, hoping to spur development initiatives that would affect large segments of the Venezuelan populace. Contrary to many U.S. business leaders, Rockefeller believed that public and private interests [End Page 443] could cooperate in international activities. Rockefeller sided with Henry Wallace, whose held parallel beliefs that "economic interdependence" best sustained a Pan-American mission. Rockefeller's ardent support of inter-American interests at the San Francisco United Nations conference alienated State Department globalists, leading Truman to dismiss him from government.
In the years after World War II, Rockefeller attempted his strategies of social-minded development in both Venezuela and Brazil. Rockefeller's Venezuelan Basic Economy Corporation (VBEC), founded in 1946, channeled monies from oil companies into basic industries, quite frequently those associated with food production and distribution. Rockefeller and his management team envisioned that they would introduce "modern" standards of organization into grocery sales, a fishing company, milk production, and model farms that would be adapted by Venezuelans, thus accelerating the country's development. Unfortunately, despite the investment of millions of dollars, over-ambitious goals, insensitivity to local conditions, and a failure to produce profits doomed all but the milk and grocery operations over the next fifteen years. In the same period, the nonprofit American International Association (AIA) initiated ventures to extend credit to farmers, disseminate nutritional information, community development, and education. Rivas deems these programs to be a "limited success" (p. 171), although she highlights the efforts as precursory to Alliance for Progress programs with similar developmental objectives.
Missionary Capitalist adds considerable information on the activities of the Rockefeller family in Latin America. Rivas is certainly correct...