Negotiating Paradise: U.S. Tourism and Empire in Twentieth-Century Latin America

By Dennis Merrill | Go to book overview

SIX
A Cold War Míraǵe:
Puerto Rico in the 1960s
and 1970s

For one glamorous evening in November 1961, visitor-host roles reversed. It was Puerto Rico Night at the Kennedy White House, and America’s handsome first couple played host to Puerto Rican governor Luis Muñoz Marín; his wife, Inés María Mendoza; and Puerto Rico’s adopted son, the incomparable Pablo Casals. The president dressed in white tie and tails; the First Lady donned a sleeveless gown. The event featured a state dinner in honor of Muñoz, followed by a concert performed by Casals. The eighty-one-year-old cellist had last performed at the White House in 1904 for President Theodore Roosevelt and guests and had since refused to play at functions sponsored by governments that maintained relations with Francisco Franco, the 1930s dictator who still haunted Casals’s native Spain. The cellist made an exception for Kennedy, a gesture of trust in the young president’s commitment to democracy. The concert, which featured pieces by Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Couperin, was broadcast live on ABC and NBC radio. Like any savvy host, the president used the visitor’s presence to project an idealized national identity. ‘‘Art is an integral part of a free society,’’ Kennedy noted. America stood tall as a world power that lauded both artistic creativity and political liberty.1

The celebration bespoke the administration’s hope-filled beginning and Puerto Rico’s special status inside the Kennedy White House. Despite the setback suffered by U.S.-backed Cuban commandos at the Bay of Pigs the previous spring, the administration moved forward with one of the most ambitious inter-American initiatives in history, the Alliance for Progress. The bold exercise of soft power centered on a pledge to pump ten billion dollars into the region’s development over the next decade. To guide the new program, the president called on an army of professionally trained social scientists, most of whom adhered to some variation of modernization theory. The

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