The first issue of NACLA Newsletter, the publication that was to become NACLA Report on the Americas, rolled off a mimeograph machine in New York in February 1967. The North American Congress on Latin America, its fledgling publisher, had just come together as a coalition of “New Left” student activists. The founders of NACLA used the term “congress” to draw upon the spirit of “Congress of Unrepresented People,” a contemporary group of civil rights, antiwar and labor activists who came together to challenge elite conceptions of the “national interest” as fundamentally opposed to the real interests of the majority of the American people. The new group, announced its organizers, would be a source of reliable information and analysis on Latin America that could be of use to activists. It would focus on systemic analyses of wealth and power in the Americas rather than on scandals or policy “mistakes.” It would be informed by a belief that what happened in the United States was integrally related to what happened in the rest of the world. In this context, NACLA’s understanding of U.S. policies and power was formed by looking at the United States from a Latin American perspective, through a Latin American lens. The United States and Latin America were operating within the same system, and contradictions in that system were frequently bubbling up and becoming visible in Latin America first, particularly those involving U.S. interventions that violated Washington’s self-declared democratic principles: the 1954 CIA-orchestrated overthrow of the reformist Arbenz regime in Guatemala; the 1961 invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs by a Florida-based anti-Castro mercenary force; the 1965 invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic. Later, the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende’s elected government in Chile and the U.S. role in the Central American wars of the 1980s would dominate NACLA’s agenda.
In NACLA’s first year, the group was given free office space in the Presbyterian offices of the Interchurch Center in uptown Manhattan. Printing of the newsletter, promotional materials, stationery and small pamphlets was also underwritten by the Presbyterians. Those in-kind contributions aside, NACLA’s first annual budget, including salaries, stood at just over $11,000. Sources of income were newsletter sales (about $200 per month) and grants from the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Division of Youth Ministries of the National Council of Churches and the UCM. Few thought the group would survive long.
GROWTH AND ADVOCACY
But from these humble beginnings grew an organization that would play an integral part in the political development of U.S. activists for decades to come, and would frame the terms with which those activists and scholars would define their struggles for justice. In the 1970s, with the election of Allende’s Popular Unity coalition (UP), hopes for a “democratic road” to socialism ran high; fears that the United States wouldn’t allow an elected socialist government to succeed in the Americas ran even higher. An influential January 1973 NACLA Report called “Facing the Blockade” carefully documented the Nixon administration’s “invisible blockade” against Allende’s constitutional regime by denying Chile “the normal credit arrangements necessary for most export-import operations.” The Report was incorporated into the book New Chile, which was published just months before the coup in 1973. Salvador Allende, in response to questions from the press after his historic 1973 speech before the UN, remarked: “If you want to know how the U.S. has affected Chile, just read New Chile by NACLA.”
And the tradition continued. Successive generations of activists, journalists and scholars were radicalized by unjust U.S. interventions in the affairs of Latin American and Caribbean nations, and they turned to NACLA for the information and analysis that would fuel their struggles for justice. During the Central American wars of the 1980s, NACLA activists traveled frequently to El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and brought the truths that they learned there back to the U.S. and to the movement to end our government’s involvement in those conflicts. In the 1990s, NACLA uncovered the truth about the culture of impunity so pervasive in Latin America’s “new” democracies; brought the military consequences of the Drug War to light; and was in the forefront of critical coverage of the neoliberal revolution being imposed on Latin America by U.S.-backed elites and institutions.
NACLA impacted activists and leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean as well. Rubén Zamora, a presidential candidate for the left Democratic Convergence in El Salvador, has said that he regards NACLA as responsible for the better part of his political formation. And during the darkest part of Haiti’s military rule in the early 1990s, President Aristide’s ambassador-in-exile to the United States, Jean Casimir, wrote to “express my gratitude to NACLA for its unflinching solidarity during this important period of our history.”
NACLA IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Today, with Latin American leaders and social movements directly confronting the systemic inequalities brought on by neoliberalism and rejecting the Washington Consensus and its attendant miseries, there is again a growing movement for global justice and Latin America solidarity here in the United States. NACLA intends to play a prominent role in this broad movement, just as we did in the 1970s and 1980s—but the mechanisms for movement participation have changed drastically since those years. Today, the Internet plays a central role, both as an organizing tool and as an information portal, in struggles for justice, local to global. Yet the coverage of Latin America we receive here in the U.S., particularly from mainstream sources, continues to be sporadic, disorganized and of generally dismal quality. NACLA has addressed these shortcomings by putting the in-depth analysis of the magazine and its 40 years of archives (now digitized and available online) on a powerful new website that also provides more and timelier coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean, including daily blog posts, web articles, discussion forums, an electronic newsletter, organizing tools and action alerts, links to social movements and organizations, and a media analysis project that will examine mainstream coverage of Latin America. In 2012 the NACLA Report became a quarterly journal (rather than bi-monthy).
In 2013 NACLA moved its headquarters to New York University to begin a partnership with the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies while maintaining its editorial independence.