Within weeks of his inauguration in January 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed an Alliance for Progress: a $100 billion programme of economic, political and social development for Latin America. Its purpose was to tackle the causes presumed to have sparked the Cuban revolution, chiefly poverty and bad governance, and within half a year every Latin American state except Cuba committed to the goals of the Alliance. But within a few years even proponents of the Alliance doubted its efficacy, a pessimism which increased during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, and more so under Richard Nixon. This review of the contemporary and historical literature on the Alliance sets that scholarship within the broader area of US–Latin American relations, with particular emphasis on US–Cuban relations from the 1960s until the twenty-first century. An important sub-theme is the peculiarity, the ‘exceptionalness’ of American political rhetoric, derived from and in turn shaping Americans’ sense of the history and the foreign relations of the US: the ‘American mission’ to the world.