[R-G] Farewell, Monroe Doctrine
fentona at shaw.ca
Tue Feb 3 16:12:04 MST 2009
Farewell, Monroe Doctrine
Philip Brenner and Saul Landau | February 2, 2009
Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco
Foreign Policy In Focus
President Barack Obama could swiftly improve U.S. relations with Latin
America by announcing the death of the Monroe Doctrine and then
presiding over its funeral. Such a statement would cost him little
domestically, and win him praise and appreciation throughout Latin
America and much of the world.
Most Americans don't know the details of this 185-year-old policy and
could care less about it. Latin Americans, in contrast, not only can
describe the Monroe Doctrine, but they revile it. In effect, it has
become nothing more than hollow rhetoric that offends the very people
it purports to defend.
In 1823, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote, and President
James Monroe proclaimed, a doctrine that asserted U.S. political
character is different from Europe's. The United States, President
Monroe declared, would consider the extension of Europe's monarchical
political influence into the New World "as dangerous to our peace and
safety." European powers should leave the Americas for the Americans,
he warned, and he strongly implied that there existed a U.S. sphere of
influence south of the border.
At the time, Europe shrugged. After all, the United States possessed
neither a formidable army nor navy. But three serious problems
fundamentally vitiated this apparently noble gesture to protect newly
independent republics in South America from European re-colonization.
First, Washington proclaimed it unilaterally. Latin Americans didn't
ask us for protection. U.S. diplomats didn't even consult their
counterparts. That was ironic, since the Doctrine's "protection"
involved placing the United States between Latin American countries
and supposedly malevolent European states.
Second, its paternalism — the claim that "our southern brethren" lack
the ability to defend themselves — raises hackles in Latin America.
Even if the implication had some validity at one time, it no longer
corresponds to the region's reality.
The third and most problematic issue Obama faces from the outmoded
doctrine relates to its legacy. For more than a century, the United
States has periodically intervened in the domestic affairs of Latin
American countries. Typically the United States invoked the Monroe
Doctrine — without threats from Europe — to justify self-serving
intrusions that have inflicted heavy damage on Latin American dignity
Under President Theodore Roosevelt, the doctrine stood for the
informal colonization of most "independent" Caribbean Basin countries.
The so-called Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine claimed
Washington's right to preemptively intervene and occupy a Latin
American nation, even if no European power had yet threatened to
impose its power there. Roosevelt asserted that by virtue of going
into debt to a European bank, a Latin American country weakened itself
sufficiently to be vulnerable to re-colonization. Ergo, anticipatory
military intervention became a necessity from 1900 to 1933.
U.S. troops invaded Colombia in 1901 and 1902; Honduras in 1903, 1907,
and 1911; and the Dominican Republic in 1903, 1904, 1914, and 1916,
occupying the island nation until 1924. U.S. troops landed in
Nicaragua on multiple occasions, occupying it for some 20 years, and
occupied Cuba for three years (1906-1909) and Haiti for 20 years. U.S.
forces also made incursions into Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, and Costa
President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the doctrine in 1954 to justify
the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Guatemala.
President John F. Kennedy embraced it from 1961 to 1963 in attacking
Cuba, and President Lyndon B. Johnson raised its banner in 1965 when
he sent 23,000 Marines into the Dominican Republic in support of
generals who tyrannically governed the country over the next 13 years.
President Ronald Reagan said it was the basis for the CIA wars he
pursued in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala during which more
than 200,000 Central Americans died, as well as the U.S. attack on
For these historic reasons, "Monroeism" carries a deeply negative
meaning in Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout the region, the
mere mention of the Monroe Doctrine hints at impending U.S. aggression.
Nearly two decades after the Cold War's demise, U.S. policy elites
still cling to this doctrine as an axiom of U.S. policy. In recent
years they added as the latest corollary a demand that Latin American
governments adopt neoliberal economics. No wonder Latin Americans have
elected leaders — in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador,
Nicaragua, Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, Uruguay, and Venezuela — who
repudiated not only the doctrine's implied hegemony, but the economic
rules that accompany it today. Notably, not one Western hemispheric
country supported the United States in October, when the UN General
Assembly voted 185-3 to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
The Ballots Did It
Over the last decade, citizens in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina,
Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and other Central American nations have
declared their opposition to U.S.-backed neoliberal economic policies
and voted for candidates who eschew the notion of perpetual U.S.
hegemony. Ballots, ultimately, killed the doctrine. This new wave of
leaders is challenging U.S. supremacy. Last year, Bolivian President
Evo Morales did what would have been unthinkable two decades ago: He
evicted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Ecuador has kicked out a
U.S. military base.
Most Latin American nations now defy the United States on some major
policy. Chile and Mexico, both Security Council Members, voted against
Washington when the key UN resolution arose that would have sanctioned
Bush's invasion of Iraq. And U.S. influence has been further eroded by
the stronger diplomatic, economic, and military ties with China,
Russia, and Iran that several countries in the region are developing.
Given the facts, President Obama should announce as soon as possible —
and no later than the mid-April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad
that he's slated to attend — that the Monroe Doctrine is dead and
buried. This move could serve as a rhetorical catalyst for developing
real partnerships that acknowledge Latin America's new status. Only
the funeral of this 19th-century canon will enable the United States
to birth a healthy policy.
Philip Brenner is a professor of international relations at American
University. His most recent book is A Contemporary Cuba Reader (Rowman
and Littlefield, 2008). Saul Landau is vice chair of the Institute for
Policy Studies board of trustees. His most recent film is "We Don't
Play Golf Here — and Other Stories of Globalization." They are Foreign
Policy In Focus contributors.
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