FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Killing the Monroe Doctrine

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 and sovereignty.

Roosevelt Corollary

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 Rica.

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 Grenada.

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 bbok is A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD (CounterPunch / AK Press).

This essay was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus.

April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail