The centuries-old Monroe doctrine has little relevance to US policy in the region today. No wonder there have been no parties
This week, John Kerry gave a major speech at the Organization of American States, stressing the United States’ desire to re-engage with the region. He stated: “The era of the Monroe doctrine is over,” presenting what sounded like a major paradigm shift: the overcoming of the paternalism involved in the Monroe doctrine and its canonical statement “America for the Americans”. And yet, from a Latin American perspective, it didn’t sound like a major shift at all. The speech did not generate any official response in Latin America, nor was it considered more than merely rhetorical by most Latin American interpreters, from Sao Paolo to Buenos Aires and Mexico City.
Two centuries ago, President Monroe had presented his doctrine as the obligation for Americans to prevent new colonisation attempts by European powers in the western hemisphere. For generations, most Latin Americans simply interpreted the doctrine as meaning that the Americas would informally, and sometimes formally, live under the control of the United States.
The latter view was, in fact, a very perceptive reading of the record of the United States in the region. In the 19th century, the United States acted as “protector” of so-called smaller nations in the Caribbean, Central America and beyond. In this role it went along with other European nations (France, England and Germany), with the difference that it generally stressed indirect rule rather that outright occupation. The Mexican war and the brief occupations of Cuba and Nicaragua in the early 20th century were exceptions to this pattern, although they had important effects for the overall perception of US policy in the region. According to the historian John Coatsworth, the United States brought down 41 Latin American governments between 1898 and 1994. The most famous cases include Panama (the US was a key promoter of Panama’s secession from Colombia and its creation as a country), Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Bolivia. All of these cases of regime change happened before 1944.
Later, the US shifted from an anti-fascist policy with Franklin D Roosevelt to anti-communist support for authoritarian rule in the region. This political interference was generally on the side of criminal dictatorships, from Chile and Argentina to Guatemala and Brazil. In the 1990s, the US actively supported highly contested neoliberal regimes as part of the so-called Washington consensus. More recently, the constant harassing of Latin American immigrants and the nativist overtones of the immigration debate in the US do not boost its image in the region. There is a need for the United States to care about Latin American positions, searching for true democratic integration rather than simply promoting military-anti-drug related alliances, cyber-security and industrial espionage while showing sporadic episodes of interest.
Given the long list of acts of intervention in Latin American politics during the 20th century – none of them justified by the actual threat of a European invasion – Kerry’s announcement on the end of the Monroe doctrine should be celebrated. But the real issues that separate US policies from Latin American interests today are no longer found in overt political and military intervention.
And the real concerns of US policy in the region were all but ignored in the speech. There was merely a passing mention to drugs in Colombia, when billions of dollars and active collaboration with armed forces in the region support US prohibitionism against increasing opposition from Latin American societies and even politicians. The steep human cost of drug enforcement in Latin America, all for the benefit of US public health, was not even acknowledged. Nor was migration mentioned by Kerry, maintaining the fiction that immigration policies that harass and, during the Obama administration, deport record numbers of Latin Americans back to their countries of origin are not also a matter of foreign policy. Perhaps the fiction is necessary considering the human rights cost of prolonged detention, expulsion and the separation of families that those policies entail. And Kerry also failed to mention the elephant in the room: the growing interactions of the region’s most dynamic economies with China, a customer for raw materials but also an investor that competes with US companies in several sectors. The Monroe doctrine, after all, only referred to European influence. It is not surprising that such a short-sighted, predictable speech has not elicited any reactions.
–Courtesy of The Guardian