Uneasy Neighbors: A History of U.S. and Latin American Relations Essay Example

  • Category: South America, World,
  • Pages: 6
  • Words: 1389
  • Published: 07 September 2020
  • Copied: 120


To begin to understand relations between the U.S and Latin America, one must first go back to 1823, when the American President James Monroe issued the Monroe Doctrine. This Doctrine officially recognized the newly independent South American countries recently freed from Spanish rule by revolutionaries. The Doctrine also strongly declared America’s opposition to further European colonization of its former or new Latin American countries. This Doctrine would govern U.S policy towards Latin America for the next century, until 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt became president.

Roosevelt favored a canal through Panama(under U.S. jurisdiction of course) that would provide an easy route for ships passing from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At first he tried to negotiate a treaty with Columbia, but Columbian nationalist sentiments ran afoul against the U.S. plan, so Roosevelt then turned to Panama, who finally approved his plan. Roosevelt also introduced the Roosevelt Corollary “add-on” to the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the U.S. had a right to intervene in Latin American countries to prevent possible European intervention. 

Roosevelt was a warhawk, and delighted in watching war, but he tried to avoid dragging the U.S. into it as much as possible. However, when revolts in Cuba threatened U.S. security, Roosevelt sent troops there to enforce his new corollary. His successor, William Howard Taft, however, took a new approach. Taft didn’t want to use troops if he didn’t have too, so he initiated his own form of diplomacy that avoided using the military: dollar diplomacy. This approach used U.S finances to combat unrest in Latin America. Dollar diplomacy rarely worked however. 

The next big step in the U.S’s foreign policy plan with Latin America was begun by Franklin Delano Roosevelt(or FDR), a policy called “The Good Neighbor Policy.” The Good Neighbor Policy was a change to traditional relations the U.S. had with Latin America. Instead of using unpopular military force to “police” our southern neighbors, FDR suggested domestic and economic intervention. These policies included supporting strong leaders, bank loans, and political subversion. 

This Good Neighbor Policy allowed the U.S to watch Latin America in a non-military, peaceful way. Roosevelt stated in his 1933 inaugural address that "In the field of world policy I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others." During World War Two, FDR acted on this policy by telling Germany and the Axis Powers that they had no business being in Latin America, or any Western Hemisphere nation. 

For the most part, FDR’s policies worked, except in countries like Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, which tolerated Germans and had fascist governments similar to Hitler’s. In fact, many leftist South American countries sympathized with Nazism and after the war sheltered many famous Nazi’s, including Josef Mengele(The Angel of Death), Adolf Eichmann(who orchestrated the “Final Solution”), and Klaus Barbie(the Butcher of Lyon). 

After WWII, President Harry Truman, in retaliation to the Soviet Union’s surprising takeover of Eastern European countries, initiated the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine said that the U.S would act as world police and protect any country who was threatening to fall to Communism. This included Latin America, which was free from Communism then, but could be a Soviet breeding ground in the future. For all of Truman’s administration, this foreign policy approach worked, at least towards Latin America. 

However, during the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S.’s worst Latin American nightmares came true. On December 31, 1958, the Cuban revolutionaries of Fidel Castro finally succeeded in ousting the U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista from Cuba. Castro’s revolutionaries replaced Batista’s authoritarian government with a socialist government akin to the Soviet Union’s. This was America’s first major foreign policy defeat in Latin America, and everyone knew it. At first, the U.S. government attempted to make peace with Castro, including inviting him to America for an 11-day trip, but soon realized that this would not work. John F. Kennedy, who took office in 1961 after Eisenhower, had a different approach to the Cuba situation. 

The CIA had proposed to Kennedy a covert operation designed to accomplish two purposes: Assassinate Castro and turn Cuba back to a democratic country. The Operation was code named Operation Mongoose, and was set to begin on April 17, 1961, on the Bay of Pigs in northern Cuba. A group of anti-Castro revolutionaries would land on the beaches of southern Cuba, with very covert US help. JFK was insistent on having no upfront U.S support in the raid, so no US pilots participated(although American B-26 bombers were used, flown by Cubans), and no American military units were used.

This would prove to be costly to the US, as the Bay of Pigs invasion was a complete and utter disaster. The US-backed rebels lost badly and most were either executed or jailed. Castro figured out America’s involvement and called their bluff to the world. JFK and his administration was humiliated and humbled. From now on, US foreign policy in Latin America would be much more involved, drawing back to what FDR wanted to avoid: the policeman of Latin America by the US. 

In support of this idea, by the 1970s, the United States was waging a full on “war” against Communist takeovers in Latin America in several countries such as Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. They supported democratic elections in those countries and gave their full support (both economically and financially) to rebels overthrowing corrupt Communist regimes. However, there was some progress made diplomatically, the most important being made by Jimmy Carter in 1977. Carter made a treaty with Omar Torrijos, the leader of Panama, to give control of the Panama Canal back to Panama, after it had been US property since 1903. Panama would gain control of the canal by December 31, 1999. 

This helped improve the US’s relations with Panama and other Latin American countries in the years to come. The inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981 saw many South American nations turn back to democracy from Communism. However, two key historic events happened in Reagan’s time in office that had lasting impacts in Latin America: The Falklands War, and the covert funding of contras(rebel groups) in Nicaragua by the US government. The Falklands War is a little known war that occured in 1982 in the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina.

Both Argentina and Great Britain claimed the islands for their respective countries and sent their navy’s to the islands in a war that only lasted for two months and wasn’t formally declared by either country. Reagan and the US were officially neutral in the war, but under the table, Reagan authorized the sale of Sidewinder missiles to the British for use in the war. Once the Argentinians found out, they were furious. This severely tampered relations between the US and many Latin American nations, like Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. 

The Iran-Contra scandal was one of the biggest scandals ever in recent American history, surpassed only by Watergate. This scandal, which occured in the latter half of Reagan’s administration, was a secret government project which sold arms to Iran in return for the release of hostages in Lebanon. The government hoped to use the money made on the sales to fund contras in Nicaragua. Although this was a success in Nicaragua, it was a disaster in America. In all, 14 government officials were indicted of covering up this matter. Ironically however, the U.S bolstered its relationship with Nicaragua and other Central American nations like Honduras through the Iran-Contra scandal. 

The U.S was not done with Panama yet though however. Even though Jimmy Carter had negotiated a treaty with the Panamanians in 1977, a new leader had arisen that halted U.S interests in the region: Manuel Noriega. Noriega was the de-facto ruler of Panama from 1983 to 1989, turning the country into a military dictatorship in which he amassed a large fortune from drug trafficking. Newly elected president George H.W. Bush realized the danger of drug trafficking and made the decision to send American troops down to Panama to stop Noriega’s reign in late December 1989. The invasion succeeded and Noriega overthrew and brought back to America to stand trial. The invasion was a massive success, stopping drug trafficking(at least for a short while) and reinforcing America’s place as world policeman, stopping evil before it got too strong. 

Today, in the twenty-first century, Latin America is simultaneously America’s strongest, and most troublesome ally, with the exception of nations such as Venezuela and Cuba(two longtime socialist countries). President Trump has made Latin America a major focus point of his first term. He has pledged famously to build a wall between the U.S and Mexico to stop the thousands of illegal immigrants coming through our borders. He has also pledged to increase trade and work together with El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to stop drug trafficking and illegal immigration. He has warned Venezuela and Cuba to back off and stop pursuing socialist policies or he would cut trade and impose tariffs. The future remains to be seen on how Trump will work(or not work) with Latin America.