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Us and Latin American Relations

By aqawan Dec 14, 2008 1974 Words

U.S and Latin American Relations
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U.S and Latin American Relations
The United States has a long history of involvement in and with Latin America. The relationship has varied from intense adulation to benign neglect--as dictated by US interests. Although at present the US has its attention focused elsewhere in the world, events and issues in Latin America remain a matter of ongoing concern.

Relations of the United States with its neighbors to the south, from the Rio Grande to Cape Horn, have been marked by friendship and cooperation, neglect and indifference, and, sad to relate, hostility and fear. North and South Americans have noted many similarities in their history. Yet differences sometimes have prevailed, and even distractions have diverted attention from the hemispheric neighborhood. Commercial contacts between English colonies in North America and Latin America began in the seventeenth century and expanded despite Spanish restrictions. European dynastic and imperial wars allowed for more such contacts until Napoleon opened the way for the end of mercantilist controls. Encouraged by the American and French revolutions, as well as by traders who ironically extolled the principles of the Declaration of Independence while trading in slaves, the Spanish and Portuguese colonies gained independence. Economic benefits of independence favored the United States and the American government understandably extended diplomatic recognition after concluding the Adams-Onis Treaty with Spain (1819-1821). In this treaty, Spain ceded Florida and relinquished claims north of the forty-second parallel (the Oregon country) while the U.S. abandoned claims to Texas. Recognition had been a serious question since 1811, but well-founded caution about the durability of the newly declared independence of the Spanish colonies delayed action for more than a decade while the U.S. sorted through a series of its own desires and motives. Europe’s refusal to recognize the new Latin American regimes, threats to Latin America’s newly-won independence, and Russia’s encroachment along North America’s northwest coast, persuaded President Monroe to warn against European interference in the Western Hemisphere. Monroe’s pronouncements, raised to doctrinal level, contained an ideology long held by his fellow citizens. Full implications of the Monroe Doctrine would not be realized until the U.S. reached world power status; Theodore Roosevelt would then attach his famous corollary whereby the United States exercised a policeman’s duties. (David W. Dent, 2005) Although the Monroe Doctrine warned Europe to keep its distance, Samuel Flagg Bemis observed that it was in no way a self-denying ordinance; there was in fact a close relationship between the Doctrine and manifest destiny. Interest in the borderlands of the Southwest did not diminish just because ownership was now held by independent Mexico rather than imperial Spain. Nor did the Western Hemisphere camaraderie implied by the Monroe Doctrine prevent citizens of the United States and Mexico from regarding each other as depraved. The lure of California with its golden gate to the Far East also remained. The independence of Texas, along with British and French diplomatic meddling, opened the way for the Mexican War. In the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, defeated Mexico recognized the Rio Grande boundary of Texas and ceded New Mexico and California. Although some Americans had been calling for the cession of all of Mexico, the treaty did include all or part of seven future states, comprising with Texas 1,193,061 square miles. The Mexican cession rounded out the contiguous land of the United States except for the Gadsden Purchase (supposedly desirable for a southern railway route) which President Santa Anna of Mexico, financially pressed, sold for $10 million in 1853. Despite the Monroe Doctrine and U.S. aspirations of manifest destiny, it is an interesting fact that European countries did not concede United States dominance in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. ignored violations of the Doctrine in South America. In Central America there was intense Anglo-American rivalry leading in 1850 to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty whereby the parties forswore dominion over Central America and agreed to joint control over any future isthmian railway or canal. The unpopular treaty remained until replaced by the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty (1901). Meanwhile, France took advantage of United States preoccupation with the Civil War to establish a monarchy in Mexico. Spain annexed the Dominican Republic, but its failure to pacify the native population forced a withdrawal. Later a French company organized by Ferdinand de Lesseps began excavation of a Panama Canal, and Germany sought a naval base in the Caribbean. Both projects failed but not before raising considerable resistance. President Cleveland’s surprisingly strong reaction to the long-standing, insignificant Venezuela-British Guiana boundary dispute (1895) reflected exasperation with what appeared to be increasing European meddling. (Gregory Weeks, 2007) Events at the turn of the century allowed the United States to establish dominance in Central America and the Caribbean. Opportunity to rid the hemisphere of the remaining Spanish colonies came after years of struggle between Spanish and Cuban insurgents. Cuba & emdash; only ninety miles from U.S. territory & emdash; had long attracted covetous glances from the north. There was conviction that it would succumb to the fruit-drop theory whereby the ripened pear would fall into U.S. hands. Manifest destiny came head to head with the slavery issue, however, and Spanish determination to hold on prevailed. After 1895, the Cuban question reemerged and in April 1898, President McKinley questioned Spain’s ability to find a satisfactory solution. In response to McKinley’s call for an independent Cuba, Spain declared war. Victorious, the United States claimed Puerto Rico, today a commonwealth voluntarily associated with the U.S., and abided by the Teller Amendment in not keeping Cuba as a colony; still, the Platt amendment was forced into the Cuban constitution, making Cuba a protectorate. The amendment, U.S. investment, and reciprocity treaties tied Cuba to its northern neighbor politically, financially, and commercially even after abrogation of the amendment, except for the Guantánamo base, in 1934. While the Spanish-American War was removing the remnants of Spanish power, the British recognized the United States as the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere in a series of diplomatic acts, including settlement of the British Guiana-Venezuelan boundary dispute, acceptance of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, and agreement to arbitration after the Venezuelan blockade. (Gregory Weeks, 2007) The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty opened the way for American control of the isthmian canal. Panama and Nicaragua were both possible sites for a canal. After years of frustration watching the de Lesseps company start construction while restricted by the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, Theodore Roosevelt, like many Americans, determined to have a canal. Negotiations with Colombia and tacit encouragement of revolution in Panama (a Columbian province) when the Colombian government refused to submit to U.S. pressure are examples of a new world power disregarding rights of a small neighbor. Even newly independent Panama, recipient of the benefaction, had reason for complaint when its canal interests were negotiated by a Frenchman, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, whose concern was for a rapidly concluded treaty that would enable the New French Canal Company to sell its lease for $40 million and the United States have the site. For Panamanians, the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty (1903) was quickly unpopular and remained so until the United States agreed to treaties (1977) recognizing Panamanian sovereignty over the canal territory and providing for Panama’s sole operation of the canal beginning at noon on 31 December 1999. Construction of the canal, completed in 1914, enhanced U.S. concern for Central America and the Caribbean, creating what Bemis termed the Panama policy. Catch phrases like “big stick,” “dollar diplomacy,” and “missionary diplomacy” describe efforts of the three Progressive presidents & emdash; Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson & emdash; and suggest differences more rhetorical and stylistic than actual. (Mark T. Gilderhus, 2003) Not surprisingly, cold war objectives governed United States relations with Latin America in the post-World War II era. Washington’s responses to communist threats have been both overt and covert, and sometimes in violation of solemn pledges. The CIA operation against Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in Guatemala (1954) was successful and easy, too easy perhaps, because it made the CIA overconfident about educating Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara on how to avoid Arbenz’s mistakes. President Kennedy’s humiliation after the Bay of Pigs landing reveals the lesson learned. Castro’s rise to power in 1959 and his successful challenge to United States interests in Cuba, allowing a Soviet presence on the island, caused an almost obsessive reaction & emdash;” no more Castros” & emdash; to much that followed in U.S.-Latin American relations. For over a hundred years, the United States had sought a friendly, manageable hemisphere, and for fifty years it was practically so, until Castro entered Havana.

Despite the possibilities for communism in Latin America, it seems to have had little success. Castro’s influence appeared in Nicaragua, where conditions were ready for revolution because of oppressive government. Cuban leaders aided guerrillas and took advantage of local situations. The Nicaraguan revolution was against the long-term, corrupt Somoza dynasty based on the United States-created National Guard. By 1979, Somoza had lost support of the Nicaraguan people, and the opposition forced his resignation. Sandinistas took control and welcomed aid from communist countries while hoping to maintain economic ties with the United States. Unsettled political conditions and lack of economic opportunity in the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico has resulted in a steady stream of immigrants into the United States. The 1990 census recorded that of America’s population of 248 million, 22.3 million were of Hispanic origin. California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois had the largest concentrations (16.7 million), especially metropolitan areas around Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Chicago. Mexicans long have come north of the Rio Grande, legally and illegally, to work and to live. (Gregory Weeks, 2007)

Since the heavy tide of immigration in the late nineteenth century, there have been questions about its effect on the United States. Rapidly increasing numbers of Latin American immigrants have brought prediction of dire consequences. Alan Riding has referred to a silent invasion, informal reconquest of territories lost in the nineteenth century. The problem may not be entirely one-sided. Although emigration may relieve unemployment and provide dollar remittances for abandoned home countries, loss of skilled and educated citizens may retard those countries’ development. Throughout almost two centuries of United States-Latin American relations, one must conclude that the U.S. has exercised political and economic dominance in the Western Hemisphere. Latin American states usually have been in a subordinate and dependent role. Cold war years have seen strong reaction to real and alleged communist penetration.

But there have been other influences on policy and they give evidence of change. Third world nationalism and the breakup of empires affected the decision of the United States to accept Panamanian control of the canal. Perhaps in the future, it will bring a positive reaction to changes in Puerto Rico’s status & emdash; probably not independence but possibly statehood or an enhanced commonwealth position. Then, too, the greater ease of focusing world attention on isolated events, the passing of the cold war, the economic power of Japan, and a prospective European community, all indicate a lessening of U.S. influence among the many countries to the south of our nation’s borders.


David W. Dent. (2005). Historical Dictionary of U.S.-Latin American Relations. New York: Greenwood Press.

Mark T. Gilderhus. (2003). The Second Century: U.S.DLatin American Relations Since 1889. Washington: SR Books.

Michael J. Kryzanek. (1999). U.S. and Latin American Relations: Third Edition. New York: Praeger Paperback.

Gregory Weeks. (2007). U.S. and Latin American Relations. New York: Longman.

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