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Theodore Roosevelt's Latin American Policy

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Primarily his own Secretary of State during his first term. He was US foreign policy. He was a strong, dynamic man. Had a profound effect upon the US position and image in world. Controversial. Could be bellicose, use invective, rattle saber, etc. Apparently recognized that US involved in the larger world situation and withdrawal would be contrary to national honor and not in accord with strategic needs. Seemed willing to abandon isolationism. Might make alliances. Believed that power was an essential, unavoidable element in world affairs. Saw the world as analogous to a jungle or a frontier community, every nation a law unto itself. He was a moralist throughout life; his morality seemed to coincide with what was good for US. Saw world as always verging on anarchy. World affairs were such that US was required to participate. Roosevelt's ideas were somewhat idealistic. Ardent nationalism. Liked robust, violent way of life.
Seemed to be well-liked. Caught public imagination. Impetuous. Well-qualified to lead US in world affairs; seemed to reflect US character. Upset that Americans could not recognize, realize, the place of US in world affairs.
Somewhat a realist in foreign affairs. He believed that power was an important and unavoidable thing in foreign affairs. Realized isolationism impossible. Also had idealistic, romantic side in foreign relations. Both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were idealistic In some respects, TR did believe in Anglo-Saxon superiority. Ideals and morals did influence some of TR's foreign affairs. He got US involved some European affairs, primarily because of economics and economic involvement.

Latin America

What is the interest of the US in other nations of this hemisphere? (a) strategic (b) economic because it was a traditional raw material producing area and a natural market for industrial goods. More specific interests included an (a) interest in and concern for isthmian canal, (b) existence of European nations in hemisphere, and (c) expanding industrial markets.

Basic Problems, Factors, Obstacles, and Issues in the Hemisphere

a. US is and was in latter the 19th century a large and powerful nation in the hemisphere which was interested in the idea of closeness to Latin America. This produced a certain amount of dissatisfaction on part of Latin America which feared economic and military domination by the US.

b. US feels that it has a security concern in hemisphere. Implied limitation on sovereignty on Latin American nations and Canada.

c. Economic. US was powerful; Latin America was underdeveloped. US businessmen have looked to Latin America for possible markets, exploitation. The US faced economic competition in the region, especially from Canada and Argentina.

Effects? Diplomacy with these nations have been extremely sensitive. US has tended to be insensitive to the feelings, pride of LA nations; US has tended to be paternalistic, contemptuous.

Theodore Roosevelt's Policy in Latin America


1. Acquire an isthmian canal for military, strategic, and commercial reasons.

2. Strategic: (a) no European outposts, (b) shift in world balance of power with the rise of Germany. Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 (c) growing fear of Germany by the US.

3. Missionary ideal and humanitarianism.


Hay-Pauncefote of 1901 abolished the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, giving the US to build a canal by itself. There were two possible routes but some question as to which was most desirable, feasible. Why did Roosevelt choose Panama? Perhaps because of the prior French work which the US could use. Bunau-Varilla was influential. Rejection of treaty by Colombian Senate angered TR. Theodore Roosevelt stayed with Panama route and fomented a revolution in Panama with the help of Bunau-Varilla. The US fleet was present with orders not to allow troops of either side to land. Americans denied Colombians the use of railroad in its province of Panama. The revolt began on November 3, 1903; Roosevelt recognized Panamanian independence on November 11th. The US proceeded to negotiate the Hay-HerrĂ¡n Treaty of 1903; it called for the lease of a 10 mile strip across the isthmus for 100 years, gave the US imminent domain in perpetuity over Canal Zone. The US paid $10 million as an indemnity plus $250 thousand in annual rent. Years later statements made him and US look bad. He claimed that the US had taken the canal. The US could have built the Nicaragua canal or could have waited the few years until the French Company's commission expired.

Roosevelt Corollary

The US created a series of protectorates. Cuba had many stipulations on its independence which made it a protectorate. Panama became a protectorate. In the Venezuela Blockade of 1902-03, Venezuela had reneged on her debts. Britain and Germany might have occupied Venezuela. Theodore Roosevelt at first thought European nations should be allowed to "spank" delinquent nations in the hemisphere. The Hague Court decision seemed to imply that use of force was permissible to collect debts from delinquent nations. With the Dominican Republic debt crisis, the issue became critical. The US took over the customs houses, establishing a "customs receivership." The basic reason for this protectorate was the perceived need for security in the Caribbean; defaulted might be the occasion for establishment of European bases in the hemisphere.
Roosevelt, in what became known as the Roosevelt Corollary, argued that chronic or instability in Hemispheric nations would be dealt with by the US. He said the Monroe Doctrine was for the benefit of all hemispheric nations and all nations should act so as to uphold the Monroe Doctrine.
The direction of US policy was dominance, hegemony, over Caribbean affairs, in particular, and Latin American affairs, in general.

Motives for the Change in Foreign Policy

1. strategic seems to be the primary motivation

2. imperialism

3. missionary

4. economic: expand trade, keep other nations out of the Hemisphere in terms of markets.


He achieved the immediate goals of the US but left a legacy of problems ever since. Achieved immediate strategic goals but results were not best in terms of strategic needs.
Couldn't the US have used an OAS-type approach? Yes, the US could have at least tried. Why didn't US? Theodore Roosevelt was a bellicose man; he wanted the US to dominate. Lack of maturity of the US (in being hasty, for example). US belief in its innate superiority.
William Howard Taft was the choice of Theodore Roosevelt as his successor. Taft liked to eat, sleep, and play bridge. Taft's highest goal in life was to be Chief Justice; his wife wanted him to be President. He shared many of Theodore Roosevelt's views. He, too, believed that the US was irrevocably involved in world affairs. He did not have the liking for the violent life as Theodore Roosevelt had. He mistrusted the use of power; he loved the law. He was not pleased with the use of force or power and wanted to use peaceful means to settle disputes. Taft was more business-oriented. He liked stability and order. An Ohio conservative, he mistrusted change. He relied heavily upon businessmen for advice and succor.
Taft used "Dollar Diplomacy," the use of dollars instead of bullets. He wanted control and to aid businessmen in the US. He used power diplomacy but he favored economic means not military. He saw his policy as humanitarian, for stabilization improved the living scale and conditions. Dollar diplomacy was an extension of the Roosevelt Corollary in the sense that he tried to eliminate European economic intervention.
How did Dollar Diplomacy work out for the US? In Nicaragua in 1912, the government would default on its debts, which might mean European intervention. The US offered to loan money (by private men) if the US could have some supervision over Nicaraguan finances. Eventually, the Nicaraguans would not behave as the US desired so the US established a US military dictatorship over the country. Haiti became a US military dictatorship in 1915. The US tried battleship diplomacy. The idea was to get Latin American nations to buy battleships from the US. This would yield profits for Americans and the purchasers could use the ships to protect hemisphere. Argentina bought, but later decided to sell ships to a third party. US afraid her naval secrets would be discovered. US pressured Argentina. The Canadian Reciprocity Treaty of 1911 lowered tariffs but Westerners didn't like this lowering tariffs.
Dollar Diplomacy tended to achieve much the same goals as Theodore Roosevelt's policy but attempted to do these things without the repercussions of Roosevelt's policy. Nevertheless, it probably had the same repercussions as Theodore Roosevelt 's policy. Latin Americans did not like it.