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Inter-American Relations, Notes on; 1895-1959

U.S. relations were of two categories:

  • Territorial expansionism-almost confined to territory contiguous to U.S. only other territorial desires were abortive such as Caribbean islands.
  • Economic relations were small until the end of the 19th century. Latin America not very interested in the United States; the United States had very little trade with them or diplomatic contact or other relations. The Monroe Doctrine (1823)didn't mean much to Latin America because the Latin American countries realized that we wouldn't defend them against European powers. Instead, those nations realized that the United Kingdom would have to be the ones to protect them.

Post-1895 period-- the New Manifest Destiny

The United States changed because it (1) had sufficient capital to export abroad, (2) exported manufactures, and (3) had some statesmen and intellectuals who thought that the US should play a great power role and expand its activities for strategic reasons. These people believed that doing so would further our economic activity. Others wanted to carry American Christianity to the world and sent missionaries to poor countries. Alfred Thayer Mahan in the 1880s became head of the new naval war college. Its very existence indicated the change in attitude in that people were thinking in terms of power and strategy. Mahan asserted that sea power was the vital element in national power. He argued that a nation had to grow or decline.

1895- Secretary of State Richard Olney involved the United States in the Venezuelan Boundary Dispute. The dispute was between Venezuela and Great Britain over the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana, a matter of no concern to the U.S. However, some Venezuelans got the U.S. to intervene as a counterweight to the British. Olney, wanting to assert the U.S.' newly-acquired power, asserted that the will of the U.S. Was fiat on the continent and ordered the British to yield to the Venezuelans. When the British Foreign Office finally got around to reading Olney's message, Britain was shocked at Olney's bluntness and arrogance. Given its problems with Germany and in South Africa, it agreed to arbitration. One can date the New Manifest Destiny from here.

Cuban-Spanish-American War (1898)

For those Cubans who wanted independence, it was a long struggle. The rebels lost the Ten Years' War (1868-78) to their Spanish masters. Conspiracies continued as rebels constantly sought some means to force the Spanish to leave. U.S. neutrality laws were constantly violated.

United States citizens had little interest in Cuba until the Cuban War for Independence, a civil war, began in 1895. The Spanish resorted to the policy of reconcentrado (concentration camps) to isolate the guerrilleros from the population. However, the camps were unhealthy and people suffered. Disease ran rampant and many died. U.S. citizens became very sympathetic to the rebels not only because of their suffering but also because they identified with a subject people revolting against a European mother country. Some of the U.S. press, the "Yellow Press," wrote sensationalistic stories, some with an element of truth and some completely false, which stirred emotions and encouraged bellicose sentiments. The U.S. also saw itself as having economic and strategic interests in Cuba. The U.S. Navy was also getting to the point of being able to fight the Spanish navy. One can look at Naval appropriations bills in the 1870s and 1880s for the naval buildup.

The United States did intervene in Cuba, and then began to systematically intervene in Circum-Caribbean. Latin Americans began to worry about this activity, for none liked the idea that they were subject to the will of another country. Their attitudes towards the United States changed.

The U.S. practiced several forms of intervention:

  • Acquisition of Puerto Rico
  • Legal protectorate in Cuba, where, because of the Platt Amendment to the Cuban constitution, it had the legal right to intervene. Some people say we seldom intervened in Cuba physically but the threat was there. The U.S. did intervene diplomatically to further its economic interests.
  • Panama and Canal. When Colombia refused a treaty yielding control of a strip of land across its Panamanian province so that the United States could build a canal, the U.S. entered into a conspiracy with some Panamanians to declare independence. Some Panamanians had wanted independence for a long time, but probably not most. The U.S. aided the rebellion in a number of ways, including military aid. As Theodore Roosevelt said later, he stole Panama from Colombia. The way it was done seriously alarmed Latin America.
  • In 1905, the United States invaded the Dominican Republic and created a military dictatorship in order to prevent threats of intervention by European nations. The United States went to manage finances not the economy but, in a few years, turned it into a political and social intervention.
  • In 1906-07, the U.S. invaded Nicaragua for political and economic reasons and used its military to dominate that country for a generation.
  • In 1915, it invaded Haiti; the U.S. military dictated policy there until the 1930s.
  • This kind of activity did not occur outside the Circum-Caribbean region but it did alarm countries such as Argentina.
  • The U.S. had often intervened in Mexico, usually along the border, but began very serious interventions in 1911 because of the Mexican Revolution. Because the United States thought its interests threatened, it invaded Mexico in 1914 and, again, in 1916, besides engaging in other forms of intervention.

Not surprisingly, a tremendous body of protest literature, both within the U.S. and within Latin America, was written. There were protests at Pan-American Union meetings. At the Havana Conference of 1929, all this came to a head. The United States had created the Pan-American Union largely for commercial reasons. United States dominated it. Latin Americans immediately wanted to discuss political problems but United States wouldn't let them. By 1928, they couldn't bring up political issues in official meetings but they did in informal conclaves.

In 1928, the Clark Memorandum, a position paper, said that U.S. our policy towards Latin America was doing more harm than good and that, contrary to what Theodore Roosevelt had asserted, U.S. interventionism was not part of the Monroe Doctrine. The U.S. was telling Latin America nations to act like Nebraska or Ohio, foisting constitutions on them. What the U.S. was doing was unrealistic. Interventionism did a little improvement of roads and sanitation but what good did it do? The U.S. did a little to improve education. It changed the names of domestic military forces. Interventionism didn't change basic conditions, however.

The U.S. began to revise its Latin America policy. More was done under President Herbert Hoover. Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented the Good Neighbor Policy. The U.S. agreed to nonintervention at the Montevideo conference in 1933. It pulled out its troops. This revisionism was a response to the failure of U.S. policy.

From 1934-1954, the U.S. followed this non-intervention policy, abandoning it in 1954 in Guatemalan because it feared communist subversion there.

In 1933-45, Latin America developed enthusiasm for new United States policy. This enthusiasm was one of the bases for their cooperation with the United States before and during World War II. Their aid was valuable: bases, overflights, Brazilian anti-submarine patrols, base guards, controlling espionage and subversion, economic cooperation, particularly increasing the production of strategic materials, and price controls were among the ways they helped the war effort.

The cooperation led Latin America statesmen to believe that they should get a large amount of economic aid after the war was over, something on the order of the Marshall Plan. They were disappointed. Rebuilding Europe, which was critical to U.S. survival took precedence over aiding Latin America, considered a backwater by the U.S. The United States position was, if you want us to assist, you must rearrange your affairs to facilitate United States private investment in Latin America. Latin Americans had problems with this approach. Nationalism meant that mass parties would protest. Latin America governments had become more and more devoted to economic management. They wanted public monies from the U.S. and wanted to decide what would be developed in their countries. But the United States stuck its policy.

Latin America wanted an Inter-American Development Bank sponsored by United States and money given by United States. United States gave aid to Europe and Asia. Latin Americans thought they were getting gypped. An enormous amount of bitterness in Latin America built up. When intervention began again in 1954, this bitterness increased.

Intervention in Guatemala in 1954

In 1951, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was elected to the presidency of Guatemala and began to reform the economy to benefit the populace. A nationalistic military man. Arbenz was determined to strengthen the nation by giving its largely Indian population a stake in the economy. The Guatemala economy was dominated by the few, especially the United Fruit Company (UFCO). Arbenz used the tiny Communist Party because it was the only disciplined, educated group available to him. Arbenz was an example of what was happening to the military in Latin America. As the officers became educated, they became aware of the problems their nations faced. Arbenz was atypical in his use of the Left but not in being aware of the problems. In 1952, the Arbenz-sponsored agrarian reform law expropriated thirty per cent of the cultivated land and redistributed it to landless peasants. The United Fruit Company opposed this law and, when the dispute got heated, the Arbenz government expropriated 233,973 acres of UFCO lands. Then the government seized the International Railways of Central America in which UFCO had a large interest. UFCO, which was well-connected to the Republican Party in the U.S. lobbied to get the U.S. government to violate its pledge and intervene in Guatemala. President Eisenhower ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow Arbenz.

The United States backed an exile group which quickly overthrew Arbenz. Latin America cried out with almost unanimity. %

By 1958, the United States admitted that its economic policy had failed. The Eisenhower administration began to agree that the U.S. was going to have to send larger aid to Latin America. It began to agree to the Inter-American Development Bank. The Fidel Castro victory in Cuba in 1959 gave more impetus to this change in policy. President John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress policy, begun in 1961, was the name given to this revisionist policy.

Military Side of Intr-Americanism Since WWII

President Harry Truman proposed the integration of all hemisphere military forces as a counter-measure to Soviet expansionism. Latin America would not agree, fearing that the U.S. would dominate. The Inter-American Defense Board, a relic of WWII, did suggest universal military nomenclature and common insignia.

The United States set out to negotiate a series of bi-lateral treaties with Latin American nations dedicated to Hemispheric defense against external attacks. The U.S. supplied specified arms to specified units to be used specific ways if the nation were invaded. Accepting these treaties was dangerous for Latin America countries to do because it was an insinuation of United States interventionism.

After Castro's victory in 1959, military aid to Latin America was supplemented by counter-insurgency aid, including training of Latin American military officers in the United States and in Panamá.

Economic and cultural relations

The position of private business was altered by the growth of nationalism in Latin America. It meant the development of some new conceptions such as capital partnerships. Ford resisted such partnerships but Chrysler did not. Public utility investment by United States citizens had become large in period of the New Manifest Destiny but these citizens and their corporations began pulling their investments out since WWII. They had been squeezed so hard by governments, resulting in small profits. United States private investments in mineral production had been pushed out. Mexico, in 1960, passed a law requiring that the majority ownership must be Mexican by a certain date and which gave tax benefits if companies complied sooner.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Latin America's main relations were with Europe. There was a striking change in the 20th century, especially after World War II. All kinds of relations were developed with the United States, including the importing of Latin American students to the U.S.