The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | Articles | United States/Foreign Policy | Good Neighbor Policy

Email to a friend
Printer friendly

Good Neighbor Policy


    The Good Neighbor policy came from both Republican president Herbert Hoover (1929-33) and Democrat president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45), for the United States realized that its military interventions in Latin America were counter-productive.  Hoover began the switch in policy; FDR baptized, publicized, and glamorized it.
    President-elect Hoover made a seven-week goodwill tour of Latin America. Although he went on a battleship, a conveyance that suggested the "battleship diplomacy" which the US had been conducting, he did generate some good will. In fact, he suggested a solution of the Tacna-Arica boundary dispute  between Peru and Chile; negotiations were successful in 1929. It was during this trip that he used the term "good neighbor."
Once in the presidency, Hoover implemented the policy change. In his inaugural address, he explained that the United States had no desire for territory or economic or other domination of  people. Further, he said he did not like the presence of US Marines in Nicaragua and Haiti. The Marines were there to insure that the governments of those two countries did what the US wanted. In 1930, his administration publicly adopted the Clark Memorandum  written by J. Reuben Clark, Undersecretary of State, in 1928. The Memorandum repudiated the Roosevelt Corollary, pointing out that the Monroe Doctrine was based on the United States versus Europe, not the United States versus Latin America . Theodore Roosevelt, for reasons of his own, had reinterpreted the Monroe Doctrine to say that only the US could collect debts owed by Latin American nations and to justify US military intervention in the Caribbean region. the Clark Memorandum  did not repudiate intervention, however. It said that interventions could not be for debt collection. The Great Depression of the 1930s caused revolutions in several Latin American nations, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, and instability throughout the region. The United States stayed on the sidelines; it even recognized the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas of Brazil. The real test of whether the policy had changed was not how the US reacted to the big Latin American countries, for it had never sent troops into them, but the small nations of the Caribbean region. In 1932, it negotiated a treaty with Haiti in which the US agreed to withdraw its military forces but still would maintain control over Haitian finances. Haiti rejected the treaty because of the financial supervision but it was clear that the US was shifting its policy. In 1933, the Marines left Nicaragua.
    Franklin Roosevelt, who became President in March, 1933, followed Hoover's lead and went even further. At the Seventh Pan-American Conference held at Montevideo in December 1933, Secretary of State Cordell Hull voted for non-intervention. When the pro-US dictator Gerardo Machado was overthrown in Cuba in 1933, Roosevelt had Sumner Welles mediate. Welles managed to get a new pro-US government installed. In 1934, the US, for its part, abrogated the Platt Amendment which had given the US to intervene in Cuba at will.  That same year, the troops left Haiti, marking the first time since 1915 that US troops had been occupying Latin American territory. At the 1936 Buenos Aires meeting of the Pan-American Conference, the US offered to make the Monroe Doctrine multilateral.   The Conference endorsed the non-intervention principle and agreed to consult in the face of danger.
    A major reason why the FDR administration wanted better relations with Latin America was the rise of fascism in Europe and military imperialism in Japan. It wanted allies not enemies. It persuaded oil companies to negotiate with the Mexican government, which had expropriated most oil companies there in 1938, even though many in the US wanted it to act against the leftist government of Lázaro Cárdenas. In 1938, at Lima,  the Pan-American Conference agreed to take action against Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy and to meet on the call of any member foreign minister. At Panama City in 1939,  the Pan-American Conference declared a "chastity belt" of 300-1,000 miles around the Americas. At Havana, Cuba in 1940, it agreed that European colonies in the Americas could be taken and administered jointly by American republics to keep them from falling into Axis hands.


Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14, 1936, in Chautauqua, New York, stated his views.