Economic Interest as a Guideline for U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America – History Essay

Economic Interest as a Guideline for U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America – History Essay
The United States foreign policy in Latin America is based in a desire to protect US economic interests there. While national security, ideology, and domestic policy are factors that influence US foreign policy in the region as

well, they still reflect the desire of the United States to maintain a Latin America that jives with a capitalist, United States economy friendly vision.

When the United States has pursued a policy in Latin America that becomes justified mostly by ideology rather than a need for protection of economic interests, efforts are made to redefine the policy from within a framework of an economic relationship. When it becomes plausible to introduce legislation that suggests creating a policy with a Latin American country whose focus lies in creating better trade and investment relations, it supports that of the existing policy. This is because the policy was created in response to a situation where the capitalist relations that the United States desired with the country were not possible or approaching such a situation.

In 1824 the United States issued the Monroe Doctrine, stating the United States invitation for European powers to stay out of the western hemisphere and should they not, the United States may, at any time, intervene. This is a policy that was motivated by national security and economic interests. Yet as the first real bit of attention the United States paid to Latin America, it was not really foreign policy toward Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine was issued as a statement of foreign policy toward (or more appropriately against) Europe. As an action in the interest of national security, however, there was little for the Monroe Doctrine to deter and indeed “the perceived threats were greatly exaggerated by Americans at the time.” The United States interest in Latin American relations was sparked by the opportunity to promote and maintain the United States economic interests in the independent Latin America that no longer adhered to Spanish-imposed trade restrictions. The United States, then under Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, sought to establish diplomatic relations with several states of Latin America in 1821. This was the extent to which the United States pursued some formal policy in Latin America, only securing United States trade interests, but not vigorously creating or opening new markets. The isolationist United States opted to maintain minimum interaction to ensure stable trade.

Today an isolationist United States seems not only unlikely, but more close to impossible. As a young nation the United States was satisfied with the stable trading it enjoyed with its southern neighbors, until, of course, that stability was threatened. In 1898 Senator Henry Teller looked to protect his constituents who were sugar beet growers from the competition of the profitable sugar cane industry in Cuba by proposing the anti-annexation amendment to the war resolution concerning Cuba. While this avoided problems with Teller’s constituents, it also left an ambiguous place for the official status of Cuba after the war was over. The war for Cuban independence was over and though the United States would not annex Cuba as a territory, this did not mean that Cuba would become automatically a sovereign state. Cuba’s autonomous government would be developed very much with strings attached. From the United States’ point of view, the Cuban government could not be expected to develop democratically and tranquilly on its own without being vulnerable. The United States continued to occupy Cuba for several years until the Platt Amendment could be foisted upon the island, giving the United States “the right to intervene for…the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.” Hereafter Cuba was independent as long as it behaved well. The United States would be able to control the government and economy of Cuba, which was preferable because the United States could manipulate politics and trade in Cuba to comply with the economic interests of the United States.

The era of Latin American independence from Spain spurned a ripple of political turmoil that even today makes waves. During and leading up the Spanish-American War, the United States had not yet developed an ideological rhetoric that influenced foreign policy and so responded to the Cuban-Spanish conflict on the most practical level. The conflict was affecting US trade and it seemed that a free Cuba would offer wider and more consistent trade opportunities. In 1896 the secretary of state of the United States issued a statement “describing the disruptive effect of the conflict on US economic interests and the dangers faced by US citizens living in Cuba” and “politely suggested that the Spanish permit limited home rule.” While several events precipitated U.S. involvement in the
Cuban-Spanish conflict (lobbies, yellow journalism, explosion on the Maine), President Cleveland recognized the importance of U.S. trading and investment in the region, and that a prolonged conflict would compromise these interest.

In other words, while other circumstances may have encouraged the conflict, the initial interest in Cuba and eventual engagement in war was based on the US interest in protecting individual US citizens’ investments and the US economy as a whole, which stood to lose out because of the civil conflict. After the United States took control of Cuba from Spain, the negotiation of settling Cuban independence was still primarily controlled by United States desire to ensure a trouble free trade zone: the Platt Amendment allowed the US to intervene in Cuban affairs whenever it deemed necessary. This marked the beginning of a model of US policy that would be tried and true by the birth of the Cold War. The idea of a canal in Central America connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific was many years in coming when France finally decided to begin building one in Panama. The United States had been researching the possibility of building a canal as well, but in Nicaragua. The benefits of a canal were obvious: a route that does not include circumventing all of South America in order to ship goods to the pacific coast increases trade and lowers shipping costs, which in turn secures and expands United States economic interests in the United States. Eventually, France abandoned its beginning of a canal for lack of money and left it to United States to pick up the slack. Colombia, however, was unwilling to accept the United States treaty that would allow them to control the canal after it was built. In this case the United States proceeded to insert itself in Latin American affairs in the hopes of creating and controlling trade instead of protecting existing interests. The Panama Canal was not an economic interest of the United States’ insofar as they had no formal right to it, but stabilizing a revolutionary state could obtain it the right to that interest. The United States assisted the independence of Panama from
Colombia in exchange for a treaty that satisfied the United States desire to build and control a canal there. And in the process it also managed to cross the line between protecting its economic interests and being an economic imperialist. President Taft, in his valedictory message said that his policy had been “directed to the increase of American Trade upon the axiomatic principle that the Government of the United States shall extend all proper support to every legitimate and beneficial American enterprise abroad.” The United States was involved in dozens of interventional actions in Latin America during the19th and 2oth century, and “every case began with US government intervention, after which the government officials brokered a financial arrangement between the intervened Latin American government and the US private sector.” The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine is yet another response to an economic interest. By claiming the right to essentially manage the foreign debt of any Latin American country that could not do so itself, the United States skillfully inserted itself into what amounted to a debt crisis in Latin America. US citizens had invested in the asphalt industry in Venezuela, and like France and Germany, were demanding their repayment. The United States stepped in and took control of financial matters, as it had in the Dominican Republic and as it would in Nicaragua. Interventions took on large and small matters: In 1853 “Marines landed on the Atlantic coast to settle a dispute between Vanderbilt’ trust company and local Nicaraguan Authorities. They resolved it in Vanderbilt’s favor of course.” The United States “intervened twenty-one times between 1898 and 1924.”

The fear of enduring a Chile under the auspices of a socialist and possible communist, no matter how democratically elected was cause for alarm enough for the United States government embark on an aggressive campaign to make sure that the fairly elected Salvador Allende was not able to establish a sovereign, independent, and respected administration. The type of government that Allende was representing threatened to influence a trend in the rest of the region which would deteriorate the efforts towards capitalist free trade that the US still pursues today. After failing to throw his election, the US idea was to destroy the Chilean economy, kill Allende and replace him with the military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The argument that Robert Pastor happens to presents in favor of NAFTA is absolutely applicable to the situation of Cuba. He postulates that rejecting it “would reinforce authoritarianism; accepting it would raise the cost of electoral fraud. It would be very difficult to keep the political system closed if the economic system was opening.” Legislation being introduced by several
Congress members at this time to lift the embargo on Cuba use this argument as a basis for their proposal to change the means of United States foreign policy to effect the same end that was desired before. The United States relationship with Cuba is being re-evaluated by those in the government through a lens that focuses on the economic opportunity that lay there for their constituents while at the same time suggesting what has been seen to happen in other Latin American countries: a opening of the political system that can be interpreted as a democratization. This is indeed the United States’ goal in Cuba and a re-evaluation of the failing US policy toward Cuba was brought to the drawing board after 30 plus years because of the realization that Cuba represents a lucrative market for US farmers and industries. As the United States’ policy toward Cuba became ineffective and stale, the framework to suggest a change had to come from and trade point of view. Economic is the only driving force powerful enough to challenge a way of doing things that is based on nothing more than and aging ideology that is floundering without economic benefits to back it. Although there may be perturbations in relations with Latin America that alter the nature of US policies there, these will be modified and re-hauled with the goal of edging out the economic advantage in mind. Indeed, in a near conflict-less relationship, international relations with Latin America are based on creating a strong trade relationship, as in the case of Mexico.
For the United States, México has represented a comparatively stable political and economic environment. It can hardly be argued that México has maintained a democratic operation but because México has been able to maintain political stability in the form of calculated control, US foreign policy towards Latin America focuses primarily on developing trade and investment. México has preferred to limit its relations with the US, but the perpetuation of the “revolution” as inherent in México and its development helped the elites keep social upheaval at bay. The United States was never alarmed by instability in México and so had no reason to go there and “promote democracy”. Despite a revolution, a debt crisis, and a peso crisis, México is a “country historically cautious about relations with its powerful northern neighbor,” but United States’ effort to alleviate the stress of México’s economic shortcomings have been welcomed and social unrest has been successful oppressed. When he took office, United States President Carter wanted to make the US relationship with México a priority in order to “restore the financial community’s confidence in México.” The discovery of oil in México around the same time ensured this. Negotiations ensued over United States investment in the newly discovered resource.

When the economic interests behind US involvement in a Latin American government become obsolete, instead of abandoning the policy, the United States tends to let the policy stand on the feet of security and ideology. When ideology is the only force behind a policy it can be neutral or even detrimental to US economic interests. When this has become apparent in US history, the policy tends to be questioned and eventually redefined within the context of US economic interest. This is the case is Cuba, where after 40 years of embargo, several bills are being introduced in the Congress that repeal the embargo. Although the wording of the bills suggest that opening US markets to Cuba will be a more effective way to undermine the Castro regime that the embargo (which very well may be true), there are other interests that are more compelling for the congressman that are involved. Many of them are from states where the businesses such as agriculture will benefit greatly from trade with the Cuban market.

There was no compelling reason, according to John Quincy Adams and many of his contemporaries, to actively pursue diplomacy south of the United States. Only when it was inconvenient for the United States to endure the turmoil that lay south, so to speak, did the US intervene in the region. As US-Latin American relations matured and the United States intervened as an authority, an accompanying ideology began to develop that superceded this tenet. Just as in the Platt Amendment, the US began seeking, whether deliberately or not, insurance for long term compliance. The reasoning that Latin Americans are a people that must be herded along and that they need the structure that the
United States has to offer in order to save them from themselves was invoked over years. United States ideology developed as a belief that United States’ model of government and culture is the framework for a society where the United States has the reasonable and noble interest of protecting its citizens’ interests in trade and investment. These guidelines or expectations that delineate the ideal United States neighbor became an ideology that justified United States policies through moral and humanistic lenses.

United States ideology derived from a need to support its pursuit of economic interests. As a young nation on a frontier, Manifest Destiny was the main way to describe the future of the United States development in the early nineteenth century. Having more land increased the wealth and expanded the economy of the United States. Manifest Destiny justified for many Americans their right to do so. In the 20th century the promotion of democracy was and continues to be a central focus of United States goals for Latin America. In between these two eras, the United States policies in Latin America have covered a wide range of levels of intervention, kind of intervention, and levels of power in relationships, but the driving force behind the seemingly amorphous stream of communication is finding the most efficient way to create wealth for Americans.
“US leaders envisioned an international order wherein each and every nation would keep an ‘open door’ through which the capitalist businessmen could come and go at will…” and “…peace and stability throughout the world were absolutely essential to the success of this ‘Open Door’ vision” Whereas “upheavals interrupted the free flow of trade,” political harmony facilitates it, and vice versa. Therefore, regardless of the reasoning and situation behind foreign policy in Latin America, an interest in maintaining and bettering the American economy lies at the base.

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