Loss of U.S. presence in Latin America is cause for alarm

| Staff Columnist

The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 was extremely significant for the early foreign policy of the United States, and it helped to create a special relationship between the United States and Latin America. Chiefly aimed at European colonial powers, this document boldly declared that colonization of newly independent states in Latin America would not be permitted. However, in later years, the United States ignored the original intent of the document, replacing the colonial powers by interfering in sovereign states’ internal affairs, through such measures as invading and occupying Nicaragua from 1912-33 and Haiti from 1914-34.

Throughout almost two centuries, the Monroe Doctrine has withstood the test of time, with no other nation having dared to really challenge the absolute hegemony of the predominant superpower in its own backyard. However, due to the military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States’ attention and interest has been refocused halfway around the world. With U.S. power challenged more and more by rivals such as China or Russia, America’s monopoly in the region has dissipated, creating a gap where rival countries have started to move in, both economically and militarily.

For example, the People’s Republic of China has begun making inroads among several Latin American countries, including the domains of several hostile American leaders. On Aug. 21, 2009, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, ruled by the repressive Hugo Chavez, announced that it had raised its joint investment fund with the Chinese to $16 billion.

Chavez has repeatedly spoken of decreasing his country’s economic dependence on oil sales to the United States. Thus, the nominally communist Chinese and the other country, i.e., Venezuela, engage in a very lucrative and beneficial quid pro quo; the Chinese continue their drive to obtain and then maintain energy supplies for their growing demand, and the other country receives an enormous infusion of cash and investments while weakening its dependence on the United States.

This economic agreement between China and Venezuela is indicative of the decreasing influence, both militarily and economically, of the United States within Latin America. Another example of this phenomenon is the massive protest across the continent against the usage of military bases in Colombia by the United States, ostensibly aimed at rooting out drug trafficking, illegal arms sales andarmed militias, within Colombia, such as FARC. Even though U.S. Congress has limited the number to 800 soldiers and 600 civilian contractors, many Latin American countries have expressed resistance to this idea.

This time, however, the protests and concerns have come not just from hostile Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, but also from more moderate Brazil, Argentina and Chile. There is a deep-rooted suspicion that the United States intends to “dominate South America and act freely across the continent,” as Hugo Chavez alleged.
Hypocritically, while certain countries (such as Venezuela) fiercely oppose an American presence in the region, Chavez has recently purchased billions of dollars worth of weapons from Russia, including advanced fighter jets and tanks. Even Brazil has announced its intention to buy five submarines from France, one of which will be of the nuclear variety.

In the end, this loss of focus on our traditional sphere of influence gives cause for alarm at present and raises serious concerns about the future relationship of the United States with Latin America. America should take notice of the change in the status quo and act now. Otherwise, the day is not far off when the United States’ traditional relationship with Latin America will come to an end.

  • john

    Mitch,
    Loss of U.S. influence anywhere in the world, but especially in Latin America is bad. As the predominant superpower in the world, and as many would argue, the sole one, the U.S. has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. In regards to supporting “bloody dictators and paramilitary groups,” the U.S. actually supported non-democratic leaders. However, considering that the alternative was Communism, as this was the height of the Cold War, America was left in an extremely difficult position. Also considering that many of the rebels were just as, or even more, vicious and bloodthirsty than the leaders entrenched in power, America attempted to stop the bloodshed. The United States sacrificed its image as a patron of democracy in order to protect the independence of these countries in the future.
    In addition, Richard, the United States has been unlike any other hegemon in human history. America actually cares about the people in the countries it is involved in, unlike the USSR and PRC, for example. Those empires ruthlessly killed tens of millions of their own people to create a Communist dictatorship.
    Lastly, Richard, I agree that Latin America should be run in the interests of the people, but unlike you I do not believe that Hugo Chavez actually has the interests of the Venezuelan people at heart!

  • http://www.calebposner.com Caleb Posner

    Actually wu 2010, snideness aside, I no longer write for Studlife.

  • wu 2010

    Oh man, I was really hoping that this was the latest of Caleb Posner’s famous “America rules, Muslims drool” columns. I’m sure he’s come up with plenty of new material over the summer!

  • http://progressivestudents.org mitch

    Why is less U.S. involvement in Latin America a cause of alarm? U.S. military and economic policy in the region has been devastating, increasing poverty and violence. The U.S. has a long history of supporting bloody dictators and paramilitary groups in Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, etc. The less U.S. involvement in the region, the better off it will be because the U.S. has no interest in helping the people of Latin America, just dominating and exploiting it.

  • Richard Cheeseman

    As you point out, the traditional relationship of the US with its “sphere of influence” has been that of an imperial hegemon.

    Not only did the US invade and occupy other American countries, as you say, but it also installed and propped up some really vicious dictatorships and ruthlessly exploited the countries it dominated.

    If the traditional imperial relationship of the US to Latin America comes to an end as you fear, that’s surely a good thing. It’s well past time for Latin America to be run in the interests of its people rather than in the interests of brutal local oligarchies in servile alliance with an even more brutal foreign empire.