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.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe