Becoming Better Neighbors

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Continuing our recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we turn our attention to the United States/Latin America foreign policy relations. As many of you probably know, maintaining a good ongoing relationship with a neighbor can be both challenging and satisfying. The same goes with countries that share a common border. These North American countries have a long and complicated history worth some exploration.

A President’s Declaration; Another President’s Re-Commitment

In 1823, when the United States was still a new nation, President James Monroe outlined the country’s policy of the developing Americas in his Annual Address to Congress. Known today as the Monroe Doctrine, the policy warned Europe against new attempts to colonize in the newly independent Latin America states. The Doctrine sought to strengthen economic ties across North and South America. Over time, however, the United States was accused of only being interested in protecting its own interests and relations between the U.S. and Latin American nations grew tense.

With the arrival of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the White House in 1933, came a renewed effort to “mend fences” (in addition to interest in raw materials and new markets). In his first inaugural address, Roosevelt said this:

In the field of World policy, I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor who resolutely respects himself and because he does so, respects the rights of others, the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a World of neighbors.

This foreign policy effectively ended two U.S. military occupations in Latin America–in Nicaragua and in Haiti–and led to a renegotiation of a major treaty in Cuba. The Roosevelt administration also created a new agency called the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. Headed by Nelson Rockefeller, the agency was tasked with creating, promoting and distributing news and other material that aimed to promote a “Pan American friendship.” This included eliminating negative stereotypes. By 1945, the threat of communism shifted political priorities in the U.S. government and the office was eliminated.

Relations Today

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By the 1960s, tensions between the U.S. and Latin America had returned. A failed military intervention (the Bay of Pigs), a major threat by Cuba (the Cuban Missile Crisis), followed by years of accusations of illegal immigration, drug trafficking and unwanted military intervention would make reconciliation seem impossible. But in the late 1980s, President George H.W. Bush set into motion negotiations between the U.S. Mexico and Canada that would become the North American Free Trade Agreement.

NAFTA set about removing barriers to free trade (like tariffs) in an effort to both create economic interdependence and protect the markets of each individual country. While the deal strengthened political relationships between the U.S. and Mexico, the advantages and disadvantages it created continue to be debated twenty years later. For example, trade has increased by nearly 300%, but critics say that it has cost 700,000 good, middle class jobs. Today, the shift in Latin America has turned to issues like the environment, legal immigration and food security.

Dig Deeper Do some research and determine the Obama Administration’s foreign policy stance on Latin America. How do the pundits (public opinion-makers, namely journalists) believe he is doing? List ways our relationship with Latin America has changed since NAFTA.