Rethinking Latin America: A New Approach in US Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

Even though the Cold War ended two decades ago, its outdated strategies continue to shape US foreign policy. Nowhere is this more evident than in the foreign relations of the United States with Latin American countries. Because US interests in the region have changed, the United States must apply new strategies to achieve its new goals. Instead of militaristic intervention and paternalism, the United States should adopt an increasingly hands-off approach as Latin American countries assert themselves more strongly in the world arena. The exception to this strategy is trade, since increasing trade in the Americas is the best way to alleviate poverty and many other problems that plague the region. Not only are paternalistic policies expensive and ineffective, but they also strengthen anti-US sentiments within the region, creating more problems than solutions. The United States should not worry that its influence is declining but instead adjust to the reality that Latin American countries deserve respect in managing their internal affairs as the United States helps them further integrate into the world community and the global economy.

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An Evolution of Interests

The end of the Cold War is significant not just because communism fell in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The post-Cold War order also brought about a change of US strategic interests in Latin America. For more than four decades between the end of World War II and the demise of the Soviet Union, US policy in the region was part of a grander Cold War strategy. Policies and actions were examined and carried out in the light of the greater goal of containing and eventually defeating communism. To deal with the specter of communism, the United States often depended on the use of covert force. The best-known examples of successful US intervention in Latin America occurred in 1954, when the United States overthrew President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala, and in 1973, when the United States encouraged the Chilean military to oust Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile. In both cases, the reason was that those leaders were too close to communism for US comfort.

But with the fall of the Soviet Union, fear of communist influence in Latin America should no longer drive US policy. US goals in the region have shifted from resisting communism to promoting growth, stability, and democracy. As a result, it is not only reasonable but also necessary that the United States change its policy from interventionism and paternalism to cooperation. The United States should work with Latin American countries as equal partners in promoting the common welfare of the Western Hemisphere.

Military Relations and US Paternalism

US military policy toward Latin America still contains remnants of the Cold War era. As a result, the relationship between the United States and Latin America should be reformed to better suit the needs of the 21st century. The United States has and should continue to decrease its military presence in Latin America.

The United States developed strong military ties in the region following World War II. Most weapons systems were either purchased from the United States or obtained from excess US stocks. The United States provided the model for training and doctrine and assumed a tutelary role which included deciding which weapons systems were transferred in order to maintain regional stability.

Nowadays, when a Latin American country wants to modernize its weapons systems, Western European countries and former members of the Soviet Union regularly compete with the United States as suppliers. The sophistication, complexity, and cost of US weapons systems also exceed the needs and resources of most Latin American nations. The United States, for example, no longer produces non-nuclear submarines, opening opportunities for several western European countries that do. …