Introduction


Ever since the time of the Monroe Doctrine, first proclaimed in 1823, the United States has taken a special interest in the lands south of its border. Disgusted by colonialism in the decades after its independence, Washington adopted the doctrine in a backlash against unchecked European acquisitiveness and hegemonism.

As the years passed, however, the U.S. itself tilted toward colonialism, albeit not with the lustfulness of the European great powers. Nonetheless, America seized territory from Mexico during the 1846-48 Mexican War and again from Spain during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Indeed, during much of its history, the U.S. has considered Latin America almost a hemisphere-wide protectorate. Especially with the advent of President Teddy Roosevelt, the Monroe Doctrine was altered from simply excluding European expansionism from the Western Hemisphere to actively expanding U.S. commercial interests in the region south of the border. And since the time of Roosevelt, Washington has repeatedly intervened in the region--as in Chile (1973), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), and Haiti (1994).

Thus, the last few years have dismayed U.S. political leaders, for Latin American citizens in country after country have elected sharply leftist, even socialist, governments that have refused to toe Washington's policy line and even thrown support to U.S. leaders' Public Enemy No. 1 in Latin America, Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In this month's Special Report, The World & I Online examines this still-unfolding phenomenon. Mark Holston's article, "A Swerve Toward Socialism South of the Border," is an overview of what has happened there in recent years. He delineates the factors at work in Washington's increasing sidelining in the region and Latin nations' rejection of U.S. principles of free-market capitalism and anti-Cuba politics.

Pedro F. Frisneda notes in his article, "Latin American Democracies Are in Trouble," that the region has experimented in democracy for the past quarter-century and has gotten little if any economic or social progress in return. …

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