U.S.-Latin American Relations

The roots of the relations between the United States and Latin American nations can be found as early as colonial times, with geographical proximity spurring the communication. It was in the late 18th century that US merchants started trading with the New World colonies of Spain. The onset of the 19th century saw the United States support the Latin American revolutions, which led to the formation of independent Latin American republics. Almost all Latin American nations managed to secure their independence by the middle of the 1820s. One of the few exceptions was Cuba, which gained independence in 1898.

The first significant U.S. authoritative statement concerning Latin American nations came in 1823, with the Monroe Doctrine in which President James Monroe (in office 1817-1825) argued that European nations were no longer allowed to expand in the New World. Despite the Monroe Doctrine, the United States did not respond to Latin American requests to help their fight against foreign invasion. The U.S. incursions at that time had an economic character, with its merchants and financiers making significant gains. The economic relations were advancing, with the United States importing Brazilian coffee, Cuban sugar and Mexican minerals, while the U.S. exported agricultural products. The territorial ambitions of the United States soured the relations, with the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) erupting because of a dispute over Texas's border. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), which granted the United States more than one-third of Mexico's territory, including California, affirmed its negative image amid Latin American nations.

In the aftermath of the US Civil War (1861-1865), investment in Latin America grew and the U.S. government sought to secure friendly environment for business. In October 1889, Washington hosted a United States-Latin American meeting which led to the creation of the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics, with an aim to collect and distribute economic and technical information. The Washington conference was followed by decades of U.S. political and military interventions in Latin America. In 1895, the United States intervened in a conflict between Cuba and Spain, with the Spanish-American War (1898) being the result of this incursion. The U.S. army exited Cuba in 1902 but the United States gained the right to establish military bases there and to intervene in the independent state's affairs. U.S. interventions in the region continued during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt (in office 1901-1909), William Howard Taft (in office 1909-1913) and Woodrow Wilson (in office 1913-1921).

A more friendly atmosphere emerged in 1933, when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (in office 1933-1945) announced the Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin America. This policy, among other things, envisaged non-engagement in the internal affairs of other nations. Sticking to its words, the U.S. administration refused to intervene in Cuba in 1933. This policy brought its benefits during World War II, when Latin American nations, with the sole exception of Argentina, supported the Allies. The presidency of Harry Truman (in office 1945-1953) saw the formation of security alliances with the Latin American nations - in 1947 the Rio Pact was set up, while in 1948 the nations created the Organization of American States (OAS). Despite these developments, the United States grew more suspicious about socialist and communist takeovers in Latin America. The United States intervened in Guatemala in 1954 to topple a nationalist government but the biggest problem appeared to be Cuba, which Fidel Castro turned into a socialist state in 1959.

Apart from efforts by U.S. president Jimmy Carter (in office 1977-1981) to conduct foreign policy based on human rights, the U.S. attitude toward Latin America remained roughly unchanged until 1989 when George H. W. Bush (in office 1989-1993) took over. The United States supported the changes in parts of Latin American where dictators surrendered power to the civilians. Bush's administration also managed to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was granted approval by the Congress during the presidency of Bill Clinton (in office 1993-2001).

The Clinton administration, unlike previous ones, stayed away from military interventions and instead focused on problems like drug trade, immigration and environment protection. The most recent efforts of the United States and Latin American nations have been directed at addressing global issues like food security, climate change, transnational crime, and economic competitiveness. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama (elected 2009) has announced that it would seek to manage these problems by harnessing and strengthening international and regional institutions.

U.S.-Latin American Relations: Selected full-text books and articles

America and the Americas: The United States in the Western Hemisphere By Lester D. Langley University of Georgia Press, 2010 (2nd edition)
Rethinking Latin America: A New Approach in US Foreign Policy By Frechette, Myles Harvard International Review, Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer 2006
Allende's Chile and the Inter-American Cold War By Tanya Harmer University of North Carolina Press, 2011
Paraguay and the United States: Distant Allies By Frank O. Mora; Jerry W. Cooney University of Georgia Press, 2007
Argentina and the United States: An Alliance Contained By David M. K. Sheinin University of Georgia Press, 2006
Brazil and the United States: Convergence and Divergence By Joseph Smith University of Georgia Press, 2010
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