US-Latin American Policies: Evaluating America’s Impact

US – Latin American Policies: To what extent should the United States be proud of its policies towards Latin America?

US – Latin American Policies: To what extent should the United States be proud of its policies towards Latin America?


The relationship between the United States and Latin America has been one of great complexity and historical significance. Over the centuries, these interactions have evolved from colonial entanglements to strategic partnerships, economic dependencies, and at times, overt interventions. The intricate weave of history that binds the US to its southern neighbors prompts a reflection: To what extent should the United States be proud of its policies towards Latin America? To unpack this question, we must embark on a journey through the annals of history, scrutinizing the proud moments and the periods of contention.

Historical Background

The genesis of US involvement in Latin America can be traced back to the early 19th century with the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. President James Monroe, concerned about European imperial ambitions in the Western Hemisphere, asserted that any effort by European nations to colonize or interfere in the Americas would be viewed as acts of aggression, necessitating US intervention. While on the surface, this doctrine appeared to safeguard Latin American nations from European expansionism, in reality, it laid the groundwork for the United States to assert its dominance in the region.

As the 19th century progressed, so did American involvement, especially as the allure of economic opportunities grew. The opening of new markets, the quest for raw materials, and the strategic importance of maintaining control over key transportation routes, notably the Panama Canal, intensified the US’s gaze southwards. Latin America, with its abundant resources and emerging economies, became a focal point of American foreign policy.

The 20th century heralded an era of increased interventions, both overt and covert, in Latin American affairs. The US’s rationale for these interventions often oscillated between strategic geopolitical considerations, especially during the Cold War, and the protection of American economic interests. The latter was epitomized by the close relationships between the US government and American corporations operating in the region, such as the United Fruit Company, which played significant roles in countries like Guatemala and Honduras.

Yet, it wasn’t just economic and strategic interests that shaped US policies. Ideological battles, particularly the clash between capitalism and communism, cast long shadows over Latin America. The fear of communist expansion in the region, especially after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, led to a series of US-backed coups, interventions, and support for autocratic regimes, often at the expense of democratic governance and human rights.

In summary, the historical backdrop of US-Latin American relations is marked by a complex interplay of economic, strategic, and ideological motivations. This foundation sets the stage for a deeper exploration into the moments of pride and contention that have punctuated this enduring relationship.

Positive Policies and Proud Moments

While the U.S.-Latin American relationship has had its fair share of tensions and conflicts, it has also been marked by numerous constructive policies and collaborations. These moments highlight the potential for mutual growth, development, and partnership between the U.S. and its southern neighbors.

Economic Aid and Development Initiatives: One of the landmark efforts in this domain was President John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress launched in 1961. This initiative aimed at establishing economic cooperation between North and Latin America. With a pledge of $20 billion over ten years, its objective was to improve economic stability, reduce income disparities, and bolster democratic governance. Though mixed in its outcomes, the Alliance underscored the U.S.’ commitment to regional development at a critical juncture in history.

Support for Democracy and Human Rights: At various points in time, the U.S. has actively supported the cause of democracy and human rights in Latin America. The Carter administration (1977-1981) placed a pronounced emphasis on human rights, leading to the U.S. distancing itself from authoritarian regimes it had previously supported. Furthermore, the U.S. has, on multiple occasions, provided platforms for dialogue, mediation, and negotiation in regional conflicts, aiding in peaceful conflict resolution.

Collaborative Efforts for Regional Security and Anti-narcotics: The U.S. and Latin American nations have often joined hands to combat shared challenges. The war against drugs, for instance, has seen joint operations, training sessions, and intelligence-sharing, especially with nations like Colombia. Operations such as Plan Colombia, despite criticisms regarding their impact on local communities, showcased a shared commitment to battling drug cartels and ensuring regional stability.

In addition, cultural and educational exchanges have fostered mutual understanding and respect. Programs like the Fulbright Scholarships and the Peace Corps have played instrumental roles in bridging divides and building bonds on a person-to-person level, away from the corridors of power.

It’s also noteworthy that the U.S., through its public and private sectors, has been instrumental in emergency relief efforts during natural disasters in Latin America, showcasing solidarity and compassion in times of need.

In essence, these proud moments underscore the potential inherent in the U.S.-Latin American relationship. They serve as reminders that collaborative, respectful, and mutualistic engagements can yield positive outcomes for both sides.

Problematic Interventions and Controversial Policies

While there have been moments of collaboration and mutual respect in the U.S.-Latin American relationship, there is an undeniable history of contentious interventions and policies that have, at times, overshadowed the positives. These actions, often driven by geopolitical, economic, or ideological concerns, have left lasting scars on the collective memory of many Latin American nations.

US-backed Coups and Regime Changes: One of the most glaring aspects of U.S. involvement in Latin America has been its support for coups and regime changes, often sidelining democratically elected governments. The 1954 coup against Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala, orchestrated in part due to concerns about his land reforms impacting the United Fruit Company, is a prime example. Another notable instance is the 1973 coup in Chile, which ousted President Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet, an authoritarian leader, to power. These interventions, under the guise of Cold War imperatives, often led to prolonged periods of human rights abuses and instability in the respective countries.

Economic Policies and Organizations Favoring US Interests: Economic imperialism, as some critics term it, has seen the U.S. exerting undue influence over Latin American economies, often to the detriment of local interests. Companies like the aforementioned United Fruit Company wielded enormous power, leading to terms like ‘banana republics’ symbolizing nations whose economies and politics were dominated by foreign interests. Additionally, economic policies and stipulations imposed by bodies like the International Monetary Fund, often influenced by U.S. policy directions, led to controversial structural adjustments in many Latin American countries.

Support for Dictators and Human Rights Abusers: In its bid to counter communist influences during the Cold War, the U.S. frequently supported autocratic regimes that blatantly violated human rights. Nicaragua under the Somoza dynasty, El Salvador during its civil war, and the military juntas in Argentina and Brazil received varying degrees of U.S. support, leading to atrocities, disappearances, and widespread repression.

Imposing Ideological Conformity: The U.S.’ efforts to combat the spread of communism often transcended mere geopolitics, turning into an ideological crusade. This zealousness led to interventions even in cases where there was limited or tenuous evidence of communist inclinations. From the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba to the Contra War in Nicaragua, the U.S. found itself mired in conflicts that, in hindsight, were as much about ideological conformity as they were about strategic imperatives.

In retrospection, these contentious actions and policies have often tarnished the U.S.’ image in Latin America. While driven by realpolitik and broader global considerations, the repercussions at the grassroots level in many Latin American nations were undeniably profound. Addressing these episodes is crucial in any balanced examination of the U.S.-Latin American historical relationship.

The Influence of External Factors on US Policies

The trajectory of U.S.-Latin American policies has not unfolded in a vacuum. Several external factors, often of global significance, have deeply influenced the dynamics of this relationship. These factors have, at times, intensified the complexities, pushing the U.S. to make choices that might not align with its declared principles.

The Cold War’s Impact: The overarching narrative of the Cold War, with its ideological battle between communism and capitalism, has been a predominant influence. The fear of the ‘domino effect’, where one nation turning communist could trigger a cascade, made Latin America a primary battleground. This often led to the U.S. making policy decisions based more on a nation’s perceived allegiance in this ideological war rather than its domestic politics or human rights record. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, where the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war, epitomized the high stakes involved.

The War on Drugs: Initiated in the 1970s and intensified in subsequent decades, the U.S.’ War on Drugs shaped its relations with several Latin American countries, particularly those in the Andean region. While the intent was to curtail the drug trade, the policies frequently resulted in militarization, leading to human rights violations and internal displacements. Moreover, the emphasis on punitive measures rather than addressing the demand side in the U.S. or socio-economic factors in supplier countries often skewed the approach.

Economic Interests and Multinational Corporations: As global trade expanded, so did the interests of multinational corporations in Latin America’s vast resources and markets. These corporations, with their significant economic clout, influenced U.S. policies, ensuring favorable conditions for their operations. This often came at the cost of local industries, environmental standards, and workers’ rights in host countries.

Global Context and Other World Powers: While the U.S. has been a significant player in Latin America, it’s essential to recognize the influence of other global powers in shaping U.S. policies. The involvement of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, European colonial powers in the earlier centuries, and more recently, the increasing interest of China in the region, have all impacted U.S. strategies and responses.

In sum, external factors have consistently played a decisive role in shaping U.S. policies toward Latin America. Recognizing and understanding these influences is crucial for a holistic analysis of the relationship, ensuring that it’s viewed not just in bilateral terms but also in its broader global context.

Contemporary Shifts and Looking Ahead

In recent decades, the landscape of U.S.-Latin American relations has undergone substantial shifts, shaped by changing global dynamics, evolving domestic priorities, and a growing recognition of past missteps. These changes indicate a future marked by new challenges and opportunities.

Recognition and Reconciliation: The U.S., especially under recent administrations, has shown an increased willingness to acknowledge past errors in its Latin American policies. The 2016 visit of President Barack Obama to Argentina on the 40th anniversary of its military coup and his acknowledgment of U.S. responsibility in the human rights abuses during the dictatorship signaled a move towards reconciliation. Such gestures, although symbolic, pave the way for improved diplomatic relations and mutual trust.

Trade and Economic Integration: Economic relations between the U.S. and Latin America have evolved with initiatives like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its successor, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). While these agreements primarily encompass North America, they set precedents for deeper economic integration and collaboration across the entire region.

Challenges of Migration and Border Security: Migration patterns, especially from Central American nations to the U.S., have emerged as a critical concern. Addressing root causes of migration, like violence, poverty, and lack of opportunities, requires a nuanced and collaborative approach, recognizing the shared responsibilities and mutual benefits of ensuring stability in the region.

Competing Global Interests – The Role of China: The growing influence of China in Latin America, both economically and politically, presents a new dynamic. China’s investments in infrastructure, energy, and technology across Latin American nations have surged. While this provides Latin America with diversified economic partners, it also poses challenges for the U.S. in maintaining its traditional influence in the region.

Environmental Cooperation: With the shared challenges posed by climate change, there is a growing impetus for collaboration on environmental initiatives. The Amazon rainforest, often termed the ‘lungs of the planet’, is a focal point where joint efforts between the U.S., Brazil, and other regional players can lead to significant global benefits.

In conclusion, as the U.S. and Latin America navigate the 21st century, the relationship is poised at a crossroads. While historical baggage cannot be easily discarded, there lies ahead a potential path of collaboration, mutual respect, and shared growth. The lessons from history combined with contemporary realities will determine the trajectory of this crucial international partnership.


The U.S.-Latin American relationship is a tapestry woven with threads of collaboration, conflict, mutual benefits, and misunderstandings. While this relationship has been punctuated with significant challenges, it also holds moments of shared success and mutual admiration. Understanding the full spectrum of this relationship requires a nuanced examination, free from overtly simplistic narratives.

Historically, U.S. interventions and policies in Latin America were often viewed through the lens of its own strategic, economic, and ideological priorities. This has, on numerous occasions, led to actions that were in direct contradiction to the professed American values of democracy, freedom, and human rights. However, it’s equally essential to recognize the instances where the U.S. has worked diligently to promote peace, prosperity, and democracy in the region.

External factors, such as the Cold War dynamics and global economic shifts, have played a significant role in shaping U.S. policies towards Latin America. These global contexts often pressured the U.S. to make decisions that prioritized immediate geopolitical concerns over long-term regional stability and development.

In contemporary times, the relationship between the U.S. and Latin America is evolving, characterized by a recognition of past mistakes and a drive towards more equitable and mutually beneficial partnerships. The rise of other global powers in the region, especially China, the shared challenges of migration, and the imperatives of environmental cooperation, offer both challenges and opportunities for forging a renewed partnership based on mutual respect and shared goals.

As students of history, it is our duty to approach the U.S.-Latin American relationship with a balanced perspective, acknowledging the missteps, appreciating the positive engagements, and advocating for a future where both entities coalesce around shared values and mutual benefits. Only by understanding the past can we hope to shape a brighter, more collaborative future.

To what extent should the United States be proud of its policies towards Latin America?

We have been examining America’s imperialistic actions in the Spanish American War. As you know America has always been concerned with what goes on in the Caribbean, the Monroe Doctrine is but one example of that. Today we will examine several of the United States policies toward Latin America. As you can well imagine they have mostly been dominated by imperialistic sentiments. Here is a good summary of US Latin American policy.
SELECTION ONE: The Monroe Doctrine During the early 19th century, the inhabitants of Spain’s colonies in Latin America revolted and began a series of wars for independence. In 1823, President Monroe was faced with two threats of foreign intervention in the Western Hemisphere. Both threats were organized from several of the great European powers such as Austria, France, Prussia and Russia. To combat such foreign intervention, President Monroe issued the following policy now known as the Monroe Doctrine. It included the following points: 1. The Western Hemisphere was closed to further European colonization. 2. U.S. would not interfere with the existing colonies of Europeans. 3. The U.S. would not interfere in the internal affairs of any Europeans. 4. Any attempt by the European powers to intervene in the Western Hemisphere would be regarded as “dangerous to our (U.S..) peace and safety. SELECTION TWO: U.S. Latin American Relations (1845-1933) 1. Since 1900, U.S. invades Cuba 4 times. It proclaims it has the right to go into Cuba to preserve Cuban independence. The US justified it’s actions because it had inserted the “Platt Amendment” into the the Cuban Constitution after the Spanish American War. 2. President Theodore Roosevelt convinces Great Britain, Germany and Italy not to invade Venezuela in 1902, to collect debts owed to them by the Venezuelan government. Instead they submit the matter for international settlement. This was part of America’s “Dollar Diplomacy.” Essentially Dollar Diplomacy refers to America’s protection of economic interests. 3. 1903–the U.S. provokes Panama to revolt against Colombia, and the U.S. warships blockade Colombia to prevent the country from putting down the revolution. 4. 1904–T. Roosevelt claims the U.S. is the “Policeman of the Western Hemisphere” and can intervene in the affairs of any nation in the hemisphere if it affects the U.S. THIS BECAME KNOWN AS THE ROOSEVELT COROLLARY (ADDITION) TO THE MONROE DOCTRINE. 5. 1905-1933–American Marines maintain order and control over Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They also protect U.S. investments in most of Latin America. This was also part of America’s “Dollar Diplomacy.” SELECTION THREE: Good Neighbor Policy 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt and his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, labored to win Latin American good will by a following policy that included the following objectives: 1. Friendship–respecting the rights of others. Americans hoped to overcome the hostility that many Latin Americans felt toward the U.S. 2. Trade–with the U.S. in the midst of the Great Depression, American hoped to increase trade with Latin American and spur economic recovery. SELECTION FOUR: Results Of The Good Neighbor Policy (1933-1945) 1. 1933–At Montevideo Conference, the U.S. and other American Republics declare, “No state has the right to intervene in the external and internal affairs of another.” 2. 1934–American marines withdraw from Haiti. 3. 1934–U.S. established the Import-Export Bank to grant low interest loans for building and developing Latin American natural resources. 4. 1936–At the Buenos Aires Conference, the American Republics pledge together to consult each other in case of threat to peace in the Americas. 5. 1936–U.S. surrenders the right to intervene in the affairs of Panama. 6. 1938–At the Lima Conference, the American Republics agreed that a threat against any one, is a threat to all. SELECTION FIVE: Alliance for Progress (1961) 1. AID–the Latin American nations agreed to a 10 year $20 billion aid program. 2. Trade–the alliance nations agreed to expand trade and to stabilize prices of Latin America’s products, especially coffee and tin. 3. Reform–improve the conditions for the Latin American masses by social and economic reforms : providing free schools, reducing illiteracy, eradicating malaria, building public housing, giving land to the peasants. 4. Organization of American States (OAS) created to ensure cooperation between the United States and member Latin American nations. Any examination of the policies above should draw you to some very clear conclusions about the relationship of the United States and Latin America.
1. The United States has always acted in its own best interest regardless of the impact upon Latin America. Often this has included conquest, domination and interference. 2. The US has been a bully. 3. Latin American nations have grown to resent US interference. 4. Since the 1960’s the US has mostly tried to repair its relationship with Latin America. (With the exception being Cuba.)