For over a century, the United States has intervened in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the early 1900’s Theodore Roosevelt began to grow concerned about debt between Latin American countries and their creditors in Europe. He feared these debts would spark an invasion by European powers. In what is known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of December 1904, Roosevelt stated that the United States would intervene to ensure that nations in the Western Hemisphere fulfilled their commitments to their European creditors.
Roosevelt also declared that “foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations” would not be welcomed, adding that the United States may “exercise international police power in ‘flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence.’” It wouldn’t be long before this declaration would have less to do with Europe and more to do with serving as justification for interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1914, United States corporations would own more than one million acres of the best land in Honduras as a reward for backing a coup of President Miguel Dávila by deposed President Manuel Bonilla and United States General Lee Christmas. In addition to land, corporate interests would also receive concessions that granted rights to natural resources and generous tax incentives. The success of these corporations and their investors would be insured by the United States military. Insurance that would allow these corporations to grow and be known as the Dole Food Company and Chiquita Brands International, respectively.
In 1920, the United States sent armed forces into Guatemala to ensure the new president would remain friendly to U.S. corporate interests after the coup of President Manuel Estrada Cabrera, an ally of U.S. corporations who granted many concessions to the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International). By 1947, the United Fruit Company would lobby the United States government for intervention in response to newly-enacted laws that gave Guatemalan workers the right to unionize creating civil unrest among workers who began demanding pay raises.
In 1932, the United States and Great Britain sent naval support to El Salvador to quell a peasant rebellion after as many as 40,000 rebels, many indigenous, were slaughtered by the regime of the military leader and acting President Maximiliano Martínez. The mission of the support was to protect the country’s economy and the majority ownership interests of the United States and Great Britain over the nation’s railways, coffee plantations, and exports.
Interventions that began over a century ago, continue today.
We don’t have to look back to the early twentieth century to see how much the United States impacts Central and South America. Some of the most blatant interventions creating lasting damage began under the Reagan administration in the 1980s and continued with every subsequent administration since then. Some of the most egregious violations of the sovereignty of Latin American countries in the last century have occurred in this era.
From threatening to withhold promised economic aid over the passage of policies that allowed for the preference of locally sourced agriculture to forced tariff reduction models in existing trade agreements for industrial and commercial goods, Latin American countries face impossible conditions for domestic industries and agriculture to compete over United States imports stunting economic growth. The most recent economic data shows El Salvador with a negative trade balance of over $4 billion.
“The United States appears to be destined by providence to plague America with misery, in the name of freedom.” — Simón Bolívar (1783–1830)
The colonialist attitude and empire building mentality that drives U.S. policy in Latin America is what has created economic crises that have been fertile ground for gang violence, organized crime, and unfettered drug cartel activity through extortion, bribes, and blackmail. Citizens and elected officials alike face civil war type conditions at the hands of the oppressive policies of the United States and the enforcement of those policies using the presence of the U.S. military as an intimidation tactic.
With bases all over Central and South America, including the Caribbean, the United States continues Roosevelt’s policies of the early twentieth century; using military presence as a potential threat should any country balk at the idea of giving in to U.S. corporate interests. While the United States boasts about free market capitalism, the U.S. also plunders through Latin America’s resources, commands their industries, and controls labor costs using the presence of military forces.
The United States’ dependence on the resources of Latin America and the Caribbean is so great that billions of taxpayer dollars have been devoted over the last century to ensure that U.S. corporate interests maintain access to those economic resources. The United States leaves little room for domestic growth in Latin America thus creating a dangerous economic environment strife with corruption and violence.
The United States military’s presence in Latin America is a vast network that covers the region like a spider web. The presence of the military is a forceful reminder that is ever-present. It’s an imposition by the United States to protect U.S. corporate interests in the region.
In February of 2018, commander of the Southern Command, Admiral Kurt Tidd, told Congress about the scenarios foreseen on the continent, objectives, means, and strategies as outlined in the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the 2017–2018 National Security Strategy. He acknowledged that there is no other part of the world that affects daily life in the United States than Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
In March of 2018, the United States Southern Command released information on its strategy for the region over the next 10 years, the principal dangers and threats identified, and plans to confront them. At the top of the list of concerns was the increased presence of China, Russia, and Iran in Latin America. The economic security of U.S. corporate interests in Latin America is being threatened by foreign economic investment for the first time in over a century.
“The beauty of having a Colombia, they’re such good partners, particularly in the military realm. When we ask them to go somewhere else and train the Mexicans, the Hondurans, the Guatemalans, the Panamanians, they will do it almost without asking. And they’ll do it on their own. That’s why it’s important for them to go because I’m, at least on the military side, restricted from working with some of these countries because of limitations that are, that are really based on past sins. And I’ll let it go at that.” — General John Kelly testifying before the U.S. Congress on April 29, 2014.
The planned U.S. response to any contingency includes defense of the Panama Canal; immigration control; humanitarian assistance and disaster response; plus unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral military operations, carried out in the event of any crisis. Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil have all increased military spending significantly in 2018 while granting the United States military access to existing infrastructure. The U.S. is also building bases in Peru, Chile, and Argentina and increasing troop presence Venezuela and Colombia.
The current geopolitics of the entire region is in flux. As sovereign Latin American countries build up their military defenses, the United States is spending, even more, to increase its footprint in an attempt to maintain a superior military presence in the region.
The United States protecting corporate interests comes at the expense of crippling economic growth, creating massive poverty, and stifling social advancement in Latin America. The U.S. is creating the conditions that force people to leave their homelands. To migrate North. To the country that has always been involved in the growth, or lack thereof, of their nations. To leave their beloved homelands to embark on a treacherous journey in search of hope, freedom, safety, and security.
To speak poorly of any migrants is to ignore the reason why they are making the trek in the first place. We certainly can’t have a conversation about immigration reform without discussing the damage the United States has done in Latin American and Caribbean nations over the last century. Regardless of what you think or which position you take, this is an issue that can not be ignored. It must be part of the conversation.
For the record, a few thousand migrants walking thousands of miles once or twice a year isn’t a mass migration or an invasion. Cut that shit out, you sound like an idiot. We’re the reason they’re coming to the United States, the least we can do is let them in. Don’t complain about migrants coming to the border until you’re ready to call out the actions and policy decisions of the United States government in Latin America that created the conditions migrants are running from.
Silence is complicity.
Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904
Monroe Doctrine, 1823
Notorious Salvadoran Battalion Is Disbanded
El Salvador – Trade Agreements
How US policy in Honduras set the stage for today’s migration
For more articles from the The Truth About Immigration series, click here.
Arturo Tha Cuban is a front-line anti-racism activist, essayist and upcoming author who advocates for equality, justice and accountability. He tweets from @ExtremeArturo.