There is a saying about the U.S.A. amongst Latin America governmental leaders: ‘Beware, brothers, the wolf approaches the lambs.’ This cautionary quote arose directly out of the American declaration and opportunistic interpretations of their most enduring international relations policy statement – the Monroe Doctrine.
In December 1823, President James Monroe, described as not very bright but honest, trustworthy and of a pleasant personality, gave his annual report to the U.S. Congress and declared: “The American continents are henceforth not to be considered for future colonization by any European powers.”
He had two reasons for making this declaration. Firstly, he was responding to a Russian proclamation of territorial sovereignty over north-western North America, roughly present-day Alaska and most of the Pacific Northwest. The Americans bought Alaska and Britain caved in over the southern extension of the Alaska border. Secondly, France and Spain had partnered to expand their colonies in Central and South America to compete with Great Britain and America for mercantile predominance. France and Spain lost.
Within twenty short years, the Americans re-interpreted the Monroe Doctrine in claiming sovereign powers over the whole of the American hemisphere. Under this policy they seized Texas and ‘liberated’ Cuba. Then in the 1890s they unilaterally inserted themselves into a border dispute in South America between Venezuela and British Guiana.
But the most important revision of the Monroe Doctrine came at the turn of the 20th century. President Theodore (Teddy Bear) Roosevelt developed the Roosevelt Corollary wherein the U.S.A. would unilaterally intervene in any dispute between European and Latin American countries over debt payments and would ‘speak softly, and carry a big stick.’ He focused on Central America and the Caribbean, inserting U.S.A. military and colonial style governments starting with Cuba – which lasted until the Castro Revolution of 1959. President Ronald Reagan pursued the same path when he intervened in civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and invaded Grenada – ostensibly to prevent the expansion of Cuban-style governments. President George H. Bush became embroiled in Nicaragua (the Iran-Contra affair). He invaded Panama to remove its president, Manuel Noriega to a U.S. prison on charges of drug trafficking. President Barack Obama involved himself in the internal government affairs and elections in Honduras, Guatemala and Venezuela.
As for Canada, the U.S.A. has gone through waves of annexation urges dating back to the American Revolution in 1776 and perhaps best expressed in 1890 when newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer printed that ‘Canadians have always been looking over their neighbour’s fence – ‘they have been a small-town people giving themselves big-city airs.’
And now we are faced with Donald Trump and NAFTA. Clearly we are a major economic and business partner – the third most predominant after the European Union and China. However, we are absolutely the junior member of the firm.
So as we enter NAFTA negotiations, let us be very mindful of the Monroe Doctrine and what will happen if Donald Trump becomes aware of it and of the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt – a most successful bully. President Trump seems friendly enough when face-to-face with our prime minister, but he has the Teddy Roosevelt mentality – except that he doesn’t speak softly.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.