IB History of the Americas/Chapter 9

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This article serves as a chapter outline for U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America during 1898-1945


Background of U.S. foreign policy[edit]

In 1898 the U.S. won the Spanish-American War and acquired the Philippines and Guam. This made the U.S. become a global power and removed Spain’s presence from Latin America. In 1904 the Roosevelt Corollary replaced the Monroe Doctrine, the corollary allowed the U.S. to intervene to stabilize weak nations in Latin America. The corollary weakened European influence and allowed the U.S. to have a regional hegemony in Latin America. Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” policy was used to police the region and make the U.S. an international police force. Dollar Diplomacy was then used to keep control using the U.S.’s economic power. Thus, the US foreign policy towards Latin America assumed a paternalistic attitude through its intervention in Latin American affairs.

Monroe Doctrine[edit]

The Monroe Doctrine was created by the U.S. in 1823 to assert its sphere of influence in the Americas. This was motivated by a fear that the major European powers would attempt to reassert their dominance over their former colonies, which would threaten the US's regional sovereignty. The doctrine declared that the region of Latin America was no longer open for European colonization, and that any attempt to place European control or influence on the region would be seen as a threat to the region’s peace and safety.

Roosevelt Corollary[edit]

The corollary was considered to be an amendment to the Monroe Doctrine. President Roosevelt added the right of the U.S. to be able to intervene to stabilize economic affairs of nations in Latin America that could not pay back their international debts. The Roosevelt Corollary was used to justify U.S. interventions in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Roosevelt Corollary was also referred to as “Big Stick” Diplomacy. While originally set to intervene only on economic bases, “Big Stick” Diplomacy characterized U.S. foreign policy as being able to intervene in domestic affairs of nations if they were unable to maintain order and national sovereignty. “Big Stick” diplomacy was used for the creation of Panama in 1903, when Colombia rejected Roosevelt’s proposal to make the Panama Canal, in the Dominican Republic when debt crises invited European intervention, and in Cuba, when in 1906 American forces kept control for 28 months. “Big Stick” Diplomacy was used to justify the U.S.’s role as an international police force.

Clark Memorandum[edit]

Stated that the U.S. did not need to use the Monroe Doctrine as a defense for its intervention in Latin America. This was because the U.S. has a self-evident right to self-defense, and that its interventions in Latin America were in the interests of defense. As such, it essentially stated that no documents or policies were necessary for U.S. intervention in Latin America, that such actions were self-justifying.



Spanish-American War The war began in April 1898 and ended in August of the same year. The U.S. had demanded that the Spanish government give Cuba its independence, and Spain had rejected the request. Riots in Havana served as a reason for the U.S. to intervene in Cuba. The U.S. sent the warship USS Maine to show its interest in Cuba’s independence. The warship USS Maine had suffered an explosion and “yellow journalism” was successful in telling the U.S. public that the Spanish were responsible for the explosion, thus agitating the American public. The U.S. intervened in a full naval war and had won after decisive naval victories in Cuba and the Philippines. The Treaty of Paris was signed and the conflict ended the U.S. won ownership of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines.


Dollar Diplomacy Is used to characterize the U.S.’s attempt to use its economic power in its foreign policy, it was used especially under President Taft. The U.S. guaranteed loans to foreign countries to win regional power. In 1909, Taft attempted to take control of Honduras by buying over its debt to the British bankers. When a revolt erupted in Nicaragua in 1912, the U.S. sided with the insurgents (who had been supportive of U.S. mining interests) and send U.S. troops to take control of customs houses. The U.S. took control of the nation made U.S. bankers offer loans to the new regime thus increasing the U.S.’s financial leverage on the nation. There were also revolutions in Honduras and Haiti. The U.S. bankers injected dollars into the countries to keep out foreign funds. The U.S. was not going to let any European power intervene. U.S. banks refinanced Haiti’s national debt allowing further intervention by the U.S.

Good Neighbor Policy The policy was advocated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The U.S. wanted to have good relations with its neighbors at a time when conflicts were beginning to rise. The aim of the policy was to gain support from the Latin American nations. Using this policy the U.S. shifted to other ways of maintaining influence in Latin America: Pan-Americanism, support for strong local leaders, training of national guards, economic and cultural influence, export-import bank loans, financial help and political treason. FDR announced that “the definite policy of the U.S. from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.”

Intervention in Panama In 1903 the Colombian government, which controlled Panama, rejected the U.S.’s proposal for the control of the Panama Canal by the U.S. The U.S. was not willing to change the proposal it was offering to the Colombian government. The U.S. started to encourage a group of Panamanian land-holding families to demand Panama’s independence. The U.S. sent the USS Nashville to protect Panama from any hostility from Bogota. Panama eventually gained independence. The Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty was signed between the Panamanian party and U.S. and allowed the construction of a canal and U.S. sovereignty over a strip of land surrounding the canal.

Intervention in Cuba The U.S. kept control in Cuba using the Platt Amendment. The Platt Amendment said that the U.S. could exercise the right to intervene in Cuban political, economic and military affairs if necessary. The Platt Amendment had to be adopted by the Cubans if they wanted U.S. troops to leave the island after the Spanish-American War. This was resented by the majority of Cubans. According to the amendment the U.S. also had control of Guantanamo Bay, where a U.S. naval station had been set up. By 1926 U.S. companies owned 60% of the Cuban sugar industry and imported 95% of Cuban crops. The U.S. was supportive of most governments as they protected U.S. interests. In 1933 there was an internal conflict between Gerardo Machado’s government and Cuban rebels overthrew the government and took over. FDR sent in 29 warships to Cuba and prepared to attack. The rebels nullified the Platt amendment and in protest the U.S. denied the new government. The rebels were once again overthrown and General Batista took over in the 30s. Batista’s government had better relations with the U.S., the Batista regime allowed for there to be a complete domination of the Cuban economy by the U.S.

Intervention in Nicaragua In 1909 the U.S. gave political support to the conservative-led forces that were rebelling against President Zelaya. The U.S. had differences with Zelaya regarding the proposed Canal and Zelaya’s attempts to regulate foreign access to Nicaraguan natural resources. U.S. warships were sent after 500 revolutionaries, two of which were American, were killed by Zelaya. The U.S. intervened and justified it by saying that they had to protect American lives and property. Zelaya resigned and the U.S. controlled Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933.