4/2/13 - monroe, roosevelt and latin america

In today's selection -- from the Mexican American War of 1846 (which gained vast new territories for the U.S., including all of present-day California, Nevada and Utah, most of Arizona, and western portions of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming), to President Wilson's intervention in the Mexican Revolution in 1914, to the CIA's overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, interventions by the United States into Latin America have been frequent and turbulent. This posture was first formalized in the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, then expanded under Theodore Roosevelt in his "Roosevelt Corollary" in 1904. This was on the minds of South Americans when Roosevelt visited that continent in 1912:

"As president, [Theodore] Roosevelt had provoked more controversy in South America than in any other region of the world, and although four years had passed since he had left the White House, South Americans had not forgotten his policies or his unapologetic imperialism.

"Roosevelt was an avid proponent of the Monroe Doctrine, and he had even attached his own imperialistic twist to it. Enunciated by President James Monroe in 1823, the doctrine sent a clear message to any European powers with colonial ambitions in South America that the United States would not stand idly by and allow the oppression, control, or colonization of any country in its hemisphere. On the contrary, such an act would, by definition, be considered hostile to the United States. The doctrine was put to the test in 1904, when Germany threatened to use military force against the Dominican Republic in an effort to collect unpaid debts. The small Latin American country turned to Roosevelt, who was then in the last year of his first term in the White House, for protection. In response, the president not only upheld the doctrine but added to it, creating what became known as the Roosevelt Corollary.

"Whereas the Monroe Doctrine barred Europe from intervening in the affairs of any country in the Western Hemisphere, the Roosevelt Corollary asserted America's right to intervene whenever it felt compelled. 'If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States,' Roosevelt declared as he defined his corollary to Congress on December 6, 1904. 'Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society ... may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.' Roosevelt went on to add that the colossus to the north would intervene 'only in the last resort,' but that did little to reassure South Americans, or temper their outrage.

"Nearly a decade later, South America still bristled at the inherent condescension and implied threat of the doctrine and its corollary. A few weeks before his departure [to South America]; Roosevelt had received a letter from former New York Congressman Lemuel Quigg -- a longtime supporter of Roosevelt's who had traveled through much of South America as a journalist -- warning him that, if he planned to talk about the Monroe Doctrine on his trip, he could expect the political equivalent of being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of the continent on a rail.

"The controversy surrounding the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine had become even more acute in the months preceding Roosevelt's departure for South America, because the corollary was about to be tested. As Roosevelt prepared to set sail, Mexico was, as he had written to Kermit, 'bubbling like a frying-pan,' and Woodrow Wilson faced the unwelcome possibility of being forced to put Roosevelt's theory into action. The Mexican Revolution had been raging since 1910 and had already brought about the forced resignation and exile of one of the country's presidents and the imprisonment and assassination of another. The United States government was concerned about the revolution not only because Mexico was its closest neighbor to the south, or even because thousands of American expatriates were living there at the time, but because Americans had invested millions of dollars in the country. If the revolution continued to spin out of control, Wilson could decide at any moment to intervene -- a step that South Americans expected, and bitterly resented."



Candice Millard


The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey


Broadway Books a division of Random House


Copyright 2005 by Candice Millard


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