Is Latin America Still the U.S.’s ‘Backyard’?

Source: Common Dreams

In late spring of 2008, the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations published a reporttitled “U.S.-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality.” Timed to influence the foreign policy agenda of the next U.S. administration, the report asserted: “the era of the U.S. as the dominant influence in Latin America is over.” At the Summit of the Americas in April the following year, President Barack Obama appeared to be on the same page as the report’s authors, promising Latin American leaders a “new era” of “equal partnership” and “mutual respect.” Four years later, Obama’s second secretary of state, John Kerry, went a step further, solemnly declaring before his regional counterparts at the Organization of American States (OAS) that the “era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” The speech—heralding the end of a nearly 200-year-old policy widely seen as a blank check for U.S. intervention in the region—was warmly applauded, and perhaps earned Kerry some forgiveness for having referred to Latin America as the U.S.’s “backyard” a few months earlier.

In its approach to Latin America, President Donald Trump’s administration has struck a decidedly different tone from that of the Obama administration. Soon after moving into the White House, Trump announced he would roll back Obama’s widely praised policies normalizing relations with Cuba. Instead of confirming the demise of the Monroe Doctrine, President Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, declaredthat it “clearly has been a success.” Lest anyone think him unknowledgeable regarding the doctrine’s history, he proudly echoed the sentiments of its original authors (President John Adams and Secretary of State James Monroe) by noting, with regard to China’s growing relations in the region, that “Latin America does not need new imperial powers” and “our region must be diligent to guard against faraway powers…”

Given these and other pronouncements by Trump and his team, it is tempting to consider that the current U.S. administration is intent on derailing a progressive and enlightened Latin America policy initiated under Obama. But closer scrutiny of the policies underway suggests that, for the most part, the Trump administration is pursuing essentially the same political, economic, and security objectives in the region as Obama, albeit at times in a more brazen and aggressive manner. Similarly, it is worth noting that Obama’s Latin America agenda—with the important and late exception of the Cuba opening—didn’t diverge significantly from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

In fact, U.S. administrations have been pursuing roughly the same agenda in Latin America since at least the early 20th century, though the tactics employed have changed significantly over time. The overarching goal remains the same: maintaining U.S. hegemony throughout the region. But, although right-wing, pro-U.S. regional actors have staged a major comeback in recent years, maintaining U.S. strategic control in Latin America may be difficult to sustain in the long term, due in part to the progressive displacement of the U.S. as the hemisphere’s dominant economic player. And Trump’s extreme nationalism may contribute to a reawakening of nationalist and anti-imperialist impulses, as has recently occurred in Mexico.

Continue reading