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The End of the Monroe Doctrine

monroe_doctrine011208.jpgWhen U.S. President James Monroe signed into law a doctrine outlining the new rules preventing European powers from colonizing and/or otherwise interfering in the political events of Latin America in 1823, the vague concept of spheres of influence was finally given true form:  Any interference in the Western hemisphere by outside powers, declared Monroe during the speech, would be interpreted as a direct threat to the United States.  Over the years, the Monroe Doctrine became the much disputed de facto declaration of U.S influence and empire over Latin America, though in the beginning Simon Bolivar thought it was an enormously positive development to give these young nation states their best shot at political sovereignty.

However, even to the casual observer, over the years the Monroe Doctrine has become rather meaningless – both to the weakening of U.S. predominance in global affairs, as well as to the rise of new (and not so new) powers like China and the European Union. 

But probably the biggest contributing factor was a distinct lack of intereston behalf of the United States of being involved in Latin America.  Ifduring the Reagan administrations we discovered the horrible burden forLatin America to be at the top of the agenda, during the Bush years wehave learned that it’s no picnic to be ignored either.

Though these trends were long underway beforehand, Russia’s recent incursion into Latin America,including a close military relationship with Venezuela, is seen as manyas the final nail into the coffin of the Monroe Doctrine (as well asthe birth of Russia’s own “Monroe-ski Doctrine“).

A thoughtful new article by the Argentine foreign policy academic Juan Gabriel Tokatliandebates some of these points about the disappearance of the MonroeDoctrine, and what it means for the future of the Western Hemisphere.

Thus, both the political and diplomatic landscapes across LatinAmerica have been changing rapidly, which has placed the U.S. on thedefensive. It is not just that several countries have seen center-leftand radical parties come to power; US leadership and interests areroutinely questioned, and even challenged, not only by Communist Cubaand “Bolivarian” Venezuela, but almost everywhere in the region.

For example, Ecuador, despite its “dollarized” economy anddependence on oil exports to the U.S., is now curtailing the U.S.military’s use of its Manta Base. Nicaragua was the first country inthe Western Hemisphere to recognize the independence of Abkhazia andSouth Ossetia following last summer’s Russian invasion of Georgia. AndPresident Manuel Zelaya of Honduras has called for the legalization ofdrug consumption as a means to end the violence related to itsproduction and trafficking.

Even longtime friends have taken to poking Uncle Sam in the eye.President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay (the first non-Colorado party headof state in six decades) named Alejandro Hamed Franco to the ForeignMinistry. Of Syrian descent, Hamed Franco is an active supporter ofPalestine who has been watched by U.S. security agencies because of hisalleged links to Islamist groups.

All of Latin America and the Caribbean are demanding an end to theU.S. embargo of Cuba and are enthusiastic about that country’s returnto the Organization of American States. (…)

Latin America should seize this moment of diplomatic strength to starta new dialogue with the U.S. aimed at renegotiating the terms of therelationship. The first step must be recognition that the MonroeDoctrine is dead and cannot be revived. Accepting this will be the mostencouraging sign that President-elect Barack Obama’s new administrationcan give to the region.