The Monroe Doctrine Is Thriving and Must Be Undone


By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, January 22, 2023

David Swanson is the author of the new book The Monroe Doctrine at 200 and What to Replace It With.

A poorly maintained tradition begun with the Monroe Doctrine was that of supporting Latin American democracies. This was the popular tradition that sprinkled the U.S. landscape with monuments to Simón Bolívar, a man once treated in the United States as a revolutionary hero on the model of George Washington despite widespread prejudices toward foreigners and Catholics. That this tradition has been poorly maintained puts it mildly. There has been no greater opponent of Latin American democracy than the U.S. government, with aligned U.S. corporations and the conquistadors known as filibusterers. There is also no greater armer or supporter of oppressive governments around the world today than the U.S. government and U.S. weapons dealers. A huge factor in producing this state of affairs has been the Monroe Doctrine. While the tradition of respectfully supporting and celebrating steps toward democracy in Latin America has never died out entirely in North America, it has often involved firmly opposing the actions of the U.S. government. Latin America, once colonized by Europe, was recolonized in a different sort of empire by the United States.

In 2019, President Donald Trump declared the Monroe Doctrine alive and well, asserting “It has been the formal policy of our country since President Monroe that we reject the interference of foreign nations in this hemisphere.” While Trump was president, two secretaries of state, one secretary of so-called defense, and one national security advisor spoke publicly in support of the Monroe Doctrine. National Security Advisor John Bolton said that the United States could intervene in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua because they were in the Western Hemisphere: “In this administration, we are not afraid to use the phrase Monroe Doctrine.” Remarkably, CNN had asked Bolton about the hypocrisy of supporting dictators around the world and then seeking to overthrow a government because it was allegedly a dictatorship. On July 14, 2021, Fox News argued for reviving the Monroe Doctrine in order to “bring freedom to the Cuban people” by overthrowing the government of Cuba without Russia or China being able to offer Cuba any aid.

Spanish references in recent news to the “Doctrina Monroe” are universally negative, opposing U.S. imposition of corporate trade agreements, U.S. attempts to exclude certain nations from a Summit of the Americas, and U.S. support for coup attempts, while supporting a possible decline in U.S. hegemony over Latin America, and celebrating, in contrast to the Monroe Doctrine, the “doctrina bolivariana.”

The Portuguese phrase “Doutrina Monroe” is in frequent use as well, to judge by Google news articles. A representative headline is: “‘Doutrina Monroe’, Basta!”

But the case that the Monroe Doctrine is not dead extends far beyond explicit use of its name. In 2020, Bolivian President Evo Morales claimed that the United States had organized a coup attempt in Bolivia so that U.S. oligarch Elon Musk could obtain lithium. Musk promptly tweeted: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” That’s the Monroe Doctrine translated into contemporary language, like the New International Bible of U.S. policy, written by the gods of history but translated by Elon Musk for the modern reader.

The U.S. has troops and bases in several Latin American nations and ringing the globe. The U.S. government still pursues coups in Latin America, but also stands by while leftist governments are elected. However, it has been argued that the U.S. does not any longer need presidents in Latin American nations to achieve its “interests” when it has coopted and armed and trained elites, has corporate trade agreements like CAFTA (The Central American Free Trade Agreement) in place, has given U.S. corporations the legal power to create their own laws in their own territories within nations like Honduras, has massive debts owed to its institutions, provides desperately needed aid with its choice of strings attached, and has had troops in place with justifications like the drug trade for so long that they are sometimes accepted as simply inevitable. All of this is the Monroe Doctrine, whether we stop saying those two words or not.

David Swanson is the author of the new book The Monroe Doctrine at 200 and What to Replace It With.

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