Obama Should Shelve Monroe Doctrine on its 185th Anniversary

by Teo Ballvé

The Progressive, Op-Ed, Dec 03, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama should rescind the Monroe Doctrine, which is 185 years old this week.

In just three short paragraphs buried deep into his State of the Union speech on Dec. 2, 1823, President James Monroe proclaimed one of the most enduring tenets of U.S. foreign policy.

He warned Europe that Washington would not tolerate any interventions from outside powers in the affairs of Latin America's newly independent states. But it turned out to be far from a selfless declaration of solidarity.

The U.S. government has invoked the doctrine as a justification for imposing its will on its neighbors to the south. Foreign intervention in Latin America remained acceptable for the United States, as long as it was the one doing the intervening. And it did so dozens of times — at great cost to democracy and human life.

Monroe's speech planted the seed of the notion that Latin America is the "backyard" of the United States — a label resented throughout the region.

At his press conference on Dec. 1 announcing his national security team, Obama stressed how he would conduct a “bipartisan” foreign policy.

But for Latin America, that policy has consistently meant one thing: overbearing meddling from Washington.

Obama would do well to depart from this bipartisan consensus and truly chart a new course for change, one that respects the independence of Latin American countries and one that is in keeping with the values that he espouses.

In any event, Latin America is leaving Washington behind.

On the economic front, China has emerged as a major trading partner. Latin American trade with the Asian giant has grown explosively, from $13 billion in 2000 to $100 billion last year.

Trade with the emerging economies of India and Russia is also growing steadily; trade with each is expected to reach a record $15 billion. And the European Union is Latin America's largest source of foreign investment.

The diversification of Latin America's economic portfolio not only makes good economic sense, but it also gives countries greater political breathing room.

For similar reasons, some countries in the region have reoriented their arms purchases. Venezuela has purchased more than $4 billion in jets, helicopters and rifles from Russia. Several other governments in the region — the world's third-largest arms market — followed suit.

Brazil, a rising power on the global stage, is planning a massive overhaul of its military worth billions of dollars in the coming years. Instead of relying on the Pentagon and U.S. defense contractors, Brazil is turning to Russia and France to refurbish its military.

On the diplomatic front, Latin American countries have resolved their own conflicts, without the polarizing presence of the United States. For instance, earlier this year, a regional summit quickly defused an escalating conflict between Ecuador and Colombia.

The Monroe Doctrine is obsolete. Latin American leaders understand that. Obama should understand it, as well.

This is one bipartisan foreign policy that deserves to be shelved.

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