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A group of US representatives call for an end to the Monroe Doctrine and interventionism in Latin America

Two centuries after the speech that inaugurated the United States’ policy toward the region, five Democratic lawmakers call for an end to the Cuban embargo and the declassification of secret CIA files, as well as reforms to the IMF and the OAS

Nydia Velázquez, en Washington DC
Representative Nydia Velázquez, in Washington.Samuel Corum (Getty Images)

In December 1823, James Monroe, the fifth president of a young republic, delivered a speech that inaugurated U.S. foreign policy by unilaterally placing Latin America and the Caribbean in its sphere of influence. In theory, he preached active opposition to the interference of the European powers in the countries to the South, which were in the process of emancipation. In practice, it marked the beginning of decades of invasions, military interventions and CIA-orchestrated overthrows of legitimate governments. Now, two centuries later, five Democratic representatives have decided that Washington and the continent have had enough of the Monroe Doctrine

New York Representative Nydia M. Velázquez has introduced on Capitol Hill, as EL PAÍS has learned, a resolution demanding that the State Department “formally” terminate the influential international relations framework and instead develop a “‘New Good Neighbor’ policy, designed to foster improved relations and deepen more effective cooperation with all the countries of the hemisphere.”

Augusto Pinochet y Henry Kissinger
Augusto Pinochet (left) greets Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Chile in 1976. Bettmann

According to the text, that would entail putting an end to all unilateral economic sanctions, including the embargo on Cuba; immediately declassifying secret CIA files related to coups d’état and support for dictatorships in the region; approving legislation allowing the automatic suspension of aid to any illegitimate government in the region; supporting “democratic reforms” to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); and working with Latin American and Caribbean governments on “a far-reaching reform” of the Organization of American States (OAS). The resolution accuses the latter multilateral body of remaining “silent and inactive with regard to the many egregious abuses perpetrated by United States-backed right-wing dictatorships during the decades of the Cold War.”

Signed by Ocasio-Cortez

“From drug trafficking to mass migration to climate change, the many shared challenges between the United States and Latin America cannot be addressed by the antiquated Monroe Doctrine. These are some of the most pressing issues of our time, and they call for a process that stresses respect and cooperation,” said Velázquez, who has the support of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (also from New York), Greg Casar (Texas), and Delia Ramirez and Chuy Garcia (both from Illinois).

The five representatives have signed a text that can also be read as a charge against two centuries of U.S. expansionist policy in the region (or the Western Hemisphere, as Washington prefers to call it). It cites, among others, the genocide of Native peoples; the invasion of Texas, Cuba and Puerto Rico; the “Banana Wars” of the early 20th century; the founding of the CIA; the coup against Arbenz in Guatemala; the embargo on Cuba; the overthrow of Allende in Chile and Goulart in Brazil; the U.S.-backed Operation Condor between 1975 and 1980; the death squads in El Salvador; the right-wing paramilitary militias in Nicaragua (known as contras) and the rest of the paramilitary operations in Central America; the drug war launched under Plan Colombia; the maneuvers to oust Chavez and the sanctions against Venezuela; and the IMF’s austerity measures.

Congress is in recess for the Christmas holiday. When it returns in January, the sponsors of the resolution will seek the support of the rest of their party and will try to force a floor vote on the content of the text. That decision is in the hands of the Republican majority, so the success of the initiative is uncertain.

The debate on the legitimacy of the Monroe Doctrine, and its spin-off, the Roosevelt Corollary, which authorized the United States to intervene to secure its interests in the region, is not new. In 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry (in Obama’s time) called an end to its era in a speech to the OAS. Six years later, John Bolton, National Security Advisor under Trump, proclaimed “with pride” that the doctrine was “alive and kicking.”

In 2022, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders addressed President Joe Biden on Capitol Hill with these words: “Vladimir Putin may be a liar and a demagogue. But it is hypocritical for the United States to insist that we, as a nation, do not accept the principle of spheres of influence. For the last 200 years our country has operated under the Monroe Doctrine, embracing the principle that is the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere. The United States has the right according to the United States to intervene against any country that might threaten our legitimate interests. That’s United States policy. And on this doctrine, the United States has undermined and overthrown at least a dozen countries throughout Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean.”

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