The Monroe Doctrine

Americans love invasions. Trump and his Republicans are on the warpath this week against Venezuela. We’ve heard precious little criticism from either party of Donald Trump’s recognition of “self-declared” president Juan Guaido. Democrats generally remained silent in 2009 when Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, supported a coup in Honduras. And today the “liberal” press still loves US interventions. The New York Times is all but calling for a US coup in Venezuela (“That Mr. Maduro must go has been obvious for some time.”) and the Washington Post ran an editorial by Guaido calling Maduro a “usurper.”

So it was really only a minor, and extremely temporary, aberration in 2013 when Secretary of State John Kerry told the Organization of American States (OAS) that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” As the UPI reported: “Kerry’s declaration of the end of the Monroe Doctrine era was greeted with hesitant applause among the OAS delegates.”

The OAS had every reason to be suspicious.

It may be useful to recall what the Monroe Doctrine really was — just a few sentences in President James Monroe’s 1823 message to Congress:

“We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintain it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

Students are taught that the Monroe Doctrine declared that American interests in the Western Hemisphere consisted mainly of the benevolent protection of smaller countries from aggression by the world’s colonial superpowers — France, England, and Spain. Monroe’s assertion that “we have not interfered and shall not interfere” was as quickly abandoned as it was declared. Scarcely twenty years later the United States invaded Mexico. Monroe’s Doctrine, seen in historical light, was actually a declaration that the US fully intended to get into the superpower business itself.

Since then the Doctrine has been interpreted to mean that the US has every right to interfere in its neighbor’s affairs — and the protection of neighbors has nothing to do with it. As the list below shows, there hasn’t been a decade in which the United States didn’t interfere by invasion or imposition of dictatorships.

And we wonder why we have so many refugees at our southern border.

Still not convinced the US is a malevolent imperialist nation? Stephen Kinzer’s book The True Flag is an account of the moment the United States fully embraced Imperialism and never looked back.

One scholar has documented exactly how we have lived up to Monroe’s promise that “we have not interfered and shall not interfere.” I’ll bet you didn’t learn this in Social Studies class:

Period Location Intervention Comments on U.S. Role
1823     Monroe Doctrine – “shall not interfere”
1846 Mexico War Mexican-American War – US takes a third of Mexico
1890 Argentina Troops Buenos Aires interests protected
1891 Chile Troops Marines clash with nationalist rebels
1891 Haiti Troops Black workers revolt on U.S.-claimed Navassa Island defeated
1894 Nicaragua Troops Month-long occupation of Bluefields
1895 Panama Naval, troops Marines land in Colombian province
1896 Nicaragua Troops Marines land in port of Corinto
1898 Cuba Naval, troops Seized from Spain, U.S. still holds Navy base at Guantanamo
1898 Puerto Rico Naval, troops Seized from Spain, occupation continues
1898 Nicaragua Troops Marines land at port of San Juan del Sur
1899 Nicaragua Troops Marines land at port of Bluefields
1903 Honduras Troops Marines intervene in revolution
1903 Dominican Republic Troops U.S. interests protected in Revolution
1906 Cuba Troops Marines land in democratic election
1907 Nicaragua Troops “Dollar Diplomacy” protectorate set up
1907 Honduras Troops Marines land during war with Nicaragua
1908 Panama Troops Marines intervene in election contest
1910 Nicaragua Troops Marines land in Bluefields and Corinto
1911 Honduras Troops U.S. interests protected in civil war
1912 Cuba Troops U.S. interests protected in Havana
1912 Panama Troops Marines land during heated election
1912 Honduras Troops Marines protect U.S. economic interests
1912 Nicaragua Troops, bombing 20-year occupation, fought guerrillas
1913 Mexico Naval Americans evacuated during revolution
1914 Dominican Republic Naval Fight with rebels over Santo Domingo
1914 Mexico Naval, troops Series of interventions against nationalists
1914 Haiti Troops, bombing 19-year occupation after revolts
1916 Dominican Republic Troops 8-year Marine occupation
1917 Cuba Troops Military occupation, economic protectorate
1918 Panama Troops “Police duty” during unrest after elections
1919 Honduras Troops Marines land during election campaign
1920 Guatemala Troops 2-week intervention against unionists
1921 Costa Rica Troops  
1921 Panama Troops  
1924 Honduras Troops Landed twice during election strife
1925 Panama Troops Marines suppress general strike
1932 El Salvador Naval Warships sent during Faribundo Marti revolt
1947 Uruguay Nuclear threat Bombers deployed as show of strength
1950 Puerto Rico Command operation Independence rebellion crushed in Ponce
1954 Guatemala Command operation, bombing, nuclear threat CIA directs exile invasion and coup d’etat after newly elected government nationalizes unused U.S.’s United Fruit Company lands; bombers based in Nicaragua; long-term result: 200,000 murdered
1958 Panama Troops Flag protests erupt into confrontation
1961 Cuba Command operation CIA-directed exile invasion fails
1962 Cuba Nuclear threat, naval Blockade during missile crisis; near-war with Soviet Union
1964 Panama Troops Panamanians shot for urging canal’s return
1965 Dominican Republic Troops, bombing Marines land during election campaign
1966 Guatemala Command operation Green Berets intervene against rebels
1973 Chile Command operation CIA-backed coup ousts democratically elected Marxist president
1981 El Salvador Command operation, troops Advisors, overflights aid anti-rebel war, soldiers briefly involved in hostage clash; long-term result: 75,000 murdered and destruction of popular movement
1981 Nicaragua Command operation, naval CIA directs exile (Contra) invasions, plants harbor mines against revolution; result: 50,000 murdered
1982 Honduras Troops Maneuvers help build bases near borders
1983 Grenada Troops, bombing Invasion four years after revolution
1987 Bolivia Troops Army assists raids on cocaine region
1989 Panama Troops, bombing Nationalist government ousted by 27,000 soldiers, leaders arrested, 2000+ killed
1994 Haiti Troops, naval Blockade against military government; troops restore President Aristide to office three years after coup
2002 Venezuela Command operation Failed coup attempt to remove left-populist president Hugo Chavez
2004 Haiti Troops Removal of democratically elected President Aristide; troops occupy country
2009 Honduras Command operation Support for coup that removed president Manuel Zelaya
2019 Venezuela Unfolding Support for coup