18 April 2012

The Monroe Doctrine is dead

A new age has dawned in the Americas. The Monroe Doctrine, a policy established by the United States ostensibly to keep European imperialists out of the Western Hemisphere but which eventually deteriorated into an instrument to maintain American dominance, is now effectively deceased. At the recent Summit of the Americas, the Latin nations couldn't have made it clearer that they intend to be treated as equals. On two key issues—Cuba and drugs—the United States was effectively isolated, except of course for Canada. The Americans insist on pursuing the drug war and precluding Cuba from summit meetings in the face of solid opposition from the other OAS members.

Particularly interesting was the prominent position played by Colombia, host of the summit, in emphasizing the two issues. It has been the Americans' chief supporter in Latin America in recent years, including on the drugs portfolio. When Colombia challenges the United States, something important is happening.

A number of developments have contributed to the American decline in commercial and political influence in the region: the rise of regional powers such as Brazil and Mexico, gains made by China as a leading trade partner, the successes of the South American left, and the rejection of the free trade agreement proposed by the U.S. in favour of agreements more suitable to the economic and social interests of the Latin nations.

At the last summit, President Obama spoke of "equal partnerships" and "a new chapter of engagement" with the region's countries. He promised the U.S. would "take aggressive action to reduce our demand for drugs, and to stop the flow of guns and bulk cash across our borders." Yet little has changed in American policy or practice. They continue to pursue an aggressive "free trade" agenda; they have escalated militarization in the "war on drugs"; and they persist with cold war policies of containing left-wing governments.

If the United States wants to maintain a credible role in the hemisphere, never mind a leadership role, it will have to be more accommodating to the views of the Latin nations. It might also offer its Secret Service agents a quick course on how to deal tactfully with booze and hookers when on international missions. And President Obama might say ten times before breakfast—it's the Malvinas, not the Maldives.

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