Theodore Roosevelt's Latin American Policy
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Primarily his own Secretary of State during his first term. He was
US foreign policy. He was a strong, dynamic man. Had a profound effect upon the US
position and image in world. Controversial. Could be bellicose, use invective, rattle
saber, etc. Apparently recognized that US involved in the larger world situation and
withdrawal would be contrary to national honor and not in accord with strategic needs.
Seemed willing to abandon isolationism. Might make alliances. Believed that power was an
essential, unavoidable element in world affairs. Saw the world as analogous to a jungle or
a frontier community, every nation a law unto itself. He was a moralist throughout life;
his morality seemed to coincide with what was good for US. Saw world as always verging on
anarchy. World affairs were such that US was required to participate. Roosevelt's ideas
were somewhat idealistic. Ardent nationalism. Liked robust, violent way of life.
Seemed to be well-liked. Caught public imagination. Impetuous.
Well-qualified to lead US in world affairs; seemed to reflect US character. Upset that
Americans could not recognize, realize, the place of US in world affairs.
Somewhat a realist in foreign affairs. He believed that power was an
important and unavoidable thing in foreign affairs. Realized isolationism impossible. Also
had idealistic, romantic side in foreign relations. Both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow
Wilson were idealistic In some respects, TR did believe in Anglo-Saxon superiority. Ideals
and morals did influence some of TR's foreign affairs. He got US involved some European
affairs, primarily because of economics and economic involvement.
What is the interest of the US in other nations of this hemisphere?
(a) strategic (b) economic because it was a traditional raw material producing area and a
natural market for industrial goods. More specific interests included an (a) interest in
and concern for isthmian canal, (b) existence of European nations in hemisphere, and (c)
expanding industrial markets.
Basic Problems, Factors, Obstacles, and Issues in the Hemisphere
a. US is and was in latter the 19th century a large and powerful nation in
the hemisphere which was interested in the idea of closeness to Latin America. This
produced a certain amount of dissatisfaction on part of Latin America which feared
economic and military domination by the US.
b. US feels that it has a security concern in hemisphere. Implied limitation on
sovereignty on Latin American nations and Canada.
c. Economic. US was powerful; Latin America was underdeveloped. US businessmen have
looked to Latin America for possible markets, exploitation. The US faced economic
competition in the region, especially from Canada and Argentina.
Effects? Diplomacy with these nations have been extremely sensitive.
US has tended to be insensitive to the feelings, pride of LA nations; US has tended to be
Theodore Roosevelt's Policy in Latin America
1. Acquire an isthmian canal for military, strategic, and commercial reasons.
2. Strategic: (a) no European outposts, (b) shift in world balance of power with the
rise of Germany. Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 (c) growing fear of Germany by the US.
3. Missionary ideal and humanitarianism.
Hay-Pauncefote of 1901 abolished the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850,
giving the US to build a canal by itself. There were two possible routes but some question
as to which was most desirable, feasible. Why did Roosevelt choose Panama? Perhaps because
of the prior French work which the US could use. Bunau-Varilla was influential. Rejection
of treaty by Colombian Senate angered TR. Theodore Roosevelt stayed with Panama route and
fomented a revolution in Panama with the help of Bunau-Varilla. The US fleet was present
with orders not to allow troops of either side to land. Americans denied Colombians the
use of railroad in its province of Panama. The revolt began on November 3, 1903; Roosevelt
recognized Panamanian independence on November 11th. The US proceeded to
negotiate the Hay-Herrán Treaty of 1903; it called for the lease of a 10 mile strip
across the isthmus for 100 years, gave the US imminent domain in perpetuity over Canal
Zone. The US paid $10 million as an indemnity plus $250 thousand in annual rent. Years
later statements made him and US look bad. He claimed that the US had taken the canal. The
US could have built the Nicaragua canal or could have waited the few years until the
French Company's commission expired.
The US created a series of protectorates. Cuba had many stipulations
on its independence which made it a protectorate. Panama became a protectorate. In the
Venezuela Blockade of 1902-03, Venezuela had reneged on her debts. Britain and Germany
might have occupied Venezuela. Theodore Roosevelt at first thought European nations should
be allowed to "spank" delinquent nations in the hemisphere. The Hague Court
decision seemed to imply that use of force was permissible to collect debts from
delinquent nations. With the Dominican Republic debt crisis, the issue became critical.
The US took over the customs houses, establishing a "customs receivership." The
basic reason for this protectorate was the perceived need for security in the Caribbean;
defaulted might be the occasion for establishment of European bases in the hemisphere.
Roosevelt, in what became known as the Roosevelt Corollary, argued that
chronic or instability in Hemispheric nations would be dealt with by the US. He said the
Monroe Doctrine was for the benefit of all hemispheric nations and all nations should act
so as to uphold the Monroe Doctrine.
The direction of US policy was dominance, hegemony, over Caribbean
affairs, in particular, and Latin American affairs, in general.
Motives for the Change in Foreign Policy
1. strategic seems to be the primary motivation
4. economic: expand trade, keep other nations out of the Hemisphere in terms of
He achieved the immediate goals of the US but left a legacy of
problems ever since. Achieved immediate strategic goals but results were not best in terms
of strategic needs.
Couldn't the US have used an OAS-type approach? Yes, the US could have
at least tried. Why didn't US? Theodore Roosevelt was a bellicose man; he wanted the US to
dominate. Lack of maturity of the US (in being hasty, for example). US belief in its
William Howard Taft was the choice of Theodore Roosevelt as his
successor. Taft liked to eat, sleep, and play bridge. Taft's highest goal in life was to
be Chief Justice; his wife wanted him to be President. He shared many of Theodore
Roosevelt's views. He, too, believed that the US was irrevocably involved in world
affairs. He did not have the liking for the violent life as Theodore Roosevelt had. He
mistrusted the use of power; he loved the law. He was not pleased with the use of force or
power and wanted to use peaceful means to settle disputes. Taft was more
business-oriented. He liked stability and order. An Ohio conservative, he mistrusted
change. He relied heavily upon businessmen for advice and succor.
Taft used "Dollar Diplomacy," the use of dollars instead of
bullets. He wanted control and to aid businessmen in the US. He used power diplomacy but
he favored economic means not military. He saw his policy as humanitarian, for
stabilization improved the living scale and conditions. Dollar diplomacy was an extension
of the Roosevelt Corollary in the sense that he tried to eliminate European economic
How did Dollar Diplomacy work out for the US? In Nicaragua in 1912, the
government would default on its debts, which might mean European intervention. The US
offered to loan money (by private men) if the US could have some supervision over
Nicaraguan finances. Eventually, the Nicaraguans would not behave as the US desired so the
US established a US military dictatorship over the country. Haiti became a US military
dictatorship in 1915. The US tried battleship diplomacy. The idea was to get Latin
American nations to buy battleships from the US. This would yield profits for Americans
and the purchasers could use the ships to protect hemisphere. Argentina bought, but later
decided to sell ships to a third party. US afraid her naval secrets would be discovered.
US pressured Argentina. The Canadian Reciprocity Treaty of 1911 lowered tariffs but
Westerners didn't like this lowering tariffs.
Dollar Diplomacy tended to achieve much the same goals as Theodore
Roosevelt's policy but attempted to do these things without the repercussions of
Roosevelt's policy. Nevertheless, it probably had the same repercussions as Theodore
Roosevelt 's policy. Latin Americans did not like it.