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Puerto Rico and the Monroe Doctrine

Late last year, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) introduced a resolution calling for Congress to repudiate the Monroe Doctrine, a political philosophy that has been used to justify American intervention in Latin American affairs throughout history. The bill’s release corresponded with the 200th anniversary of the introduction of the Monroe Doctrine in a speech by then-President James Monroe.

The Velazquez resolution(HR943) calls for the annulment of the Monroe Doctrine and the development of a “New Good Neighbor” policy “in order to foster improved relations and deeper, more effective cooperation between the United States and our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors.”

Velazquez’s website lists 8 components of this resolution:

  1. Formally confirming that the Monroe Doctrine is no longer a part of United States policy toward Latin American and the Caribbean.
  2. Announcing a ‘‘New Good Neighbor’’ policy in place of the Monroe Doctrine.
  3. Developing a new approach to promoting economic development.
  4. Terminating all unilateral economic sanctions imposed through Executive orders, and working with Congress to terminate all unilateral sanctions, such as the Cuba embargo, mandated by law.
  5. Introducing new legislation to trigger the suspension of assistance to a government whenever there is an extraconstitutional transfer of power.
  6. Declassifying of all United States Government archives that relate to past coups d’états, dictatorships, and periods in the history of Latin American and Caribbean countries characterized by a high rate of human rights crimes perpetrated by security forces.
  7. Collaborating with Latin American and Caribbean governments on a far-reaching reform of the Organization of American States.
  8. Supporting democratic reforms to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and other international financial institutions.

Read the full text of the resolution.

What was the Monroe Doctrine?

In a speech in 1823, President Monroe demanded that European nations stop creating colonies in the Americas. At the same time, he expressed his intention to stay neutral regarding the existing European colonies in the New World. 

“[W]e 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.”

“The American continents,” he announced, “are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”

The Monroe Doctrine, as stated by President Monroe, called for a limit to European advancement as colonial powers in the Americas and promised neutrality on the part of the United States in European conflicts. In 1823, it did not suggest that the United States should be in charge of the Americas or that U.S. interests in Latin America should be supported or defended by the military. However, as Velazquez wrote in Newsweek, “Over the next 100 years, this foreign policy philosophy justified interventions, annexations, and other colonial actions across the Western Hemisphere, including in my homeland of Puerto Rico.”

In the resolution, Velazquez said, “The Monroe Doctrine came to be interpreted by many United States policymakers as a mandate for United States interference in the affairs of Latin American and Caribbean countries in order to protect and promote United States economic and political interests, irrespective of tangible threats posed by foreign powers.”

The resolution specifically called out the U.S. annexation of Puerto Rico, saying that “in 1898, the United States invaded Puerto Rico and Cuba during the Spanish-American War and continues to maintain control of Puerto Rico as well as a piece of territory in Guantanamo, Cuba, to this day.”

The resolution also mentions “the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, whereby the United States could intervene to ensure the protection of United States interests and those of foreign creditors in the region, and declared that the United States could exercise ‘international police power’ in ‘’flagrant cases of such wrongdoing and impotence’.”

Modern appeals

The Monroe Doctrine has been used to support actions far beyond the original intention. And, while many Americans haven’t thought about the Monroe Doctrine since high school history class, presidential candidate Ron DeSantis recently called for a new Monroe Doctrine in regards to Chinese influence in the Americas.

Reps Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) spoke up for the doctrine, too. “The Monroe Doctrine is one of the most important foreign policy strategies the United States has ever developed. Today, threats to our security and liberty no longer come from London, Paris or Madrid, but from Beijing, Moscow and Tehran,” Salazar told Fox News Digital.

Thinking about China’s influence in the Americas causes many people to feel concern for China’s potential influence over Puerto Rico, which is a territory belonging to the United States.

Puerto Rico

At the end of the 19th century, the United States still felt threatened by European imperial powers. Concern that England would take over Hawaii encouraged the annexation of that territory, and a desire for a strong naval position made Puerto Rico an important strategic location. Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, considered the most important naval strategist of his day, saw Puerto Rico as “a strategic and defensible island” which would not only provide a bulwark against European navies moving against the Americas, but could also serve as an essential military location for the defense of the Panama Canal.  The canal, which allowed freight to travel to the west coast in significantly less time than the previously required trip around the entire continent of South America, was very important to U.S. business interests. When France failed to complete the canal, the United States had an opportunity to take on the project.

The Monroe Doctrine supported the United States decision to take on Spain in the Spanish American War. The result was Spain’s loss of its remaining New World colonies. The United States was having its own flirtation with imperialism at the time. The Monroe Doctrine has been used since that time to justify U.S. involvement in the affairs of South American and Caribbean nations. HR 943 is intended to improve relationships between the U.S. and the Latin American nations. But would its passage also change the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico? That relationship is used in the resolution as an example of there bad relationships that need to change, but the list of actions included does not call for a permanent political status for Puerto Rico.

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