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The Origins Of American Hegemony History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The United States first began to take interest in Central, South America, and the Caribbean during the early part of the 19th century. The acquisition of Florida from Spain led to the general assumption that the US would eventually acquire Cuba, as well as other Caribbean countries. During the 1820’s, several Latin American countries rebelled against Spanish control. At this point (1823), the US passed the Monroe Doctrine, which warned against European intervention in “any of the American nations that have recently become independent.” However, these newly freed countries where heavily under the influence of the British Empire as a result of trading.

Post-Civil War America had its eye on expansion; manifest destiny was the spirit of the day. Once settlers had claimed California, expansionist eyes turned to Latin America. One of the United States’ first major attempts at establishing hegemony in this area was the Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 1855. The treaty stated that neither Britain nor the US would unilaterally build a canal in the Central American isthmus. This was an important step for the US, because this agreement marked the first time Britain recognized American interests in Latin America.

Because of its colonial origin, America was initially opposed to the idea of imperialism. However, events in Latin America changed these anti-imperialist ideas. Following the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, the US began to challenge England’s commercial dominance of the region. An example of this was the Venezuelan boundary dispute of 1895. The English had discovered gold near the undetermined borders of Venezuela and British Guyana. The British hoped to draw a border that infringed on Venezuela. America set in as a mediator and eventually solved the dispute. Because of this incident, the US passed the Olney Corollary to the Monroe doctrine (named after the man who wrote it). It stated that the US had the right to look after the interests of all groups in the Western Hemisphere. By 1895, America had become the dominant nation of the Western Hemisphere.

Most Americans believed that Cuba would eventually break away from Spain’s control and become a US territory (if not a state). However, during the Latin American revolutions of the 1820’s, Cuba remained loyal. It wasn’t until the end of the century that Cuba began to struggle for independence. 1868 marked the beginning of the ten-year war, in which Cuban planters freed and armed their slaves to fight the Spanish. During this war, Jose Marti, one of the future heroes of the Spanish-American war, was exiled to Spain as a result of revolutionary actions. The ten-year war ended in 1878 with the Zanjon treaty, which didn’t grant Cuba independence. America (under the Grant administration) refused to get involved with this war.

In 1892 Jose Marti formed the Cuban Revolutionary Party, which eventually started the second war of Cuban independence in 1895 (Jose Marti was killed in battle the same year). The US initially became involved as a mediator between Spain and its colony. However, when the battleship Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, the United States blamed Spain. Congress passed the Teller Amendment, which said that Cuba has the right to be an independent country, and “that the US has no intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for the pacification thereof…” In 1898 (the same year as the explosion of the Maine), America declared war on Spain. Oddly enough, the first battle of the Spanish-American War took place in the Philippines, where US forces captured Manila.

The Cuban revolutionaries and US soldiers defeated Spain in a war that only spanned five months. It ended in August of 1989 with the treaty of Madrid. Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States. Cuba gained liberation. However, the US army stayed in Cuba in order to set up the new government. It also attached the Platt amendment to the Cuban constitution. This made Cuba a protectorate of the United States, and forbid Cuba to negotiate with any country other than the US. In 1906, the first Cuban election was held; in 1906, the second was stopped by the US in favor of a puppet government.

The Spanish-American War is significant, because it showed the United States to be a true world power. It also put an end to Spain’s strength in Latin America; this was another loss to the fading Spanish Empire.

In the same year as the war, Britain relinquished rights to build a canal in the Central American isthmus. In this gesture, England handed control of Latin America to the US. The United States promptly decided to build the Panama Canal. However, at this time, Columbia controlled Panama. The US offers Colombia ten million dollars to allow the canal to be built. The Colombians refused (wanting twenty-five million). Following this refusal, America supported a Panamanian revolt, in which they emerged victorious. The new government granted the US the right to build the canal (which was finished in 1914). America ended up with indefinite use of the Panama Canal (so far). After its struggle for independence, the Dominican Republic borrowed an enormous amount of money from European countries – amounts that they could never hope to pay back. Britain and Germany threatened to take over the Dominican Republic because of these outstanding debts. Because of the threat of European involvement in Latin America, the US (now under President Theodore Roosevelt) passed the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. It basically said that because they couldn’t govern themselves, it was the duty of the US to govern Latin American nations that were in trouble. Under Woodrow Wilson, troops were sent to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and various other Caribbean nations. The Platt amendment was applied to most of the Caribbean.

The Monroe Doctrine and its amendments formed the way America responded to Latin America. The US had active military control over many Caribbean countries until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “good neighbor policy” vanquished the Monroe Doctrine. However, even after the demise of these obviously imperialistic policies, the United States continued to control Latin America – both openly and in clandestine ways. One of the Clandestine methods the US used to dethrone regimes was the formation of a CIA-sponsored rebel army. It was used for the toppling, in 1954, of the Guatemalan government, which had been led by Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. An American puppet dictator replaced the ousted Guatemalan government.

This rebel army method was also tried, without success, in Cuba shortly after the communist revolution. The United States landed Anti-Castro, Cuban refugees in the Bay of Pigs (the invasion is known as the Bay of Pigs invasion). These forces were quickly defeated when President Kennedy refused to supply air support to them. This incident turned out to be a great humiliation to the US, but didn’t really effect its power in Latin America.

Even though the United States has professed the good neighbor policy, it remains true to its original designs. It has installed puppet governments in Nicaragua and encouraged the overthrowing of Vietnamese as well as Korean leaders during between the 1940s and 1950s. The United States has taken the Monroe Doctrine, as well as its imperialist designs with it into the late 20th century. The tone set by the early leaders remains in tact today.

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