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Gaddi Goren October 28, 2005
Latin America and the United States

U.S. Influence in Latin America

Throughout this semester we have examined the persuasive role that the United States has played in Latin America. The U.S. has taken the position in Latin America to not only dictate what is acceptable by other governments, but has also managed to profit at the expense of the native inhabitants. A central aspect of American policy was whether leaders of Latin American countries were willing to allow the U.S. companies to exist without restrictions. American presidents have also set the precedent of working alongside ruthless rulers, so long as they agree to American doctrine. Latin America was primarily viewed as the backyard of the U.S. and therefore Americans believed that they were allowed the freedom to utilize and control more vulnerable governments for U.S. benefits. Reflecting on the American experience in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, makes clear that Americans enacted and enforced policies that promoted American interests and the elites while simultaneously controlling Latin American governments.

The situation in Guatemala under Jacobo Arbenz in the early 1950s was one of tremendous rebellion against American guidelines by establishing economic restrictions on American companies that sought great privilege and wealth. Arbenz also began integrating Communist sympathies into his policies, something the American government viewed as especially threatening. Historian Piero Gleijeses presents in Shattered Hope how the American government, along with several Latin American governments who relied on Washington for sovereignty, sought to destroy the Arbenz administration as soon as it began going against American regulations.

Arbenz detested the fact that his own people were constantly being forced to live in extreme poverty while American companies prospered. He took the brave and bold step in fighting the powerful and forceful UFCO. Between the months of May 1951 to March 1952, there had been unpleasant disputes over the controversial issue of labor contracts. Not surprisingly 3, 746 workers were fired during those months of tension, and of course the UFCO declined the Arbenz government’s offer to intercede since it would only weaken their position. [1]

Therefore in March 1953 Arbenz took the courageous decision and confiscated 234, 000 acres of uncultivated land at Tiquiste and another 173, 000 acres of the plantation in Bananera. [2] As a reaction to Arbenz expropriating their land, UFCO claimed to have been discriminated against by the Guatemalan government due to all the confiscated land. Many scholars believe that the U.S. government and big corporations of the time generally worked together in deciding what policies would help both the government and business. Thus, American companies would seek Washington as support to insure the prosperity of their businesses. However, this time the Latin American ruler, Arbenz, challenged the American imperialist and as a result this lead to the upheaval of an American company in Guatemala, leading to reduced American authority in the country.

During these years America felt immensely threatened by the spread of Communism that was believed to be sweeping Latin America and the rest of the world. It is well known that Arbenz was sympathetic to communism and even felt closely aligned to the PGT. The Washington administration saw this potentially harmful for their dominance. Newsweek published accounts that the PGT had armed soldiers throughout Guatemala. [3] Also U.S. News wrote that even though Arbenz was not a communist in practice, he took orders from communists. [4] These communist worries and clashes with the Americans led to the Caracas Conference where it was made clear that even though Arbenz would oppose American intervention, no other Latin American country was willing to go against the Americans in support of Guatemala.

The Caracas Conference was supposed to distinguish those nations that would oppose American dominance from those that would go along with whatever Washington ordered. The Guatemalan administration believed that “Caracas would demonstrate to the Americans…that Latin America stood behind Guatemala, firm in defense of the principle of nonintervention”. [5] However, the conclusion of the meeting was that the Americans prevailed by bullying and bribing Latin American leaders for their support and votes. Washington told Arbenz that he must loosen his communist connections and reduce the pace of his agrarian reforms. Ultimately, the Americans were successful when seventeen countries voted their favor and only one against. However, Arbenz efforts to halt American aggression in his country can be seen as admirable in the face of a powering force like Secretary John Foster Dulles.

The relationship that existed between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. during the 1930s and 40s can be seen as only benefiting one side, Washington policies. It has also been American decree under the Good Neighbor Policy enacted in 1933 to unarmed intervention in Latin American, even when it was well known that leaders of governments committed massacres and oppressed their own people on a daily basis. After reading The Dictator Next Door by Eric Roorda, shows evidence that the some powerful Americans, although not all, needed Rafael Trujillo to rule the Dominican Republic in order to preserve internal interests, despite thousands of lives being lost as a result. Some scholars reflecting back on Trujillo’s rule believe that he was left in power for so long for U.S. security reasons during both WWII and the Cold War, yet Roorda writes off this defense for Trujillo as being relatively inefficient.

The manner in which the American government reacted to the Haitian massacre carried out by Trujillo in 1937 and the relationship that developed between the two governments that followed is ironic. One would think that in order to stop annihilation of the Haitians, the Americans would have sought it fit to intervene, yet they did not. Therefore, as a way for Trujillo to show his goodwill to the world and take away attention from the Haitian incident, Roosevelt enthusiastically suggested that he take on Jewish refugees. Roosevelt also praised Trujillo and Haitian president Stenio Vincent for coming to terms on a peace agreement and strongly believes that this is the “established practice of this hemisphere”, completely disregarding the massacre that had occurred . [6] Trujillo then realized that in order to continue having amiable relations with the U.S. he should resort to appeasing them on some issues and reassuring them of his loyalty.

A key reason as to why the Americans saw it necessary to have Trujillo as an ally was because of the global political situation. Trujillo was described as a “Little Mussolini” or a “Miniature Hitler”; therefore following the war it was imperative to make sure that the world knew he was not aligned with the Axis powers. [7] Another motive for supporting this dictator was because he was vehemently anti-communist. [8] Also since Trujillo was trained by the U.S. Marines he had many “friends” in authoritative positions, many of whom supported his reign. America was able to maintain a stronghold in Central America by ensuring good relations with Trujillo. Washington could also enforce many polices on other small Latin American countries by using the Dominican Republic as a way to generate support throughout the Americas.

When discussing Cuba in the early twentieth century, it is crucial to understand that Cubans were divided on issues of whether America should be involved in developing independence. Many members of Creole elite, many of whom were on good terms with the Americans, were in favor of complete annexation. However, people like Juan Marti,a Creole elite who had lived in New York for some time was strongly opposed to such an act and endorsed the idea of Cuba Libre, an idea in which all Cubans were equal, regardless of race. [9] This was something that was later illegal due to it’s tampering of American involvement in Cuban politics. Following the Spanish-American war, America managed to gain control of the island and as a result began to demonstrate its influence on social, political, and economic issues.

When discussing American influence in Cuba it is quite evident that American customs were quickly absorbed into Cuban life. For instance, the great interest that Cubans began to show in baseball during the early twentieth century is a clear indication that the previous national sport of bull fighting was being replaced by this new “Yankee” game. [10]Also, the numerous Protestant missionaries that went to Cuba and tried to replace the Catholic presence shows how the Americans were attempting to infiltrate the people from within and hoping to “Americanize” the island. However, the ultimate sign that a nation has fully conquered a people is through education. In Cuba it was extremely popular for Cubans to study in American universities. Also with the financial support of John D. Rockefeller American missionaries were able to organize a boarding school in El Cristo where they would receive a Christian education. [11]

As a result of educating the Cuban elite, America was simultaneously building support from those who would later control Cuban politics. As is often the circumstance, few white elites tend to govern over the majority of the population who happen to be of African or mixed decent. Economically, it is not startling to note that as the U.S. became more dominant on the island so did American interest in investing in industries and land by raising capital to exploit sugar laborers on plantations. Even though slavery was made illegal in the 1880s, cheap wage for African workers was still a common practice. Cubans became reliant on American industry for jobs, leading to the requirement of English in order to obtain jobs. U.S. presence in Cuba was a result of Cuban elites urging the Americans to be involved as a way to stop any threat to their economical prestige. From the American perspective, it was just another way to reveal its already established supremacy in Latin America.

In these three countries, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba it appears that America tried to be involved in other countries politics so that it could give off a “good neighbor” image. Nonetheless, there have been some positive results of American intervention. Such as in the Dominican Republic, there were massive improvements on national infrastructures such as transportation and communication due to high American investment. In Cuba, the States were able to promote social, educational, and political stability (although it was on American terms not Cuban). However, it is important to grasp the notion that America truly believed that it was Washington’s duty to occupy and infiltrate into other governments in it was for national purposes. There was minimal concern for how it directly affected the lives of Latin American people or those economies, so long as America flourished.

Work Cited

Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United

States, 1944-1954. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Perez, Louis A. Jr.Cuba and the United States. Athens and London: University of

Georgia Press, 2003.

Roorda, Eric Paul. The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Tujillo

Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945. Durham and London: Duke

University Press, 1998.



[1] Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United

States, 1944-1954. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.page 164

[2] Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United

States, 1944-1954. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. page 164

[3] Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United

States, 1944-1954. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. page 233

[4] Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United

States, 1944-1954. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. page 233

[5] Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United

States, 1944-1954. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. page 271

[6] Roorda, Eric Paul. The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Tujillo

Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945. Durham and London: Duke University, 1998. page 140

[7] Roorda, Eric Paul. The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Tujillo

Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945. Durham and London: Duke

University Press, 1998. pages 138-144

[8] Roorda, Eric Paul. The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Tujillo

Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945. Durham and Londo: Duke

University Press, 1998. page 231

[9] Perez, Louis A. Jr.Cuba and the United States. Athens and London: University of

Georgia Press, 2003. page 77

[10] Perez, Louis A. Jr.Cuba and the United States. Athens and London: University of

Georgia Press, 2003.page 71

[11] Perez, Louis A. Jr.Cuba and the United States. Athens and London: University of

Georgia Press, 2003. page 132

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