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Policing the Caribbean and Central America Previous Next
Digital History ID 3162


In 1904, Germany demanded a port in Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) as compensation for an unpaid loan. Theodore Roosevelt, who had become president after William McKinley's assassination, told Germany to stay out of the Western Hemisphere and said that the United States would take care of the problem. He announced the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine:

Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the western hemisphere, the adherence of the U.S. to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of international police power.

Several recent developments led Roosevelt to declare that the United States would be the policeman of the Caribbean and Central America. Three European nations had blockaded Venezuela's ports, violating the Monroe Doctrine's unilateral declaration that Europe should not interfere in the Americas. Meanwhile, an international court in The Hague in the Netherlands had ruled that a creditor nation that had used force would receive preference in repayment of a loan. Further, Roosevelt had recently gained the right to build the Panama Canal; he believed that any threat to the canal threatened U.S. strategic and economic interests.

To enforce order, forestall foreign intervention, and protect U.S. economic interests, the United States intervened in the Caribbean and Central America some 20 times over the next quarter century--namely, in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. Each intervention followed a common pattern: after intervening to restore order, U.S. forces became embroiled in the countries' internal political disputes. Before exiting, the United States would train and fund a police force and military to maintain order and would sponsor an election intended to put into power a strong leader supportive of American interests. Unfortunately, the men who took power in many of these countries, such as Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and Francois Duvalier in Haiti, established despotic rule.

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