Central American Exodus - A History: Monroe Doctrine to Give'em Hell Harry

Robert Jay • 4 November 2018
Featured 0 comments
5 likes

Banner image credit: Northern Star.

In late December, a caravan of asylum seekers, many beginning in Central America and growing to over 7,000 people, will reach the Southern US Border along Mexico. Trump is threatening to send 15,000 soldiers to the border in response, declaring the imaginary line separating the two countries "sacred" and telling thousands of refugees fleeing violence to "turn around". Should Trump follow through on his threats, it will be the first (official) armed deployment of US soldiers on home soil since the American Civil War. Should those troops (or ICE/CBP/DHS agents) fire on the caravan, it will be in direct violation of both US and International law, which dictates that seeking asylum is perfectly legal.

Further, there is only one morally correct response to the caravan: to throw open the doors and welcome them. Failure to do so is not just a rejection of moral duty, it is a complete abdication of both national and international values. It also ignores the weight of responsibility the United States placed on itself when it declared dominion over Central and South American countries, then repeatedly destabilized those countries in the name of corporate interest. While this specific caravan only formed over the past year, the path they walk is over two centuries in the making. Here is the first in a four part series examining the United States' role in the perpetual exploitation of Central and South America.

If you would like aid the caravan directly, Pueblo Sin Fronteras is organizing their relief efforts from within the caravan and can be donated to on PayPal

1823 - 1898: Bad Intentions Gone Worse

- 1823: US President James Monroe signs the Monroe Doctrine, stating that any further attempt of European nations to colonize North, Central or South America would be viewed as a slight against the United States.

- 1846: Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty signed in New Granada (currently Colombia and Panama), granting the US a unique right of transit through the Panamanian isthmus (the quickest route between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans) and the ability to take military action in the region to suppress social conflicts or bids for independence that target Colombia. 

- 1879-1883: The United States attempted to become involved in the War of the Pacific. The United Kingdom, growing frustrated with Peru's control over the guano/nitrate fertilizer industry (at the hands of French banking firm Dreyfus Brothers & Co.), worked through Chile to violently seize the best deposits in Peruvian and Bolivian territory. The US, supporting its business interests in Peru and resisting British control in the region, demanded Chile return its conquered lands during peace negotiations. Chile balked at the demand, and a brief naval conflict ensued. The US Navy was thoroughly outclassed, having not updated their ships since the American Civil War, and backed down from the conflict.

War of the Pacific
War of the Pacific. Source: New World Encyclopedia

- 1889: US Secretary of State James G. Blaine, who presided over the War of the Pacific, initiated the first Pan-American Conference (then called the International Conference of American States). His measures for compulsory arbitration for international disputes, and customs unions, were defeated by Latin American delegations who felt said measures were too favorable to the United States. It did, however, establish further meetings between nations on the American Supercontinent and expanded trade.

- 1895: Venezuela entered a dispute with Britain over control of Guayana Esequiba, which got the British military involved. US President Grover Cleveland, citing the Monroe doctrine, demanded this dispute be settle through arbitration involving the US. The panel of arbitration featured: US Chief Justice Melville Fuller, Supreme Court Justice David Brewer, Lord Justice of Appeal Richard Collins, Lord Justice of England and Wales Charles Russell, and Russian diplomat Friedrich Martens. Former US President Benjamin Harrison (who appointed Blaine Secretary of State) represented Venezuela, a representation featuring a curious lack of Venezuelans.

- 1898: US forces acquire Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines after signing the Treaty of Paris, ending both the Spanish-American War and the Spanish Empire. Ironically, the war began due to a Cuban revolution for independence. Democrats and Republicans fought over the resolution, with Democrat William Jennings Bryan rejecting the terms for their imperialism. Republican McKinley embraced the imperialism, and won re-election for President.

Treaty of Paris propaganda
McKinley propaganda poster for the Treaty of Paris. The American Global Empire begins.

Conclusion: The United States used rhetoric that branded itself as a protector of Central and South America from European colonialism. However, there are monetary interests at the root of every instance of US involvement in the region during this era, and repeated attempts to stack the economic deck in the US' favor. Additionally, this century established a clear trend of the US rejecting Latin voices in favor of dealing with white Europeans over the fate of the region.

If you would like to help a national activist coalition establish base camps along the border to assist with humanitarian aid, please donate to the Camps A Rising fundraiser, part of the Asylum Seekers Caravan Support Network. 

1899 - 1925: Bananas, Bullets, and Big Sticks

- 1899-1903: The United Fruit Company (currently Chiquita Brands International) and Standard Fruit (New Orleans based, Vaccaro Brothers) bought up large tracts of land in Honduras for banana plantations, after US businesses established control of shipping ports and railroads within the country. Partido Nacional de Honduras (PNH, currently the National Party of Honduras) is formed after conservative Manuel Bonilla overthrows liberal President Terencio Sierra. Bonilla would later imprison liberal party political rivals throughout the country, and grant US companies tax exemptions.  

- 1901: The Platt Amendment is passed in Congress, which includes eight conditions Cuba must meet for US soldiers to withdraw from their country. Chief of which, the US is allowed to intervene militarily at any time and that Cuba must sell land to the US for the purpose of building naval bases. After President Theodore Roosevelt withdrew US soldiers in 1902, Cuba ratified the treaty in 1903 and leased the United States land for the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

- 1902/1903: Britain, Germany and Italy form a naval blockade around Venezuela, after President Cipriano Castro refuses to pay for damages suffered by European citizens during Venezuela's civil war. President Roosevelt did not initially aid Castro, thinking the Monroe Doctrine applied to land invasions. Eventually, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague became involved, and ruled in favor of the European nations blockading Venezuelan ports. The blockade ended, and Venezuela had to pay out 30% of its customs duties to settling debts.

- 1904: After negotiations failed with the Colombian government for the development of the Panama Canal, President Theodore Roosevelt hinted that if Panamanians revolted, they would receive US naval support. They did, and the USS Nashville effectively blocked any Colombian naval response. In return, the newly sovereign Panamanians granted the US control of the Panama Canal Zone for $10 million, with the signing of the Hay Bunau-Varilla Treaty.

Atlanta Consitution

- 1904: President Theodore Roosevelt authors the "Roosevelt Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine. It states that the United States will directly intervene in conflicts between European and Latin American nations, to prevent Europeans from intervening further. This was Roosevelt's "Big Stick".

- 1907: Nicaraguan President Jose Santos Zelaya lead liberal Honduran exiles and parts of the Nicaraguan military to invade Honduras. Manuel Bonilla, President of Honduras, sees his and El Salvador's forces pushed back repeatedly. The US, fearing Zelaya's control of the region, protected Bonilla's last stand in Ampala. During peace talks in Tegucigalpa, the US installed General Miquel Davila as a "compromise regime" for Honduras, Zelaya did not approve.

- 1907: Central American Peace Conference established in Washington DC, Presidents from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua attended. The conference produced the following resolutions: establishment of a Central American Court of Justice, extradition agreement for exiles of neighboring nations, US-sponsored demand for permanent neutrality of Honduras in Central American disputes, and the refusal to recognize governments achieved through revolutionary means. The US and Mexico, also governments achieved through revolutionary means, agreed to the final provision as well. 

- 1909: Honduras accrued more than $120 million in debt under Davila, highlighted with a failed coup lead by Zelaya and El Salvadorian forces. As most of the debt was British, the US intervened with banking firm JP Morgan handling negotiations. While the debt was reduced, the compromise granted JP Morgan control of Honduran railroads, and the US government control of Honduran customs revenue. 

- 1911: Manuel Bonilla leads another uprising in Honduras, this time against Davila. Since this interrupted debt repayment, the USMC intervened and held peace talks. US mediator Thomas Dawson selected Francisco Bertrand as the provisional president.

- 1912: Hondurans elect Manuel Bonilla president, but he dies after a year in office. His VP, Francisco Bertrand, takes his place. 

- 1912: After two years of extensive money lending, Nicaraguan President Adolfo Diaz (Conservative Party) appeals to the US for military intervention after his Secretary of War, Luis Mena (Liberal Party), revolts. Only after warning of damage to railways and US properties does the military answer the call. Following the suppression of the Liberal Party, US Secretary of State Philander C. Knox (founder of industrial monopoly US Steel) ratifies the Knox-Castrillo Treaty, granting the US principal control over Nicaraguan finances. Military occupation of Nicaragua begins.

- 1913: United Fruit Company, Standard Fruit and now Cuyamel Fruit Company (founded by American Samuel Zemurray) vie for control over Honduran banana plantations and railroads. Through negotiations with JP Morgan, United Fruit Company established the Tela and Trujillo Railroad Companies, solidifying their hold on the nation's banana industry by controlling the majority of the fertile coastline. 

United Fruit Company
Chiquita Brands International is not being subtle.

- 1914: US President William Howard Taft and Secretary of State Knox convinced Venezuelan President Juan Vicente Gomez to grant concessions to foreign oil companies, in order to drive down Venezuelan debt (incurred during 1895-1898 and 1902/1903). 

- 1917: Cuyamel Fruit Company (Honduras) attempted to extend its railroads onto the Guatemalan border. United Fruit Company sent Guatemalan troops to stop it and US mediation quashed any major conflict. Cuyamel workers would strike in Honduras this same year, but it would be suppressed by the Honduran military.

- 1918: Standard Fruit Company workers strike in La Ceiba, Honduras (an area surrounded by UFC's railroad holdings). 

- 1919: Honduran President Francisco Bertrand does not hold an election for his replacement. Governor of Tegucigalpa, General Rafael Lopez Gutierrez, rallied opposition by appealing to both liberal Guatemala and conservative Nicaragua. Bertrand, in turn, sought aid from El Salvador. The US stated that if Bertrand did not hold elections, they would intervene directly, Bertrand resigned. 

- 1920: General strike along the Caribbean coast. The US dispatched a warship to the area, and the Honduran government began arresting strike leaders. Standard Fruit offered a new wage to workers, which collapsed the strike, the equivalent of US$1.75 per day (not adjusted for contemporary inflation).

Forced Labor
Forced labor of political prisoners. Source: Wikimedia Commons

- 1920: General Rafael Lopez Gutierrez ascends to the Honduran presidency in a fraudulent election. He replaced US-appointed leader Francisco Bogran. 

- 1920-1923: Seventeen uprisings occur during Lopez Gutierrez's reign. The General Treaty of Peace and Amity is signed between Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, with the following provisions (supplemental to the 1907 resolutions): no revolutionary leader or relative was to be recognized until a free election was held after six months of rule, neighboring nations are not allowed to participate in revolutions, there was a hard limit to armed forces allowed each nation (2,500 in Honduras, for example), and a US-backed provision that nations must have foreign assistance to expand armed forces.

- 1924: Battle in La Ceiba between Honduran government and rebels. USS Denver and USMC deployed, but fail to stop the uprising. More US naval ships concentrate along the coast, and Lopez Gutierrez dies during the fighting. Eventually, General Vicente Tosta was appointed interim President and promised to hold elections soon, along with hosting a multipartisan cabinet. Showing signs of not honoring the agreement, the US places an embargo on arms sales to Honduras. 

- 1925: PNH nominates Miguel Paz Barahona and he wins the Honduran election almost unanimously. PLH, Honduras' liberal party, chose not to nominate a candidate.

Conclusion: For a revolutionary government, the United States seemed to have an incredible disdain toward revolutions. Very consistent bias in favoring conservative/anti-labor movements throughout its extensive meddling and invasions of Central/South American countries. Even more disturbing, how much direct government control businesses like JP Morgan and United Fruit Company had over Honduras.

If you would like to support the caravan with essential supplies like blankets, toiletries, and first aid, please donate to Love & Support Across the Border.

1926-1945: We're Poor Now, So We'll Be Nice

- 1926: Civil war erupts between liberal and conservative parties in Nicaragua, the latter featuring Adolfo Diaz as the appointed President for the conservatives, who in turn asked the US for assistance. 

- 1927: Over 2,000 US soldiers invade Nicaragua and begin recapturing liberal strongholds. Liberal party commander Augusto Cesar Sandino refuses to surrender, then takes over a gold mine, while recuiting more revolutionaries.

- 1932: The Sandinista revolutionaries have been active for over 5 years, resisting conservative party authority in Nicaragua. With the election of Juan Sacasa in November, the Sandinistas resisted an entire presidential term. 

Sandinistas
Sandinista revolutionaries in Honduras, posing with Thompson submachine guns.

- 1933: US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt adopts the "Good Neighbor" policy for relations with Latin America. "No country has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another," comments Secretary of State Cordell Hull about the policy. Roosevelt, in a slightly more self-aware stance, states "The definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention."

- 1934: US Troops have fully withdrawn from Nicaragua and Haiti, as they could not afford the deployment during the Great Depression. The Platt Amendment is replaced by the Treaty of Relationship in Cuba, which preserves favorable opinions of past US military action and the lease for Guantanamo Bay (plus its use for disease quarantine), but removes all other provisions.

- 1939: New York World's Fair features every Latin American country at the convention. Their primary aim was to increase North American tourism in their countries, and combat the stereotypes imposed on them by North Americans previously.

- 1940-44: Roosevelt appoints Nelson Rockefeller head of Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA). This two-pronged propaganda campaign used Hollywood studios (including Disney) to promote positive aspects of Latin American society, in stark contrast to previous stereotypes featured in film. It also established "La Cadena de las Americas", a Pan-American radio program broadcast across the Supercontinent, through CBS Radio. Rockefeller also made sure to deliver plenty of anti-fascist messaging, as the United States was currently fighting Nazis.

Conclusions: This is the part of the story where the abuser faces consequences for the first time, swears they've changed and puts on a show of turning over a new leaf. In the next installment, that abuser will begin with the face of Harry S Truman, and end in the shape of Ronald Reagan. 

Want to help aid those crossing the border in Texas? Check out Casa Condor to provide direct relief. No Mas Muetres has the Arizona border covered, and also advocates for humanitarian immigration reform.