U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America in the 19th century initially focused on excluding or limiting the military and economic influence of European powers, territorial expansion, and encouraging American commerce. These objectives were expressed in the No Transfer Principle (1811) and the Monroe Doctrine (1823). American policy was unilateralist (not isolationist); it gradually became more aggressive and interventionist as the idea of Manifest Destiny contributed to wars and military conflicts against indigenous peoples, France, Britain, Spain, and Mexico in the Western Hemisphere. Expansionist sentiments and U.S. domestic politics inspired annexationist impulses and filibuster expeditions to Mexico, Cuba, and parts of Central America. Civil war in the United States put a temporary halt to interventionism and imperial dreams in Latin America. From the 1870s until the end of the century, U.S. policy intensified efforts to establish political and military hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, including periodic naval interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, reaching even to Brazil in the 1890s. By the end of the century Secretary of State Richard Olney added the Olney Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (“Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition . . .”), and President Theodore Roosevelt contributed his own corollary in 1904 (“in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of wrongdoing or impotence, to exercise an international police power”). American policy toward Latin America, at the turn of the century, explicitly justified unilateral intervention, military occupation, and transformation of sovereign states into political and economic protectorates in order to defend U.S. economic interests and an expanding concept of national security.
The United States has shared an intricate and turbulent history with Caribbean islands and nations since its inception. In its relations with the Caribbean, the United States has displayed the dueling tendencies of imperialism and anticolonialism that characterized its foreign policy with South America and the rest of the world. For nearly two and a half centuries, the Caribbean has stood at the epicenter of some of the US government’s most controversial and divisive foreign policies. After the American Revolution severed political ties between the United States and the British West Indies, US officials and traders hoped to expand their political and economic influence in the Caribbean. US trade in the Caribbean played an influential role in the events that led to the War of 1812. The Monroe Doctrine provided a blueprint for reconciling imperial ambitions in the Caribbean with anti-imperial sentiment. During the mid-19th century, Americans debated the propriety of annexing Caribbean islands, especially Cuba. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, the US government took an increasingly imperialist approach to its relations with the Caribbean, acquiring some islands as federal territories and augmenting its political, military, and economic influence in others. Contingents of the US population and government disapproved of such imperialistic measures, and beginning in the 1930s the US government softened, but did not relinquish, its influence in the Caribbean. Between the 1950s and the end of the Cold War, US officials wrestled with how to exert influence in the Caribbean in a postcolonial world. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has intervened in Caribbean domestic politics to enhance democracy, continuing its oscillation between democratic and imperial impulses.