Why is Latin America Important to the United States?

Latin America is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States and its fastest-growing trading partner, as well as the largest source of illegal drugs and immigration, both documented and otherwise. This underscores the ever-evolving relationship between the region and the country. The United States has had a long history of involvement in Latin America, beginning with economic and strategic interests that provoked confrontation with Chile in 1895. This culminated in the Spanish-American War of 1898, which was driven by economic and strategic concerns, as well as a desire to prevent the collapse of the Cuban sugar economy and fulfill a historic situation in the United States. The victory over Spain ushered in a tremendous expansion of U.

S. power and influence in Latin America, especially in the Caribbean. The U. government also launched its support for a successful revolutionary movement of Panamanian dissidents and signed a canal treaty with Panama.

President Woodrow Wilson condemned gunboat diplomacy and dollar diplomacy as imperialism, but his determination to move the United States forward was driven by security interests in the face of German operations in the region. In 1915, the Wilson administration launched a de facto military occupation of Haiti for 19 years and in 1916 established an eight-year military government of the Dominican Republic. After World War I, the United States shifted its political and economic concerns to Europe and Asia and sought to break down hemispheric economic barriers to U. interests.

When Nicaraguan leader José Santos Zelaya refused to give up sovereign rights to a passage through Nicaragua, President Theodore Roosevelt focused his attention on negotiating a canal treaty with Colombia. The terms conflicted with Colombian nationalist sentiment, leading to U. support for a successful revolutionary movement of Panamanian dissidents and signing a canal treaty with Panama. Latin American leaders pushed to increase U.

public support and protection of their domestic markets, following the model of the U. S. After the outbreak of the Korean War, the United States emphasized regional and bilateral security agreements and became increasingly concerned about communist influence in Latin America. In 1954, the Central Intelligence Agency overthrew a non-communist left-wing government in Guatemala; in 1959, after several years of civil strife and a prolonged guerrilla struggle, Fidel Castro overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.

Castro promised to restructure Cuba along Marxist lines and de-Americanize the island's political culture, leading to conflict with the United States that culminated in the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 according to President John F. Kennedy's First Hemispheric Crisis (1961-196). Opposition to the Cuban Revolution inevitably delayed the purpose of the Alliance for Progress, a vast and ambitious program of social and economic reform that began at the beginning of the decade. When President Lyndon Johnson sent 20,000 soldiers to the Dominican Republic in 1965 under the pretext that rebellion there would create another Cuba, Latin Americans became convinced that Washington's commitment to social justice had been dissolved.

But the Alliance for Progress promoted economic modernization in Latin America at the expense of democratic government and social justice for the poor, thus perpetuating a dual society of rich and poor. President Jimmy Carter identified with North-South as opposed to East-West vision of Latin America's place in U. He signed a canal treaty with Panama, criticized human rights violations in Latin America and initially supported Sandinista revolution that brought down Anastasio Somoza Debayle in Nicaragua. At end of his administration many Americans believed that such reformist approaches to Latin America distracted attention from real security risks that United States faced in region. President Ronald Reagan pledged efforts to overthrow left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua and support right-wing government of El Salvador in its war against communist guerrillas.

After initially following neutral line Reagan sided with British against Argentina in 1982 Falkland Islands conflict, and sent military to overthrow left-wing government in Grenada. These hardline policies were accompanied by modest amounts of non-military aid (most publicized was 1998 Caribbean Basin Initiative) and expressions.

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