U.S.-Latin Relations: Military interventions

This series has gone long enough that we risk losing the focus. I was going to take more time with this point, but maybe it will have more impact if I lay it out in one single post.

In the 20th century, the United States declared Latin America to be its “backyard,” claiming the right to not only defend against external powers but also to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin countries. This was done to preserve U.S. “interests.” In the first half of the 20th century, that usually meant protecting U.S. business interests. In the second half, it focused more on the Cold War, fighting against any movements that could be seen as favoring the Soviet bloc. Unfortunately, this more often than not found the United States fighting against democracy… in the name of democracy.

Racism played a big role in all of this. U.S. political cartoons typically portrayed Latinos as “poor black Sambos” needing guidance from kindly Uncle Sam. It was the white man’s burden to lead these people in the direction they needed to go. Orville Platt, author of the infamous Platt Amendment we saw earlier, said of the Cubans: “In many respects they are like children.” Since Washington considered that Latinos were incapable of governing themselves properly, there was no need to respect democratic elections, treaties, sovereignty nor the like; Uncle Sam knows best.

We saw earlier the words of Juan Gualberto Gómez, specifically referring to Cuba, but effectively summarizing what would happen throughout Latin America in the 20th Century:

To reserve to the United States the faculty of deciding for themselves when independence is menaced, and when, therefore, they ought to intervene to preserve it, is equivalent to delivering up the key of our house, so that they can enter it at all hours, when the desire takes them, day or night, with intentions good or ill. If it belongs to the United States to determine what Cuban government merits the qualification ‘adequate’… only those Cuban governments will live which count on its support and benevolence.

Gómez’ words rang true as the United States intervened in Latin America time and again, typically choosing big business over workers rights, tyrants over democratic movements and, above all, the good of the United States over the good of the countries affected.

Here’s a partial list of what went on:

History of U.S. Interventions in Latin America (compiled by Marc Becker)

Location Period Type of Force Comments on U.S.
Argentina 1890 Troops Buenos Aires interests
Chile 1891 Troops Marines clash with
nationalist rebels
Haiti 1891 Troops Black workers revolt
on U.S.-claimed
Navassa Island
Nicaragua 1894 Troops Month-long
occupation of
Panama 1895 Naval, troops Marines land in
Colombian province
Nicaragua 1896 Troops Marines land in port
of Corinto
Cuba 1898- Naval, troops Seized from Spain,
U.S. still holds Navy
base at Guantanamo
Puerto Rico 1898- Naval, troops Seized from Spain,
occupation continues
Nicaragua 1898 Troops Marines land at port
of San Juan del Sur
Nicaragua 1899 Troops Marines land at port
of Bluefields
Honduras 1903 Troops Marines intervene in
Dominican Republic 1903-04 Troops U.S. interests
protected in
Cuba 1906-09 Troops Marines land in
democratic election
Nicaragua 1907 Troops “Dollar Diplomacy”
protectorate set up
Honduras 1907 Troops Marines land during
war with Nicaragua
Panama 1908 Troops Marines intervene in
election contest
Nicaragua 1910 Troops Marines land in
Bluefields and Corinto
Honduras 1911 Troops U.S. interests
protected in civil war
Cuba 1912 Troops U.S. interests
protected in Havana
Panama 1912 Troops Marines land during
heated election
Honduras 1912 Troops Marines protect U.S.
economic interests
Nicaragua 1912-33 Troops, bombing 20-year occupation,
fought guerrillas
Mexico 1913 Naval Americans evacuated
during revolution
Dominican Republic 1914 Naval Fight with rebels over
Santo Domingo
Mexico 1914-18 Naval, troops Series of interventions
against nationalists
Haiti 1914-34 Troops, bombing 19-year occupation
after revolts
Dominican Republic 1916-24 Troops 8-year Marine
Cuba 1917-33 Troops Military occupation,
economic protectorate
Panama 1918-20 Troops “Police duty” during
unrest after elections
Honduras 1919 Troops Marines land during
election campaign
Guatemala 1920 Troops 2-week intervention
against unionists
Costa Rica 1921 Troops
Panama 1921 Troops
Honduras 1924-25 Troops Landed twice during
election strife
Panama 1925 Troops Marines suppress
general strike
El Salvador 1932 Naval Warships sent during
Faribundo Marti
Uruguay 1947 Nuclear threat Bombers deployed as
show of strength
Puerto Rico 1950 Command operation Independence
rebellion crushed in
Guatemala 1954-? Command operation,
bombing, nuclear
CIA directs exile
invasion and coup
d’Etat after newly
elected government
nationalizes unused
U.S.’s United Fruit
Company lands;
bombers based in
Nicaragua; long-term
result: 200,000
Panama 1958 Troops Flag protests erupt
into confrontation
Cuba 1961 Command operation CIA-directed exile
invasion fails
Cuba 1962 Nuclear threat, naval Blockade during
missile crisis; near-war with Soviet Union
Panama 1964 Troops Panamanians shot for
urging canal’s return
Dominican Republic 1965-66 Troops, bombing Marines land during
election campaign
Guatemala 1966-67 Command operation Green Berets
intervene against
Chile 1973 Command operation CIA-backed coup
ousts democratically
elected Marxist
El Salvador 1981-92 Command operation,
Advisors, overflights
aid anti-rebel war,
soldiers briefly
involved in hostage
clash; long-term
result: 75,000
murdered and
destruction of popular
Nicaragua 1981-90 Command operation,
CIA directs exile
(Contra) invasions,
plants harbor mines
against revolution;
result: 50,000
Honduras 1982-90 Troops Maneuvers help build
bases near borders
Grenada 1983-84 Troops, bombing Invasion four years
after revolution
Bolivia 1987 Troops Army assists raids on
cocaine region
Panama 1989 Troops, bombing Nationalist
government ousted by
27,000 soldiers,
leaders arrested,
2000+ killed
Haiti 1994-95 Troops, naval Blockade against
military government;
troops restore
President Aristide to
office three years after
Venezuela 2002 Command operation Failed coup attempt to remove left-populist president Hugo Chavez
Haiti 2004- Troops Removal of democratically elected President Aristide; troops occupy country

12 thoughts on “U.S.-Latin Relations: Military interventions

  1. K. Rex Butts

    Reading through that chart and brought to mind Amos 1:13, “For three sins of Ammon, even for four, I will not relent. Because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders.” I am not saying there is a direct one to one correlation between Ammon and the U.S., but I do think the U.S. is guilty of using warfare to extend it’s borders and interests (and not just in Latin America). That’s just not the side of American history one is taught in high school or which we hear presented in propaganda.

  2. K. Rex Butts


    Why is this “hate”? Was it hate for Israel when the prophets called out their own injustice or was it simply telling the inconvenient truth? If you don’t think the U.S. has used warfare to expand it’s borders, just go talk to some Indians or ask Mexico. This is not hate, it is just telling the truth.

    Grace and Peace,


  3. Tim Archer Post author

    Joel, that’s a disappointingly sad response. I can assure you there is no hate of the U.S. in all of this, just hate of injustice and bigotry. Your stooping to accusations puzzles me.

    There was some editorializing in the first part of the article. The chart speaks for itself.

    Grace and peace,

  4. Joel Solliday

    Your accusations are unjustified, both of you. The disdain I see in your comment is unkind, one-sided nd unfair. The tie with the prophets of Israel, Rex, is a straw argument. It offends me. I am NOT saying we cannot criticize the USA. I am saying the criticism here is horribly unjust, unbalanced, selective and one-siided. What offends moe even more is Tim’s broad-brush smear: “Racism played a big role in all of this.” Some alleged political cartoons get printed somewhere supposedly and the US are racists and our policies see others as “poor black Sambos”??? Remember, the article is about US, Latino relations. I see no objectivity or fair-minded kindness. Pleasse don’t resort to broad smears. I am fatigued by cheap-shot sweeping racism accusations. I think you are being irresponsible and one-sided and yes, I see a rather raw hatred in your coments, a hatred that I have never seen in either of you personally. I consider myself a friend who will tell you what I think. You can disagree but Ithink you go too far.

  5. K. Rex Butts


    Who’s making a broad-brush smear? Short of any admission of hatred, I have no idea how you or anyone can discern hatred from a short little blog post or any (even shorter) comments. And using the OT prophets “is a straw man argument”? Do anyone ever preach from the Old Testament?

    Even if Tim’s post is not fairly balanced (and I’m not saying it is or is not), do you agree that there is some truth to what he is saying? Do you agree that the U.S. has used warfare as a means of extending it’s borders/interests? I don’t know how anyone, even from the most conservative view point, could say otherwise.

    Grace and Peace,


  6. Tim Archer Post author

    I said: “U.S. political cartoons typically portrayed Latinos as “poor black Sambos””

    “During those same years, cartoons in U.S. newspapers often showed Uncle Cam dealing with Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, and other countries caricatured as naughty “little black Sambos.” Uncle Sam was sometimes shown as a stern but benevolent teacher, relunctanctly whipping these childish pranksters.”
    John Charles Chasteen, Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America, p. 203

    I did not say that policies saw other people that way.

    I guess you know that millions of Latinos are black, right?

    As for examples of racism, I would urge you to remember the quote from SENATOR John Calhoun that I included before:

    [W]e have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind, of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race….

    Joel, it is not hatred to speak the truth. If truth belongs to the left, then I mourn what the right has become. I am no leftist nor anti-American. If we cannot love this country as it is, then it is not deserving of our love.

  7. Tim Archer Post author

    One more comment: I think you’re confusing frustration with hatred. My article was one-sided, I admit. But it was written not out of disdain, but frustration that: (1) this country so abused her blessings; and (2) so many would whitewash her every flaw, rather than see them mended.

  8. Joel Solliday

    Constructive discourse usually ends when you call your opponents (or the U.S. or those with differing views, or whomever you intended to brand) as racist. Tim, you wrote: “Racism played a big role in all of this.” Note your use of the word “all”. OUCH!!!!! Note also that “all of this” does (to my understanding of your meaning) refer to the topic of overall policies and US/Latino relations. Isolated ugly examples out of context do not prove the accusations and they are HUGE accusations you make, Tim. And “political cartoons” come from a free press, not US/Latino relations policy-makers or leaders. Why call them “U.S. political cartoons?” And last time I checked, cartoonists tend to skewer any and all comers with sarcasm. Your “Sambos” reference and the ways you referred to “Uncle Sam” were demeaning, my view. It came off to me as so uncalled for and unsubstantiated. Just giving you my feedback, brother. The reference to “white man’s burden” was unfair and misapplied in my view. I did not take this as mere “truth-telling.”

  9. Tim Archer Post author


    I concede your point about my use of the phrase “all of this.” It wasn’t how I intended, but it was a poor choice of words. I put the emphasis on part; if it has a “part” in “all,” that part could be 1%. You emphasize “all,” which I admit is a possible reading. I should choose my words more carefully.

    You might look up the word “unsubstantiated.” I gave you a reference with almost a direct quote for what you had basically said was a fabrication on my part. In other words, I substantiated my claim. Instead of recognizing that, you change the argument.

    You were offended by my words; were you not at all bothered by what the U.S. has done in Latin America? Or shall we extend American exceptionalism to that tragic record as well? You can pick at my words, but you haven’t talked at all about the facts. Could it be that your attacking the easy target (me) rather than admitting that a country that claims to be Christian has never really acted that way?

    Grace and peace,

  10. Tim Archer Post author

    All right, just a bit more, at the risk of being overly defensive:
    (1) Quote: “I am fatigued by cheap-shot sweeping racism accusations.” Just remember that you are bringing that fatigue to this venue from outside. There are over 1000 posts here in The Kitchen. I doubt that even a dozen of them refer to racism.
    (2) “The term “the white man’s burden” has been interpreted by some as racist, or possibly taken as a metaphor for a condescending view of undeveloped national culture and economic traditions, identified as a sense of European ascendancy which has been called “cultural imperialism”. An alternative interpretation is the philanthropic view, common in Kipling’s formative years, that the rich have a moral duty and obligation to help “the poor” “better” themselves whether the poor want the help or not” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Man's_Burden)

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