Bolton Declares Monroe Doctrine ‘Alive and Well’ As White House Eyes Venezuela

April 19, 2019 by HJ Mai
El gobernante Nicolás Maduro afirmó el 28 de enero de 2019 que EEUU quiere "robar a Citgo", en relación a las sanciones que impuso la administración del presidente estadounidense Donald Trump. (VTV vía Youtube)

The Trump administration’s ongoing pressure campaign to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro out of office is based on an almost 200-year-old doctrine – one that was never meant to be a doctrine after all.

National Security Advisor John Bolton on Wednesday said that the Monroe Doctrine is “alive and well” after announcing the latest round of U.S. sanctions against Caracas.

For nearly two centuries, U.S. presidents have used President James Monroe’s 1823 message to Congress as a justification for unilateral intervention and American imperialism in the Western Hemisphere. And President Donald Trump is no exception.

While Trump appears more than happy to negotiate with authoritarian governments in North Korea and Saudi Arabia, his administration is unwilling to engage in similar talks with authoritarian regimes in the Americas. The reason for it, you guess it: the Monroe Doctrine.

“In this administration, we’re not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine,’” Bolton said on CNN’s “State of the Union” in early March. “This is a country in our hemisphere.”

On Thursday, Bolton doubled down on the administration’s use of the Monroe Doctrine as blueprint for its foreign policy strategy in the Americas, telling the PBS NewsHour that the policy is intended to throw a shield around the hemisphere, and it has worked for a long time.

While the success of the Monroe Doctrine depends largely on who you ask, its ideals of liberal order, open markets and anti-colonialism are undoubtedly noble elements, Jay Sexton, history professor at the University of Missouri and the author of “The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America,” told The Well News.

“The original [Monroe Doctrine] was never meant to be a doctrine. It was just a couple of non-sequential paragraphs within President Monroe’s annual message to Congress,” Sexton said. “It tells European powers that they can’t meddle in the Western Hemisphere, but it doesn’t say anything about what the U.S. policy is going to be. It was just a warning to foreign powers.”

The Monroe doctrine didn’t become a staple of American politics until the turn of the last century, when President Theodore Roosevelt used it as a pretext for intervening and occupying nations in the Caribbean and Central America, Sexton explained. Roosevelt’s expansion of the Monroe Doctrine would become known as the Roosevelt Corollary.

And it is exactly this interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine that has left a bitter taste in many Latin American countries, which consider it to be a sign of U.S. imperialism.

“There are many instances in which American statesman have invoked the doctrine in the sense of a unilateral action of intervention,” Sexton said. “That’s what it’s become most associated with in Latin American minds today.”

Venezuela’s remaining international allies didn’t hesitate and jumped on Bolton’s reference to the Monroe Doctrine. Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the use of the term was “insulting” to Latin America.

“I believe that Latin American states will react to John Bolton’s statement. He mentioned that the Monroe Doctrine could be used in Venezuela, which insults all of Latin America,” Lavrov said.

Bolton, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, brushed off any concerns by stating that the U.S. never has been an imperialist power and it won’t start now.

“It’s an important doctrine to keep in mind as we work for the objective that President Trump seeks here, which is the first completely free hemisphere in human history. We are not embarrassed by that,” Bolton told PBS. “What we want is to prevent others with imperialist aims from taking advantage of weakness, corruption and authoritarian nature of the Maduro-Chavez regime in Venezuela. That’s what we had in mind.”

The Trump administration’s decision to invoke the Monroe Doctrine when discussing the situation in Venezuela might not have anything to do with foreign policy but rather domestic politics, Sexton said.

“There’s no reason why you need to invoke this old, controversial symbol of American intervention,” he said. “I suspect the invocation of the Monroe Doctrine is about domestic politics.”

Throughout history, U.S. politicians have invoked the doctrine more often against each other than they have toward foreign governments, Sexton said.

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