In political science studies, it is not often that one reads of American Imperialism. The term imperialism is almost exclusively associated with colonial exploits of major European powers such as Britain, France and Germany in the West; and China and Japan in the East. Although a late joiner of the imperial club, the United States is by far the most dominant in this group. With the entity called the United States of America having emerged only toward the end of the eighteenth century, it was only in the subsequent centuries it could meaningfully expressed its imperial goals. And since Latin America is its closest neighbor, it was natural for the United States to take active interest in developments in the region. Often disparagingly referred to as US’ backyard, it was in Latin America that US’ imperialist goals were first implemented. (Field, 1978, p.659) And the continuation of these goals has led to genuine grievances among Latin American intellectuals and masses alike. It then comes as no surprise that anti-American sentiment in this part of the world is steadily increasing. The rest of this essay will present further evidence in support of this claim.
Looking at the history of American politics, the perception of the United States as an imperialist state was first mooted in the early part of the nineteenth century and the outbreak of the Spanish-American war in 1898 confirmed this fact. Indeed, the final years of the 19th century saw the peaking of American imperialist aggression as it occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands – the latter two eventually becoming American colonies. (Lens & Zinn, 2003) Unfortunately, though, not much has changed since the time of these conquests, creating a sense of resentment and despair among Latin Americans.
One of the objections of Latin Americans is America’s tendency to interfere in local politics purely to upkeep its strategic interests. Unfair trade agreements, detainment of illegal immigrants, toppling democratic governments by supporting military coups (in fact, the Central Intelligence Agency has gained a tarnished reputation for designing and executing many such coups). All of these factors have established political institutions in many countries in Latin America. In several others, American involvement has sapped the economy to the brink of collapse. But when looks at the views of founding fathers of the United States, they have unequivocally stated such strategic and economic goals, albeit covered in polished language. For example, the early indicators of imperialist tendency can be found in the founding documents of the country. Even luminaries such as Thomas Jefferson have articulated an imperialist vision for the United States in no unclear terms. The annexation of Louisiana in the eighteenth century is seen as the first act of this vision. During the nineteenth century, the U.S.’ foreign policy was largely confined to the American continent, with Central and Southern American regions being focal points. (Sawyer, 2004, p.115) As is typical of imperialist propaganda, convoluted justifications were given for aggressive foreign policy. It was stated that lands of ‘semi-civilized’ and ‘primitive’ peoples were occupied in order to bring Western civilization (which is supposedly superior) to these lands. Empire expansion was also projected as benign and compassionate, for Christian missionary work was invariably associated with it. Propaganda also had it that the standards of living of subjects of the empire will eventually rise. On the whole, imperialist enterprise was promoted using these vapid and empty slogans and motives. (Lens & Zinn, 2003) But sooner, the affected masses came to see these projected noble goals for what they are. And the stirring currents of dissent in Latin America today are one of its manifestations.