San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

US Secretary of State Kerry ends controversial Latin American foreign policy

Latin America will need to step up to the plate and take more responsibility for solving the region’s problems if it wants to be an equal partner with the United States, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla said at the Casa Presidencial on Tuesday.

The president’s comments followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech declaring an end to a policy known as the Monroe Doctrine that governed U.S.-Latin American relations for 200 years, delivered to an audience at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

The Monroe Doctrine, named after U.S. President James Monroe, declared in 1823 that the United States would interpret further European interference with the independent states of the Americas an act of war and act unilaterally as the “protector of the region,” according to Kerry’s speech.

Critics of the doctrine, however, saw the mantle of “protector of the region” as an opportunity to assert U.S. dominance over the Western Hemisphere.

“Today, however, we have made a different choice. The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over,” Kerry said, formally ending the foreign policy.

Costa Rica’s president agreed.

“For some time now, the state of the relationship between the United States and Latin America has been absolutely different,” Chinchilla told The Tico Times.

“In the past [we were] more accustomed to a more vertical dialogue between the United States and Latin America. This has been changing and it seems good to me. It expresses a maturing of relations. Of course, this means greater responsibility for Latin America and working together to solve the region’s problems,” the president added.

“There are countries in Latin America that continue using a discourse that blames the United States for all our problems, but at the same time [they] demand that the United States come up with all the solutions. It seems to me that if we’re going to demand the United States look for solutions, we also need to show more maturity. Many of the causes of the problems in our region do not have to do with the United States but with our own failings,” Chinchilla said.

Kerry had been roundly criticized earlier this year when he told U.S. lawmakers that “the Western Hemisphere is our backyard,” in comments that triggered anger from some Latin American leaders.

Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled the aid agency USAID following the speech, and denounced the United States, which he said “probably thinks that here it can still manipulate us politically and economically. That is a thing of the past.”

“Secretary Kerry’s speech to the OAS reflected the fact that the United States enjoys strong, respectful bilateral relationships with many countries in the region, including Costa Rica,” Eric Turner, information officer for the U.S. Embassy in San José, told The Tico Times in an email. 

“As U.S. President Barack Obama noted in his visit to Mexico and Costa Rica last May, there are no ‘senior partners,’ rather equal partners focused on areas of common interest, including enhancing economic prosperity and cooperating on regional security,” he added.

Kerry added, “It will require courage and a willingness to change, but above all, it will require a higher and deeper level of cooperation between us, all of us together as equal partners in this hemisphere.”  

AFP contributed to this report

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