Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy - Wilson's initial policy for latin america



When Wilson took office in March 1913, the immediate problems he faced in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean gave him opportunities to apply these concepts to Latin American policy. He promptly presented a draft Latin American policy statement to his cabinet. Most of the cabinet thought Wilson's proposal hasty and radical; it had not been discussed with Bryan or other advisers, or with Latin American diplomats in Washington. D.C. Wilson held firm, arguing that the change in administration in Washington could not be the occasion for a wave of irresponsible revolutions in Latin America. His statement appeared in the press on 12 March 1913.

Wilson said that his administration desired the "most cordial understanding and cooperation" with Latin America. "As friends … we shall prefer those who act in the interest of peace and honor, who protect private rights, and respect the restraints of constitutional provision." Wilson concluded by extending "the hand of genuine disinterested friendship." The statement was a curious mixture of Wilson's commitment to democracy and constitutionalism, a profession of neighborly friendship, and a threat against revolutionists. He put forward a significant change in United States recognition policy: de facto governments would have to be constitutionally legitimate in order to gain recognition. Otherwise, Wilson's statement did not really change Latin American policy.

Wilson's address to the Southern Commercial Congress at Mobile, Alabama, on 27 October 1913 presumably did. He predicted improved and closer relations between the United States and its southern neighbors. The United States would seek a "spiritual union" with Latin America and the freeing of those nations from the exploitative nature of foreign concessions. Referring to the Panama Canal, then under construction, he noted, "While we physically cut two continents asunder, we spiritually unite them. It is a spiritual union which we seek." The canal would "open the world to a commerce … of intelligence, of thought and sympathy between north and south." Wilson deplored the exploitative nature of foreign concessions in Latin American nations. "I rejoice in nothing so much as in the prospect that they will now be emancipated from these conditions, and we ought to be the first to take part in assisting that emancipation." In conclusion, Wilson emphasized his commitment to "constitutional liberty."

As Wilson's first term progressed, the promise of the Mobile address disintegrated. United States intervention in Latin America escalated to heights perhaps beyond the comprehension of earlier practitioners of "big stick" and dollar diplomacy. Missionary diplomacy created seemingly permanent hostility between the United States and Latin America. This was especially true in Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, which experienced Wilsonian interventionism in its most virulent forms.



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