It’s Official: the Monroe Doctrine Is Back

By Peter Bolton

Monroe Doctrine
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In November 2013, then-Secretary of State John Kerry declared: “The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” The reality of Obama administration policy did not entirely support this assertion; there was the executive order against Venezuela in 2015, support for the coup in Honduras in 2009, and ominously close ties with right-wing governments across the region.

But with other more encouraging steps such as the normalization of relations with Cuba and the (belated) show of support for the Colombian Peace Process, there were at least some modest steps towards greater mutual respect for national sovereignty in the Hemisphere.

Then came the unexpected election of Donald Trump. Though throughout his election campaign he expressed a preference for US isolationism and opposition to senseless war, once in office he appointed the very neoconservative war hawks he had earlier criticized for engineering such foreign debacles as the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

His appointments to hemispheric policy posts have been the least encouraging, with figures such as the convicted criminal Elliot Abrams reemerging from obscurity to saber-rattle against traditional Latin American foes. Ever since Trump entered the White House, there has been a growing sense that the Monroe Doctrine is back.

Now, that suspicion has been confirmed. On April 17, National Security Advisor John Bolton said: “Today, we proudly proclaim for all to hear: the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.”

Latest move in ‘Troika of Tyranny’ Strategy

Bolton made the announcement during a speech in Miami to veterans of the CIA-orchestrated invasion of Cuba in 1961 – known in Cuban-American exile folklore as the “Bay of Pigs.” But the main purpose of the speech was to make public the latest addition to his so-called “Troika of Tyranny” strategy: a new punitive measure against Cuba to add to the already crippling array of sanctions, isolation tactics, and trade prohibitions that make up the decades-long economic blockade.

Having severely, though not entirely, rolled back the Obama-era normalization process, the Trump administration now considers property in Cuba that was seized by the Cuban government from “Americans”  to be open game for lawsuits. It was unclear whether he was referring to US citizens generally, Cuban exiles specifically or any US resident, but he indicated that foreign companies with any business dealings relating to expropriated property will be subject to possible lawsuits.

He stated: “Americans who have had their private and hard-earned property stolen in Cuba will finally be allowed to sue.”

The measure will be implemented by reactivating a provision of the notorious Helms-Burton Act that up until now had been suspended since the Clinton administration.8 Known as “Title III,” the clause allows lawsuits against foreign companies that have “trafficked” or otherwise benefited from the use of property seized since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Such property is believed to include a wide range of real estate including residential houses and investments in the tourism industry such as hotels and ports used by cruise companies. Bolton also indicated that those who “traffic” in this “stolen” property will be denied visas to enter the United States.

International condemnation

The move has been widely condemned across the world including by Canada and multiple US allies in Europe who have warned of potential counter-lawsuits in response and pledged to challenge the move through the World Trade Organization.

In anticipation of Wednesday’s announcement, European Commission foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a joint letter sent on April 10 that “the issue of outstanding US claims should not be conflated with the cause of furthering democracy and human rights in Cuba.”

Similarly, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland released a statement on Wednesday saying that “Canada is deeply disappointed with today’s announcement.”

The new sanctions  come as the US has become ever more isolated on its policy toward Cuba. Last November, all but four of the 193 nations of the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution condemning the blockade.

The two “No” votes, unsurprisingly, came from the US and Israel (with two other nations casting abstentions). Similar resolutions have been passed by the General Assembly with a majority in favor every year since 1992 on the basis that the blockade is a violation of international law and the UN Charter.

This adds to decades-long condemnation from a wide array of international NGOs who have voiced their criticism.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for instance, has stated that “the economic sanctions [that make up the blockade] have an impact on the Cuban people’s human rights, and therefore [we urge] that the embargo be lifted." The Center for International Policy, meanwhile, has stated that the blockade has “created a situation of scarcity and uncertainty that has affected all aspects of Cuban society, including its healthcare system.”

Challenging the absolutist stance on private property

An exhaustive list of such statements would be far too long to enumerate here. But there is something more significant still that lies behind this latest punitive measure. It illustrates how the Monroe Doctrine has evolved to become intricately linked with the imposition and maintenance of the global neoliberal order.

This is because it shines a light on the most fundamental factor that has motivated US hostility against Cuba since 1959. As the late Saul Landau pointed out, this hostility was never predicated on human rights concerns; how could it be when the US has held lasting alliances with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Colombia and Honduras, which, if anything, have much worse human rights records than Cuba? Rather, it was the nationalization of US-owned assets by the revolutionary government – such as the agro-industrial corporations that controlled much of Cuba’s agricultural sector – that to this day represents the cardinal sin.

Threatening US economic interests is the one thing that Washington never forgives. For those countries that do serve Washington’s economic interests, on the other hand, there is practically nothing it won’t overlook. Indeed, President Trump all but spelled this out when he stated recently that the US’s relationship with the brutal Saudi dictatorship will continue since it’s good for business.

This latest move also strikes at the heart of the absolutist stance that Washington takes toward the concept of private property, which to a large extent underpins its entire neoliberal and imperialist value system. For Washington, the legitimacy of its own vision of private property is beyond question, an unassailable moral absolute without caveat. So long, that is, as such property relations are to the benefit of corporate power.

The fact that multinational corporations routinely violate the property rights of others – not to mention environmental, labor and consumer rights – is obfuscated under the twisted logic of neoliberal capitalism. Indeed, this fundamentally hypocritical vision of property relations forms a large part of prevailing neoliberal assumptions.

Private ownership and so-called “competition” amongst private actors are deified, while concepts such as “the commons” or “the public square” are demeaned and denigrated at every turn.

The role of the state is whittled down to enforcing the contractual relations of capitalism and social control, while beneficial state functions such as instituting social protections, providing access to public services, protecting the biosphere, and ensuring responsible regulation of the economy are dispensed with.