Imperialistic America


It is difficult to follow the expansion of America in the Caribbean without feeling that it will go farther. Utter recklessness and incompetency have characterized the management of every one of these pseudostates which the preoccupations of the real nations have temporarily abandoned to independence. It was a matter of chance which one of the dancers should first pay the piper, but all have danced and all must pay. To the independence party Central America is its own little world. To the imperialistic, party it is but a pawn on the mighty chessboard of world empire. The United States plays the vaster game, must play it and play it well, for the stake is its existence. We have learned subtler ways of winning, more varied ways of ruling. Never was our frontier more alive than it is to-day. Not one American in a hundred realizes that we have a protectorate over Haiti and that our control is creeping out through all these southern seas. If he knew, his only reaction would probably be a slightly increased complacency. The door is thus opened wide for a government, embarrassed by the mischievous irresponsibility of these petty make-believe states, to take refuge in an ever-broadening imperialism.— H. H. POWERS, in ‘America among the Nations.’

THIS bold statement of North America’s imperialism in the Caribbean may shock some readers, but the fact of its rapid development cannot be denied. It is the outstanding development in the international policy of the United States, as interpreted by its Government and its financial interests. After watching it rather closely for several years, the author believes that it bodes more evil than any other tendency on the American continent to-day.

In these smaller countries of the South, controlled by our soldiers, our bankers, and our oil kings, we are developing our Irelands, our Egypts, and our Indias. So far they are weak and we have been able to hide them from others. But at the rate the world is moving they can hardly be expected to remain always powerless and isolated. Our North American Christian civilization will find its final test in the way we treat our next-door neighbors. We are piling up hatreds, suspicions, records for exploitation and destruction of sovereignty in Latin America, such as have never failed in all history to react in war, suffering, and defeat of high moral and spiritual ideals. How can the United States expect to be the one exception to the rule?

Run your eyes rapidly down the map and note the countries where the United States is now in practical control. And remember that this control always brings resentment and enmity among the people, though their officials may approve it. Here is the list: —

Cuba, where the United States has a navy base, with marines often found in the interior of the country, with the threat of intervention always held over the Cuban Government, which can make no loan nor dispose of any territory without the consent of the United States, whose representative at Havana largely controls the political and financial policies of a land whose economic life is determined by absentee landlords and bankers living in the United States.

Haiti, where two thousand United States marinesdirect and ‘protect’ the Haitian Government, elected under their supervision; where an American financial adviser exercises absolute control over finances, collecting customs and making loans which the United States Government guarantees, thus assuring its continued occupancy of Haiti, and where, moreover, the nation’s constitution was rewritten to permit the acquisition of land by United States’ companies.

Santo Domingo, where for the first time in the history of republics, one republic, without declaring war on another, landed an army, dismissed the president and congress, and for seven years ruled entirely, without even a semblance of national government, by military decrees enforced by a foreign military governor, backed by 2500 marines. Recent promises to retire the military governor are conditioned on the Dominicans’ ratification of all the acts of the military government and agreement to allow the United States to continue to collect the customs and administer the finances of the country.

Panama, where, as President Roosevelt said, ‘I took Panama,’ since which time it has been under control of the United States, with an ‘agreement’ providing for the disbanding of the Panamanian army, the taking over at any time of further Panamanian territory considered necessary for protection of the Canal, and carrying out any other measures which might be covered under the general formula of ‘maintaining the independence of the Republic of Panama.’

Nicaragua, where we have maintained one hundred marines since 1912, keeping in control a government which — according to the United States Admiral in charge — is opposed by eighty per cent of the Nicaraguans, but which is favorable to American bankers, who, with the approval of the State Department, collect the customs and own the national bank and the railroad —such a complete control that the country is known throughout Latin America by the name of the bankers who hold these privileges.

Honduras, where the American minister and two American corporations have long been the controlling powers, and where recently marines have been landed for ‘ protection of American life and property ‘ — the same formula under which they have entered and remained in the other countries mentioned.

Here then are six republics where the United States’ economic control is backed by military forces on the ground.

Next we come to the countries where North American financial advisers directing the fiscal policy of the governments have not yet brought, military forces, but following precedent in the above named republics, they may at any time bring those forces which are always handy on the battle cruisers that continuously patrol the Caribbean. These countries are as follows: —

Salvador, where a loan at eight per cent — plus extra charges — has been recently made by New York bankers, which loan is guaranteed by seventy per cent of the customs receipts, collected by the bankers, with the agreement made by the Secretary of State of the United States that if any differences arise between Salvador and the bankers, he — the Secretary of State — will refer the question to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, whose word shall be final.

Colombia, where an American financial mission has just outlined a reorganization of the fiscal system of the republic, especially advising as to the expenditure of the $25,000,000 the United States is now paying to Colombia — officially because of the Panama Canal Zone, but, according to the explanation of Messrs. Lodge and Fall in arguing for the treaty which they had before so bitterly condemned, because we needed Colombia’s friendship in order to favor American petroleum companies and secure other concessions.

Ecuador, where the government has recently engaged an American financial adviser, where an American president of the principal railroad owns most of the stock, and where American interests recently blocked an English loan.

Peru, where an American financial adviser directs the fiscal policies of the government, and a loan is pending by American bankers which would be guaranteed by the customs, collected by Americans.

Bolivia, where the hardest bargain of all has been driven, with a loan of $24,000,000 floated, which is guaranteed by the country’s customs, by the stock in the government bank, by a government railroad, and finally by all the internal revenues of the country, which may be augmented at any time to suit the commission of the American bankers — which commission now assumes complete control of Bolivia’s finances including practically the power to dictate what Bolivia’s tariffs and taxes shall be.

Here are five more countries where Americans have been called to direct the fiscal policy of the governments, making a total of eleven. But this is only official direction.

We must now retrace our steps on the map and look at the third class of countries. These are the ones dominated by North American capitalists, though not having Americans officially appointed to direct their fiscal programme.

They number three as follows: —

Guatemala, where American bankers control the business, American money is the medium of circulation, and the United Fruit Company and other American financial interests have secured control of the railroads, which now become a part of the International Railways of Central America — the largest American-owned railway enterprise outside of the United States.

Costa Rica, where, after thirty years’ peace, American oil and banana interests recently fomented a revolution against a reform government and at present largely control the economic life of the country and often act as brokers for the government.

Mexico, where Americans own one third of the $2,500,000,000 of the nation’s wealth, with seventy-three per cent of the oil lands and much the largest part of the 54,874,557 acres of land owned by foreigners (an area equal to France, Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland), an d where American financial representatives are the most important plenipotentiaries received by the Mexican Government.


To recapitulate: Out of the twenty Latin-American republics, eleven of them now have their financial policies directed by North Americans officially appointed. Six of these ten have the financial agents backed by American military forces on the ground. (This includes Cuba, which has no official financial adviser; but General Crowder has so acted during recent financial readjustments.) Four of the remaining half of these Southern countries have their economic and fiscal life closely tied to the United States through large loans and concessions, giving special advantages to American capitalists.

This leaves the six countries of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela as the only ones outside the circle of North American financial control. While Americans have recently made large loans or secured extensive concessions from these last-named countries they have, so far as the author knows, not yet acquired such a preponderant influence as to dictate their fiscal policies. But these six countries are trembling in their boots, wondering how long before the inevitable must arrive!

Along with this economic and military dominance goes a dominance in the internal affairs of Latin America. In the Caribbean countries especially, the word of the American Minister is the most important factor for any government to consider. It is impossible for anyone who has not come into close contacts with these countries to realize how completely their governments are held in the hollow of the hand of the State Department at Washington. In fact the government officials of these countries are so far accustomed to doing Washington’s will that the State Department frequently finds it necessary to refuse to do things related to internal order that native officials, often indebted to their Big Brother for their position, request, it to do. This creates a strong inconsistency in the policy of the State Department from time to time. What one official refused to do as interference with internal order, another will do, and even the same official will judge differently at different times. At one time we allow a revolution, at another we forbid it. So it happens that, as with a fond parent, who at one time will insist on making all decisions for his son, at another will throw him entirely on his own resources, at one time will pay the forged check, at another will let him go to jail, so it is with these little countries — pawns on the international chessboard as Mr. Powers says — who never know what is to happen to them. Usually the State Department seems hesitant about making suggestions to one of these smaller governments concerning improvement in a national educational programme, lest this be considered as interference in internal affairs. But it is always sure of the right to do anything that comes under the formula: ‘protection of American lives and property.’ Since American lives seldom are in danger, American property naturally gets first place. In fact it is only in countries where American property interests are paramount that this tutelage is employed.


This recent economic dominance in Latin America is directly connected with the recent resurgent policy of isolation from Europe. We stay out of Europe; we go into Latin America. The corollary — Europe must stay out of Latin America; Latin America must stay out of Europe. ‘Business first.’ ‘Why take a mandate for Armenia,’ asked one of our Senators, ‘since there are no oil fields there?’ The greatest oil deposits in the world are in Latin America, so we ‘ll take our mandates there, and we will write our own terms. To be sure that these terms are to our liking, we are recently giving the Monroe Doctrine a new application, isolating Europe from Latin America.

As President Lowell says: ‘Some Americans, while professing a faith in the right of all peoples to independence and self-government, are really imperialists at heart. They believe in the right and manifest destiny of the United States to expand by overrunning its weaker neighbors. They appeal to a spirit of patriotism that sees no object, holds no ideals, and acknowledges no rights or duties but the national welfare and aggrandizement. In the name of that principle Germany sinned and fell. The ideas of these American imperialists are less grandiose, but at bottom they differ little from hers. According to that view Central and South America are a game preserve, from which poachers are excluded but where the proprietor may hunt as he pleases. Naturally the proprietor is anxious not only to keep away the poachers but to oppose game laws that would interfere with his own sport.’

During the last few years the United States has pursued a steady policy of eliminating European poachers. The first way is by American Government and American banks ‘funding,’ that is, combining together all the various international obligations of a nation, after which one big loan to care for it all is floated in the United States. The foreign creditors are then paid off and eliminated. Then the United States Government, in seeing that such a loan is paid, is protecting only its own citizens. This funding process was first carried out in Santo Domingo in 1905. It has been extended now to about half the Latin-American States. As the Department of Commerce has recently stated: ‘Our great interest in Latin America is largely a growth of the last ten years. Yet our investments now include $610,000,000 in public securities and $3,150,000,000 in industries.’

The next step in this elimination of Europe is in the matter of arbitrations. The president of Switzerland, the king of England, the king of Spain, the president of France, and other distinguished Europeans have in the past been selected by Latin America as arbitrators in the many cases Latin America has settled by arbitration. But the United States Government is now using its great power to eliminate all this. At the Santiago Conference there was a steady drive by the NorthAmerican delegation to eliminate all European participation in arbitrations and all other American matters.

One of the first acts of Mr. Hughes as Secretary of State was to settle a dispute between Panama and Costa Rica, sending military forces to emphasize his settlement. Both these nations were members of the League of Nations, whose Covenant required that it extend its good offices to any members in controversy. But the League was not allowed to use its good offices. In the same way the Tacna and Arica dispute between Peru and Chile was first brought before the League of Nations for settlement. But the Monroe Doctrine did not allow the League to touch it, and it is now before the President of the United States.

The third way in which we are eliminating Europe from America is seen in the naval mission to Brazil. The principal reason for sending that mission was the one which is given for every imperialistic act from Santo Domingo to Honduras: ‘If we don’t, Europe will.’ For a century England, France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy have sent military or naval missions to Latin America. But that policy must be stopped. So when England was about to send a naval mission to Brazil, we substituted our own. If the Government that called the Disarmament Conference in Washington had sought, when this matter of a mission came up, an agreement among all interested parties that no more missions should be requested or sent; and if it had then lent its good offices in the Santiago Conference to bring about an agreement on disarmament instead of standing off, as a disinterested spectator, the terrible race for armament, now beginning in South America, could have been avoided. But to Argentina’s appeal against the mission, as a movement that would generate suspicions and augment naval expenditures, the State Department replies: ‘We play no favorites, we are ready to send you a mission also.’ In fact, we have another mission in Peru.

In one of the recent proposals made by the State Department to Santo Domingo it put as one of the conditions of withdrawing the marines that we be requested to send them a military mission. In the last few years our government has sold arms to different Latin-American countries. Of course, our arms-manufacturers are continually in the business, one recent order being for ten submarines made for Brazil, another the reconditioning of the two dreadnoughts owned by Argentina. We have just established a further military precedent, which is likely to have a far-reaching influence, by our Government selling arms to the Mexican Government to suppress an armed revolution against it.

We have invited a number of LatinAmerican countries, as a special work of friendship, to send their officers to West Point for further training. Our Government has never sent an educational mission to Latin America, nor offered scholarships in her scientific or cultural institutions to Latin Americans. Where unofficial educational missions — like the one recently going to Peru — and official educational advisers, like the one that went to Nicaragua— have met with difficulties, it has let them go down in defeat and withdraw in ignominy. To do otherwise would have been ‘ interfering with the internal affairs of a sister nation’!

Will not someone kindly explain why, when we are arranging to direct the financial and military affairs of these nations, we should not with equal propriety arrange to direct their educational systems? At least it might have the advantage of economy. For what the United States Government paid for the Pershing expedition into Mexico it could have built and equipped in every town of Mexico, of over four thousand population, a high school, a hospital, and a social centre, and in addition presented each one of these towns with an endowment of $700,000 with which to conduct these institutions. Yet a proposal for the establishment of a North American college in Mexico City, advocated by the most distinguished educators of the United States and Mexico for the last ten years, has languished because a beginning cannot be made on furnishing the five million dollars finally needed.

Here we have then, briefly stated, the programme of economic imperialism and isolation from Europe which the United States is fostering to-day in Latin America.


What does the rest of the world think about this programme?

In no country has the military occupation of Santo Domingo and Haiti been more discussed than in Japan, where the Government has formed now its own Monroe Doctrine of the Orient, by which it justified its recent Twenty-one Demands on China, and its imperialism in Korea.

The press of France is filled with comment on the matter, running from sarcastic slurs on the United States as the good Samaritan of the New World to the defense of France’s policy in financing the Little Entente, in buying arms, and in the occupation of the Ruhr for the alleged collection of debts.

The Manchester Guardian, in an article recently reprinted in more than a dozen different countries, has clearly told the story. The press of Spain, of course, finds here its favorite theme. Italy, Egypt, India, Ireland, and Russia find here proof texts, alike for preachments favoring radicalism and reaction.

As for Latin America, the situation is tragic. Since the Santiago Conference a resurgence of opposition against the United States has made the old campaigns of Ugarte and Blanco Fombona seem as nothing. During the last year at least two papers have been founded in Argentina and one in Honduras, backed by some of the most distinguished men of Latin America, whose whole purpose is opposition to t he United States. In practically every one of the prominent Spanish-American magazines it is now the custom to carry in each issue one or more articles against the United States. Formerly friends of the United States in those countries combated such attacks. But scarcely ever do we find defenders now. Old friends have either changed or they do not care to oppose the tide. Latin-American government officials, of course, are still outwardly friendly. They have to be. This is probably why our State Department has recently expressed its opinion that never before have our relations with Latin America been so cordial. But if the Department thinks that, it is living in a fool’s paradise.

La Prensa of Buenos Aires sharply challenged the optimistic report made to the Secretary of State by the United States delegation to the Santiago Conference, saying: —

What occurred in Santiago, and the inexact, the incomplete, exaggeratedly optimistic report made to the Government of the United States, demand a rectification in the interest of Pan Americanism which to-day is facing a profound crisis. . . . The Conference has perturbed the tranquillity of the situation in general and especially among certain groups like the Rio de la Plata group (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil). In the question of disarmament the part of the United States was scarcely welcome, since they, being the initiators of the movement for universal disarmament, and authors of that subject on the programme of the Santiago Conference, then abandoned this attitude at Santiago. . . . Do the good people of the United States know these things, which so profoundly affect their interests? . . . The United States has a great mission in favor of PanAmerican friendship, but they must reorganize their work on another basis, taking into account the discontent which exists in the greater part of the Latin-American countries. The lack of diplomacy, of exact information, and of coördination among the various officials of the United States Government, in regard to Pan-Americanism, is blocking its development.

No one who visits these countries, mixes on equality with the people in general, reads their literature and attends their theatres and lecture halls, can fail to realize the truth of the following, written by an Argentina professor — a friend who laments the fact he describes as much as does any American: —

As is well known, up until the present, whenever reference is made to closer relations between the two Americas the intensification of economic relations between them is the usual method advocated. This attitude, in which many eminent personalities have taken part, has not been able to accomplish the desired results. It is certainly true that in Latin America the conviction seems to have grown largely that the egotistic motive is the one that guides the Uhited States in its relations with these countries and the materialistic conception of the North-American civilization has been more largely confirmed in recent time. The current of sympathy toward his country which Wilson succeeded in arousing during the war, and which caused Ricardo Rojas to say that the legend of a ruddly and cannibalistic Yankee had disappeared and that the United States was displaying a magnificent spirit, has gradually disappeared. For people in general once again the North-American civilization is considered as barbaric, and automatically moved only by a utilitarian objective.

We would even venture to say, at least in reference to Argentina, that she finds herself further removed from the United States to-day than she was in the sixth and seventh decade of the past century. At that time, at least, our people were influenced by the fervid enthusiasm for North-American democracy, felt by Sarmiento and Alberdi. Certainly with France and England the United States had captured our sympathy. To-day this has all been modified. While France continues captivating us by the excellencies of her literature, and Great Britain continues attracting our thinkers as the country of free institutions and good political sense, the United States presents herself to us as principally concerned in the conquest of our markets.

Only in the United States do the press and the people ignore how our economic imperialism is eliminating friendships and fostering suspicions. With our accustomed optimism and assurance of our altruistic motives we continue as the trombonist, who claimed he was the greatest trombone-player in the world. When someone told him he would have to prove it, he replied, ‘I don’t have to prove it, I admit it.’ And, should all the world challenge our idealism in relation to Latin America, we might go on serenely; for this is the greatest nation on the face of the earth, owning one third of the wealth of the world and possessing the largest force of efficient man power humanity has ever seen. To quote Secretary Olney, ‘Its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition’.

But can we be sure that always we shall be strong enough to ignore the feeling of Latin America and all other potential enemies seeking their alliance? Already there are three combinations forming which may some day become strong enough to challenge effectually this ever increasing dominance. These combinations are The League of Nations, the proposed LatinAmerican League and the Pan-Latin Movement.

Suppose the League of Nations already comprising three fourths of the population of the world should some day feel itself strong enough to accept the request of one or more of its LatinAmerican members and mediate between them, as its covenant provides that it shall. Can we look forward with complacency to the question of deciding as to whether we shall flatly oppose the moral consciousness of the world or whether we shall back down under pressure? Suppose that some day in the future we repeat in some Latin-American country, member of the League, a landing of marines and seizing of the sovereignty of the country as we did in Santo Domingo and Haiti, and the League feels itself strong enough to protest — as it did in the case of Italy and Corfu? Can we look forward with pleasure to such a challenge?

Certainly we cannot be entirely sure that the League will not grow more powerful, and more disposed to carry out its agreements with its American members.

One of the outstanding opponents of the World Court in the United States Senate recently said to a friend that one strong reason for his opposition to our entering the Court was that some of the Caribbean countries now under our control might then challenge this occupancy before the World Court.

Col. Roosevelt even before the formation of a League of Nations said of the proposed treaty with Colombia:—

If succeeding administrations can act as Wilson’s is now acting in reference to mine, then unquestionably there is far heavier claims for reparation against the United States . . . by Santo Domingo and Haiti for her invasion and overthrow of their government by armed forces without declaration of war, while Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, all have similar grievances and in the case of one (I think Costa Rica) the International Court of the Isthmus has actually decided we are to blame.

Certainly, so far as a combined Latin America is concerned, no one will question the fact that these nations are growing stronger every day, and at the end of this century will have come to be foes worthy of consideration. Our recent restrictive immigration law will be a considerable factor in the growth of these southern lands.

With the present policy continued, then we shall find ourselves more isolated than the fondest nationalist ever dared desire. Then we shall find that the profits on oil and bananas and sugar, which went into the pockets of a few, were not worth the price of enmities developed in our Southern neighbors against our whole nation.


This isolation forced on Latin America is already bringing its counter movements. While we are talking of how we are protecting Latin America from Europe, the Latin Americans are betaking themselves as fast as they can to Europe for protection against us. In the League of Nations they have found exactly the kind of international understanding they have advocated for years. And the Europeans have not hesitated to give Latin America the leading honors in the League. Two of the four presidents of the annual assemblies of the League have been Latin Americans. Two out of the six elected members of the Council are Latin Americans. Two out of the eleven judges of the World Court, elected from all nations of the world, are Latin Americans. Some of the most important heads of committees come from Latin America, and the LatinAmerican section of the League at Geneva is a section of great influence.

While the Latin Americans are becoming more engrossed in the League, they are becoming more indifferent to the Pan-American Union. At the last Pan-American Conference at Santiago the United States told Latin America that the Monroe Doctrine was none of its affair; that we are interested in commercial agreements, but that we should have nothing to do with an American League of Nations where all American countries could sit at a Round Table to discuss their problems; and that we were opposed to a reorganization of the Pan-American Union, so that the dominance of the United States should be less apparent — a dominance so marked at Santiago that even the Director of the Union figured as a member of the United States delegation. While the Conference did some useful things, the United States delegation pushed nothing but commercial and health questions, and fought every move which would put Latin America on an equal basis with the United States in determining inter-American questions. As a promoter of good feeling between the Americas, the Conference was a distinct disappointment.

On the adjournment of the Conference without effecting any agreement on disarmament, the Brazilian delegation announced that the question would be referred to the Disarmament Commission of the League of Nations, which could no doubt work out a satisfactory solution. The League has since been working on an agreement between the ABC countries, to stop the armament race and ugly feeling started at the Santiago meeting.

Following the Santiago Conference, a movement has been launched in Buenos Aires, by influential university professors and students and other prominent men, for the establishment of a Lat in-American League. They are publishing a paper and pushing their organization with all enthusiasm.

The old idea of a Pan-Latin League has also been revived, taking advantage of the growing distrust of the United States. While King Alfonso was visiting the Pope recently, Mussolini and Primo de Rivera were planning a new entente between these two Latin countries and Spanish America. Portugal also has been drawn into the movement and the proposed visit of King Alfonso to South America is expected to contribute largely to it. France, always recognized as the inspiration of the spiritual life of Latin America, is more active than ever in its promotion.


Altogether, this is a dark picture. It is a severe indictment of our imperialism — an imperialism which the author believes has not been developed deliberately, but has stolen over us as a part of the materialistic spirit of the times. It is a departure from the ideals of our fathers. The North American visitor in the Caribbean these days, sensitive to those ideals, often blushes with shame and suffers the deepest humiliation on beholding sights enacted in the name of our fair America — acts which his fellow citizens at home would deem impossible. So one who has seen much of these things and has become alarmed at their rapid spread is constrained to risk all the penalties of plain speaking in order to challenge this un-American movement — un-American although some of the finest men one can meet have been caught up in its onrush. These men have often built good roads, established sanitary codes, and enforced peace. But these are not worth the surrender of American principles, the bowing before materialistic gods, the hatreds and the sacrifice of the spiritual, which the programme involves. Even if such a programme should help Latin America, the people of the United States cannot go on destroying with impunity the sovereignty of other peoples, however weak, cutting across the principles for which our fathers fought, without the reaction being shown throughout our whole body politic.

Some day we shall realize that the whole rotten mess of investigation now being played with at Washington runs directly back to the mental attitudes and the combinations involved in the policy of ‘cleaning up’ our next-door neighbors — a phrase which may seem to have moral significance to the average innocent citizen and official, but which, for the privileged few, takes on the more modern significance of ‘cleaning out.’ No one objects to legitimate business with our neighbors. On the contrary, it is vital to all concerned. But the continuance of this dollar diplomacy, with its combination of bonds and battleships, means the destruction of our nation just as surely as it meant the destrucion of Egypt and Rome and Spain and Germany and all the other nations who came to measure their greatness by their material possessions rather than by their passion for justice and by the number of their friendly neighbors.