Over 100 organizations that work on issues related to Latin America and the Caribbean sent a letter to Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump calling for the next administration to adopt a new Good Neighbor Policy toward the region based on non-intervention, cooperation and mutual respect. Current policies punish innocent civilians through harsh economic sanctions, destabilize the region through coups and attempts at regime change, and are a significant factor in driving migration northwards. Among the organizations calling for a new approach are Alianza Americas, Amazon Watch, the Americas Program, Center for International Policy, CODEPINK, Demand Progress, Global Exchange, the Latin America Working Group and Oxfam America.
The letter to the presidential candidates warns that in “January 2021, the President of the United States will face a hemisphere that will not only still be reeling from the coronavirus but will also likely be experiencing a deep economic recession.” The letter calls for the next administration to follow a new Good Neighbor Policy and proposes that “the best way for the United States to help is not by seeking to impose its will, but rather by engaging with the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean as equal partners.”
“The Trump administration openly calls its Latin America and Caribbean policy the ‘Monroe Doctrine 2.0’, and the Democratic Party hasn’t been much better. Its platform calls the entire Western Hemisphere ‘America’s strategic home base.’ The countries and peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America aren’t anyone’s backyard or home base, they are sovereign and want their relations with Washington to be based on non-intervention, mutual respect and cooperation for the common good,” said Leonardo Flores, Latin America Campaign Coordinator for CODEPINK. “If the U.S. government applied these principles, it would end the broad sanctions that punish innocent civilians in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and instead resolve its differences with these countries through diplomacy and multilateralism.”
In addition to calling for an end to stifling economic sanctions, the organizations also call for ending U.S. arms sales and militarization of the region, ending political interference in elections and domestic affairs, supporting the human rights of all peoples, and implementing a humane immigration policy and fairer economic policies.
Dear Vice President Biden,
As organizations that care about United States policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean, we write to urge you to adopt a broad set of reforms to reframe relations with our neighbors to the south.
Shortly after meeting with President Raúl Castro of Cuba in April of 2015, President Obama stated that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past.” Two years prior to that, his Secretary of State, John Kerry, had earned praise throughout the region after announcing that the “era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” To many, it appeared that the U.S. government was reviving the “Good Neighbor” regional policy of respect for Latin American and Caribbean self-determination and human rights that had been announced under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then quickly abandoned during the Cold War.
The Monroe Doctrine – asserting U.S. geopolitical control over the region – served as a pretext for over 100 years of military invasions, support for military dictatorships, the financing of security forces involved in mass human rights violations, economic blackmail, and support for coups against democratically elected governments, among other horrors that have caused many Latin Americans and Caribbeans to flee north in search of safety and opportunity.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt distanced himself from this doctrine, outlining a new vision for relations in the hemisphere. His “Good Neighbor” policy temporarily ended the gunboat diplomacy that characterized U.S. foreign policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the policy had its flaws, such as FDR’s support for the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, his administration’s failures were often the result of not following the Good Neighbor principle of non-interference.
In January 2021, the President of the United States will face a hemisphere that will not only still be reeling from the coronavirus but will also likely be experiencing a deep economic recession. The best way for the United States to help is not by seeking to impose its will, but rather by engaging with the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean as equal partners.
We hope that your administration will adopt a New Good Neighbor Policy and commit to the following:
Ending broad economic sanctions
The embargo against Cuba has been a 60-year disaster that has caused countless deaths, cost the Cuban economy billions of dollars, shut U.S. businesses out of an important market, and contributed to deep antipathy towards the US throughout the region and much of the world. More recent sanctions regimes against Venezuela and Nicaragua are also causing widespread human suffering. Furthermore, U.S. sanctions violate the Charter of the Organization of American States, the United Nations Charter, and international human rights law. They target the civilian population and therefore would violate both the Hague and Geneva Conventions — to which the US is a signatory — if they were committed during a war. We call on you to end unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed through past presidential orders and to work with Congress to repeal the Helms-Burton Act, which imposes unilateral economic sanctions against Cuba. The United States should resolve its policy differences through diplomacy, multilateralism and engagement.
Though the Cold War ended decades ago, the U.S. continues to provide and export hundreds of millions of dollars of police and military equipment and training to Latin American and Caribbean countries each year. In many cases, such as Honduras and Colombia, U.S. funding and training have supported troops involved in corruption and egregious human rights abuses, including numerous extrajudicial killings and attacks targeting local activists and journalists. Much of this aid and weapons exports, which have accompanied the increased militarization of law enforcement, are transferred in the name of the decades-long war on drugs, which the vast majority of the U.S. public has long believed to be a failure. Rather than abating drug trafficking and violence, this approach incentivizes drug trafficking and fuels a vicious cycle of violence. Often US-backed forces are themselves involved in drug trafficking and defend the interests of big landowners and corporations, while violently repressing land rights activists. There is no justification for U.S. security programs in the region. No national security threat exists and a “war on drugs” is a counterproductive way to deal with a US public health issue that is best addressed through decriminalization and equitable legal regulation. It is time to scale down US “security assistance” and arms sales and remove US military and law enforcement personnel from the region.
Ending political interference
The US government has a long, troubling history of interfering in the internal politics of countries of the region. It has frequently carried out military invasions to impose or remove political leaders and it has supported rightwing military coups that have invariably resulted in violent repression. In the name of “democracy promotion,” the US government has trained and funded political groups that it favors while supporting public relations campaigns to try to marginalize the political forces that it opposes. Time and time again, the US has sought to shape the outcome of elections to favor its perceived interests. Here at home, we rightly condemn any sort of foreign interference in our own country’s domestic politics and elections, so how can we continue to engage in gross interference in the politics of our neighbors? It is time for the US to respect the political sovereignty of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Any major political crises that emerge in the region should be dealt with through multilateral engagements, not unilateral actions.
Supporting the human rights of all peoples
The US has an important role to play in advocating for human rights across the hemisphere, a role that can only be strengthened by ensuring that the US government does not violate human rights in its own territory, on its borders or overseas. Special attention should be paid at home and abroad to the rights of historically excluded communities, including indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, LGBTQ+ individuals, women, and migrants and refugees. The United States should speak out when human rights defenders, including environmental and land rights activists and labor organizers, are in danger—a situation all too frequent in Latin America and the Caribbean today. For the US to credibly speak about rights, it should sign and ratify international treaties including, but not limited to, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as other covenants relating to racial discrimination, women, children, persons with disabilities, migrants, and torture. Furthermore, the US should work towards depoliticizing and strengthening existing multilateral institutions that defend human rights, and the US must ensure that it does not instrumentalize rights for political gain – too often, human rights violations in the US or in allied countries are ignored, while violations in countries considered adversaries are magnified.
The next administration must undo the brutal harms of the 2016-2020 Trump administration and must understand how past U.S. economic, security and environmental policies have fueled mass migration. It must also reject the status quo of the Obama administration, which deported more people than any administration ever before and built the infrastructure for the Trump administration to carry out violent anti-immigrant policies. These include an increase in border militarization, growth in the privatized immigration detention system, an increase in DHS information-sharing programs like Secure Communities, more ICE partnerships with local police, and an increase in ICE raids, among others. The next administration must hear the demands for immigrant justice, and implement the following measures: enact a day-one moratorium on all deportations; end mass prosecutions of individuals who cross the border; re-establish asylum procedures at the border; provide an immediate path to citizenship for the Dreamers and for Temporary Protected Status holders; terminate the Muslim Ban; rescind funding for the border wall; rescind the myriad abusive Trump administration’s regulatory changes that have denied basic rights to immigrants; rescind the “zero-tolerance” (family separation) policy and other policies that prioritize migration-related prosecutions; reallocate resources away from immigration enforcement agencies and towards community-based alternatives to detention programs; and end private immigration detention.
The US government has engaged in a variety of economic interventions in the region in order to promote a neoliberal economic agenda that benefits transnational capital and local elites while generating greater inequality, environmental destruction and living conditions for ordinary citizens. The US intervenes in domestic economic policymaking in countries in large part through its enormous influence within multilateral financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank. In order to obtain credit lines from these organizations, governments typically have to agree to austerity measures and other policies that lead to the downsizing of welfare states and a weakening of workers’ bargaining power. In addition, the trade agreements that Washington promotes in the region have invariably led to the deregulation of financial markets and the strengthening of foreign investor protections, which prioritize the “rights” of corporations over peoples’ rights. As such, the US should end the undue power given to corporate interests to exploit other countries economically through investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions found in trade and investment agreements, which allow corporations to sue countries in supranational tribunal over public interest and environmental regulations that affect their expected profits. To help the region develop, the US needs to allow countries to choose their own paths, instead of supporting external institutions that claim to support development while actually serving the interests of corporations and global finance. Further, it must be ensured that US foreign assistance supports public health and education services by channeling funding primarily to NGOs that take on these services in coordination with local and state entities and priorities, as well as in consultation with local and affected communities.
The principles of non-intervention and non-interference, mutual respect, acceptance of our differences, and working together for the common good could form the foundation of a New Good Neighbor policy that would allow the U.S. to restore peace and make a positive contribution to the well-being of people throughout the hemisphere.
- ActionAid USA
- African Services Committee
- Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice
- Albany Cuba Solidarity
- Alianza Americas
- Alliance for Global Justice
- Amazon Watch
- American Friends Service Committee
- Americas Program
- Arts & Cultural Bridge Foundation
- Bolivarian Circle ALberto Lovera New York
- Building Relations with Cuban Labor
- Casa Baltimore Limay
- Center for Common Ground
- Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law
- Center for International Policy
- Central American Resource Center – DC
- Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
- Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)
- Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)
- Community EsTr(El/La)
- Corvallis (OR) Latin America Solidarity Committee
- Council on Hemispheric Affairs
- Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC)
- Florida Alliance for Peace and Justice
- Friends Committee on National Legislation
- Friends of Latin America
- Garifuna Community Services INC
- Global Exchange
- Global Health Partners
- Grassroots Global Justice
- Haiti Action Committee
- Hands Off Venezuela
- Honduras Solidarity Network
- Hunts Point Community Partnership
- IFCO/Pastors for Peace
- Institute for Policy Studies, Global Economy, New Internationalism, and Drug Policy Programs
- Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI)
- International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity
- Jewish Voice for Peace Portland
- July 26th Coalition of Boston
- Just Foreign Policy
- Labor Community Alliance of South Florida
- Latin America Task Force of Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice
- Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
- Latino Commission on AIDS
- LELO/A Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organizing
- Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
- Massachusetts Peace Action
- National Lawyers Guild International Committee
- National Network on Cuba
- Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
- New Sanctuary Coalition
- Nicaragua Center for Community Action
- Nicaraguan Cultural Alliance
- Nonviolence International
- North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)
- Oregon PeaceWorks
- Our Developing World
- Oxfam America
- Peace Action
- People Demanding Action
- Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC)
- Progressive Democrats of America
- Sanctuary DMV
- Seattle Cuba Friendship Committee
- SHARE Foundation
- Sister Parish, Inc.
- Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team
- Solidarity Committee On The Americas (SCOTA)
- South Texas Human Rights Center
- Task Force on the Americas
- The Cross Border Network
- The Feminist Foreign Policy Project
- The Friendship Association
- U.S. Labor Against the War
- Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
- United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
- United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1445
- United for Peace and Justice
- US Network for Democracy in Brazil
- US Peace Council
- US Women and Cuba Collaboration
- US-El Salvador Sister Cities
- USF Immigration & Deportation Defense Clinic
- Veterans For Peace, #136
- Whatcom Peace & Justice Center
- Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective
- Women Against Military Madness
- Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom US
- World Beyond War