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Desperation on the Doorstep - Failed US Central American Policy and the Current Immigration Crisis

Updated on September 2, 2014
Stylish bananas help to ease moral indigestion.
Stylish bananas help to ease moral indigestion. | Source

Ancient Border Problems

When I was younger I used to read a lot of very heavy historical books. Some of these books were so thick they not only served as effective paperweights, but could also function as reentry tiles on the Space Shuttle because they could never burn all the way through. During my naval service I would spend hours poring through these ponderous tomes, reading away the hours as the warship rocked cradle-like around me and one international crisis after another passed me blissfully by.

One of the books I read was The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, an account of a conflict that took place in Greece between 431 and 404 BC. The opposing sides were mainly divided up into Pro Athens and Pro Sparta camps, and they battled back and forth indecisively for about three decades. In keeping with the theme of this article, you could say that Athens had some real border problems with its neighboring city states.

I don't remember much about this book except that one side would invade the other, burn the corn and march off. What they called corn was not what we call corn, but with all the cooking corn Greece must have smelled like living downwind from the Kellogg's factory, except that nobody put bananas on their corn flakes back then, like they do now.

The important lesson I did take away from Thucydides was how Athen's behavior preceding and during that war applies to us. Athens was the top dog among the Greek city states of that era, economically and intellectually, but somewhere along the line they lost their democratic values and decided that what was good for Athens was good for everyone. As a result, Greece increasingly fell in line behind oligarchical, authoritarian Sparta until Athens had her walls razed to the ground and was completely subjugated, never again to regain her position as a world power.


Here Pericles honors the Athenians who died in the Peloponnesian war, but how many good men died in vain to support economic ends that were not necessarily in their own interests?
Here Pericles honors the Athenians who died in the Peloponnesian war, but how many good men died in vain to support economic ends that were not necessarily in their own interests? | Source
As demonstrated by the case in Murietta, California, when the people you expect to stay home and pick your bananas for near slave wages are invading your backyard instead, the results can get messy.
As demonstrated by the case in Murietta, California, when the people you expect to stay home and pick your bananas for near slave wages are invading your backyard instead, the results can get messy. | Source

Very Modern Border Problems

Besides impressing you that I can muddle through a thousand page book with no pictures, what does my digression into the ancient Peloponnesian War have to do with the modern immigration problem we in the United States of America are having with Central American nations?

Depending on what source is consulted and what that source's particular political slant may be, an estimated 60,000 to 90,000 illegal immigrant children from Central America are estimated to enter the US this year. This unexpected inundation has overwhelmed the immigration and legal systems and created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. While the 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program enacted by the Obama administration may be the immediate catalyst for the flood of desperate children braving the unforgiving deserts of the southern US border, in reality the roots of the problem extend far deeper into the past, and Americans need look no further than the nearest available mirror to find the true source of the blame.

For decades the relationship of the United States toward Central America has been one of exploitation. Central America is viewed by US Corporations as a source of cheap agricultural products, particularly bananas, and cheap sweatshop-manufactured underwear. Like mighty Athens of the past, the United States has used its economic, political, and military muscle to maintain the exploitation balance in its own favor. We the American public, interested mostly in maintaining the supply of cheap undergarments and cheap bananas, have cheerily ignored the abysmal economic situation that exists in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where the average textile worker's wages are 200 to 300 dollars a month and falling! But when the desperately disadvantaged come begging at our back door, we ignore cause and effect and cast all of the blame for a century and a half of heavy handed, corrupt, often criminal economic policy on President Obama.

Filibustero William Walker
Filibustero William Walker | Source

The Era of the Filibusters - The Start of the Problem

Nowadays when we hear the word filibuster we attach it to long-winded Congressmen attempting to prevent legislation from being passed by talking it to death. But there was a time in US history when this particular term had a darker, more sinister meaning associated with the freewheeling businessmen who raised private armies to advance their own personal ambitions by fomenting unrest and revolution in Latin American countries.

The word comes from the Spanish filibustero, meaning pirate or robber. Long before cheap underwear tags were manufactured in Central American, the filibuster tag was instead affixed to adventurers like American William Walker, who actually ruled Nicaragua briefly with a private mercenary army and was eventually executed for trying to take power in Honduras.

Perhaps direct American participation in Central American filibustering operations may have ceased, but it certainly lives on in spirit through the financing of groups like the contras in Nicaragua and the 1980s death squads that committed murder and other atrocities in El Salvador. The following sections will take a look at some of these modern Central American "filbustering" campaigns undertaken by the United States.

An uninterrupted supply of cheap banana flavored jellybeans may have influenced Ronald Regan's unwavering support for the contras.
An uninterrupted supply of cheap banana flavored jellybeans may have influenced Ronald Regan's unwavering support for the contras. | Source

Nicaragua - "I'm a Contra too!"

The United States Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933 and trained the Guardia Nacional that assassinated all the opposition leaders required to keep the obscenely corrupt but US-friendly Anastasio Somoza Garcia and his family in power for 43 years.

In 1972 a catastrophic earthquake struck the country and the US-backed Somozas became billionaires by siphoning off the lion's share of the relief money that flowed in. By 1979 a wave of disaffection with the Somozas brought the Sandanista Liberation Front into power. At first the United States supported and provided aid to the new regime, but suspended assistance when it was discovered that the Nicaraguan government was assissting rebels in El Salvador.

Although certain factions of the Sandanista front were avowed Marxists, the Sandanistas as a whole were a coalition of different political flavors that initiated several much needed social reforms. All the same, the Regan administration found that the Sandanistas were not the eager puppets the Somozas had been, and the US covertly created the contra movement of the 1980s that terrorized the countryside and disrupted the legally elected government's social reforms. To a degree the contra movement was financed by allowing Columbian cocaine to use contra bases to smuggle drugs to the US. In addition to supporting the contras, the US government also blockaded and mined the struggling nation's harbors, causing severe economic disruption.

Ronald Regan may have been fond of chanting "I'm a contra too" at his press briefings, but the clever slogan was not quite enough cologne disguise the ugly smell of these brutes; who were not so much freedom fighters as thuggish, corrupt drug dealers.

What's in your underwear drawer?  Can't beat it at a buck fifty an hour.
What's in your underwear drawer? Can't beat it at a buck fifty an hour. | Source

Honduras - Your Underwear Courtesy of Battalion 316

In the late 19th century US based fruit companies created a semi-autonomous enclave in northern Honduras after being granted substantial land and tax exemptions by the Honduran government. Throughout the early 1900s United States troops were introduced into Honduras to protect American economic interests in this "Banana Republic," a term that American writer O Henry originally coined to describe Honduras while he was hiding there from criminal prosecution at home.

To enforce these interests, the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) created Battalion 316, a Honduran army unit that met its objectives using assassination and torture. Although the notoriety of Battalion 316 caused it to go underground and change its name from time to time, it continues to operate in different disguises at the direction of top Honduran officials.

Today, the economic production of Honduras still flows mostly into the coffers of US corporations. Dole Foods and Chiquita have a virtual stranglehold on agricultural exports, and although I and the lion's share of my countrymen have T-shirts and underwear woven in Honduras, the roughly $1.50 an hour earned by Honduran textile workers doesn't do much to improve the country's 20% unemployment. Meanwhile, the murderous heirs of Battalion 316 ruthlessly reinforce the status quo for the benefit of a handful of Honduran elite who eagerly receive the leftovers of US underwear and banana output.

I'm as proud to be an American as the next guy, but where do the atrocities committed by US-trained death squads fall within the realm of the Christian values we so strongly proclaim?
I'm as proud to be an American as the next guy, but where do the atrocities committed by US-trained death squads fall within the realm of the Christian values we so strongly proclaim? | Source

El Salvador - Murdered Nuns and More

The "Fourteen Families" oligarchy that has traditionally controlled El Salvador enriched itself by stealing land from peasants and converting it into indigo and coffee plantations. Because the US backs the ruling oligarchy is it surprising that the struggling poor have fallen into the hands of leftist ideologies? During the La Matanza (The Massacre) of the 1930s the resulting resistance to corrupt, oligarchical government was brutally suppressed through the massacre of tens of thousands of peasants.

In the 1980s, when ominous murmurings of land redistribution to peasants began to be heard again in El Salvador, the United States government took strong action to reassure its corporate cronies. The resulting Civil War between 1979 to 1992 saw massacres by the country's notorious death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers, and other violations of human rights by the Salvadoran military, all quietly sanctioned by the US. Among the most famous of these atrocities was the 1980 rape and murder of three American nuns by government soldiers. A year earlier the Archbishop of El Salvador was assassinated after urging Salvadoran soldiers not to follow orders to execute civilians. American bullets were used to carry out these horrors, and even after the 1992 peace accord US politicians continue to issue ominous warnings to Salvadoran leaders who murmur dangerously about giving land back to the farmers from whom it was stolen.

The Chiquita Banana Jingle - Sing While you Steal

Guatemala and United Fruit - "I'm the Chiquita Banana and I've come to say..."

Remember this catchy commercial jingle? The United Fruit Company (UFCO) changed its name to Chiquita and adopted a friendly image that including happy dancing bananas in order to clean the ugly stain of the corrupt, illegal, and murderous dealings it engaged in to undermine Guatemalan democracy in the 1950s. Dancing bananas are fun, after all, and help to ease the moral indigestion caused by consuming stolen merchandise. In 2014 most Americans, myself included, continue to scarf Chiquita bananas by the Harry Belafonte boatload despite these foul corporate deeds.

The United States based United Fruit Company maintained its dominance in the banana business by ensuring that vast enclaves of banana growing land remained in its greedy corporate hands instead of being redistributed to the Central American people who have a more legitimate claim to them. By way of comparison, Imagine being an American farmer booted off of the old homestead by avaricious Chinese business interests. I guarantee you would raise a loud squeal of outrage and probably remind those marauding land thieves about your right to bear arms.

In Guatemala the United Fruit Company became a nation unto itself. UFCO built highways and railroads and discouraged the Guatemalan government from improving a rickety transportation system that would compete with its own. Basically, UFCO set Guatemalan government policy, and dire indeed were the consequences for those who did not submissively fall into line.

When the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was elected Guatemalan President in 1954 he was denounced as a communist after proposing agrarian reform and a new labor code. Unfortunately for Arbenz and the poor farmers of Guatemala, UFCO had powerful bought and paid for friends in the US Government to back its claims to Guatemalan supremacy. One of these was US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, whose law firm represented United Fruit. Not surprisingly, the Eisenhower administration used the American CIA to engineer a coup d'etat that deposed Arbenz and put a UFCO-friendly regime in power.

Jacobo Guzman Arbenz, unfairly branded as the Guatemalan King of Commies in order to justify an illegal land grab.
Jacobo Guzman Arbenz, unfairly branded as the Guatemalan King of Commies in order to justify an illegal land grab. | Source

Playing the "Commie" Card

To muster up support for dark deeds in Central America, from about the end of WWII Republican and Democrat Presidential administrations alike have employed the strategy of affixing the "Communist" label to any political movement that threatens to take power away from corrupt, narrow, exploitative US corporate giants and give it back to the Central American people.

The word "communist" gives most Americans the chills. Over here the "commie" tag is almost as bad as baby killer or child molester. Certainly the communist ideology has fomented its own set of evils across the planet, but is it fair to say that all of the Central American leaders deposed by the United States were really communists, or did they simply have that label applied to them in order to justify the atrocities that were carried out by militias, juntas and death squads backed by American dollars?

Everybody sing Day-O!
Everybody sing Day-O! | Source

Conclusion - Why Should I Care?

Okay, I get it. Maybe you don't really care if Central America goes to hell on a Harry Belafonte banana boat. You don't speak Spanish, and as far as underwear go you subscribe more to the "free swinging" philosophy. Besides, you've got a lot more on your plate than bananas to worry about. .

So if I haven't touched your humanitarian heartstrings, look at it from a practical perspective. If the United States allows the Central American nations to set their own policies on wages and working conditions, then perhaps many of the US companies now manufacturing in Central America might find it less profitable to continue operating there and will instead decide to stay home and provide jobs for Americans. Then it could be John in Worcester weaving those undies in a textile mill, rather than Juan in Tegucigalpa.

Don't think for a moment that this article is written from an anti-American bias. On the contrary I love America, I am proud to be an American, and I want the United States to revert to its pre 20th century form, when we supported the aspirations of Latin American people to break free from the burdensome European economic yoke.

Equally burdensome for the American taxpayer are these massive waves of illegal Central American immigration . But is it right and proper for the people of Murietta, California, just an hour and a half up the road from me, to wave signs and throw rocks at immigrant buses, when they along with all other Americans have helped to create the climate of silent, shameful acquiescence responsible for chronic Central American economic stagnation and the devastating immigration crisis that has resulted?

So do we clean up our marauding, filbustering ways or share the fate of once proud, mighty, democratic Athens? Already our walls are being torn down and overrun by the hordes of desperate refugees we have unleashed, and it remains to be seen whether we will allow our mighty republic to follow Athens into the oblivion of history.

Who is responsible?

Who is ultimately responsible for the Central American Immigration Crisis?

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    • profile image

      Old Poolman 2 years ago

      Mel - Thanks for another interesting and highly educational piece of writing. I almost said "Hub," but this is not about how to bake cookies.

      I knew some of this, but not in the detail you covered in your article. It would seem that no matter what, big money controls most everything that happens in this world.

      Thanks for sharing this knowledge and information and I am surprised you don't already have dozens of comments.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Old Poolman. I think a lot of hubbers are taking a break because of the Labor Day weekend. Back in the 1980s and 90s I was a big Ronald Regan fan and I still hate to bash the man, but time and perspective have altered my opinions about the dirty dealings that go on in even the cleanest of administrations. Left or right they are all guilty of these type of crimes, and we the taxpayers pay the price.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Nice parallel with history, and I couldn't agree more. We have a serious mess on our hands, and pretending it doesn't exist is not working. I'm with you on this one my friend.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Yes Bill years of arrogance toward the rest of the world are catching up to us. As you poultry specialists are fond of saying, the chickens are coming home to roost. Thank you for reading, my friend, I'm half through your highly entertaining book, and I wish you a great Labor Day.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 2 years ago

      Mel Carriere - And the rich just keep getting richer no matter who wins the election. It is far more corrupt than most of us can even imagine.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Too much of corruption in this world and it is hard to point fingers to anyone. What you expect is what you get from life no matter where you live in the world there is always some political effect to face up to.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent tie into history. (leave the banana boat song alone)

      The continued policies are what are most disturbing to me.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Very interesting piece, Mel Carriere. I need to reread it and then delve into other sources. Thank you!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      DDE that is very true. However, the United States always styles itself the exporter of democracy and then we sometimes not so secretly finance death squads and paramitary groups that have no respect for human rights and murder people so that rich people can get richer. Thanks for your great comment!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you WillStarr. It is pretty easy to research this topic. I think the sad part is that our government can do things like this and nobody at home really cares as long as we are all fat, dumb and happy. But now the negative effects of these policies are swarming across the Rio Grande by the thousands and people are pointing fingers everywhere except at themselves. Thanks for reading.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Eric Dierker I don't think Harry was singing about Central America but bananas are bananas no matter where you go. I used to scratch my head when Dad used to spin that one on the turntable, but I appreciate its relevance today. Thanks for reading!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is very interesting and very sad, Mel. You have raised some very important points. I hope lots of people read your hub and think about what you have written.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Amen Mel! Great article that you have written--

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Alicia C. Very sad indeed, when a handful of avaricious men think that growing their already over inflated bank accounts is more important than the economic welfare of entire nations. Thanks for dropping in!

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 2 years ago

      I wasn't aware of all of the facts you presented, but knew the basics that America has hand in the mess. Many suggestions have been forth to solve the problem ranging from boycotts of products to not allowing American businesses to operate in other countries using cheap labor. Following either of these only make things worse for the workers in those countries because they'd lose jobs.

      I answered your poll with "all of the above", but I'm adding one group to the list - we as ordinary American citizens. When presented with the facts you and other people write about, we need to take that into consideration when we vote. There's also the fact we need to get more involved with spreading the information and demanding that our elected officials do something to change the status quo.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you AudreyHowitt for dropping by. Sometimes it is difficult to grapple with these things that our government has done, but there are definitely some lessons to be learned.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Sheila Myers Didn't I include The American People as an option? I thought I did but I'll have to check. I definitely think we are all guilty of this, because we blissfully ignore the ugly reality of Central America until her people are streaming across our borders. I also think that US economic activity in Central America has done more long term harm than good, because it has kept these people from developing their own economies, something that we have deliberately interfered with. Thanks for dropping by!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      ShielaMyers you are right I missed that option. I intended to include that answer but I guess I missed it. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      Very interesting and well informed hub. I can tell you put a lot of thought and research into it...thank you so much for sharing.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Dana Tate. I'm going to try to do a couple of brain candy hubs because writing on these serious topics requires a lot of research and it can get mentally as well as emotionally exhausting when you find out the sort of evil toward one another that men will stoop to. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • DealForALiving profile image

      Sam Deal 2 years ago from Earth

      Well researched and thoroughly interesting

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 2 years ago from Reno NV

      Very informative! You bring to light some hard reality behind our politics. Thank you. Jamie

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you for the visit DealForALiving. This is a very disturbing topic but I am glad you took the time to read it.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you jhamann. We try to hide the reality behind a facade of happy dancing bananas, but there is nothing happy at all about the grim economic situation that Central Americans face and how it affects our own economy as well.

    • profile image

      cca2013 2 years ago

      There is just so much corruption that it is overwhelming to think about. I also find it so odd that Americans (citizens of USA) will spend their tourism dollars flying across the ocean to Europe, whereas (aside from Costa Rica) I've met no one that wants to travel to south or central America for a vacation. It is eery how we are able to ignore so a huge swath of the world so close to us. But by all means, DO NOT cut off our banana supply!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      This is one take on the immigration problem in the US that I had yet to hear. You sure do know your history. That much I can say!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you cca2013. I left out Costa Rica and Belize because they seem to have managed to resist the US exploitation and maintain a measure of integrity, for whatever reason. The rest of Central America is too bogged down in crime caused by the poverty we helped to create to make it a safe travel destination. Thanks for dropping by!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you grand old lady. As I mentioned I have read a few thick books on history, at the same time the Navy ship I was on was making regular stops in your beautiful country. Thanks for dropping in!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It's always the almighty dollar and to hell with the living and breathing souls that all deserve better. I have known many hispanics in my day and I will not get into their work ethic, but there needs to be a happy medium somewhere. Your point is well taken.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      The rank and file Hispanic from Mexico at least has a fabulous work ethic, although the very small percentage that makes up the gentry may be different. These hard working people will never reap the fruits of their labor as long as we continue to meddle in their politics. Thanks for dropping in.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi, yes I read those books on Greece too without pictures! lol! living in England I can see a real parallel with both out countries, we forget that what we sew we reap over here too, interesting read, took me a while because I don't really know about this but it was fascinating, and I totally agree with your points, nell

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Nell. Many a great empire has crumbled under its own weight after abusing the subjects it governs. The British Empire committed its share of crimes, and we in the US have sort of picked up and carried the torch after you, only to now find the Huns battering down the gates. Thank you very much for reading and for the great comment!

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Very good hub. You wrote, "All the same, the Regan administration found that the Sandanistas were not the eager puppets the Somozas had been, and the US covertly created the contra movement of the 1980s that terrorized the countryside and disrupted the legally elected government's social reforms. To a degree the contra movement was financed by allowing Columbian cocaine to use contra bases to smuggle drugs to the US. In addition to supporting the contras, the US government also blockaded and mined the struggling nation's harbors, causing severe economic disruption."

      This scenario demonstrates that the individual should not fight at all because he/she really does not know who or what he is fighting for. Politics is above our heads. We regular people do not know what is going on so do not use violence as a solution.

      I advocate the USA recall all its troops from overseas and save some money. Also, we need to help develop the Americas. I advocate the Monroe Doctrine.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I agree completely that the US shoild disengage from foreign countries, but sometimes we use The Monroe Doctrine as a justification for Americsn hegemony in our hemisphere. Thanks for reading.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Yes, I agree. The Monroe Doctrine was a US foreign policy regarding Latin American countries in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention.

      The Monroe doctrine should also be applied in reverse. The U.S. should stop interfering with states overseas.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Until WW2 Jay we were happily isolationists, and then the military industrial complex took over. Thanks Jay.

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