Good Neighbor Policy (1933 - 1945)

This is a picture of FDR with the Nicaraguan dictator in 1939. He had to visit or host many leaders from the region to ensure the Good Neighbor Policy would succeed for him.
FDR and the Good Neighbor Policy

The Good Neighbor Policy, announced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) during his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, was a response to the powerful backlash against U.S. military intervention in the Caribbean and Central America over the previous 35 years.

"In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor," Roosevelt declared, "the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others ...." In effect, FDR's policy shift amounted to a repudiation of his cousin Theodore Roosevelt's 1904 corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

From 1898 to 1933, the United States had intervened militarily, economically, and politically in Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere, creating an informal empire in its "backyard," with the aim of creating "order" and "stability" and asserting U.S. economic and geopolitical domination of the region, to the exclusion of European powers. This openly interventionist policy had generated a firestorm of protest throughout much of Latin America and Europe.

By the late 1920s it was clear that the unintended consequences of U.S. intervention were overshadowing its intended effects. The Good Neighbor Policy has thus been interpreted as a new stage in U.S. efforts to dominate the region, in the context of the Great Depression, the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, and the threat to U.S. interests in Asia posed by imperial Japan.

Overall the policy proved very effective, disarming critics, dampening opposition, and garnering important allies across the hemisphere. Its most important effects arguably came during World War II, when governments throughout Latin America backed the Allies in their war against Germany and Japan.

The short-term antecedents to the policy have been traced to president-elect Herbert Hoover's tour of Latin America in late 1928, following the sixth Pan-American Conference in Havana in January (at which U.S. policy came under heavy criticism), when he announced his hope that the nations of the Western Hemisphere might get along like "good neighbors." Under FDR the Good Neighbor Policy assumed military, economic, political, and cultural dimensions.

Militarily, the United States withdrew its troops from Nicaragua (January 1933, an event predating formal announcement of the new policy, and in the works since late 1928) and Haiti (1934) and refused to send troops to help stabilize Cuba during the crisis of 1933–34. Also in 1934, the United States abrogated the 1901 Platt Amendment to the Cuban constitution, thus forfeiting its right to intervene militarily in Cuban affairs.

Economically, the United States actively encouraged trade and investment throughout the hemisphere while also wielding the carrot and stick of U.S. economic aid, loans, and technical assistance.

In 1934, emblematic of the policy shift, Congress created the Export-Import Bank to assist U.S. firms doing business overseas and passed the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, which authorized bilateral trade agreements with individual countries. Politically, the United States affirmed its commitment to nonintervention in Latin American affairs at the 1933 Pan-American Conference in Montevideo and in 1936 at the Buenos Aires Conference.

The policy was put to a major test in the Mexican and Bolivian oil crises of 1938–39, when FDR refused to respond militarily to nationalist expropriations of U.S. property. The refusal overturned decades of U.S. policy toward its southern neighbors, in which the U.S. government's right to protect U.S. "lives and property" was used to justify military intervention.

The policy had an important cultural dimension as well, ranging from music, film, and printed texts to joint resolutions at inter-American conferences emphasizing the unity and distinctiveness of the nations of the Western Hemisphere.

After World War II, the policy was subsumed under the rubric of "national security" and hemispheric security in the context of the cold war and the fight against the perceived menace of international communism. The origins, characteristics, and consequences of the Good Neighbor Policy have spawned an expansive literature.