The Wilsonian Reset with Latin America, 1913

From The Banana Wars: An Inner History of the American Empire 1900-1934, by Lester D. Langley (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1983), p. 121:

Thus the military interventions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Wilson era, often portrayed as drastic departures from American practice, had ample historical precedent. What was different about Wilsonian policy toward Hispaniola was the degree of political interference undertaken by the United States to reform its admittedly backward societies and, that failing, the willingness to use military intervention as a means of bringing about reform. It can be argued that Roosevelt had done much to set the pattern for such interfering behavior in the Dominican Republic’s internal affairs with the customs receivership. But Roosevelt had established strict limitations on what he believed the United States should and should not in the republic, and the 1907 treat had reaffirmed these restrictions. We would collect the customs, set aside 55 percent for satisfying foreign claimants, and give the politicians of Santo Domingo the remainder. We would protect the customhouses from the perils of insurrection. After that, if their political house was in disorder—and it usually was—it was their house.

That was Roosevelt and Root‘s approach. Their policy for the republic involved no sweeping American prescriptions for reordering Dominican finances or tinkering with the republic’s chronically disturbed political system. Taft and Knox went much further. In 1912, when revolutionary outbreaks disturbed the frontier, the American minister, William Russell, recommended military occupation of the customhouses and indeed a takeover of the country to bring to an end what he considered barbaric practices—forced recruiting into warlord armies, pilfering of public funds, and judicial corruption.

Wilson and Bryan advocated even more stringent requirements for the Dominican political system. The president personally directed Mexican policy, and he gave Bryan and the State Department considerable latitude in Dominican and Haitian affairs. The Great Commoner was easily the most controversial of Wilson’s cabinet appointees. Acting on the impulse that he must cleanse the foreign service, he zealously removed most of the appointees who had secured their posts under the nascent professional standards inaugurated by Hay and appointed wheelhorses and party hacks in their stead. For Latin American posts Bryan’s housecleaning resulted in the dismissal of ministers with an average of fifteen years’ experience and knowledge of the language of the country to which they were accredited. Most of Bryan’s nominees were simply incompetent, though the new minister to the Dominican Republic, James M. Sullivan, a former lawyer and prizefight promoter (who had been recommended by the secretary of state as one of his “deserving Democrats”), was both incompetent and corrupt. Eventually public revelations about the circumstances of his appointment and Wilson’s intervention brought Sullivan’s removal but not before he had seriously damaged American prestige in the republic.

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Filed under Caribbean, democracy, economics, Latin America, military, U.S.

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