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Caribbean Islands

United States Preeminence

President James Buchanan first enunciated the perceived need for the United States to play a police role in the Caribbean as a way of ensuring the safety of foreign nationals and of enforcing the Monroe Doctrine by keeping European powers from intervening in the area. Congress, however, denied him authority to use military forces for that purpose. Nevertheless, before the end of the century, Britain had permanently ended its traditional competition with the United States in the Caribbean in order to attend to priorities in Asia and Africa. By the 1890s, American expansionists had rejuvenated the Monroe Doctrine, and the American public regarded the Caribbean as America's "backyard." Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of the leading expansionists of the day, argued for a navy strong enough to completely control the region, which he described as a "cluster of island fortresses," and the approaches to the Panama Canal (then under construction).

Victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898-99 gave the United States a commanding position not only in the Pacific but also in the Caribbean. Thereafter, the United States began to develop a sphere of influence in the Caribbean by establishing a preponderant naval and military presence. As a consequence of its annexation of Puerto Rico and creation of a Cuban protectorate, the United States not only gained sites for naval bases but also acquired control of the major sea approaches to the future Panama Canal. President Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary of War Elihu Root often expressed the view that their policy was directed not toward acquisition of territory but toward discouragement of European encroachments in the strategically vital Caribbean area.

During the first half of the twentieth century, the military presence of the United States in the Caribbean was fortified diplomatically, financially, and commercially. American influence in the region prevailed by the 1920s. Furthermore, numerous interventions in the Caribbean and Central America by United States military forces during the first quarter of the century served to maintain the status quo, preempt European involvement, safeguard the Panama Canal and its approaches, and generally protect perceived American interests. These interventions earned the United States an unenviable reputation among the smaller Hispanic countries of the Caribbean Basin. The United States refrained, however, from intervening in the affairs of Britain's Caribbean colonies.

Data as of November 1987