U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ruffled some feathers right out of the gate before kicking off a whirlwind trip to Latin America by praising the Monroe Doctrine and warning the countries of Chinese “imperial” expansionist policies.
During a question-and-answer session after a speech in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Tillerson praised the 1823 Monroe Doctrine as “clearly … a success.” The doctrine, and subsequent corollary to the doctrine issued in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt, asserted U.S. authority in the Western Hemisphere over meddling European powers, and is still seen by many in the region as a form of U.S. imperialism.
“I think it’s as relevant today as it was the day it was written,” Tillerson said of the doctrine.
The secretary’s remarks were a direct repudiation of the Barack Obama administration’s new-style approach to the region. In 2013, Tillerson’s predecessor John Kerry declared “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.”
Tillerson’s remarks could ruffle the feathers of his hosts on an already fraught trip. Since President Donald Trump has taken office, U.S. standing in Latin America has plummeted, and Tillerson’s trip, which will cover cooperation on migration, trade, and energy, may have been meant to smooth things over.
But experts say it will be an uphill battle. “Thus far, all of Trump’s policy attention to Latin America has been highly negative,” said Cynthia Arnson of the Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank.
Tillerson’s journey will take him through Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Jamaica and is an important albeit quick trip visiting five countries in six days but can help ease fears in our neighbors to the south that the U.S. is still a viable friend and ally.
The natural gas boom in the U.S. has helped in several countries as Latin America has been a big trading partner. But Tillerson’s main issue will be getting the countries in the region to believe that current administration is looking out for their best interests as well as its own.
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